(Photography by Artist Elizabeth Punches)
WIP Chapter 2. Last pt. My mothers face. My mothers dream. (See previous by searching WIP.)
Washing my face I stared at myself in the mirror and saw the lines of my mother. Not only the lines but I realized that though she had always wanted to leave, I HAD left. The woman I wanted to be least like lived in me stronger than I wished to face. Growing up she always seemed to live vicariously through her children and their dreams yet try and hold them back from them at the same time. Mom had always wanted to do what I had done. Leave. But then she hated me when I did. But the comparison of my mother and I was not something that I wanted. I had spent my entire life trying to be like anybody else but her…and now here I was. Looking in the mirror at the face of a woman who had the same eye’s….the same mouth…who had wanted to leave, though t was only I who did. Who had spent years running away and hiding from the reality even if one had not left at all. I just did the same thing she had but on a different coast. I had killed my husband. I was more like the woman I wished the least to be like.
Well, I was back. I was sure that though she acknowledged that I had done what she had wanted to do, she also had the satisfaction of my return and a crumbled pile of dreams left behind, on the other side of those damn gate’s.
She always did win. I had left that day sixteen years ago thinking I held the win. Bird 1.
I had been wrong.
Fuck fuck fuck. The bar of soap was thrown into the sink splashing water everywhere and I walked out throwing on some clothes and headed for a walk in the night. My first venture back into the down town of the island where I’d been born and raised. Galveston Island. Left a girl, back a woman and not a damned bit wiser for it. Only a bit more lived. A lot of good that did for me.
The old oak tree’s over hanging the road and the palms lining Broadway. The soft glow of the street lamps on wet pavement the only remaining evidence of the recent winter torrential rain I had walked through only a day before. That was Galveston, quick to come, quick to go.
I found my way past the shops on Postoffice Street, the main Down Town area street. Most people who don’t live here know of the Seawall and The Strand but the Down Town ends up being pretty sacred to the locals even though it carries…and I saw that it now carried a lot of new and different, most of the best restaurants, cafe’s, stores, shops, and art galleries. I now saw that had all changed so much in so long of time, it still held a lot of the shops and stores, but more of them than I had grown up with, with a newer feel…The only way of not getting lost was the trusty grid of the streets of alphabet and numbers.
There was a coffeeshop that hadn’t existed before…something that looked straight out of what you would find in a hip Burbank California location. Obviously the island was still heavy with students who had heads bent studying or chatting outside under the parugula covered in vines as I walked by. The students had been around in my time, too, for at least two of the now three colleges. The coffeeshop seemed a little hipster spot but I was sure I would find myself there soon. Coffeeshops were my thing. Had long been my office for my writing, looking like a student myself with head bent over a laptop even though I long ago closed my last textbook and was finished being a student.
I wandered along through what I thought would be familiar and found it very changed, even if the basis of the historic buildings remained the same. I compared it it myself. The base of me was still the same but in all true life I had changed…even before the shooting. My travels and work and studies and just life had changed me a lot. Of course , simply put, I was a grown up now when before I had left I’d been a nineteen year old kid. So change was to be expected. Life changes you. All of it. I wondered if before the shooting that change was good, or bad, or truly ‘achieved’. But real life that doesn’t happen to everybody in the likes of shooting and killing your husband. That kind of change changes a person’s very soul. I did not yet know what those changes were but seeing the old historic familiar buildings of the same underneath a new layer of paint, updates and signs, I realized that they were definitely there. This island wasn’t the same and yet it was. I wasn’t the same and yet…somewhere I still was. I wondered if I’d recognize her as I did these old buildings.
I was new here. I was strange here. I wondered again if coming back was the right thing as I opened the door to the one place that seemed to have remained completely the same and unchanged, down to the piano player on stage. Old Quarter Acoustic Cafe…the smoky little bar that had seen more musicians than any band fan or Hollywood hooker ever had. The place was dark and I felt the warmth that I knew just then I had sought. Even underage I had long been coming here to listen back in the days when my dad would allow it while he sang old jazz on stage…often pulling me up with him only to walk away leaving me to stand in the spotlight alone….no turning back…time to sing….”like a bird” he always said. I realized the comparison of this act to the being thrown in the deep end….fend for myself but close enough to step in if needed. It seemed that he had continuously tried teaching me the lessons of life but they hadn’t been recognized for what they were until now, many mistakes worth that could have been prevented later.
