There weren’t always dragons in the valley, but now every morning when you woke, you could smell the rotting stench. It was a mix between manure and death, and for the past year the land was ripe with it. There was no getting used to the smell no matter how much time passed. It was in your clothes, it was stuck to the earth now. Today as I walked pass the row of huts that once made up our village, I actually looked at the land. Most days I just walked with my head down, as I was tired of seeing the scorched and dead earth that was once fertile and green. Mostly it reminded me of how sick I was of eating meat and grain. What was left of the grain would be gone soon too, and then it would only be the meat. The tangy, dark, dragon meat we had all become used to. Lately I wondered if it was better to starve than to eat the stuff. Some days I would wretch after, it was so rancid. We would find them dead in forest, after one of their friends had ripped them to pieces. It was our main source of food now. We heard tales from men of places that had not yet been overtaken by the demons, places where the water was still clear and the plants still grew to abundance. Maybe just stories, we had sent our best drengs out time and time again in search of these lands, but to no avail, they came back each time with less men and even less hope.
You were so curious when you were young. Always wondering the true meaning behind the things happening around you as the world encourages you to pass through, admire, not say too much, and keep your head down. It was the 80’s. Spare the rod to spoil the child was probably encouraged on the cover of Parents Magazine. You were taught to be chaste and good as a girl. You were taught sin invited punishment. You were taught being a “good” woman was the most important virtue. But when you watched Pretty Woman, you thought she seemed amazing… and when your grandmother showed you Gone with the Wind, you loved Scarlett O’Hara. You hoped you could be a strong woman like her one day. For you did not even know it then, but an idea is already forming in your little mind that the subservience of the women around you is not natural. You didn’t ever want to be a Melanie like your mother.
It is funny that I should be writing about you, someone who is not interested to read a word I write, or a word anyone writes for that matter. Content to live your life with what little information trickles your way. I will never understand a mind that isn’t hungry for knowledge. I have had better lovers than you, smarter men, bigger men, eloquent men, charming men, passionate men… but here I find myself writing about you, the potato man, as my sister and I have dubbed you. You were supposed to be the easy one, the nice one, the safe one, the one that could understand and save me. To think such a bland person could be capable of such deception just was not on my radar. But that is your disguise isn’t it?
The thing about losing your self-respect is that it happens a little at a time. You do one thing that you think is wrong and it gets easier to do the next wrong thing. Before you know it going against yourself is as easy as breathing. At least that is how it happened with me. Maybe it started when I was very young, stealing my sister’s toy, or a little older, stealing that five dollars out of my mom’s purse. Maybe it was when I was a teenager, screwing some guy thinking he would probably take it anyway….maybe when I was really becoming an adult…staying in abusive relationships out of fear or love… or maybe it was after my divorce for giving up? Or after my divorce for staying for far too long? Or was it after that? Did it really start when I was with a man only for his money not giving a shit about his feelings?
Sometimes it ain’t easy to talk about my mama. We had a rough go at it in the beginning. More like my sister sometimes, but my mama nonetheless. She met me kicking and screaming in the fall of ’82 and if you ask her, I gave her about as much trouble since. My mama wasn’t raised like women are now, she was taught to cook her husband’s dinner, and smile, and eat whatever bullshit life gave her with a silver spoon. She rallied against it as best she could, but she was what her mother had intended her to be in those early years of her marriage to my Daddy. She tried to get me to be a good little woman too, but that just wasn’t in the cards for me. When my Daddy left her, she cried in a rocking chair and asked me to stay with her, but I left. I feel nothing but shame now remembering how pathetic I thought she was. Sometimes I wish I had stayed that day, but that wasn’t what was meant to happen, so it didn’t. I spent a lot of time thinking my mama was weak, or even stupid back then. Took me havin’ my own life and kids to see just how hard it can be, and how we are all just running around like chickens with our heads cut off tryin’ to do our best. And she really did her best. We always had clean clothes and good food on the table. My mama may have screamed a lot, but she loved us just as loud. We may not have had every new toy, but we found little notes in our lunch boxes, and came home to our dolls dressed up perfectly in my baby sister’s old clothes. I could never dress them up right like my mama could. She made us wear a jacket when it was cold, and she cleaned our blood away when we got hurt. She was a good mama, but after some years had passed, she discovered that maybe she just wasn’t that good a woman after all, and maybe she didn’t need to be. Maybe she didn’t want to be. She changed after the divorce. She cared less what people thought of her, especially what the church thought. She smoked and cussed when she wanted to, and she told us to fix our own dinner. She lost weight and began to really live her life for what seemed like the first time ever. I started to see my mama in a different light then, she was not the weak woman that Daddy made her, but stronger than I knew. Stronger than I could ever know, even now. She was there when we needed her, she is there even now if I need her. She won’t tell you everything is okay, and she won’t feel sorry for you, but she will be there. I used to want a mother that would hold my hand every time I felt sad, someone who would do my hair for a dance, or tell me they are sorry my boyfriend hurt my feelings, but that wasn’t my mama. There were worst things than a broken heart or a messy head of hair, and she knew it from personal experience. I now know that I get my strength from her. I don’t sit and wallow in whatever sad predicaments I may face, because I hear my mama’s voice telling me there are worst things, and to quit feeling sorry for myself. I hear her telling me to keep going, that nothing is so constant as change, and that things can’t be that bad for too long. I know I will be okay after every breakup, because she was. I know my kids will turn out okay, even if I am not perfect, because we did. I can’t tell you all of the sacrifices she made for us, but I can say they were many. I know she worried a lot more than anyone should, and she cried when she was mad, like I do now. I will never know the struggles she faced in reality, but I know they were there everyday and she did her damndest so that we wouldn’t have to face so many when we grew up. I know that everything good in me is from her. I used to want to be nothing like her when I was too young to know this world, and now when people say I am like my mom, I take it as one of the biggest compliments someone can give.
