Bright and early this very morning, I challenged the rising sun.
Now within my winter years, I thought of this challenge as a conciliatory shake of the hand to that which is responsible for the persistence of life. I leaped out of bed, made my declaration in a booming baritone, and marched out the front door sporting only undergarments.
All logic was absent. No abnormality of health loomed over my head. I oversaw operations at Mast General Store the day before, as poised and dignified as a veteran manager can be. Not even a week earlier I had jogged into downtown Waynesville with my baby girl Necia riding upon my back. This had always been her preferred mode of transportation.
All this being said, I had a spontaneous yearning to throw myself toward open sky, and death was but a small part of that glorious provocation.
I galloped nearly fifty feet from the front porch, from the home that I built, that my wife had once painted what was now a fading sepia. I laid with outstretched arms at the base of the steepest hill. My bare back settling into the muck, the earth hummed far beneath the mire.
In an instant, a weight came over me. This force upon me, it made me sink into what was now a bubbling brook, formed perfectly around my body’s outline.
Finally, radiance curled across my hillside, and I embraced the day. All below disappeared, and I was sinking into open air.
What had once been my world was melting over me. All within me was to be illuminated. I became a lone lantern, a tributary beacon. To what cause, I do not know. At long last this silence, this true divinity, this unspoken word, this deity, came to me in the most terrifying of forms; memory.
My weary, bloodshot eyes wrenched open, not of my accord, and peered out from within a youthful mask. I had been thrust within my previously shed skin, a misplaced garment from my youth. The flesh fit soft and tight, both forgotten sensations. I relished in them.
I was a boy again.
All came into focus,
And there he was.
We stand together deep in the forest where he raised me through boyhood. It was his settlement, a promise to himself, his only security. A cabin with shoddy foundation, this is where I grew up much too fast. This is where I stopped remembering, retaining much of anything. At this point, Momma had long ago lost a hard fought battle with the “shakes”. That’s what papa called them, “shakes”.
A summer breeze whips around my hairless legs.
I saw him. I saw Papa about to take his nightly walkabout. I was not worried, never worried, because sure enough he would always stumble back. Tonight, however, he left something behind. Shining, silver-lined, leather bound, swinging gently from a hook near the front door.
I wanted to take away my inside pain. However frightening the night may be, Papa held no fear. Before me was his secret to chase it all away.
So, I took it.
I took his medicine.
Not much later, I took to the toilet.
Bile like boiling water singed my gullet, liquid colliding across the bathroom floor. I dropped the flask in the mess.
Then all went numb.
I picked it up. I kept it. I took a step. I fall, and I’ve become the mess.
Early morning. Still laying in sick. I squeeze the bottle, holding the cork in place with my pointer finger. A hollering in the distance prompts me to pick myself up, saunter into the kitchen, and peak out its window. Papa’s galloping back, sweating. He falls across the fresh grass like he’s torn a hamstring. From a clearing in the trees, a halo of luminescence revealed a smile a mile wide spread across his filthy face. He laughed to himself. Then, noticing me at the window, he tilted his head back and howled in delight. I smiled back and became his echo. We were the same. We were both entirely the same.
We were both entirely the same until Papa laughed one too many times.
I drank that day.
The memory from that point shatters beyond salvation. I looked on as it all fell apart.
Then warmth, without warning, fell upon me. I turned to clay, an amorphous making of a man.
All around was a comforting, midnight green glow. I looked to my feet in the dark, wiggled my toes. The ground beneath them, I noted, had turned to a clear, vibrating glass that tickled my soles. I had a premonition that a storm was gathering. As soon as such a thought crossed my mind, clouds condensed above my head. I looked to them, and so it began.
Cascading floods rained upon my naked body. The downpour filled my eyes like uncontrollable tears, but to me it was a cleansing shower. Purification seeped into every crevasse, fracture, empty space.
What was once water then became the biting, vengeful drink. I drowned, and against the drowning I did not struggle. There was no air to reach for, and sleep soon found me. It would have been perfect farewell to consciousness. If not for a gentle yet powerful hand, which pulled me out by the hair, back into the world.
Necia holds me. She is a woman, self-medicated in her own way. The child is dead and gone.
Her disappointment, her shame, her love; all attack with a ferocity beyond anything I had experienced in all my journeys.
She helped me to my feet, led me inside. From there we part ways.
I attempt to persuade her. I’ve been gone for so long, but I’m finally back. I am changed.
Necia reminds me this isn’t the first time I’d thrown myself away.
Tomorrow I’d be the same. I’d be entirely the same.
“I fought against the rising sun.” I declare.
Despite herself, Necia produces a weak, wounded smile.
That was all I needed.
Throwing back my head in laughter, I begin my tale again.