We had spent many good years on this farm. The animals were taken care of, by far the best, compared to what it could have been. There was enough food for all of my family and abundance was enjoyed by every relative whether cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and step children. Even the piglets were happy at that time as they were regarded as family. They sat with us at the kid’s table for holidays, but as we grew older and they grew larger, we realized one of them became our family dinner for Christmas. That was the only year my younger sister cried during this holiday.
We would watch my father grab a pig by its legs, wrap the rope around its ankles, and string it up in the air by both feet. He would produce his sharp knife at the last second from behind his apron and slit the pig’s throat with such precision and depth. We were in awe of his ability to kill pigs at such a quick rate. He could corral any medium sized animal, string it up, and cut its throat. The animal would bleed out, which we would collect for my mother. She loved making those sausages during the summer time. They were so tasty and every time I eat one now, it reminds me how special my mother was in the kitchen. I have never tasted better sausage since her passing.
My brothers were involved in the skinning and butchering process. They were happiest when my father was showing them how to butcher the pig where the least amount of meat was wasted. Nothing was ever wasted in practice, thanks to my parents, as they used everything from all animals. The bones left over were boiled down for various soups or given to our wild, crazy dogs. Some of them scared us, but they protected the livestock when it counted the most, against the coyotes and wolves.
My oldest brother shot a wolf in the head when it came too close to the livestock, but regretted it soon after. The mother wolf was only trying to get food for her pups. He heard them crying for their mother on a walk the next day to clear his head. They all survived thanks to him. He became their provider by throwing them raw beef after he ate supper and did his chores. My father found out and wasn’t too happy about it, but there was nothing he could do about it. My brother was as stubborn as my father was, and this included his decision to leave the family business, and apply to college. His interest was in European history, given he was European himself, and became a well-respected professor among his colleagues and students.
The year we lost much of our fields to a fire, spreading quickly during the summer I was fifteen, was the worst for us. Some of our beloved livestock was killed. It sent my parents into a survival mode, and had a hard time recovering from this disaster. My father never walked the same way, he never whistled anymore, and in his free time all he did was stare into empty space. He did not view life as something to be enjoyed as he once had. He went through the motions for a few years and doubt he realized that he killed more animals in those two years than he had in the previous five years before that. The shack behind our house was filled with more bones than any of us knew what to do with, but we dared not throw any of them away. My father had a knack for knowing when something was missing.
Those two long, hard years was when we changed the name of our farm from Pritchard Farm to Turnaround Farm. We all survived because we asked our extended family to help us during the early morning hours and when they had to leave to tend to their own families and jobs midday, we asked for other members to carry our progress into the night. We all worked hard hour after hour, day after day, month after month, and when one year became the end of two years, we had made our money back. We were in a better position than when we started in some respects. My parents had more dollar bills in their pockets, and our family members wanted nothing in return when offered; but our bodies suffered in the process. Everyone hunched over a little more including myself.
It was many years later when I voiced to my father to sell his farm. I was the closest living kid to my parents along with my younger brother who was about an hour away. He was proud of his green pick-up truck. The rest of my siblings were much more adventurous and moved to other parts I won’t visit. He didn’t listen to me and said I was being a knot headed pig, which is what he said when any of his friends or family said something he disagreed with. It was after his stroke that he stopped being rational. When he could not talk, those were some of the most relaxing times for me as an adult. I had a hard time understanding him, and this frustrated both of us. He kicked me than once because of his inability to speak well. When he had his second stroke and could not talk at all, the frustration between us evaporated.
My father liked to compare us kids. My older brother was book smart. I was not. My older sister had the looks. I did not. My younger brother had both smarts and looks. I did not. My younger sister had the face of Shirley Temple and was bound to be a child star. She never became a child star, but she was in a many films as an extra with speaking parts and then made a name for herself in theater and independent films. They had things I would never possess. I never wanted to be in front of a camera or prance around on stage, which is what I imagined my little sister doing when she rehearsed.
