Friday, May 22, 2009

The Quest for Canada

I have a yearning; I want to go north where the air is cold and crisp, and in the summer is humid but not hot. I want to go to a place where sight will replace mystery, for mystery is all it ever seems to be. I want to see the wild as if I were the only person left to roam on earth, I want to sway to the music beating through me. The vast wilderness ahead of me, as I scan city lights. A large tower before me, and the people saying "EH!" around me. Gorgeous men with hockey sticks and furry countenances. A taste of Europe but still on the same continent. Speak textbook french with people that I do not understand (and I doubt they understand me), get caught up in Indian names, for rivers, for peaks, for landscapes, for lakes, for towns. Open my mind up for adventure, and leave all else behind. Be serenaded by the owls at night, and hear the percussion of water as it falls into the misty unknown. Swim in the Great Lakes, soar over mountains like an eagle, and only right over the border, between here and there. I will be gone but not too far away. I want to go north where the ice melts halfway in May, and returns again in September. I want to feel cold like no other, and never feel it again. I want to build a fire, and watch the auroras dance in the sky, while the wolf howls and the snow softly falls. Behind me is the United States of America, set in her ways, before me, is nothing, pure and true. And I want to go there before I die.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Updates on Life, Goals, Future, Everything

Well as many of you know I will be going to UNCG next semester, and getting my college education out the of way before I start my long and (hopefully) interesting life. I have no earthly idea what I will do after I graduate, but I really want to travel for a while, or do something completely spontaneous. Perhaps I will do something with the Peace Corps, like my good friend Katie, perhaps I will get a writing internship somewhere, or I will move to Wilmington and start life fresh and get some job doing kayak tours on the intercoastal waterway. Who knows? I can't be worried about what course my life will take after school because there's a million and one possibilities, and if I even pretend to have a clue what I will be doing, I'll be misleading myself. I must keep an open mind about everything.

Right now, however, I have found myself in a rut. I'm not making enough money at my current job to afford to live on my own, so I am still at my aunt's house, which is nice for the time being, but I am going to need to figure out something soon. I'm 20 and I need to be on my own so I know what it is really like being an adult. I asked my manager today if she would consider promoting me, and she said, "it won't be right away, but maybe in three or four months" even though we are losing two shift supervisors in the next couple of months. So I don't know what's going to happen. I really need to get another job if I can't get promoted. But I cannot just work anywhere, it has to be a place that would fit well within my school schedule.

Overall, I'm just getting fed up with the types of personalities I have to deal with on a day to day basis, both at work and at home, and pretty much everywhere I go. At Starbucks we have the absolute worse customers ever. Many of them are ignorant, impatient, and downright mean, although we do have some nice ones that show up every now and then. Working with the public really blows though, and it affects us employees too. While most of us that work together are awesome friends outside of work, when we're at work, things can get a little hectic at times. Mostly I am just tired of people gossiping behind each others' backs and always having ulterior motives against others. Not everyone, but some. And our manager really is oblivious to a lot of the stuff that goes on. She fails to reprimand anyone.

And I'm tired of having to deal with my family's issues and quarrels. My mother has caused quite an uproar amongst my aunts and cousins, and I'm really ashamed to say she's my mother sometimes. She's a prescription drug addict, first of all, so she hasn't been right in her mind for a while, and she's just so ignorant. But I really stopped caring about her a long time ago, when she stopped caring about her children. It's always been about her. So my family is urging me to have her committed, but I do not think its my responsibility. The woman will only change when she wants to change.

On a good note, I'm learning to play to banjo, and have already learned to pick the song "Red River Valley." I play it clawhammer style, because the bluegrass styles are entirely too difficult! Jeremiah's banjo is really cool, and I will have to ask him how much he got it for, and where I could get one just like it. I think I could learn to really do this. It seems simple enough. You pick the notes for the song, and use a pattern to make it have a melody. I guess the same goes for guitar, but I haven't practiced much picking notes on guitar yet. Perhaps banjo will help me become better on guitar?

