You must feel the anger of the skies. Everyone does. Her ever-present glare reminds all below how we neglected her—amber never fading from twilight. Maybe she’s trying to kill you? Maybe we all are trying to kill ourselves? So, just take a breath, a single breath, deep and pure. No, seriously. Now…just take…a…breath. Let the acid burn truth. Now, walk away from this. Step off this porch, your uncle’s porch. Nothingness waits.
No, let’s be clear, it’s your porch now, isn’t it?
Throat dry, the sky wet. Acid in the rain bites more than the usual–tiny spikes prick the exposed skin of your shoulders. The clouds tinted red, too common these days.
Why did Uncle Vic give you this sun-sapped cottage? Hated him. Feeling was mutual as far as you could tell. Besides your admiration for the thickness of his beard, you despised the old sot. Made sure he knew it every time you met at the less than occasional family gathering. Called him Vic the Dick. He soured on that pretty quick. How could you not hate him? He let that old farmer’s bastard son have his way with your mum. At least he should have been there. He promised he would watch her after you scooted off to the big city and school.
Good Ol’ Uncle Vic waited after your baseball game late in the semester. Knew something was up. He had ice cream, half-melted.
Mum got cancer not much longer after they locked up the corn farmer’s bastard. Uncle Vic figured she stopped wanting to live after that so the first thing that came along done her in. Uncle Vic didn’t know how to parse words. He was my last relative after that. Still, hate him, but it was nice to have someone near during the arrangements and funeral. Tried school again after that, but it just didn’t feel right. Maybe the spirit of your mum just kept whispering for you to find something better, bigger. Maybe you were catching the crazies. The note from the lawyer about Uncle Vic getting run over by his tractor didn’t surprise you. The fact that he had a will that gave you everything did.
The red haze of a sky, not a product of dusk nor dawn, continues spitting. The droplets of rain that reach your skin stings – as the tweaks like to call it. The boney knuckles of your fingers burn along with your arms, and your bared forehead is dripping into the blur of your eyes. The dozen or so single-cord leather bracelets dangling at your wrists agitate the heat of the rain against your skin.
The recent memory of the empty funeral parlor ebbs in and out of your thoughts before being claimed by the visceral pain of the moment. A relief of sorts.
Your tank-top shirt, once vivid blue, with the emblem of some sports team, crested on the chest, gray jeans frayed at the ankles, and teal sneakers all may be right for the heat, but do little to assuage the tumult from above. Tiny pellets fire down in an endless swath like a sick game of look at me. Your little sister made up a version of that game, which involved toilet paper costumes. You loved her so much. When your grandma took her away, and they disappeared you never really recovered. Hopefully, she is in a better place, a better world if that was possible.
You stave off the desire to step back under the overhang of the porch. Something has to change. Your memories have become a haunt. You are tormented by yourself, by your past, by a future, you cannot see. The open field, once dry and cracked, pulls you from your ranch home. Up ahead a leafless twig plucks out of an otherwise barren landscape. The sun bends away from zenith beckoning. You know a lifeless land looms beyond, but you need to get away from this place. Just for a bit, to breathe.
You pass the lonely twig. It reminds you of grandda, and you don’t know why nor want to. He lived the longest, might even be alive somewhere in a home you don’t recall. Your mum shut him away while you were at school. Probably thought you would protest. Because you would.
You stop, arms bent at your sides, hands clasped, and unfold your palms skyward. A pool of gray water gathers and spills over parted fingers with cracked skin. The sting is almost bearable, almost something you could get used to. What would it take not to remember? You cup your hands creating a deeper divot for the rainwater to gather. Once filled to brimming, you press your lips against your wrists and arch your hands up to lick back the liquid. It stings down your throat.
The memories leave. You are empty. The pain fills the void. Which part of your past are you hiding from? Your Uncle Vic’s betrayal, your mum’s denial, your sister’s disappearance, grandda’s absence, or something else lurking just outside your grasp that taints everything else? Or was it the lack of them that haunts you? Their memories are your ghosts.
You take your last gulp and the pain ebbs but lingers with residual heat. Even so, the images, the memories, return unabated.
Death cascades down your past like shockwaves peeling away your soul layer by layer. Even though your uncle’s death was most recent, he died to you over a decade ago. That is when you lost your mum as well. She never spoke of what happened, never spoke much at all afterward, a shell inhabiting an empty soul. Cancer made easy work of her after that. Vic the Dick’s death reminds you of all the deaths that came before.
They are all connected in a way. Mum refused to move with you into the city and stay by herself in the old house near Uncle Vic’s farm. She hoped her little girl might come back some day and refused to lose that chance. Uncle Vic, nice enough to the kids when we were young, couldn’t make time to check on her. The rest just cascaded.
You walk, and you walk, and you walk for as long as it might take.
How far is enough – to leave behind a pain with no etching on your skin? Have you gone crazy? Your mum was in the end. Maybe it’s genetic.
What is the worth of a life you can’t live? How can you be alive if you can’t see, hear, or smell that which is around you? Your senses are just as numb as your soul. It’s like you’re stuck in a glass box that, no matter how much you polish the windows, they keep clouding over.
Why can’t these tainted skies wash away the past? If for just a moment. Just a moment. Pain to pain. The here to the then. This reality, this pull of hair bound in a fragile fist must mean more than the terrors of any before. What was is gone? That is done. The past, beyond the here and now. This, this is here. This is what is alive. This is what should matter.