My father told me I had things none of my other siblings possessed. He said I was the closest to him, but just happened to be female. He said it was neither here nor there. He didn’t blame me for my inability to be as tough as my brothers. He said I could do anything I wanted in life, and said he was the most proud of me because out all his kids, I was the one who never left his side. This was where the fork in the road between him and my siblings became wider. I took the left and all my other siblings went right. I felt a duty to stay by his side until the end.
My father told me on his deathbed a story when I was five. My mother had planted flowers with yellow petals and a black center. I took one look at them and hated the color. I wanted them to be purple. I made a sign that read, Purple Flowers, but they weren’t exactly purple after I was done. My collection of magic markers went from ten to nine. It didn’t take long to notice this was going to take forever. I replaced my original idea with a new one. I hid this puke yellow color as best I could on the petals with purple polka dots. He said I had imagination that was hard to harness.
When my mother came home, she was horrified. She took out the paddle my father only used on rare occasions and more so on the boys than the girls. She hit my behind several times, and each time I heard the whack, I gritted my teeth as my mother cursed at me. My father told me to apologize to her for what I did. I readily said, “I’m sorry” over and over, but deep down I hadn’t wanted to apologize. I felt she was mean to me, and I don’t remember crying although my father said I did. He stated it took quite some time for me to calm down. What I do remember was him picking me up and holding me as he walked among the cornstalks. He pointed toward the direction of his recently acquired land and spoke about his vision for his family’s future. Even though I was born right in the middle of it all in so many ways, he made me feel as if I was an only child.
This was what I wrapped my beating heart around as my father grabbed my hand and squeezed. He told me everything was okay back then and everything would be okay now. I told him how much his recognition of me carried me throughout the years. He never let my hand go until he died later that night. I had wanted other family with us, but he said I was the only one good enough to be with him during this time. The actual reason was he did not want others to see him as frail. He told me I could handle it. After placing his bony arm beside him, I left his bedroom where he had slept over fifty years.
I sat down at the table where all us kids sat and thought about the memories of this farm. We lived here, through the good and bad, and best of all we continued in our own ways. We did not agree upon many things as we grew older, but my siblings would eventually meet with me to discuss the best way to divvy up our parents’ land and house.
I took this time and sat alone collecting my thoughts before calling my younger brother first. I intended to honor my father’s wish and did. I buried his secured box in a thick plastic bag where no one would find it except me. We could see what was inside, but not a day sooner, and could not tell my siblings about it until five years had passed.
It was in short time I heard my younger brother’s truck barrel down the gravel driveway and come to a halt much too close to the house. This always bothered our father in his later years. Even though Conrad had lived close to us, I hadn’t seen him in a few years. He looked the same, but wore a different cowboy hat. Being the bigger sister, I held the door open for him and gave him a big hug. He picked me up much like my father did when he was still able to lift me up. It was so good to see him.
I took his hand and walked toward our father’s bedroom. He knew what had happened and stood taller. My chest tightened and wondered was I doing our father justice by keeping his box a secret. I stopped at the door and waited for Conrad to enter. I waited until he had said his goodbye, much like I would do with my other siblings when they arrived. I never told any of my siblings about the box and never thought otherwise when we buried our father. When the five year mark had passed by, it was apparent to me the box should stay hidden. We had spent many good years on this farm and wanted to keep it this way until our end.
This was not one of those dreams where the person wakes up in the middle of the night wiping the sweat from one’s forehead. This was not one of those dreams where the person wakes up just in time before the knife plunges into one’s chest. This was not one of those dreams where the car moves just in time before a train smashes into it, or the wife senses something wrong and dodges her husband’s attempt to shove her from the cliff. This was one of those dreams where it matters more on what day it is and how the events of the day factored into the sleep patterns of the person.