I walked up to the bar and ordered a red wine…awful, I wasn’t much in the mood for the drink anyway but to sit in a corner and just let myself be found for a minute. I had spent a long time being lost and lately being in a spotlight I would never want and I didn’t mind the dim light of the corner here not being noticed. Not being known.
They say that not all those who wander are not lost but for a good decade I had been pretty lost and wandered plenty and for just a small moment I needed to feel ok in the spot that I sat.
As local’s or pass-through musician’s with acoustic guitars got on stage and sang some sad story song they had written I had at least a moment for the world to stop spinning. I took my notebook out and wrote…and wrote…and wrote. The words flowing from me like water in a river. I’d spent my time sitting in a jail cell staring at the same blank square of wall the entire time, replaying over and over the awful scene. I had often in the past two weeks picked up pen but hadn’t been able to write a single word to paper.
I had felt that being the ultimate sign that I was broken. Shattered into a million pieces.
I hadn’t realized when the music actually stopped until the shadow fell across my page and I looked up to see an old man’s familiar smiling face, a face with the same cracks in the same paint that had always been during my childhood, not all that was familiar and recognized is bad after all.
“Bird?! You look the same you did when you were knee high, girl…get up here and sing your papa’s songs.”
My hand was grabbed and my notebook and wine discarded. I couldn’t manage a word or a catch of my breath even as I was positioned with a guitar in my hands and a mic thrust to my lips. Gosh damn…I had done this plenty in LA, a small favorite smoky bar just like this actually…called Whiskey’s. It was one of the places I would crawl into when I wanted to remember…which wasn’t often and felt safe enough from far away, just as much as when I wanted to forget which was everyday for the past sixteen years. In the past decade and a half I’d worked hard to forget which was why it was ironic that Galveston was the only place I could think of coming to after the accident.
And so, with that smiling dark face full of the same wrinkles they held when I was a little girl, looking eighty to me then… looking eighty to me now, and a head surrounded in the same white hair looking at me while he settled at his piano. The spot I’d seen him spend more hours than I could count as a child, mesmerized watching his dark long fingers move fluidly without the age that the rest of him carried over the ivory keys. He remembered by heart the tune to play as I did the same with the strings of the guitar…and the glide of the song just began…my papa’s old songs. We came from a long line of family on both sides that had some artistic outlet. Writing, music, song writing, singing, painting, scultping. Each and every single one had some kind of special talent that was ours and some of us made those things into their day jobs while others spent much time in their life around a day job doing what they loved and teaching their children along with them as well, my papa being one of all of those. I had grown up with my fathers singing and song writing in our living room at home and on the stage of this smoky bar. His song writing ability was far above his singing and guitar playing ability but he still had a low rumble of a voice that made you stop and listen and the lyrics to his song made any writer jealous. I wondered briefly what he would think of my writing now. Of me, had he lived to know me as an adult.
I closed my eye’s and just felt my papa right there….for the first time in a long time he was there with me again as I sang his words I’d grown up hearing and singing along with him.
Two:AM and stumbling home…slightly drunk; bad red wine will hit you faster than a whiskey shot or five any time …but bad red wine followed by several whiskeys later does the trick every time. What trick that I might have been aiming for I was sure to regret in the morning.
I had ended up going to another bar around the corner after leaving the Old Quarter which was also after playing several of the song’s that brought back too much memory and then spent several of the next hours doing my best to drown those memories in their own deep end…or at least in the glass of many drinks. The one thing about Galveston is that there are more bars per capita…but also more churches per capita as well and so we could spend a Saturday night sinning and a Sunday morning repenting. That was the island living for you. All in between was the hard work and take care of the family and on the side, as one had ‘day work’, o this island it seemed around it all was always a large population of the island that had an art to perform, create, or build by ‘night’. Like it was a need deeper than the ghost’s that had once bleed into the soil of this island.
Like a horse who’s owner sleeps and knows it’s way home, I ended up right where I intended to go…and exactly the last place in the world I actually wanted to be.
I pushed through the white gate’s….Dropped my shoes and stumbling too much to find them just continued on, found my way to the big old back porch and the cushioned swing there and just curled up and fell asleep, but not before I wished that the stars would stop spinning above me.
I woke the next morning…hair sticking to my face and slightly cramped …head pounding. And the smell of coffee giving promise from the open back door through the screen that I’d not yet died, then the realization that the thought of it wasn’t so bad anyway. Also thanking Texas Winters for having warm nights even in the midst of cold to the bone one’s, for the past night had been quite pleasant during my entire walk and though I didn’t remember coming home, it apparently had not let me freeze to death on the back porch. Though a blanket had been laid over me that I was pretty sure hadn’t existed prior.