They said my name means, “From the grey fortress”, and that seems to be the color that follows me from place to place. Maybe grey ain’t the best color, but it gets me pretty far. I live my life in that grey area. Most of us do. Bein’ a libra, everything Is grey. Can’t be black or white, nope, life ain’t like that. That is one of the things I learned early on. Soon as you get your mind set on black or white, you find grey. It was grey the whole time. Now you may be thinkin’ nobody likes grey. Well, grey ain’t the prettiest color, but it’s got its uses. That color of the sky right before a thunderstorm, the color of that bright old moon shining over us, the color of my eyes if you actually think about what color they are. I have been told they ain’t blue, but grey. Everybody always said I had pretty eyes, so must not be a bad thing. Most people don’t realize it, but they are living right there in the grey. If it weren’t for grey, there wouldn’t be no other choices. Maybe it would be easier, havin’ a life with less choices, but that ain’t the reality. We need grey. When everything shiny and new fails, we need old dependable grey. Only problem is, grey can be sad too. Like the day I watched my grandma get put into the ground, that day was grey. Grey ain’t always fun, but it also makes you who you are, and it is there when everything else is gone. You can feel grey. I know it’s the color of my soul. Maybe it used to be blue, or maybe yellow, but I can feel it now, grey. I used to think it was a bad thing, holding onto old heavy grey. But now I know it was the color I was meant to carry, no less than silver, and almost the same really. In the right light, it does shine like silver. Like my grandma’s hair, or my Daddy’s old corvette, or that pretty necklace my mama gave me…silver, but grey too. That is the thing about grey, just needs a little light for it to shine, and you wonder if it wasn’t that color all along… makes me remember the old silver spoons have turned grey and I need to polish them up before it goes too long… like me… need to polish me up before I turn grey. It’s comin' soon too. I used to fear it, but now I embrace it. It makes me strong, solid, I can always count on grey being there. Before too long, I will watch this brown hair turn to grey, and I will know this is what was meant to happen. It happens to all of us, it is inescapable. We can spend out lives running from it, but that don’t do no good now does it? Better to embrace all that grey, make it a part of you. Then it don’t sneak up and surprise you, because you know it’s comin’. Acceptin’ it makes you stronger in the long run. Grey is the color of acceptance, of knowin’ your limits, but also knowin’ your power. And It’s the only choice, really, because nobody can run from it, can they? Can’t run from it forever anyway. Ashes are grey. And ashes we become. We are born grey, and we die grey. It was there before we even opened our eyes to the world, and it will be there when we close them….grey. And that is okay.
He kept thinking he could smoke the monster out. It was an impossible feat, but he kept trying. What was left there with him was some rage filled shell of a woman. Sometimes she wondered if she would spontaneously combust at how mad she became at him. She kept him hanging there in the balance, wanting to torture him as he did to her. Not entirely sure what to do with him. She wasn’t quite ready to let him go, but she also didn’t want to keep him past the time it would take to hurt him. It was her only consolation, now that he had betrayed her. I guess it had never been fully agreed upon that they would not betray the strange agreement they had come to, but to her mind it had been engraved in stone. The man had built a life without her, behind her back, and now he didn’t even have the courtesy to pretend that he wanted her to be a part of it. She knew exactly what she was to him… an addiction, a whore, a living doll, and nothing more. She gave up the hope that he would ever have any respect for her, or any woman for that matter. And so, the hot nights with the man down in the city were a silent fuck you to him. She began to go more often than not, and she no longer felt even a bit of remorse afterwards, in fact she felt better… exhilarated even. She began to look forward to her secret more and more as the days grew longer and longer. She decided that would be enough for revenge, for now, for her being in the arms of another man is the thing he most feared. He had bought and paid for her before she even knew she had agreed to such an arrangement, and she had lost any sense of herself, or normalcy, or any real stability a long time ago. She only stayed for the money. When was the best time for one to walk away from thousands of dollars? And easy dollars. But she never had thousands, did she? She had just enough for the water, or electric, or the restaurant, or new pair of shoes she wanted and maybe a little bit more. But he always kept her wanting. He had the means to make all her small dreams come true, but doing that would foster an independence he desperately tried to avoid. After all, where would he be if she didn’t need him? If she didn’t depend on him to live? And so he flashed his fortune in front of her and made promises he never intended to keep. And she flashed her prettiest smile and made promises she never intended to keep. What a pair they were. Both lying to themselves and each other, and secretly praying for love. But love had failed here. And all that was left was the hate. The burning. The want for revenge. But this wasn’t a movie or a song, and revenge was a silly, juvenile dream. And so she drank her wine, and she smoked her cigarette, and she made her plans for the next day. And he woke up and tried to smoke the monster out again. He wasn’t even sure why he did it, it was though he was under some spell. But he kept trying. What he couldn’t understand was that Alice was long gone, and the monster is the only thing that remained. If he succeeded in smoking her out, there would be no one left.
