Finding My Thunder 1

Christmas vacation, 1966, my sophomore year. A two week reprieve from the hallowed halls of Forkville High in Ludicrous, Tennessee. I was too cold to drag my feet but as I neared home I could see it laying by the gate to our front yard, an old dog, a sooner. She was laying there and she rose up seeing me, but there was no challenge in her, just a sorrowful looking at me, hoping I could decide her fate quick.

I set my books on the ground and knelt beside her and introduced myself. "Hey old girl," I said. "How you doin'? I'm Bella Swan. Yeah that's a good old girl. Sooner be one thing than another." Her ears hadn't been scratched in a long time, and she lifted her white muzzle and closed her eyes it felt so good.

She was grateful for what I could give. She cringed when James Masen barreled past in his purple Fairlane. But I paid that car no mind, and I told her she shouldn't either, but I wondered for a second if Edward was riding shotgun like usual and if he saw me kneeling there, and I wondered if he'd think about it…about me…and I wondered that I wondered about someone so far away he might as well live on the moon. And I let his indifference stab me all over again and I knew I'd let this old dog in.

"Hey, come on," I said opening the wobbly gate, not that she couldn't have come in on her own beneath this rickety fence. But she was polite, I knew that.

So I let her wait on the porch and when I entered the hallway Mama was not downstairs, but I didn't expect it. So I crossed the hall and went in the kitchen. There wasn't much. Naomi lived behind in the carriage house and brought supper like as not. But we had us a pack of hot dogs been in there too long. They smelled okay. So I put them on a paper plate and took them outside.

Sooner was grateful. While she ate I got an old blanket from the chest we used as a coffee table. It had some history, that blanket did, but it hadn't seen the light of day in a while, and it smelled like it had died. I took it outside and shook it and folded it back. I hadn't crawled under our porch for many a year and I didn't want to ruin my one decent pair of bell-bottoms, so I kind of duck walked through the broken trellis that served as a door way on the side of the porch. I smoothed the blanket under there, and Sooner had followed me in and I patted that cover and she settled down still licking the hot dog taste off her teeth.

I'd of liked to do more for her, but around here you only got so much of folk's good intentions cause we were pretty used up.

So I told her goodnight and she did not follow me now, she let me go.

Back at my front door, I stopped enough to touch the sadness that was our Christmas Wreath. We'd had it a hundred years seemed like, well everything, there wasn't much new around here. I pushed past it and once I was in for good then I had to face Mama.

All day had me a feeling at school, all day Mama on me like a shadow, worse than usual. So I called her as I took the creaky stairs, my hand dragging on the wallpaper that held years and years of my family's stories.

"Mama," I said, like I wasn't gonna take her nonsense, like I was brave.

But she did not answer.

The stained glass window on the landing threw color on the boards that creaked beneath my penny loafers. Up a shorter second flight onto the floor where the bedrooms were. I listened and it was so quiet. Too quiet.

Then a thump. Like the house had one heartbeat left in it. And I pushed Mama's door wide. I put my books on the piled dresser. The bed was tousled, pillows dented, covers knotted.

I went there and dropped to my knees and lifted the bedskirt. I looked under the bed across all that dust, and there she was on the other side looking at me. My breath, my hope all in one long rush. She was deeper in.

I dropped that ruffle and got up on the bed and crawled across. She laid on her side, on that crack of carpet between the bed and the wall. Her face hidden by that bedskirt.

I said, "Mama, get up, get up," the way Jesus said to people so many times. That's how Naomi preached it, the 'Get up and walk,' sermon.

But Mama held that skirt over her face so she didn't have to see me. I pulled on her now until she'd give way and I could get her up and shove her on the bed.

These were yesterday's clothes sure enough. And hair from ten years before cause she didn't cut it, wouldn't is what, and it got pretty wild, long and black like the roots of an unearthed plant. But this time of madness was the longest and the farthest away cause I almost couldn't get her back no matter how I shouted.

Naomi said to come get her if Mama wasn't better by tonight and the ladies would come and pray, but sometimes Mama fought that and she would go for Naomi Blue and then we had to pull her off and I'd set on her until she was better but Naomi was too old now, too old for this.

So I hoped to shake her out of it, but then you never knew how it would go one day or another so I thought I'd try and get her in the bath and maybe I could get the knots out of her hair and we'd see then.

"You have got to try," I said to her, petting her like I done with that sooner just minutes before. "You got to try, Mama, or someone is gonna find out and what if they take you?"

She grabbed me and she had the crazy eyes so bad, and she was killing my arm saying loud, "He was so little…and…I had to save him…."

"What are you talking about? Just calm down. Tonight we'll watch Columbo and we can have TV dinners…lasagna."

But she was gripping me hard, "I did it. I did it…."

She was gasping and looking all around.

"Mama…just breathe slow, remember? I'll run you a bath…."

