Until the day I die, I’ll never forget those glassy unblinking eyes. Deep and haunting. Surrounded by the blood pouring down her forehead. Her left hand reaching for my forearm as I work feverishly to undo her seat belt. Her breathing is laboring, a gargling sound with each heave of her chest. My mind races with the endless possibilities I am currently facing. I find myself in this perilous situation alone on a long stretch of south Louisiana country road in near total darkness. Her phone, still in her right hand, provides me with the only light inside the car. It lights up with every text received from someone who is a total stranger to me. “911!” I think as I pull myself from inside her window and reach in my pocket for my phone. I run my finger across the screen to unlock it. The light now reveals my home screen streaked with her blood and the zero coverage sign on the top bar. “Shit, what do I do?” I say out loud. I look both directions on the highway and see the beautiful stars among the large oak trees towering above us. “The heavens” I think briefly. The sound of movement inside the car reminds me of the grave situation I find myself in. I stick my body inside and feel her chest rise against my ear as I reach for the seat belt a second time. I hear that deep gargle sound again and a faint “I don’t want to die.” She she is aware of the situation. “How do the hell I help her?” I think as I wrestle with the seat belt. I am just a 16 year old farm boy returning home from my grandmothers house when I stumbled into this awful situation. Now, in what seems like only seconds since I arrived, a life before me is slipping away in front my very eyes. I take a deep breath as the seat belt finally unfastens. My brain finally registers the smell of burned rubber, gasoline and alcohol. “What do I do?” I yell as I again pull myself from inside the window. I attempt to open the door to the car to no avail. “Miss! Miss!” I say in a panicked voice. “Can you hear me?” The only response I receive is yet another laboring breath. My mind goes blank. Suddenly I hear a man telling me to get in my car and drive to the next house for help. I oblige and race to a farm house about two miles south of the accident. I quickly exit my car and run to the front door. I knock vigorously. “I need help!” I yell into the door. I hear footsteps between my gasping breath. I look at my feet as the door opens and the light from within shines upon me. As my eyes slowly work their way from my feet to my shirt and dangling arms I notice I am covered in blood. I hurriedly tell the man of the situation as he hurriedly pulls me inside the foyer. He yells to his wife, still out of sight to me, to call 911 while he quickly puts his boots on. “You stay here with my wife while I head to the scene.” My body trembles as I notice the injured lady’s handprint on my blood covered forearm. The farmer’s wife calls me into the living room where she ask for the number to call my parents. I stood in silence waiting for their arrival.
Now, two days later I stand next to this painting in the hallway of the town funeral home. I am staring at it intensely oblivious to my current surroundings. I am here at the request of the parents of Shelia Dowling, the young lady I tried to assist on that dark country road. The funeral home employee has gone to tell them of my arrival. I am scared beyond belief. I don’t know anything about her injuries or eventual passing. I didn’t read about the accident though my mother told me it was on page two of the daily paper and the internet. I feel just as helpless as I did that night. If I leave these men in the painting and walk down the hallway I will certainly see the body of the lady I struggled alone to help. I have never seen a dead body before. “What do I say to them?” I think to myself. I was absolutely NO help to their daughter. And I know no one here. I am alone. My mind not able to erase the vision Shelia’s eyes accompanied by the sounds of her struggling for air. I am shaking as the parents approach me. The employee quietly introduces us. “Micheal, meet Evelyn and Sterling Dowling. They are Shelia’s parents and are very happy that you came today.”
Mr. Dowling is the first to extend his hand for mine. As we shake hands I look at the face of Mrs. Evelyn and notice the red cheeks and swollen eyes. After my hand is freed, I reach out and hug her. In a trembling voice I say “I am so sorry.” I then let out a river of tears accompanied by my loud wailing as if it was my own family member loss that evening. I feel the father’s hand on my back and here his words “We are so proud how brave you were to offer help to our daughter. I am sure your presence gave her much comfort and for that we are forever grateful.” Mrs. Eveyln held me tightly and stroked my back. “Wipe your tears Michael,” she says calmly. “You are a wonderful young man and I wish you nothing but the best in your future. You will forever be in our thoughts and prayers.” I wiped my face with a kleenex offered by the funeral home worker. The visit is brief. The mother kisses me on the cheek and says thank you once again. I promptly turn around and walk out into the hot and humid Louisiana air. As i walk to my car, I understand that I was forever changed. I will be forever connected to Sheila Dowling though we only came into contact for five minutes of my sixteen plus years on this planet. I will never forget her. I hope to meet her again.
This work of fiction was written for The Speak Easy #162 at Yeah Write
The yelling stopped. Then I heard loud footsteps and the living room door slam shut.
I sat up in bed as the family car started up and quickly drove away. I stared at my candle as it flickeredspastically at its end. Suddenly darkness engulfed the room. I slowly lay back down and heard the faint sound of my mother crying. My heart sank and my body became numb. I felt powerless as I heard words through her tears.
“Why? Why God? Answer me dammit! Why?”
Yelling and crying was nearly a nightly occurrence through my youth. But I never heard her talk to herself before that night. Soon after I fell asleep I was awakened suddenly by my mother.
“Let’s go Joshua. Don’t ask any questions.”
God must have answered her that evening. We never went back home.
Her father laughed uncontrollably as he sipped his beer then gently placed the can on the arm of the chair. Jeanie didn’t dare look up at him from her spot under the cushions. With her eyes closed she prayed while pondering the laugh. Was it a laugh of anger coming from him? Or simply a playful laugh of a loving father? Jekyl and Hyde was the daily game she played her father.
He grabbed the beer can and chugged what was left then tossed it aside. She now understood the inevitable. Slowly she peered from behind the cushion and glanced up at the monster above.