I have also brough my violin out again, and tuned it. It may be a little flat, but I have been playing a little and so far so good! I also wrote a few songs, and put them to guitar and recorded them on Jeremiah's tape recorder. Hopefully we can work on adding some other instruments to the mix (including banjo?) so that maybe I will have my first ep album?? We will have to see!

I've also registered for fall classes. I am taking Non-Western Religions, American Authors Colonial-Romantic, History of Rock Music, Cultural Anthropology, and Biological Psychology. Sure hope they are good classes!

Well I am really sad that Katie Caldwell is leaving for Africa on June 2, but at the same time I'm so happy for her, and I know it will change her life, and she will really make a difference in someone else's life! I haven't known Katie that long, but it doesn't matter, she's an awesome friend and she's going to be missed dearly!

Well I will just have to keep telling myself that this summer I am going to have a good time, despite any worries that I still harbor in my mind. I'm going to learn the banjo, jam with Turtle Paw, go to White Lake, camp out on the beach, hang with friends and just thoroughly enjoy myself!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Bayou d'Etienne

Bayou d'Etienne: A Short Story

My 14th birthday present from Aunt Pauline came by way of my cousin Henry St. Clair who lived in the next parish near Bayou d'Etienne. Aunt Pauline often sent someone else along - anybody she could find, in this case Henry St. Clair, her nephew - to pass along news and letters and presents, since she rarely left her home. I hadn't seen her in a few months myself.

The present was wrapped in shiny purple paper, reminiscent of the Mardi Gras season, and was further concealed in a tiny chestnut box that I found quite appealing. Inside was a small silver brooch and in the inset of this brooch was a white silhouette of a young woman on a black background. It was a nice and rather unexpected gift from Aunt Pauline, and I am sure I had never received anything like that from her before. I placed it upon my chest of drawers, and it looked quite elegant there propped up on the chestnut box in which it had come.

I retrieved a thank-you note; I had a box of them, all framed by gold filigree and printed on heavy parchment paper. I hoped to send the note back to my aunt's house with Henry St. Clair, who was lingering outside talking with my older brother Jerome, no doubt about the upcoming summer vacation. It was only April, but it was sweltering hot and we felt like we should already be out of school and down at the river cooling off. I wiped perspiration from my forehead as I penned a simple note to my Aunt Pauline.

I slipped the note into its proper envelope, licked the edges and sealed it, and then went to hand it off to my cousin. When I got out to the porch, Henry had gone, and Jerome was in the yard playing fetch with the dog.

"Henry go home?" I asked him, despite the obvious.
"I wanted him to take this to Pauline."
"Well he's gone, Noelle, can't you see?"
"Well, I guess I will go down there today and thank her in person."
"Why?" Jerome asked, giving me a puzzled look.
"Because she sent me a really nice gift and you're supposed to thank people when they give you things."
"You're not going all the way down there," Jerome said.
"Yes I am, and you're comin' with me."
"No I ain't," he spat.
"Yes you are. Come on. We won't stay long."

Jerome was hesitant but I knew as soon as he saw how serious I was about going he'd come along too. He wasn't going to let me roam around town by myself.
We got our bikes out of Daddy's shed and started down the road that went all the way to Bayou d'Etienne, about three or four miles south.

Like my brother, I particularly did not want to go, but Southern girls always thanked people for gifts or acts of kindness or otherwise. I could have simply mailed her the card, but that seemed rather pointless since the card would be postmarked Bayou d'Etienne and sent to her address within the same town. Also, our mother had been hounding Jerome and I for months to go down and see our eldest aunt, so it seemed like an appropriate time.

My mother went down there about once or twice a week to visit with her half-sister, although Pauline never made the effort to visit our home. She was twelve years older than Mama, but if you stood the two sisters next to each other, they appeared thirty years apart. After all, Mama had always looked so young, as if she routinely bathed in the Fountain of Youth, and Pauline; well, Pauline was certainly not haggard looking (she always seemed to keep up appearances in public) but she had never been particularly attractive either, and her hair had been turning rapidly gray in recent years.

