Swift and fierce, you rush.
Stone again transformed to sand.
When settled, a mirror.
Fog billows below majestic mountain peaks.
There were very few reasons I was excited to head back to Georgia. As various outlets continued to report the news of mutilated bodies, all women, and all naked, washing up on the banks of the Satilla River, I suddenly couldn’t wait. I had always been a sucker for the dark and dangerous; and the sordid, wicked tales of verses carved in blood, washed clean in the brackish waters of the lowcountry proved no exception. I generally dreaded the long stays at the overbearing family compound. The seemingly endless week spent at the suffocating homestead I had married into, where foreigners dwelled who deigned to live with perpetually open doors, a land in which knocking was considered too stiff a boundary to observe. In this place of southern Baptist tradition, a set of Calvary Chapel tapes is considered the antidote to all of life’s problems, so long as you’re on enough drugs to listen to them.
When in Camelot, you pretend to be one of the Kennedys. Or something like that. So, on Sunday morning, it’s customary to attend church at the compound’s personal chapel. I sit uncomfortably next to my Father in Law in one of the ancient wooden pews. Sam continuously refuses to respect our family’s position on religion. Of course, he blames me, maybe because I’m openly secular and believe religion is a personal choice, or, as I’ve often considered, perhaps he’s tortured and resents my honesty. Either way, on this particular morning, the message appears to be of the usual fare: Adam was sleeping, the snake tricked Eve, Eve ate the fruit because she’s stupid and gullible, therefore human birth hurts, therefore women are evil. At last we adjourn, knowing full well that the only good woman is a dead woman, plenty of which have been found along the root littered banks of the river recently.
I mull this thought over, even as we eat and I dutifully (and repeatedly) refuse the meat. The verses. What were they? I decide to take a look at the local newspapers. The Bible verses, which were carved into the twelve women’s breasts and buttocks, many of them the same, are listed in The Florida Times-Union. Most seem to refer to virtuous women, or the inherent dangers of affiliating with women who do not “feareth the Lord.” As I sit reading, Sam walks up, and in his usual fashion, finds it necessary to warn me of my impending doom. “That preacher today made a good point, you know it? Evil disguises itself. And if you can’t recognize evil people, you will learn to be like them and endanger your soul.” You will learn to be like them and endanger your soul. Proverbs? Horrified, I close the paper and struggle with the realization that Sam has been playing God. All those sins, the many lessons conveyed in the blood of unvirtuous women, were now washed clean by him in the dark, murky waters of the Satilla.
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I claim not ownership of another,
for in forgiveness lies dignity.
No longer do emotions betray
random slips of anger,
unwelcome notions of control;
no more thoughtless infidelity to one’s own weaknesses,
as innermost feelings, are carelessly exposed,
unknowingly laid bare and exploited,
clearly illustrated for the practiced, watchful eye;
to recognize petty motivations,
to take the most basic precautions,
to ignore the triggers and resist the bait,
and in so doing, handily disregard and easily dispose
of the toxicity upon which you desperately seek to thrive.
My Children are on lock down.
They’ve been practicing drills since school began;
just in case a shooter ever decided to come in.
My children are on lock down.
Here in this land of supposed freedom and tranquility,
I mourn the dead, and wish for modern civility.
In two short weeks, hiding in closets for kindergartners became the norm.
I used to practice my ABCs, they practice surviving gunfire
that rains like an unforgiving hailstorm.
Now fire drills are the least of our worries, and so take a back seat
to hiding from our precious guns,
as my community’s news anchors are gunned down,
conducting an interview in the street.
When will we have enough? When will we say no more?
Each community plagued by short bursts of violence must pay with permanent scars.
Mine was this week.
Will next week be yours?
Author’s Note: I did, in fact write this while my children were on lock down at their
elementary school in Roanoke, Virginia following the on-air shootings of journalists
Alison Parker and Adam Ward. Watching the coverage on TV, I pelted this out, frustrated
and emotional not only that my children had been practicing lock down drills at school, but
that such a practice is now necessary and we are completely apathetic to how
they must feel hiding in a crowded closet with a flashlight, waiting for the intercom “okay” to
come out. At Sandy Hook, in a terrible twist of torment, the intercom played only more gun
shots. When preserving the right to violence becomes more important than preserving
the right to a peaceful education, we as a society have forfeited any notion of freedom.
