The Hanging Man

Her mother was sad, and sent Reina outside to play. She was filled with anger and helplessness, powerless to help her mother and to fix what was wrong. She ran past the willows and down the overgrown driveway. There was very little pavement left, only crumbling patches here and there among the tall weeds. The Thomsons used to live here with their twins, but after the darkness they had moved away and their house had been torn down. Reina raced up the drive and past the flowering lilac to the old oak. She threw herself down on the carpet of haircap moss that surrounded it, clearing the green of leaves and twigs that had accumulated since she had been here last.

She lay on her back on the plush moss and watched the branches overhead move in the wind, listening to the sound it made as it rattled the leaves. She was not aware she was crying until the acrid tears ran into her ears, wetting her hair where it lay spread across the ground. She dug her fingers into the thick moss, feeling the cool sponginess of the earth beneath. She worried about her mom a lot, and she tried to make her laugh, but sometimes nothing she did seemed to help. During these times, her mother didn’t seem to be all there with her. She was preoccupied and didn’t really hear what Reina had to say. Reina remembered telling her about seeing a snake in the woods and her mother’s disappointing response of “That’s nice”. Reina had thought it was exciting. She had almost died and her mother had been unimpressed!
She rolled over onto her tummy and watched a beetle trundle across her carpet. She moved a twig out of its way absently. She was only six so she didn’t think she was big enough to help her mom out. Reina got to her feet and walked over to where the Thomson’s house used to be.

Her uncle had driven her up here on the back of his dirt bike after the Thomson’s had moved out but before the house was torn down. The front door had been standing open and her uncle stopped the bike across from the house. The front door opened onto a small landing, and stairs led to the upstairs of the old farmhouse. He told her that the man who lived there had died and it was now haunted. Reina, staring wide eyed into the abandoned house, saw the outline of a hanging man through the open doorway. He appeared to be hanging from the unseen upstairs, dangling over the front door landing. She couldn’t see any of his features. She couldn’t see what he was wearing or what his face looked like; she could only see the black man-shape. Reina had been filled with dread and had started to cry. It wasn’t that she couldn’t see his features, it was that he didn’t have any. The hanging man was just a negative space shadow, and the figure of him hanging there through the wide open door was somehow obscene. Her uncle laughed at her, teasing her, but she begged him to leave, half hysterical until he drove her away from the house and sped her through the woods to get her laughing as she clung to his waist.

After that, she did not go to the house again until after they had torn it down. Thinking it safe, she had gone excavating in the demolished house’s basement. It was full of broken brick and beams, and was irresistible to an adventurous six year old. She was down in the basement, pleased at having just found some blue chalk, when she felt she was being watched. She looked up and saw a man standing on the ground above, watching her silently. He did not make a sound, and she did not recognize him, but Reina knew instinctively that he was a ghost. She scrambled to climb out of the ruined foundation while he watched. He did not speak, or threaten her in any way, just gazed at her sadly. Once she extracted herself from the ruins, scraping her leg on a nail as she did so, she ran like a rabbit, hiding in the forest until her heart quit pounding against her chest. After that she was cautious, sneaking around the old property and keeping clear of the ruins until they were filled in.

Today she was preoccupied and was not thinking about the hanging man or the ghost. The cliffs were on the other side of the property, and they fell steeply down to the gravel pit where small pools were filled with tadpoles and snakes hid in the red clay cliffsides. She was not allowed to play down there, but she had been down there often, although normally with her cousins.

family

The last few weeks I’ve been recovering from surgery. It was my knee, or right below it, I suppose, so the problem has been with getting around. I’m healing well and am ahead of schedule with that. However, I get to feeling better and tell myself I’m still healing, but then I go and do something excessive anyway and re-injure myself. I’ve always struggled with this. I feel guilty if I’m not up doing things and I get irritated at my body’s limitations. Even while I sit here, I’m having sharp pains run up into my hip that I’ve been studiously trying to ignore, but they seem to be getting worse.

