Why does my chest tighten so at the first glimpse of the jagged mountains of Eastern Kentucky, the place where I was born and raised? The trees are bare this time of year and I can smell the wood and coal burning stoves in the distance. There's a mist on the mountains that covers the sky and sinks heavy to the road.
My father is dying. There is no doubt about that. I saw him lying there, his beautiful black locks missing, the chemo from the cancer making him look like an old man I don't know. Why does it hurt me so much? It's not like he was the greatest father in the world. Or the greatest man. He had his faults. So many, many faults. Drugs. Alcohol. The beatings he wielded to my sister and I when my Mother was not around. The beatings he wielded to my Mother when he thought we weren't around.
But he was also the man who picked me up from the wreck on the first red bicycle he ever bought me, and washed off my knee and patted my head. Told me to get back up and try it again, even though I was scared. He was also the man that bought me the 'snoopy' watch I so lusted after when I was seven years old. I wanted it so badly, and though we could not afford it, he found a way to buy it. And the man who's eyes lit up the day my daughter was born and he held her in his arms. He was so proud. He never thought he'd have grandchildren. Now my son will never know him.
At the foot of the holler where we used to live, I take in a deep breath and sigh. Why? I know it all comes to an end and we all must die, but death seems to surround me like the foggy mist that comes from the sky past the mountains to the road. It seems to live here in this place, in Eastern Kentucky where the Kudzu grows in the summer and the trees fall bare in winter. It seems to exsist and thrive off the souls of my family as if they were feeding it with a spoon. A rusty, bent-handled aluminum spoon that keeps sorrow breeding. This place is a death trap, I think, and one I narrowly escaped. My sister, she still lives here. Will she be next? I shudder at the thought. I lost my oldest sister almost a year ago, the mist from the mountain took it's feeding from her. The year before that, my great Aunt. The year before that, one of my closest friends. The year before that, the child of a cousin. The year before that... the list goes on. All the way back to my Mother. The mist took her so long ago.
I wonder what Mama would say if she were here. I know there was a point where she thought she wanted him dead, the old man who was now bent and broken in that hospital bed. She shot him six times trying to achieve that very goal. He lived; miracle of miracles. But the mist still took it's meal. My mother hanged herself in Perry County Jail awaiting trial. The Mountain Mist reached out it's ugly claw and snatched her.
But, how she did love him. I know it for a fact. I saw it in her eyes. If she hadn't loved him she would have never stayed as long as she did, Never taken as much as she did. Never tried to hold on and hold out for the man she knew he could be when he didn't poison himself with alcohol and drugs. She held his hand everywhere we went; she washed his clothes and cooked his meals and tended to him when he was ill; whether it was from drinking or illness. And he loved her, as well. He brushed her lovely red hair every night and rubbed her back and would steal a kiss when he thought we kids weren't looking. He used to hang her coat and her hat and shine her shoes for her every night.. every night he was sober.
Now the mist is after him. It's taking it's sweet time and pulling him in slowly, chewing it's meal and savoring it and washing it down with a big glass of sorrow and a side of heartbreak as my sister and I watch him die helplessly.
I can only hope this meal will keep the hunger at bay a while. I'm tired of feeding it.
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