Leaves blur in the sunlight, waving him on. The boy runs, away from the sound of his mother’s voice which he can still hear, carried on the wind, shouting: “Run. Go. Run.”
So he runs. Up the road, egged on by the cheerleading leaves and the wind, the blue sky and the sun which shines hard against his back – a slap of heat propelling him forward.
He runs – away from his mother’s voice, away from his cowering sister, away from his father who paces the length of the house, clutching the rifle he’d bought for a father-son deer shoot. This father who cried after accidentally running over a pigeon while driving, now sitting in the front room with a rifle across his lap, waiting for his life in this home to end and a new one to begin.
The boy runs because all he can say is “Leave her alone,” and it isn’t enough. It isn’t enough to save her or him. So the boy runs. He keeps running. He’s still running.
(That boy – that running boy – that boy is my brother.)
The woman lies curled like a prawn on the bed. She thinks it will not hurt as long as she doesn’t move. She pretends she is asleep, and focuses on the rhythmic lullaby pinning her to the bed. The snap through the air, the whack of leather. The belt lashes her like a frog’s tongue – darting and sticking, darting and sticking.
She lies there and wonders when her marriage became this, why her husband prefers other women to her. She thinks she is not thin enough, pale enough, smart enough, young enough. Then she thinks of her children and folds up into herself, steels her back against the blows. And is silent.
(That woman – that woman lying there braced against the leather cutting into her skin – that woman is my mother.)
The man stands there with mutton chop sideburns, wielding the belt like it is an extension of his arm. He wants to be somewhere else, not married to this lump on the bed – this bitch who makes him feel guilty for coming home the next morning or for driving his women around in their car. This woman who has turned his children against him, who embarrasses him by reminding him he is not white no matter how many white women he sleeps with – right now he hates her.
He doesn’t remember that he pursued her on an island in a time long past, that he wooed her on a public bus over the course of many months. She was older than him, and beautiful then. He wooed her before he knew his own power – the charm he carries in the curls on his head and in the magnetic silences worn and undone like a silk cravat.
(That man – that man whose story I must imagine because I know too little about him, apart from the belt – that man is my father. )
The woman leans over the figure on the sofa – a figure that moans and whispers and stinks of beer. His face is covered in blood, his lip torn. She is angry and terrified and momentarily disappointed that he hasn’t died. He is her husband, but only in name. The father of her child, but only in name. She wonders how her marriage has come to this – why her husband prefers the oblivion found in a beer can to her.
She thinks of all the times he came home reeling and wreaking of alcohol, denying he was drunk. She thinks of these times and the rage surges up her spinal cord to flood the back of her head, triggers silver wishes: just one push and it will all end – as she pictures him falling backwards down the stairs.
She stares at him and hopes their daughter does not wake up. She dresses his lip while swallowing back the fluttering fury in her stomach. She nurses his wounds, all the while nursing her own thoughts – thoughts of him folding up into himself until he is invisible, until he vanishes from her life forever.
(That woman – that woman mending that man while contemplating his erasure – that woman is me.)
About the Author
This is not really my story to tell, but I am a part of it and so feel compelled to share this tableau exploring the inheritance of violence. I am married to an alcoholic. He has never beat or verbally abused me. But his alcoholism sank into me like a hyena’s jaws, consuming me, edging me closer and closer to insanity. Now, as he completes a year in recovery, I find myself emerging from that trauma, wings wet and unfolding, poised to take flight.