The irony of this acid sky. The Earth’s tears. It mirrors what you desire but can’t obtain. As a small child, it was so easy and almost unstoppable – the sobs, the pleas, the raw feeling. Why not now? The rain wets your eyelashes and blurs your stutter-step onward, but nothing more.
Brown puddles lap over your shoes seeps and soaks. Someone should look for you. They won’t. There is no one left. Remember, the funeral home was empty.
You breathe and blink past the blur. You splash and slop up into the rise of what appears to be the beginning of barren plains without end. Clustered strands of your hair capture a multitude of droplets, blend, and release in large plops down your front. Some nip your pointed nose.
The world tilts, and you climb a step or two, maybe more. The water runs in cuts in the Earth parallel to your wayward path in lines of makeshift streams. At the peak of the not considerable slope, you lean over and ease down with a hand pressed in the mud. There is no foliage here. Only wet muck. Not even a worm.
The mud seeps between your fingers like a warm oozing glove. You don’t want to pull your hand out. The feeling hints at childhood, playing in a mud pit your grandda dug during heavy rainfall. Back then the mud was cool, it soothed, comforted. You could breathe easy.
How could something so simple, so instinctual, become so difficult?
Breathe, you tell yourself. Just take a breath.
You curl your fingers deep, grabbing at what you do not know.
Back beyond the cottage, the barn behind it, the rusting farm equipment, the useless converted solar farm, and some twenty miles past, a low amber glow marks the artificial glowing outlines of a city unwilling to admit defeat.
Whether your uncle’s cottage or somewhere else will be your resting place, you are unsure. You will not return to that city. Let the intermittent darkness consume it. The odd job, the countless faces with nothing underneath, the words left at just that, words. Nor do you wish to be here. Where then? Your mind answers with silence.
You lay back and the mud molds around your shoulders. The endless blanket of a blueless canopy overhead entreats you to accept a continuous stream of tiny pellets. The acid rain doesn’t let up.
Soon it is too much for you to look anymore. You couldn’t see by then anyway. As you close your eyes, the blur becomes a darkness born of kimmerian. In your mind’s eye, the shadows stretch without end. Your heart slows, easing to the calm of the void.
The pain now infuses your every pore as your body is steadily coated with pinpricks.
The memories are still there, but thankfully, as blurred as was your vision. Is this catharsis? Mud and water pools warmth around your neck, soothing, massaging, freeing.
Your professor once said that only when you have nothing do you have everything. Only then can you truly fathom and experience what it means to be able to reach anything? By having something, you are tied to it. Thus by losing it, you are freed to think further ahead and beyond the constraints of that connection. You forget what he taught. Was it physics or math? You liked his thick mustache. That is all. If you remember correctly, you failed his class.
You know you can lay here till your body peels to the bone and in a fashion that will let you go, no longer dependent on your past. You also know, somehow, this is not true. Freedom, which is what you seek, is making choices, any choice. Your professor never mentioned this. Your Uncle Vic did when you still liked him, and he convinced you to take a chance and go to college. He said, ‘if you can’t do nothin’, have no choice, you aren’t free.’
You agreed then and still do now. Why are you thinking of this now? Is this linked to the bonds of your memory in some way? You don’t know.
Memory, a chain to the past that prevents you from living in your present. Chains? Where are the choices in that? You try to sit up, but realize the suction of the mud binds you to the wet earth.
Your forearms, your hands, your triceps, your shoulders, your calves, the back of your thighs, your neck, and even the point at the back of your skull you never liked are held by the bitter muck.
Your heart quickens, writhing, pressed between your lungs. You are not afraid. You only want release. You want freedom. You want to let go. Are you afraid? So you tell yourself. Your heart clenches as if grabbing at your ribs as if trying to use them to claw its way out.
You tense, you strain, you push, you sweat.
The mud squirms and sucks.
You can’t see your legs. Where to now? Is this a way out? Is this a choice?
You grimace, you feel the grind of your teeth in your skull, the rain patters your pearly whites.
You spit, you spatter, you yell, you scream. This is not what you want. You desire freedom, choices. You realize this path was molded by you, by your actions. Your heart’s response to these acts was diminished, your soul peeled raw, ravaged. Suddenly, the memories lose their weight, the bonds loosen. Still a part of you, yes, but the chains of your past no longer hold you fast to this earth, your actions do.
What do your memories serve when they are plagued with the dead? The funeral hall was empty. You’re the last, and therefore your memories keep your dead alive. Your sister and her games of tag, your mother and her eyes of sorrow, your grandda and his childlike spirit, and Uncle Vic and his half-melted ice cream live in your memories and yours alone. Dead as they might be, your family ignites a sharp fire behind your heart, peeling open your eyes to the sting of the acid skies.
You flex your arms, strain your abs, and push upwards. You know now that you will not be owned by that which brought you here.
You realize freedom is not what you believed. It is not the simple ability to choose, not the promise of choice. It comes to life; it only exists at the moment when you finally act upon your reality, you act upon your memories, you act upon that which comes to you. You must act. You never react. Being truly free is when you lead your own life. You force the next act. You act upon.
The rain falls, and you choose. You push, you pull, you strain, you growl, you own this life. The beyond, the unknown cannot be met willingly. Nothingness cannot rule. Your life must be yours.
The fingers of your right hand peel free, then your palm, followed by your forearm, pivoting at the elbow, mud-slick but moving. Your head is covered to your ears, the sound of the rain muffled. The rest of your body is held firm, pinched at the edges. You tense your jaw and part your lips, but your lungs constrict, unyielding. You choose, you command.
Take a breath.
Photo complements of Adrienne Lauren Photography.
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