A woman named Delilah had been waking up every hour on the hour for a few minutes at a time the past few weeks. She was not certain what had triggered her eyes to flutter and stay open. She only heard the normal ambient noise one hears at night once fully awake. She managed to close her eyes before the thoughts of days past flooded her conscience, and before long she was asleep and moving back into her dream.
Her dreams, this week, allowed her a bit of solace throughout the night. She was able to rest without her sleep being disrupted for a few days. It came to a halt on a Wednesday. The dream was nothing out of the ordinary. There was no reason to have alarm, but some women fear the cliché. A man in a black trench coat, sporting a felt hat with a tan ribbon wrapped around it, and wearing sunglasses even during nightfall may look threatening at first glance, but that stranger often becomes a friend after the initial greeting and introductory handshake. Different styled men go about their lives without wanting to harm women, and nothing evil is in their facial expressions. There was nothing to be feared among these men in Delilah’s mindset. Many men had followed her in the past, in her days as a prostitute. It seems most men wanted a free handout if they could get it.
On the other hand, the man who averted his eyes when Delilah spotted him across the street sent tingles to the base of her neck, down her arms, where it entered into each finger and expelled at the tips. He held one commonality with other dangerous men of her past, and that was the urge to fulfill his desire. The butterfly excitement they felt did not differ from this man. His taut belly had the capacity to hold as many fluttering wings as possible. She maneuvered through the crowd, and at certain points she had no choice but to elbow those that did not move after her initial insistence. She feared she knew this man, and soon felt his presence close by.
A second of time turned into two seconds and two more turned into four as the crowd seemed to hold her back. It took him a short span to be in arm’s length away from her long ponytail. His hand moved effortlessly and grabbed her wrist, instead. He forced her body close to his. She tried, unsuccessfully, to dig her fingernails deep into his flesh. She thought. He must’ve done this before. He’s quick about what he’s doing. She looked down and glimpsed the long scars on his hands. He used her arm for leverage and forced her through the crowd. His other hand pressed menacingly against her back.
When she opened her mouth, her sound drowned in the laughter and screams of nearby children. Each passing moment her opportunities to escape dwindled. Before the throng of people seemed to hold her back, but now they moved out of the way for him. Crisscrossed arms spread apart to let him pass. Life hardly ever worked in her favor, much as it had been as a little girl, when she was told her body was for sacrifice. Her mother neglected this truth to her, and had to learn about it firsthand. When she was thrown her on top of the small table, her father imparted the answer with condescension each time. This duty was expected of her more frequent as years passed.
The point when her dream twisted into a nightmare was when the man shoved her into his apartment. Her knees landed on the chill of the linoleum floor with a thud, the cold seeping through her thin cotton pants. He decided this was not suitable anymore and yanked her by the ponytail. She had no choice, but to follow him into his bedroom where he threw her into his closet, as it brought him the added layer of security. He wrapped his hands around her neck and squeezed. His murderous grip held tight as she lost sense of the surroundings. The lamp bulb hanging from the ceiling was what kept her from losing complete consciousness.
He gave her some reprieve when he loosened his grip. She had the opportunity to damage him with her nails, but it proved fruitless. They struggled against each other, but soon he overwhelmed her. The best alternative was hoping she would be able to rip into his flesh at a later time, and then have another day to live. Her predicament reminded her of the nights she had to defend herself from johns with a viciousness only reserved for those special people.
She lay in the closet, trying to suck in as much oxygen in her tightened windpipe. She wondered when her body morph into a skeleton. How long would it take for a person or people to find her body? What level of decomposition stage would it be? Would they kick dirt over her bones because they viewed me as less than? Would they volunteer to cremate or bury her after the autopsy? Or would they just leave her for the animals to destroy further and not report it? Would she end up in the morgue for a long time because the detectives had given up finding her killer? She condemned herself for thinking about her body’s disposal right now instead of fighting for her life. She should have figured these details before finding herself under the foot of this man, but one rarely cares about death when she has such a hard time carrying out the process of living. Would it be wrong for her to give up the struggle and allow him to kill her? What would God think as the last little bit of life left her body?