The ship was slowly sinking. She told him it was, but he stood there and looked out at the horizon like she had not said a word. She told him that she would be getting off at the next port, but he did not seem to hear that either. In fact, the man did not seem to hear anything she said, no matter the subject. The water began to rise, and the boards began to creak and break, and she became scared. She would have almost thrown herself into the ocean to avoid going down with the ship… But then it would stop, and she would have the illusion that she was safe, that they were safe…but it never stopped for long. Just when she had convinced herself maybe it was not sinking, she could see water pooling in the corners of the deck, and she knew she was mistaken. She had loved this ship. How could she stay and watch it go down? But she did. They passed port after port and she thought about getting off, but how could she leave the man there, staring at the horizon? She could convince him to fix the ship. She could get him to patch the holes and it would stop sinking. But no matter what advice she gave him to fix it, he stood fixed, staring at the horizon. He saw something there, something that was a destination that she could not see. She could tell he believed he would get there, on this sinking ship. What the man could not realize is that the horizon moved. The nearer you came, the farther it receded into the distance. She tried to tell him that he could never reach the horizon, that in fact, it was not a destination. It was an illusion. But the man did not hear. The man then started to build something on the deck. At first, she could not tell what it was, as the man never spoke a word to her other than to tell her if they were getting weather, or to ask her how her day was. And the man built. Every day he built. She tried to tell him you could not build a structure on a sinking ship, but he did not listen, and he built. She finally realized it was a house he was building, a place he wanted to live. But he only built it big enough for him to fit, and all the while the ship sank. She realized that even if the structure had a solid ground, it was not built for her as only one person could fit inside. She watched him build and she finally realized, she must leave the ship. She spent many days, just staring at the man build. She was trying to understand why he was doing it as the ship sank. She asked him questions about why there was no room for her, what he would do with the structure when it was sitting at the bottom of the ocean? She screamed, she pulled her hair out, and still, the man said nothing to her. The next port was nearing, and she packed what little was left of her belongings, what had not already been lost to the ocean. The man did not even notice when she left the ship. She stepped onto the grass, onto solid ground, which she had not felt in ages. It felt so good to have in under her feet. She fell to the ground and hugged it in joy. She did not care that people were staring at her. She would no longer care what anyone thought again. She looked back at the ship one last time, and she could see the man building furiously, as the water finally reached his ankles. He then realized what was happening and stopped for the first time. He looked for her all around the ship, frantically, panicking when he could not find her. But where had she gone? She could see him searching, and she felt sad for the man, but now he was too far away to reach. He finally saw her shadowed outline on the shore. When had she gotten there? He waved at her and smiled. He wished he could make out her face. The words she had been saying for months hit him now, and he could feel the water rising to his shins and his smile faded. It was then he realized she had been right. The boat had been sinking all along. He searched for her shadow along the shore again, one last image to hold onto as he sunk into the water. But she was gone.
I don’t quite have a hometown. I lived in the Houston suburbs until I was about 6. We lived near Galveston near my father’s family. I remember swimming in my Grandmother and Grandfather’s pool, playing all day with my siblings, with the sunlight reflecting off the water until our cheeks were sunburnt and our feet were raw from the concrete… trips to Nasa, and 4th of July celebrations and fireworks on Clear Lake… my grandparents’ giant anniversary and birthday parties where it seemed the whole town was there. I still wonder to this day how people could have so many friends. My grandmother was one of the greatest people I have ever known, and my grandfather still is.
She stared at the screen. How often had she responded with some placating sexual response? She wondered how many times over the years she had told a man what they wanted to hear. She rolled her eyes. “I’ll pretend my phone died…” she thought to herself.