Mayfield High School
Instructor: Kari Beery
I staggered into the bathroom and analyzed my face in the mirror, leaning over the sink to get a closer look. My hair was untameable and what was once yesterday's makeup was now smeared around my eyes. I looked and felt atrocious but what was worse was my eyebrow. It was freshly pierced, and by the looks of it, most likely infected. The skin surrounding it was red and irritated and the piercing hole had started to scab over.
To be fair, this probably could have been expected. It was a stupid idea. But I was new-ly eighteen, six days to be exact, and looking for something to prove my sense of adulthood. So stepping into the first sketchy tattoo parlor I passed on the street didn't seem all that bad of an idea. The bright red neon sign that hung in the window, reading "PIERCINGS 20 DOLLARS" might as well have been an invitation for a broke, and supposedly, young adult. Now, I stared closely at the metal rod sticking out from both ends of my inflamed eyebrow. I didn't feel much older.
I shook the feeling and reached my hand through the shower curtain that had mold growing on the bottom of it and turned on the water. I let it run over my face, hoping the warm sensation would wash everything away. It didn't work.
I stepped out onto the bath mat and wrapped myself in the semi-clean towel that was hanging from the door. Taking my forearm, I wiped away the condensation that had formed on the mirror and was once again met with the horror of my eyebrow.
There was nothing I could do about it now other than slap a bandaid on it and hope for the best. I scavenged through one of the drawers, shuffling through a tube of toothpaste that was missing a lid and an assortment of toiletries that were covered in dried-up shaving cream after the can had oozed out. Another problem I would have to revisit later. Finally, I found a SpongeBob-themed band-aid that was bright yellow and obviously meant for a kid. this would have to work.
I went into my room and threw on the first oversized t-shirt I picked off the floor and looked at the alarm clock that was amongst the clutter on my nightstand. 7:55 AM. Great. I stepped over my wet towel, not bothering to pick it up, and walked out into the hallway towards my mother's room.
I knocked softly on the door. "Mom?" no answer. I knocked again. " Mom? Lily needs to wash up before school." Still no answer. I slowly opened the door to find her lightly snoring on her stomach with one arm draped over the bed. I sighed slightly then tucked her arm back under the comforter trying to ignore the track marks and then turned her on her side so she wouldn't choke on her own puke.
I made my way back to the bathroom and turned on the faucet, letting the water run over my hand to make sure it wasn't too hot. While the tub was filling I went to wake up Lily who was reluctant to get out of bed. After giving into " Just five more minutes." twice, I finally was able to get Lily up and into the bath.
" Tilt your head back."
I dipped a plastic cup into the water letting it fill then carefully poured it over Lily's hair trying not to let the soap run onto her face.
" Keep your eyes closed."
" Can we get ice cream?" Lily asked, playing with her mermaid toy and not shutting her eyes.
" Maybe later when I get home from school." I filled up the cup again.
" I said keep your eyes closed."
For the next few minutes, it was silent between us and all you could hear was the sound of Lilies mermaid dipping in and out of the water.
" Mom, what happened to your face?" Lily looked up from her toy and directly at my eyebrow.
" I told you not to call me that!" I snapped back a little harsher than I wanted to.
" Sorry." she said, directing her attention back to the water.
" Close your eyes."
" It's fine. Stand up." I said after a few seconds and wrapped her around in one of those towels with the hoods that make you look like an animal. I think it was a duck.
" Dry off. I'm gonna pick out your clothes." I told her walking towards her bedroom when I heard a little voice call out, " Can I wear my pink leggings today?"
" Sure." I said, trying not to cry.
It wasn't surprising that Lily sometimes called me mom. She was still young and it could be confusing. I had taken care of her since she was born and before I was taking care of her I was taking care of my mom. I shuffled through her drawers until I found her pink leggings and looked up at the mirror that sat on her dresser. I peeled back the bandaid revealing the bloody cotton and swollen skin and began to wonder if I ever really was a child.