Sensing a change within her, his rough hands completely moved away from her neck, giving her a brief reprieve to catch her breath. Yet, her body did not feel like her own, and he slapped her a few times and brought her back to her reality. She thought, I’m in deep trouble. As quick as he released his grip, his hands tightened around her neck again, his fingers burrowing deeper into her neck. Was he trying to produce excess fat when there was not any? Am I so bad that he feels it necessary to excavate the sides of my neck? She had done questionable things in the past, but her past actions were not so severe to equal death, let alone this kind of death.
Delilah teetered between leaving her living world behind and embracing the new world much darker and permanent. His body no longer looked like a man’s body upon glance. He now wore a robe, the darkest black she had ever seen. The hood brought a long shadow to his face. The thick folds of crushed satin hung peacefully on his robe that covered his now transparent skin. He floated above her, not wanting to violate her quite yet.
There was much more playing to be done, and he wanted to engage in this fabrication until the end. She felt the weight of him on her again, but this time only bore half the previous weight. Her survival instincts betrayed her, and soon found herself waiting to be extinguished, her chest lifting and falling heavy, knowing it would be her last breaths. He copied her movements, in a mocking way. She had no idea what his name was and before she could demand it from him, Delilah woke up and found her hands clutching her neck.
I’ve been thinking about this topic for a while. How many different faces does a person wear in his or her life? This is similar to the different personalities one has in their lives. Most of us have different personalities or faces when in public (walking on the street) vs. private (walking around your apartment or house). Most of us have a different personality when it comes to how you act in your job vs. in your home. The concept weighing on me is how can I bring my public and private life more in unison with each other so I can have less white or black and more grey. Or if you would like me to state it another way, less red and yellow and more orange.
The heart of the matter is that the face a person wears, it is really their face? Or is it the face he or she perceives as what others want it to be and so wears it with some hesitancy? Or it is a face that the person wears but has more characteristics of a mask as to hide something they are ashamed of or afraid of? Or another option is the face might have been a mask for so long that it has turned into a face that feels so real, that he or she constructed, but really was not his or hers to begin with because some kind of brainwashing she or he allowed makes it feel and appear real inside and outside?
I see happening quite a bit lately. I think a person needs to have at least a few different faces to wear so to speak. It serves to protect that person and allows him or her the comforts that is necessary to survive. I also think certain people use the different faces and masks to hide the truths before them whether it regards their physical, social, mental, emotional, and familial areas of their lives. I’m not immune and recognize it wholeheartedly. My life has been spent much of the time trying to strip away the layers that do not serve my highest purpose or good. I’m fully aware that people are complex and varied. The amount of complexity one possesses is as far as one is willing to take it, push it, stretch it, and make it his or her own.
This goes hand in hand with eliminating the naysayers while still keeping an open mind and non reactive stance when there is criticism involved. How does one disengage from gossip and drama when seems to be all around you? How does one release this negative energy at the end of the day? How does one relax enough before resting your head on your pillow so you are not up for two hours trying to get to sleep? Balance is a definite must for people who are well rounded. This doesn’t mean one hundred percent perfection every hour of the day because that doesn’t exist, but what does is the ability of all of us to include a variety of tasks in one day or one week that allows us some sense of accomplishment. Yet, freedom within this week must also be sought as well. If you change your mind not to do X on Tuesday, well then, SO BE IT. Fill it with something else and if it means relaxing, SO BE IT. This is what I’m learning to do for myself. In essence, I’m learning to take care of myself better on my own terms, but always keeping in mind pro-activity and some activity is better than nothing and being a slug.
Have a good night everyone and for those who have read some of my blogs or browsed my site, a huge thank you and a good week ahead for everyone.
It doesn’t matter if we strive to have a healthy marriage, strong kids or a killer career, these tenets cross-apply to all areas of life. Mental toughness is a key component to being successful. Yes, even for writers.