I have too much time to think. I think I’m the most isolated person I know. No family and no friends.. I thought my husband would be both to me.  My mother died when I was young and my father was abusive. I took care of my brother, and apparently no one noticed the horror we were living. To be fair, I never told. I had no reason to trust anyone. All that’s in the past, but I see now that I’ve been trying to make a family all my life. There have only been a handful of people I’ve become close to, so when I let someone know me like that, they become my family. That would be ok with me except that people who are not blood related can leave any time. Meanwhile, the few blood relations I do have don’t know me. Tara knew me best, and she is my family, but we haven’t spoken in years, so that’s not much good. I can’t talk to her, or anyone, about the things I’m interested in or what’s on my mind. I see things all the time, even now, and think “Oh, Tara would like that…” but I can’t get it for her or tell her about it. I’ve always been a giving person.. too much so at times.

Enough.. I’m hurting and tired. I’m going to go watch a horror flick and cuddle my cats.

Camping

They had hiked miles into the forest, deep into the cool dim green of the Blue Ridge mountains. Kayla’s father had set the tent up near a mountain stream and they hadn’t seen other people since leaving the trail that morning. A fire pit was built near the tent, backpacks were strung up in the trees and perishables submerged in the icy cold of the stream. That night as the adults sat around the fire, she heard her father say he was going to put meat out to attract the bears. She had seen bears before. large black lumbering shapes sometimes raiding the trash cans at the picnic areas, but she had never seen one up close. Kayla pictured herself befriending the bear, sinking her fingers into the thick fur to scratch behind its ears. The bear would carry her into the forest on his back and show her secret things. Her new friend would protect her, roaring his disapproval at her father’s dark temper. She wondered what the bear’s name was.

Kayla wiggled into a sleeping back in the tent for sleep. Her mother smoothed Kayla’s fine blonde hair back and kissed her forehead. She thought her mother was the most beautiful woman she had ever seen and was filled with a fierce, helpless love as she looked up at her. Her mother was unhappy sometimes and during those times nothing Kayla did could earn her mother’s smile. Today she had been happy and smiling though, so Kayla relaxed and fell asleep to the sound of night insects, cracking branches and the uneven drip of acorns hitting the tent.

She was pulled out of sleep suddenly. It was pitch black inside the tent and she was alone. Her head was pressed against the back wall of the tent, and she felt something moving on the other side of the orange fabric. There was a low snuffling sound only inches away, and Kayla felt something large outside the tent, pressing against her head. She froze, feeling it slowly slide across the top of her head. It seemed to take forever to pass while Kayla lay perfectly still, trying not to breathe. She heard odd groaning noises, and moving as quietly as she could, she squirmed her way out of the sleeping bag and crawled to the door of the tent. Whatever was out there was big, and she tried to quell the fear gibbering in her mind. She pushed one flap aside and saw her parents standing by the fire in the darkness. They were silent but her mother saw her and beckoned her near. There was a large black bear on the other side of the camp fire, just past the tent where Kayla had been sleeping. Her mother put her arm around her shoulders, and Kayla rested her head against her mother’s hip, watching the bear smelling the leaves. He seemed enormous to Kayla and his eyes mirrored the firelight.

 

Homesickness

I recently visited my home town for a week. I grew up in a tiny little town in a rural county. The town sits on a river feeding into the Chesapeake Bay and tourists come flocking in every weekend. People whose families have been there for generations originated from the Appalachians, and at least part of the hillbilly culture has been passed down to present day. It’s odd, this little pocket of Appalachia in Maryland. If you leave the county on either side, it is like a different part of the country. It has been diluted quite a bit as people from out of state have moved in and the town has grown but that core is still intact. There are some very negative attitudes and behaviors that were passed down as well as the good, and with those things I was always at odds. About some things, that demographic behaves as if it were 1950 or so.