If there were two things Mama loved most in this world, it would be my father, and the ring he placed 'round her finger on their weddin' day. While the diamond was small, it sat on top of a thin band that was real gold. It was easily the nicest thing she had ever owned n' she cherished it with her whole heart. So when my father came home late every other night, stumblin' inside, reekin' of cheap liquor 'n cigarettes we couldn't afford, it didn't matter. 'N it didn't matter when he would gamble away our only money for groceries. Or when he forgot their anniversary every single year. If he yelled, hit her, hit me; none of it mattered. Every wrong he ever did to her, to us, she would forgive him. No matter what. She'd never leave him. So when he pawned off her weddin' ring so he could go to the tracks, it didn't matter. She still loved him all the same. But this time, I think it broke her.
That week Mama didn't leave bed, not even to eat. She told me she'd just caught a lil' bug that was all. But I could hear her through the walls at night cryin 'n when I would climb into bed to visit her, her eyes were all red 'n puffy. She wasn't sick, she was devastated. But my father didn't notice. He wasn't home much to notice. All he knew was that on the days that he did come home supper wasn't on the table 'n that made him yell. Yell at Mama. That was when I finally snapped. I hated the bastard for how he treated us, but I hated myself more for allowin' it. I couldn't bear seeing Mama like this any longer. Considerin' I was the only other man in the house, it was my job to finally make things right. Gettin' her ring back felt like a good start.
The town of Lewisburg, Ohio had exactly three pawn shops near its vicinity that my father coulda gone to, but I decided to start at the one he pawned my bike off at when I was eight. It had taken me 'round two years to save up for it, 'n another two to buy it back. I wasn't exactly sure how I was gonna get Mama's ring when I found it. God knows I certainly couldn't afford to buy it, but I decided I could figure out the details later. Right now, there was another problem to face. The transition into winter hit Lewisburg hard. While the season had just begun, the air was frigid 'n the ground was already covered with a heavy layer of fresh snow. With the pawn shop bein' 'round 15 miles away, it was too far a walk, 'n ridin' my bike simply wasn't an option. I'd have to take the keys to my father's truck. Thankfully, I'd caught him at the perfect time.
Sleeping off yet another drunken haze, my father lay sprawled out in his chair. He'd fallen asleep with a beer in his hand, which had tipped over 'n spilled onto his lap leavin' a massive wet stain on his pants. The TV was playin' 'n every few seconds he'd let out a snore that was the only thing convincin' me he was still breathin'. Slowly, I crept my way up his chair, makin' sure I made as lil' noise as humanly possible. 'Though my precaution wasn't necessary. When my father was passed out, he was out cold. I'd hoped the keys would just be layin' out on the tv tray next to him but that wasn't the case. Their outline showed predominantly through the breast pocket of his shirt 'n my confidence in his soundness was slowly wearin' off as my hand steadily approached 'em. Carefully, I undid the button 'n lifted up the small flap of fabric, pullin out the keys. They jangled slightly against each other, makin' me stop dead in my tracks. Hoverin' over my father I glanced down to make sure the noise hadn't woken him. His chest moved up 'n down. His eyes stayed shut. Good. Still asleep. It's funny, layin' there he looked peaceful. Innocent even. Not wantin' to test my luck any longer I began backin' away from his chair, keepin' my eyes on him 'till I reached the foyer. Quietly, I grabbed my boots 'n coat, slipped 'em on 'n headed for the door.
The drive to the pawn shop took longer than expected. The icy roads were a challenge and the state of my father's truck wasn't any help. The brakes were touchy, the wheel was stiff, and the dashboard was lit up with all sorts of lights. I made it to the shop three minutes till closin. Walking inside, I removed my hat n' directed my attention to the older gentleman sitting on a stool behind the dirty glass counter. His hair was greasy n' he wore a white tank top that was covered in stains. Definitely looked like a man my father would do business with.
"Hello sir. I'm lookin to buy a ring."
"I understand sir but you se-"
"Kid, I said we're closed. Come back tomorrow." I wouldn't have another chance. Comin back tomorrow ain't an option.
I breathed in then forcefully out my nose n' gave my final plea; "I'll just be a few minutes. I promise I'll pay ya good."
