On Suffering

Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.” – Yoda

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As I sweep cedar chips—insulation that spills like guts from our house—my breath escapes my lips in smoky wisps. Maman says that sometimes we cannot fix things until we pull them apart. Not long ago, Papa wouldn’t let her come home. But that was before the snow came and before the walls came down. Now, it is almost Christmas, and Maman is near gathering broken two-by-fours. Smoke puffs like dragon’s breath from Papa’s nostrils. He pounds down the walls, and woodchips flutter to the floor like dusty moth wings. If I squinch my eyes, the cigarette smoke swallows her whole.

A black wax crayon scribbles over bad memories like those long months Maman was gone. There are other scary times covered in heavy fog. Like the night Maman and Papa dressed up and left us with the boy from the neighbouring farm.

Sometimes, tiny photos float in my mind, but if I squint and force myself, they get bigger and brighter. Then, I can remember little pieces like the woman named Audrey sitting on my sister’s bottom bunk. Papa hired her when there was no Maman. She wore a black rubber brace around her wrist and thumb. There are silver threads in her black hair and her voice is like gravel beneath Papa’s tires when he is angry. If I push really hard, I see myself at the kitchen window where I stood on a chair beside Audrey and watched Papa yell at Maman. Over my dead body you’ll set foot in that house! Maman was small and beautiful next to the Crown Victoria. I wanted her to wrap her soft arms around me, but she got into the car. Then everything disappeared.

Remembering these things makes me long to crawl into the woodchips to sleep. But, dustpan by dustpan, I must make the mountain of moth wings disappear into black garbage bags. As I sweep, I picture myself asleep in the warm Crown Victoria, the highway rumbling beneath the seat.

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If I bang on the wall, my brother will crank the volume, so I lie in the dark with a pillow over my head as Cinderella and Iron Maiden blasts from his room. My blood thuds to the rhythm of the bass while my mind unspools forgotten memories. One horrid snippet loops into another. First, my baby brother’s eyes roll back in his head as I cradle his ragdoll body to my chest. Next, the scope of a pellet gun crushes my eye. Then, my father bashes in the sow’s snout with a crowbar.

These images flooded my mind shortly after my fifteenth birthday. I was at the restaurant where I work when my older co-worker’s boyfriend walked in. When I saw him, I knew he was the grown-up neighbour boy. I saw myself at five years old, and him dragging me across the bed while he yanked down my pajama pants. The salad bowls in my arms clattered to the floor as I ran to lock myself into the staff washroom.

A few weeks later, I asked my mother about this babysitter boy. She simply said, “I thought you’d forgotten that.” Then we carried on as though nothing important had ever happened. As though my mind could re-lock this memory.

But it hasn’t. Slipping off the end of my bed, I sink into the heap of dirty clothes at the foot of my bed, put in my Garth Brooke’s cassette and light a cigarette.

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Sixteen and drunk on a mickey of whiskey at an after-bar house party, I holler when I spot my mother talking to someone in the kitchen. If my friends came across their parents here, they’d split. But my mother is from a small prairie town where drinking with your teenaged kids is considered the norm.

My mother waves me over and hands me a cool beer, then bums me a smoke. At first, I don’t recognize the man standing next to her. When the man’s puffy brown eyes catch mine, the beer can crackles in my hand, and the cigarette breaks in two. My mother is talking to the man who used to be our neighbour boy. The one who assaulted me when I was five.

I make my way across the room to a high school acquaintance smoking at the table. Safe on the other side of the kitchen, I bum a light. Whiskey and beer churn in my stomach. Blood whirs in my ears.

When my mother finally wanders from the kitchen, I glare at the back of her head wondering how she still talks to him. She knows exactly what he did to me.

The douche-bag is still next to the stove, propped against the counter. When he half-smirks at me, my insides warble, but I paste on a smile. I surprise myself by stumbling his way. I am shocked to hear myself say, “You know, I remember what you did.”

Nervously, he looks away and reaches into his case of beer. When he offers me a can of Pilsner, I don’t know what to do, so I guzzle the piss-warm beer. Crushing the empty against the counter, I play it cool as I stagger back across the kitchen. At the table, I help myself to a smoke from my friend’s pack. As he flicks me a light, he asks, “You alright? You know that old dude?”

I suck on the filter until the cherry glows “I sure wish I didn’t,” I say, then set my jaw and bite my tongue so the tears won’t come.

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As we step into Dorothy’s cramped porch, Mom whispers, “This’ll be fun.” Mom thinks a visit to her tarot card reader will bring good luck to my new beginning. University starts soon, and I am finally leaving home.

Dorothy stumps her cigarette into the overflowing ashtray. Coughing up a wad of phlegm, she motions for us to sit. Then, she lights up again and asks my mother, “Who’s first? The angry one?”

Mom shrugs when I make eyes at her.

Dorothy says, “That ain’t my psychic ability, darling.” Her chuckle rasps, as she points her cigarette at my fists. “Hands are clenched.”

Mom and I pull rickety chairs around the worn table as Dorothy shuffles my future in her hands. Mom offers me a cigarette from her pack of Player’s Light. Before Dorothy turns the first card face up, she catches my eyes, “Just remember, this reading tells the future as it could unfold if you do nothing to alter your journey.” Taking a long drag, I ease my long fingernails from my palms. I set my jaw as I exhale through my nostrils.

Afterward, Dorothy’s filmy eyes trap mine at the door. “Heed the Hanged Man’s warning,” she says. “Your anger will control you unless you find a way to let it go.”

Dorothy’s cautionary words replay in my mind. Yet, as we pull away from the curb, I tell Mom, “Well, that was a waste of time.”

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For years, that girl traces the crescent moons carved into her palms, hoping she’s managed to alter the path Dorothy saw in her cards. Eventually, the clenched fists and etched palms fade. Her last cigarette smoulders in the ashtray. Over the years, she learns to forgive—her father, mother, the babysitter boy, herself—which allows her to let go of the painful portions of her past. That angry girl becomes the woman I am today.

AUTHOR

Inspired by vast prairie skies, Rachel Laverdiere anticipates that calm will erupt into thunderstorms, flocking geese will disappear into the sunset, and northern lights will traipse across the blackened stage. Visit rachellaverdiere.com to read more of her writing or to learn more about the shenanigans Rachel is getting into these days.


Featured image: John White Alexander, “Repose,” oil on canvas, 1895. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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