Flowers Out of Bone
by Ethel Morgan Smith
But that doesn’t mean I’ll be getting involved in my Alabama family’s life out of some kind of ‘empty nest syndrome.’ I can’t rely on them for nothing, other than their mostly self-inflicted drama, always a mess; I need peace. Yes, they love me, but they’ve never figured out how to be in my life. At least they are in Emma’s life.
Bone scares me, like no other place in the world. How could it be that such a bad thing could’ve happened to such a nice girl? It’s not that I want to forget my past; nobody can. I go long stretches at a time without thinking about Bone or Emmett. And even when he crosses my mind it isn’t like thinking of a real person anymore. His image is blurred like a calendar from twenty years ago.
For a long time, I remembered every detail of the last time I had seen him. We got a real chance of bein’ a family. Could be ready for it now. The baby deserves that. Let’s try. I held on to those words, but the sound of his voice had long ago faded like the color of cotton stockings. Did pictures always fade a little after the person is no longer present? Somewhere along the journey I had lost his voice too. I have nothing of his anymore. How could this be? Sometimes I see a little bit of him in Emma, a hand gesture or the way she holds her head when she’s thinking about serious matters.
Then it was his smell that I tried to cling to, that clean-shaven, Old Spice-smelling face. No one wears Old Spice anymore, and if they do, it doesn’t smell like it had on that spring evening in 1970. I can still see the bigness of his gapped front teeth, and the way the depth of his dimples lit up his deep-set black-eyed Susie’s eyes. Those big and clear eyes are veined on my heart.
But this time I’m driving home on a different journey. My new foreign car affords me the ease of freedom as I nose the rattlesnake roads of rural Alabama. Soaring pine trees shooting up toward the blue sky from the red clay guides us like a plotted plan. I’ve convinced myself that I’m doing my motherly duty by coming home with Emma before she goes to college. That the only graduation gift she had asked for: “Mom, you need to go home.”
I wish I could tell my daughter stories about how I had spent my early life, the part of my life that cries out to be remembered, a time before Emmett, a time of church socials, school dances, hanging out with the Goodlow girls. I dream of talking to my daughter without sadness, shame or pain. My life had been simple: church, school, and family. I’ve mostly been silent to my daughter about her daddy, always afraid that my pain would overshadow any pleasant memory I own of him. Afraid I would fall apart trying to explain to her about her dead daddy. What could I say to her? Parents shouldn’t have to speak to their children about such matters. Was it possible to make new memories in Bone? In spite of that, I believe my Princeton-bound daughter still needs her history; it will give her strength for the journey she is about to travel.
To Be Continued