He looked at me hesitantly. "You got 5 minutes kid then your out. Rings are over in that case." he said pointin' to the back wall. I nodded my head and walked in that direction. Inside, the case was covered with dust and filled with rows and rows of rings. I looked over the selection laid out in front of me, just prayin I'd find it. I was beginnin' to lose hope as I neared the final rows, when suddenly, there it was. The small diamond. The thin gold band. Mamas ring. However, my relief quickly washed away as I saw the price tag it sat next to. 750 dollars. It was more money than I had ever had to my name.
"Do you have anything nicer in the back?" I asked. "I'll pay ya good" I added quickly before he could consider sayin no. He glared over at me and sighed, getting up from his stool. My eyes followed him as he disappeared into the backroom. Without haverin, I hoisted myself over to the other side of the glass case and slide open the display, pullin out the tray of rings. I scanned through them hastefully until I found Mama's ring again n' dropped it into my coat pocket. I had no plans to stay any longer so I placed the tray back into its dusty home, shut the door, and calmly saw myself out.
On the drive home I was in pure bliss. I had finally done somethin that was right for the only family I cared about. I was gonna give Mama her ring back n' lord she'd be happy. That's all that mattered to me. But when I walked through the front door of my house I could tell my father was angry.
"Tom! Is that you? Where the hell is your mother at?"
when I left she had been in the same spot she had been all week. " She ain't in her room?" I asked.
" No, she ain't in her room. Don't you think I would have checked her damn room boy!" He kept goin but I ignored him as I ran up the stairs and burst into Mama's bedroom. The bed looked as if no one had been occupying it for the past week. Everythin in her nightstand was gone along with the copy of her bible she kept on top of it. The only thing that remained in the dresser was a handful of my father's old oil-stained work shirts. I took the ring out of my pocket and let out a laugh. It was the only thing left here that was hers. She finally left the bastard. I just thought she would have taken me with her.
The Power of a Memory
The Power of a Memory
Stepping through the gates, things began to change in peculiar ways all around me. The ground no longer felt like a solid path beneath my feet, but instead, like a thin layer of air that lifted me with every step I took. New terrain arose from the ground, exposing a lavish green ecosystem of draping willows and buzzing dragonflies, that surrounded my entire being in full beauty. The presence of the sun made itself known as Its rays fell heavily onto my back. Although, for how high it was positioned in the sky, the sensation was not as harsh as one would have thought it to be, but rather, a sensation that was nothing hotter than warm and comforting. In fact, the sky, filled with a remarkable yellow haze and a brightness so bright, it should have made any pair of eyes squint in discomfort, but here, my gaze was content. I knew where I was and thought he must be here too.
My journey started where my last one had ended. Breathing in the Savannah air, my nostrils filled with the savory scent of fresh water lilies and wet marsh grass, which carried a potent odor of mildew that only a local could find any appreciation in. Native to Savannah, a marsh, lined with tall grass and weeping willow, placed its roots into soil centuries ago was stretched out in front of me. Tupelo of towering heights sprouted from the water, casting their shadows over the whole scenery, allowing for only dispersed sunlight to pierce through the leaves and warm the murky water. Where the land and water met, sat an orange kayak. Its color had fallen victim to the sun, faded and dulled from years of exposure. It was a peaceful setting, one that I had seen before. I spent many summers here in my final years fishing out from my kayak and enjoying the serene presence of mother nature.
I wasn't exactly sure what I was doing here now. I was the only one around for what seemed like endless miles. There was no one to ask for direction, yet, I didn't feel alone. Somehow, someway, my body seemed to know its heading. My mind didn't do much thinking at all. One foot just followed the other and before I knew it, I found myself climbing into the kayak. Something was guiding my eyes, guiding my body, and if my suspicions about where I was were correct, I knew where it was taking me, or more so, who it was taking me to.
Disrupting the still pattern of the water, I rowed for hours taking in the peace. Being in my late seventies, unexplainably, my arms never felt their soreness, my breath never fell short. Calls of blue herons and snipes could be heard from all around as they soared above and nested in the surrounding trees. I thought maybe I could make a home here too, forever living in the soundness of the waters. But this wasn't the place I was looking for. I would have to keep going if I was going to find him.