“Good Morning students,” the instructor says profoundly. “Welcome to the first day class for those who survived childhood with an abusive alcoholic unscathed.” He looks out into the empty desks before him. He paces a few steps with his head down and hand on his chin. His eyes are as vacant as the scene before him. “I will raise my voice so those in the far back can hear!” he yells into the void. “I am Professor Minnefield. Survivor of physical and mental abuse from an alcoholic parent,” he projects in a booming voice of confidence. “If I can go through life and succeed….”
“Mr. Thomas, keep your voice down,” the nurse abruptly tells the man standing in front of the picture on the wall. “You can’t go on yapping like that. This is the quiet zone of the ward. Here, let me help you tie the back of your hospital gown.”
I grew up in a small town in the heart of Cajun country of south Louisiana. I was an only child on a sugar cane farm with an alcoholic father, a loving mother and a chaotic household. My mother, a seventh grade drop-out, did everything she could to keep things normal for me and most likely for herself as well. My father drank daily. And yelled daily. We lived in an old farm-house that we rented for twenty dollars a month. This is in the seventies mind you, not the early 1930s. The house had no heating or cooling. The roaches pranced around like they owned the place while the rats danced in the attic. Often I heard them fighting. At times they would fall down the walls of my room. Not exactly a place you wanted to invite friends. My days were spent alone, in my own world. I played with toy tractors and football by myself in the pasture. Our closest neighbors were an old and kind black couple. Behind my house were acres and acres of sugar cane fields. They were my escape from the chaos of my home. My favorite time of the year was spring. The cane had grown to three feet in height at this stage of their growth. That is just a bit shorter than I was at eight years old. The winds would blow swiftly yet silently across the fields. Often in the spring I would walk into the cane fields and fly my kite. The vast expanses of openness along with the spring winds were ideal for this activity.
One particular spring I purchased a baby blue paper kite from the local Ben Franklin. This was a departure from the more cool plastic bat kites of the time. Owning a paper kite would surely bring ridicule at school had my classmates found out. My father helped me construct the simple kite. Four light pieces of grooved wood and the paper itself was all that was needed for assembly. He added a long strip of a worn bed sheet, yellowish in color, as a tail. One spring Saturday morning in 1973, at age of nine, I was ready to launch my kite on its maiden voyage.
I left the house late that particular morning. My mother had prepared a lunch for me and placed it in a small brown paper bag. In the bag was a ham sandwich with mayonnaise, a bag of lays chips and a cold Winn Dixie brand of grape soda. Off I went across our pasture behind our house. Over the ditch and into the cane field I marched till I found the perfect location. I was alone. The wind blowing briskly across the tops of the sugar cane. The long leaves made a slight hissing sound as they danced in the breeze. Armed with two reels of kite string spun around an old broomstick handle, I flung my kite in the air. Up it went into the sky, the breeze lifting it skyward. Quickly it reached the end of the string. There it flew above me, its tail waiving in the wind. I pushed the broomstick handle into the ground to free my hands. I looked into the clear sky, dotted with fluffy white clouds, at my kite flying so majestically. It was simply beautiful.
I don’t remember the amount of time I spent in the field that day. It felt like an eternity. I spread my small body between two rows of sugar cane with my feet just barely touching the infant stalks of cane. The ground below me was cool against my back. It was slightly hard from the drizzle of rain the day before. The cool ground was a sharp contrast the warm sun shining from above onto the front of my body. I ate my lunch there, carefully placing the trash back into the bag. My dog Flag visited me at one point. I even napped. All the time, my kite just flew above me. When the wind picked up I could hear the rustling against the paper. I felt so free. So at peace. I felt my house of chaos was a million miles away when in reality, it was only a few hundred yards south of me.
I remember that day vividly, even to this day. The memory is a short film captured for my mind to play whenever I want to revisit. I can still feel the cold ground below me. I can still hear the kite rustling in the breeze. I remember the cold can of check soda, the outside of the can covered in beads of water caused by condensation. When I want to relax I just hit the start button and play this moment in time. It soothes me even these many years later. I often hope that when I pass on that I can revisit that day. Perhaps I can hover above that scene and see the happiness, if just for that day, in my eyes. It was for me, at that time, a heavenly day.
Life on the farm was tough for Timmy. He was assigned daily chores from a very young age. During the school year he learned to juggle school work with daily chores. Farm life left him no time for extracurricular activities at school much less for friendships. School was just a break from work. His nightly homework, which many classmates complained about, was less work than his duties before school. Farm life, he determined, was not for him.
Timmy’s dogged desire to escape weighed heavily on his mind. He wanted to move far away to the big city. In his ten-year old mind, he was on this earth to be an actor, not a farmer.
“Mom, I’m headed out to feed the hogs.” Out the door he went with his only friend, his dog Ranger close behind. The two walked to the hog pen and dumped two buckets of this mornings delicacy into the trough. Then they headed to the nearby barn. Timmy sat on a hay bale. Ranger hopped up beside him. He reached out and stroked the dog’s head. His tail wagged with delight. “Ranger, one day I will leave this farm.” he explained. “You’ll stay here. I will miss you dearly. However, I must leave! I don’t want to be a farmer. I want to be an actor. I know Dad will hate me. Mom will constantly worry. But I know you will love me.”
Timmy stood up. He looked out the open doors onto the endless stretch fields. “I want to be an actor,” he said to Ranger. “I’m going to be a Hollywood star. I’m gonna be in westerns with John Wayne. Everyone will know and like me. It won’t be like school where they make fun of me.” He walked to Ranger and gave him a hug. “Ya’ know, you are my only friend. My best friend. That will never change, I promise. I love you Ranger.”