The forests are mixed deciduous with a wide variety of plants and animals. There are beech, hickory, oak, paw paw, cherry, sassafras, and on and on. In parts of the forest, terrestrial orchids and clubmosses grown in profusion, and in others ginseng, bloodroot and dogtooth violet grow by the streams. It is a gorgeous green place and I spent my life exploring the woods and everything within them. When I was a little girl, the woods was my safe place, where I would go to hide, and it is where I always was able to find peace. I felt like just another forest creature. The perfume of the forest was something I took for granted until I moved away. As you pass the farms, the smell of green growing corn and of sun-warmed fields of grasses and wildflowers fills the air. There are Amish farms and produce stands, and the Amish themselves have almost a holy status to the rest of us. They are highly regarded and no one minds if their horse and buggies are slowing traffic. Blue chicory flowers alongside the road with rose milkweed and black eyed susans.

In the summer it’s regularly in the 90s, and in the winter it gets to single digits. We have all four seasons and each is distinct. Every fourth of July, each tiny little town in the county has its own fireworks, and every year we go to see them. My town sets them off on the river, while the next town over has them in the park. They are often on separate days so you can go to both. People have cook outs and set off little fireworks in their yards and outside of town limits, the Appalachian descendents fire their guns. The same is done on New Year’s Eve, but with more guns. 🙂

The attitudes and beliefs of the people was the thing I had issues with. There is open racism, homophobia and ignorance. The people live in a beautiful place but don’t appreciate the beauty or wildlife. I wish I could have the friendliness of the people in my new home in the location of my old.

I started writing this because R is going home to MD. She’s homesick, and I do understand that. I’m homesick too. However, she would be better off staying here long enough to go to university, and it would do her good to make new friends here. She would have done that at college, but she’s decided she’s going home. I told her she’ll never have another opportunity like this, and I fear that she won’t go to college at all. I will miss her dreadfully… it has been wonderful having her here. She gives me someone to talk to and do things with and she helps with things I am unable to do so that I didn’t have to ask Brian. We’ve been sorting out her medical problems and  got her in therapy. We got her all set up for college and she has everything she needed or wanted, except for her family. She misses her dad and brother and aunt and grandmother. She misses her friends.  She misses Maryland in general, but she is thinking short term. In the long run I think she will be worse for going home. She needs someone to challenge her to do things and to grow out of her comfort zone. That’s painful I know, but it’s what’s good for her in the long run. Treating her like a child and not pushing her to do anything is going to be less stress I guess, but then she will never reach her full potential. There’s nothing I can do about it though. Who listens when they’re eighteen?  I know I didn’t, even if I had had someone like myself trying to help. I never had a person like that, but I wish I did.

Flashback to an old memory

My parents liked to get high. Especially my father. They smoked weed from as early as I could remember, and when I was little I hated the smell of it. It was especially bad in a closed car. As I got older, I appreciated my dad smoking it, especially after my mom died, because it chilled him out a bit. But there are a few instances when I was little that they were high and didn’t display the best judgement.

Do you know how when you remember things that happened when you were very young, that it’s sort of like watching a faded home movie? It is with me anyway, and that’s how I see the following incident. I was four, in the back seat, with my parents up front. They were high, and we were driving through a strange neighborhood. They pulled over to the curb and told me to get out and walk home. I remember watching the car leave, and then I started walking. I had no idea where I was or where home might be in relation to this, but I suppose in my four year old reasoning, I thought I’d get there eventually. I don’t know. I remember walking through people’s yards as I cut through and coming out on another street. My parents pulled up behind me, and I remember being surprised to see them. I don’t know how long I had been walking, but my mother was crying and my father was pissed off. He yelled at me to get in the car, which I did. He asked me where I was going, and I answered that I was walking home. He asked how I knew where home was. I don’t remember what I told him. I think it was that I didn’t know.That’s all I remember of it and the film ends there. What I think is that they went around the block and expected me to be standing there when they returned.

This came up today in therapy. I’m not sure what brought up that particular memory… we weren’t talking about my parents or my childhood. By the time I finished telling him I was shaking and nervous, which is  kind of odd. It wasn’t a traumatic experience… it was just an example of how things were.