There was no end to the marsh as far as the eye could see when suddenly, the water from beneath me began to rise, covering the surrounding grass and climbing up the height of the trees. It wasn't long before the water started to invade the kayak, submerging it until it was completely consumed by the land, leaving me floating and exposed. But the water didn't stop there. It rose and rose until it had swallowed my entire body leaving me without even a breath of air. I didn't panic. I knew I didn't need to, not here. I simply closed my eyes and let it take me. When I blinked them open, I was no longer stranded underwater in the Savannah heat, but in the frigid air of Alaska.
In my early twenties, I worked out of a fishery ported just outside the northernmost town of Barrow. The surprising darkness that cast over the day was the first thing I remembered about my winters spent here. On the lucky days, for just a handful of hours, the sun could be seen peeking over the horizon and lighting only the smallest portion of the sky with a grapefruit-like pink. But for the most part, the majority of the winter consisted of sixty-seven days of absolute darkness. Looking around I could understand why I was taken here next. In a shallow forest of yellow cedar, a blanket of glistening snow covered the ground, with nothing so little as a footprint disturbing the smoothness of its fresh coat. The world around me was impossibly silent, soundproofed by the heavy snow. The only thing that could be heard was the howling ghosts of winds that at times were so cold, felt like they could slice straight through your skin and through your bones.
By instinct, I pulled my arms around me and buried my face into my chest, bracing for the cold. But I was only met with a pleasant chill that reminded me of the spraying seawater that would splash up at the port. Up above, the sky was dotted with thousands of stars, and miraculous stripes of emerald green danced around. Whatever was guiding me had brought me back to the first time I ever saw the Northern Lights, an unforgettable memory I often visited in my head.
The lights had a way of capturing you, stealing your breath and swirling it around in the air until it was unrecognizable, blended in with the colors of the night sky. No matter how many times I saw it, its beauty was never lost. What could be better than this? But my mind was made up. When I looked back down, a sliver of light could be seen casting out onto the snow from a slightly ajar door that stood alone in the distance.
The snow made a muffled crunch beneath my feet, falling heavier as I made my way toward the door. The closer I got the heavier it fell, and fell, and fell until eventually, all that could be seen was the smallest line of yellow light. When I finally reached the door and my hand met with the cold brass knob, the snow had stopped all at once, almost as if it never existed at all. I looked behind me and admired the painted sky for one final moment then stepped through the door.
The door opened into what was once my living room 60 years ago. Everything looked exactly how I remembered it. Even I looked completely untouched by time. My hands which were once a map of wrinkles and plagued by arthritis now resembled the hands of a child with scrapped palms and tiny fingers. I bent my knees, prepared to wince in pain, but they were not yet beaten up from carrying years of weight. A brown loveseat that was worn out, stained, missing springs, and perfectly molded to my body was pushed up against the wall. It matched the Tv that was always a little fuzzy but still played my favorite shows. It matched the ceiling that could never handle a rainstorm but still gave me shelter. It matched the wallpaper that dropped in the corners, the pipes that groaned whenever you turned on the water, and the window which had been cracked and sealed with putty. My mother was sitting at the kitchen table patching a pair of jeans I had ripped playing in the backyard. She was humming along to the song playing on the radio that oftentimes cut out and could barely be heard over the sewing machine. ¨Max! Max!¨ I called out. Clack, clack, clack. The sound of nails could be heard smacking rapidly against the wooden floor. He's here.
From around the corner, Max came sprinting out and didn't stop until he had jumped on top of me and knocked my small body onto the floor. His paws were covered in mud and had left a print on my shirt. " Hi, buddy. I missed you. I missed you so much." I said running my fingers through his golden hair. He licked my face as though he was trying to say " I missed you too." You don't always notice in the moment what you're creating. The power a single memory can hold no matter how insignificant it may seem. I was too young to be bothered by the slobber or the mud. Lying here on the floor, This was my heaven.