The First Night of Summer Break

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic

I thought - I mean, really thought - about my screwed-up life in the moments when nothing was happening.

Dad sold the tractor to send me to school and Mama prayed daily for the strength to let me go. The two of them broke the bank to send me to college in the city, and I was grateful. Really, I was. They were gonna make a real woman out of me; they were gonna make a high-educated city girl with a future. I wanted to do that for them; it was the least I could do, I thought. My brothers weren't going to get that opportunity. They were still young - fourteen and sixteen, and I don't think they had any idea that their lives were destined to the dust in the same way that Daddy's was. They would have no futures. They would remain in the dustiest part of South Texas and spend their lives tilling unforgiving soil, thanking God for every meal they ate and wondering if they would ever have another. 

But for their oldest, their only daughter, Mama and Daddy would let no such fate unravel. 

"You're gonna have a life," Mama said, smoothing out her graying hair before the mirror, not looking at me at all. "You're gonna have opportunity." 

And I was grateful for opporunity. I vowed I'd make them happy, and I vowed I'd make them proud. 

College was no small ordeal, though. Especially not with the weight of the family on my shoulders. I would tell them the good parts: my good grades, the lights in the city, the way the good girls would curl their hair and giggle when a boy looked at them twice. I never told them the bad parts, though the bad parts were all I could really remember. I wasn't a bad girl, but I guess Pastor Nathan would call the things I did bad things. They sent me away to get an education, but all I got was addicted to alcohol. 

On the first night of summer break I slipped outside after most of the family was fast asleep. I dipped my feet into muddy puddles and listened to the roar of distant cicadas. The mosiquoes weren't out yet; the heat was young and the pests had yet to be born. When bright May withered into a muggy, miserable August there'd be clouds of them, a good kind of suffering that reminded me of where I was. Of what I was. 

In the meantime, I lit a cigarette and felt the burn of nicotine in my throat. Spitting was unlady-like, but I figured if no one could see me it wouldn't matter. Trees in the forest and all that. Cigarettes made my mouth water, but not in the way that a good meal on an empty stomach would. No, this was all illness; a burning, insufferable watering that reminded me I was wasting my life waiting for life to happen. I spat into the mud. A moth crashed into the porch light and died on the way to the ground, and insect Icarus with no father to mourn its passing. Inhale. Exhale. I hated nicotine. I was already feeling nauseaus, like one too many shots and music too soft to drown me. My body felt heavy, but I didn't know if it was the cigarette or my own loathing. Inhale. Exhale. My mind slipped into nothingness, only the stinging stench of smoke and the wish that I didn't have to do this at all. 

The lazy breeze stirred the trees, and I lay back and watched the clouds skirt across a dim twilight sky. The leaves and branches above me were black, shadows dancing on the edge of my vision. Another breath, another hit of smoke. The shadows wavered a little. I could smell the smoke, I could taste the buzz on the tip of my tongue. I wished for whiskey - watered down with coke so I could pretend it was all for fun and not to wipe my mind of everything my parents had done for me. 

I'm not a good girl. 

I didn't ever plan on being a lawyer, but I'd be one if that's what Dad and Mama wanted. They'd smile and tell me that I could be anything I wanted, but truth is I never wanted to be anything. I was perfectly happy to stay here in the mud and watch the spring buds ripen into summer leaves and then wither and die when the sun scorched too hot. I wasn't a good girl. They were willing to sell their souls to make me one, but truth is all I could envision myself being was what I was then. Backwoods white trash, just watching the world turn around me. 

Maybe one day I'd have married some farmer's son. He'd be bright-eyed on his wedding day, but after the first bad harvest he'd turn to the bottle, too. Maybe one day he'd turn into a wife-beater, like Mama always knew he was. Maybe Daddy'd come and beat him senseless, for his daughter's "honor", and just turn a blind eye to me, in the corner, black-eyed and smoking with a baby on my skinny hip. 

In the mud, I rested a hand over my stomach. They wanted me to be as unlike them as humanly possible, without realizing that I could never be anything they weren't. I'd be happy to sit in a beaten '95 Ford, without a penny to my name and only a sad-eyed farmer to give me a last name and a little plot of land and nothing else. 

Inhale. Exhale. I wanted to puke. The world was spinning and I'd only had three cigarettes. I chucked the steaming butt into a nearby puddle and lit another one. My hands were shaking. I could feel every heartbeat, every breath of humid summer air. They wanted to make something out of me, I thought nonsensically, mind blanking again. Inhale. Exhale. 

Summer was just starting and I wouldn't have to think about the future for a few months yet. I closed my eyes, world spinning uncontrollably. I vowed to quit smoking, after that. Inhale. Exhale. 

I didn't think anything, after that.


Submitted: May 26, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Arlie Robertson. All rights reserved.

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