Freedom is not expressed when kindergartners must hide in closets at school, and middle
school teachers place the wall shelving just so— and let the students know
that if ever there’s a shooter, they are to hide behind the shelves since they appear to be
flush with the wall. This is not a mental health problem, it’s not a parenting problem, and
it’s not a media problem. This is a gun problem. This is an American Problem.
Exhausted from a long evening spent answering what seemed to be the same questions repeatedly, Jane returned home from the police station to the imposing, Victorian home she had happily shared with her Husband, Ed, until his death last May. Since Ed died, and especially following the horribly gruesome murders of the Matthews family, a family that Jane barely knew beyond her annual contribution to their children’s school fundraisers, Jane had felt uncomfortable living alone in such a large house. The very life itself seemed to have drained from the house when Ed left, and in its place, an uneasiness settled upon its dried, leaf scattered lawn, and its blank, empty windows. Then the break-ins started. Each week it seemed a new house was targeted for random pillaging, and while nothing much was taken, the close proximity in time to the murders was a coincidence which could not be ignored.
As the police sorted the details and searched for motive in the Matthews’ murders, rumors were rampant. Connections to organized crime, the illegal drug trade, and human trafficking were all investigated as potential motives, especially since the Matthews’ sixteen year old daughter, Lucia, was missing, but presumed dead due to what appeared to be a snuff film anonymously posted to 4Chan the morning after the murders. As Jane tried to clear her thoughts of poor Lucia and the rest of her family, she decided to brew a cup of chamomile tea. Her heart literally ached, and she felt as if she may be sick. As the tea pot loudly screamed in the dim lights of the kitchen, Jane poured a cup and headed upstairs to bed.
Back at the police station, line one rang obnoxiously.
“Yes, Jameson, Hi, my name is Janet Simpson. I’m calling because I haven’t heard from my Parents in a couple of days, and I was wondering if someone could run over and check in on them and make sure everything’s alright? I would do it, but I’m out of state and it would take me at least 10 hours to get there.”
Officer Jameson took down the address to Jane and Ed Thomson’s house, and, promised to call Janet immediately with any word. The arriving officers found the doors locked, and everything appeared to be in order. Three newspapers were piled neatly beside the front door, and a cat could be heard mewling pitifully from inside. After repeated attempts to rouse the Thomsons, officers made their way in and immediately noticed the stench. Upstairs in the bedroom lay Ed Thomson, a gun in his right hand, and a wound to his temple. Next to him was his wife of 35 years, Jane, dead with an unfinished book across her chest and a blood spattered cup of tea by her side.
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“I came out on Instagram,” She said. “Oh?” My casual reply to this type of admission within our household, especially from my thirteen year old daughter. Still, I had to pry a little further.
“No, No, Noooo…..” Chuckling now. “I posted that I was Atheist on my Bio.”
This didn’t surprise me. Hell, I had discovered by the age of six that, try as I might, I was incapable of belief in a higher power, but that I had better play along, not just to keep the adults in my life happy, but to avoid being awarded the title “Devil Worshipper” in the small Bible Belt community where I grew up. After all, I went to Sunday school and church every Sunday, I could recite The Lord’s Prayer, I knew the Ten Commandments, and I had even memorized Psalms 100 in return for an irresistible candy whistle. Still, as I sat in the plush green pews Sunday after Sunday in beautiful dresses, I realized I was a fraud by participation; I didn’t belong. The individual inside me that was awakening did not agree with the harsh world that was being taught within these walls. I approached my parents to confess in different ways over the years, but doubt is easily written off in the church as work of the devil. In the deep south, the devil is tangible; a real force that moves about causing mayhem and wrecking lives. Teenage rebellion and rock music. The wrong crowd. That’s what this is about.
I asked of the Instagram Bio, “So what happened?” She plopped down next to me, unconcerned at this point, and sighed, “I lost some followers but gained a looot of hate.” She cracked a smile. Ah yes, I smiled back. I remember those days.