She gripped me again, "You can't tell him."

"Tell who? Daddy?" She didn't need to worry about that. We didn't tell him anything if it could be helped and anyway he was over at Loreena's as usual and had been for nearly two weeks now.

"Promise me…swear it," she yelled at me.

"Tell him what?" I thought of leaving her, running downstairs, calling an ambulance and getting it over with, the shame, for she would fight, Lord she would fight. And we had no money. And I could fix this like a hundred other times. I could get her back.

"The baby…I saved him," she whispered.

"Then you should be proud of yourself," I said.

She slapped me across the face and I saw something white and heard a ringing.

I pushed her away and she fell back whimpering and I ran out of there holding my cheek.

Something popped in me, and I knew I couldn't bear this anymore. I went in the bathroom and rummaged through the medicine cabinet and grabbed Daddy's old razor and unscrewed it while I made this terrible sound, and I picked that razor blade out of it with my trembling fingers and I held it up and just stared at it.

I pictured myself showering this whole place with my blood before I died.

Then I caught myself in the mirror, holding that blade…and I looked like her…the eyes…something crazy…and the hair…that for sure.

I thought of Naomi. She would find me. And after Jacob…after him….

I pitched that blade into the toilet and flushed it down and sunk to my knees on that cold white tile and I slammed the lid and folded my arms there and put my head on them and I cried without tears…no tears…just sounds like I didn't know I could make. I wanted…I wanted…and I would die pining…like Mama.

Mama's the one came in sometime later and I was sleeping there on that cold floor in that dark room. She turned on the bright sickening light and I sat up and pushed my hair off my face, and she was docile now, standing small and bowed. And my face throbbed.

"Columbo's on," she said, and this was the most she thought about me in many days…maybe my whole life.

"If you don't go to the doctor…I'm gonna get Miss Blue and she's bringing the ladies," I said pulling myself onto my feet, stiff and hurting.

"No," she said and she come for me and grabbed on. "No, no. I'll go. You don't tell no one."

"Tell them what?" I said.

She nodded. "Nothing."

For I did not pick through her ramblings. But I had heard. The baby. And whatever it meant…I did not know. And I did not care.

I made that appointment after New Years. Naomi Blue drove us to Corning to see the doctor there. Mama made me sit up front with her, and she laid on the back seat.

We did not talk much but Naomi did sing hymns sometimes. And she did tell me a story or two about folks in the colored neighborhood. But mostly, we were quiet.

Mama wouldn't look at a magazine but she sat in the waiting room, her head down. When they called I went too and took her in and helped her sit on the table. She was cleaned up, but she slumped like a rag doll mostly. The nurse said I had to go out, and I wanted to, wanted them to take over…someone…but it didn't matter so much what I wanted and I would die of sin and guilt were I to fail her.

But she wouldn't look at me, she was mad, she blamed me for this. She didn't want to come. So I left her there and sat in the waiting room my stomach so sick and anxious I could barely sit still.

Miss Blue had gone next door to the hospital to see folks cause she had worked there in housekeeping for thirty years…so over she went, and I waited with Mama. When it was done she come storming out holding her blouse closed, it not buttoned and I grabbed our coats and tore after her. She took the stairs down, me quick behind her and we hadn't paid but I had to get her to stop now before she ran outside and I'd have to run after her and everyone would see. So I got her at the bottom. She leaned on the wall and she was moaning, head rolling side to side.

And I said, "What?" But I didn't want to hear.

And she grabbed me and said, "He's in me…it ain't good."

"Stop it," I hissed at her filling the stair well with her crazy talk. "Now you tell me straight or I'll go see myself."

She sobered up some and looked me hard in the eye. "We ain't gonna say anything to Miss Blue…or to your daddy…don't you ever…don't you ever…," and she was little like me but the crazy made her strong as Daddy, and she was shaking me.

I asked, "What did the doctor say?"

And she said, "He ain't ever gonna change…your daddy…if God wants to do me this way…don't you tell your Daddy and don't you ever…ever tell…Blue."

And I said, "Tell what?"

And she eased up and let off, and she slumped against the wall, and I never seen a look so hopeless. "I got…a lump."

"Is it something bad?" I said.

She looked at me then. "Don't you ever tell. He's in me now. He's in me."

We held her secret all that school year…the lump...him being in her. I thought of it in the dark shadows of my room…at church while I watched the ladies dance in the aisle and play their tambourines…at school when I stared out the window…when I looked at Edward across the way…across the great expanse, as they clapped for him on fields, in gyms, on stage at assemblies, in the lunch room…as they wanted so much for him…as he feasted on hoorays…as another year ended and summer stretched long and hot and poor…I thought of Mama and her secrets. And I thought of myself.

I knew how someone could get inside…and grow. Oh, I knew.

But Mama…she didn't love anyone like that.