I stumbled barefoot into the kitchen and found every woman I hated and once had loved, all goddamn three generations of them, turn their heads to stare at me come through.
“Not now what?”
“Not now your judgement, please.” I poured a cup of coffee and drank it down straight black.
“Not at all. We are all grown women here. No children. We don’t answer to each other here, Bird. Get that through your head right now.”
I poured another cup.
The women sipped their coffee’s while they chatted about whatever local event was coming up next or read out loud the newspaper to each other. I did my best to not have anything to do with them but couldn’t help to observe these women. Three generations of them all in one kitchen, all in one life. My mother had aged, I could see that now, and life had been kind to her as far as the wrinkles that seemed right on her face rather than not, the gray streaks that ran through her hair were fitting, beautiful. She always had been that. Her own mother, my grandmother was a twenty-five years older version of the same woman and showed exactly a mirror of age of not only her mother but of Bird herself, Bird realized the resemblance was incredibly strong, especially around the mouth. Her other grandmother, her father’s mother, actually, who also had lived with the family since Bird was four and she’d become widowed, had apparently stayed on after the death of her son, looked now like a soft feminine version of Bird’s father, but she had aged hard and life had not been as nice to her Bird could see in her grandmothers much more brittle slow way of moving, her skin much thinner than the other elder woman, her hair white and kept short, her middle and her face much softer and heavier than Bird
remembered, her eye’s incredibly sad and deep. Sas and Mag were poler opposites of Bird herself, where as Bird mostly favored her mother they both favored the looks of their father and both seemed to get only one personality trait of his stripped down from what had made a nice blend to prominent one’s of these two woman. Both tall, we all were, both blond, both with blue eye’s verses Birds dark hair and green eye’s. Sas with her straight forward no-nonsense manner and Mag with her overly bubbly and nice… but never false manner. Then there was me, dark hair and green eye’s and full lips of my mother, tall like everyone else. Long tapered fingers like my father and a jaw that was more like his too which fit well with the cheekbones I’d inherited of my mother. My own personality….well, I’d received talents in writing and music and traits on take no shit and speak my mind straight forward but which showed on my face long before anything need be said which proved at times to be somewhat both bad and good. I also always had more of a love of adventure and travel that no one in my Content To Stick To This Little Sandbar Family seemed to have. The personality traits we each received from our parents caused in each of us girls a completely different blend. I had struggled at the nurturing that my father seemed at ease to give and the walking on eggshells that my mother created in me. My mother’s…issues…causing constant rage and depression, deep sadness that could change her from a bright smile and song singing loving biscuit baking mother one moment and into a raging throwing pot’s and pans and beating her children in a hot rage the next, was one I had a constant fear of becoming. I often found a blend of traits of both of my parents and often fought against the spark of some of them. Sixteen years ago I had learned of a trait of my father that I feared of ever having, it was one my mother had openly shared my entire childhood but wasn’t a startling shock as my fathers was. Perhaps we had simply been used to it. Chalked it to theatrics, Mother’s antics, or it had become a part of life. My father’s shared trait happened only once. And never again. It was a shock like a earthquake that had sent tremors through me since.
One by one the women I stood watching and the women of whom I was a part of, scattered off about their day. Off to work and various jobs and directions in life, leaving Bird standing there with no direction at all in which to go.
Life didn’t stop for everyone else when the world itself had stopped for Bird.
The last in the room was my mother who put the last rinsed cup in the rack and drying her hands turned, took in the sight that was her daughter…like a bird with broken wings…
“You sang your Papa’s songs. You and your Papa always were best friends. You got that gift from him.But you far surpassed it as well.”
This was the first compliment I remember hearing from my mother. One of my angers I held toward her all these sixteen years and through many before that was that she never once gave me a compliment. She instead always dealt out a criticism. When someone said I did well on something or another, she said I could do better. Or even that I had not yet reached the potential she’d hoped for. Often her favorite line when telling her of some passion or dream or wish you had was to throw her head back in laughter and say “I once had dreams like that, too.” Now here I was in my third decade of life and hearing her tell me a compliment for the first time. I held my breath waiting for the hammer to fall but instead I quipped in what, as a teenager, would have been considered a sassy way.
“Small town already get word to you?”
“I was there, I saw you and heard you. Small town is usually me being one step ahead.”
She put the dish towel down and walked out of the room.
The only direction I could think to walk at that very moment was with a refill of coffee up to a long hot shower.