A Shield Without a Sword

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Real-life metaphor for drug abuse.

Submitted: September 24, 2012

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Submitted: September 24, 2012



When the door opens, they find my cousin’s body lying face-down over crumpled blankets, white drifts of cocaine scattered on the desk. Resting amid the chalky remains is a credit card, the edge coated in powder, and a peeling leather wallet, empty except for a driver’s license and a small family portrait. A cut straw lies spent underneath the chair, having rolled away when Chris used it for the last time. His skin milky, puffy eyes drained of color, paths of dried blood that had trickled out of his nose: the legacy of the stress and pain triggered by his father. He had flimsily deflected whatever took aim at his mother and sister, whatever attempted to pierce their already bruised dispositions. But he crushed and inhaled a shield around his mind. He squeezed his eyes shut.

The police found his father walking briskly on some Wyoming street. They asked him what he was doing with meth, and he just shook his head at the ground. The meth never made it to the consumer, and neither did my uncle. But by then, Chris’s security shield faithfully stood guard in little white rows every night when he arrived home from work. It was a reassuring friend, the anesthesia of surgery.

Ages before his death, distant Chris was far from our young, marshmallow minds, yet we also faced a persistent enemy. Submerged in the bug-thick water of my grandparent’s backyard swimming pool, Gina, my brothers, and I would hide from the viatic wasps that sucked the chlorine-filled water like a mosquito sucks blood. We ventured in despite these relentless monsters (and the cesspool of dead bugs). It was a haven from the hot, humid air that melted our skin. But it never failed that Gina, lying supine on an inner tube, would give a shrill warning of the wasp’s return.

A tiny blur of black and yellow sailed toward our pool, and landed lightly on the surface. We sucked in the sticky air and plunged into the water. Our quick descent into the depths of the pool stirred up the dead bugs like a snow globe. As my lungs ached, the enemy drank. Wasps can’t swim; they land in a way that barely grazes the surface. But we stayed under, saving our skin from the stinging bumps the wasp threatened to give. I squeezed my eyes shut against the murky water. Not knowing how long the wasp would hang around. Even as my lungs pleaded I refused to resurface until Gina and the boys declared that all was safe. Like prisoners in a jailbreak, the others burst out of our self-designed prison and confirmed that the wasp was gone.

Gina wrestled back onto her inner tube, my brothers tossing back and forth a spongy, yellow ball, but the image of the wasp still burned in our minds. The shield of the polluted water protected us only temporarily from the wasp. Maybe we could have just slapped at it, swatted it dead, but we didn’t want to risk being attacked. Sword-less, we clung to our shield and its never-ending promise of momentary protection.

Years later I sit at Chris’s memorial service, shadowed under an awning that holds back the piercing June sunlight, and friends and family share stories about his life. From age one to twenty-nine. We talk about his sun-bleached hair, how much he cared for his mom and sister, how great he was with kids, trying to loosen the final memory of his overdose. The drowning in drugs.

His father sat quietly in a prison somewhere, yet day after day Chris would still lean over crystalline stripes. I could imagine myself back in that infested pool, my five year-old brother squealing, “I’m going inside!” But the rest of us are content to hide, to glance over our shoulders and prevent the stinger from pricking our skin. We dunk under, looking up through the film of water. We want peace, and we hold our breath, inhale that bitter substance. Refusing to grab a sword, we deteriorate under our feeble shields. We sink under until we can’t come back up.

© Copyright 2019 Ligeia Collins. All rights reserved.

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