She kept to herself mostly but did attend church every Sunday and sometimes on Wednesday nights. She was either a born-again Baptist or Evangelist, I could never be sure which, and most of her conversations with others were about the fires of Hell, and how the devil himself lurked everywhere, especially down in Bayou d'Etienne, where there were several bars and what she called "hoochie coochies," frequented mostly, or so she claimed, by Catholics. We were Catholic however - my family and I - so when we went to see her we were often offended at her claim that we were subscribing to the "wrong religion." Sometimes when we were walking out of mass at St. Bernadette's we'd see her roll by in her father's banana-colored Cadillac, and she'd honk her horn and tell us she was going to the Promised Land, and we'd better hop in quick to save our souls.

She often said terrible things about our Parish priest Father Devereux, naming his shameful antics outside of the church doors that she herself had witnessed. There was never any proof or justification for anything she ever said. "And to think you tell that man your sins every week in a box!" She'd often say hatefully. Mama told us she said these things because she was getting more spiteful with age. It was Mama's best attempt at excusing her sister's shortcomings.

She lived at the very edge of Bayou d'Etienne town limits in a big old house that was starting to sink in with age. The outside looked downright terrible, but she kept the inside decent enough, despite the mounds of junk she stowed away, making some rooms inaccessible. We dropped our bikes next to the porch overgrown with weeds. "Let's make this quick," Jerome said.

Aunt Pauline met us at the door. She unlatched the storm door that had been locked from the inside and opened it just wide enough so that we could slide in.
"Come on in," she said with a sigh as if we were selfishly taking up her time.

Inside we found a horrifically cluttered hallway. There were paintings propped up along the walls, dust clouding their images. There were hats and coats and other clothes resting on the stairs, and a large grandfather clock stood ticking furiously, but displaying the wrong time. Whatever pictures or mirrors she had hanging on the wall had been removed, leaving behind their ghostly impressions on the stained wallpaper. The floor creaked loudly, and was probably starting to rot under her runners and carpets. There was a strong odor of cat urine, and as I took a quick peek into the kitchen I spotted black ants crawling all over the the countertops and the stove.

We were afraid to touch anything as we mechanically followed Pauline into her parlor. She told us to sit down, and we looked around for a place to sit where we wouldn't be on top of old clothes or sleeping cats.

"Your mama said y'all might come down," Pauline began, sitting down into an Edwardian style armchair, a once nice piece of furniture but was now torn up by cats' claws. Pauline was wearing a dress and shoes, as if she had just been ready to go out. But we knew she wouldn't be going anywhere today. It was not Sunday and it was a rare occasion that she went out into town except to get some things from the grocery store. She was as skinny as a rail. Her hair was long and curly, and steel colored strands were starting to conquer its original auburn hue.

"Are you both doin' alright in school?" she asked us.
"Yes ma'am," we both said.
"Well, good. You know, I wasn't lucky enough to stay in school. My father got sick and I had to help Mama take care of him. And I just never went back. But it was better. I couldn't stand Sister Mary Agnes..."
We stayed quiet and waited for her to go on, but she didn't, so Jerome said:
"It sure is musty in here, Aunt Pauline."
"You think so?" She replied, "I always thought it was quite airy myself."
I shifted in my seat. Her small talk was making me nervous.

"I remember," she continued, her voice slicing the still air like a knife. "I remember when Father Henry Canton came to give my daddy his last rites. Well, my Daddy was a Catholic after all," she said, a hint of disdain lingering in her voice. "And you know that priest said the same thing to me? 'It's quite musty in this living room' he had the nerve to tell me. As if my home was not good enough for him. The air was not quite good enough. It was too stale for his own Catholic taste. Stale like their wafers. Humph!"

Jerome glared at her. 'Don't say anything,' I said to him in my mind. He remained silent, as the old woman went on.
"At any rate, no one comes down here to see me anymore. I'm forgotten most days."

I cleared my throat awkwardly, and did not know how to respond to such a statement.
"Well I wouldn't visit me either," she said sadly, "Your mama comes down here at least once a week. To see if I'm still breathing I reckon. Though, I feel sorry for her."
"Why?" I asked.
"Oh...well," she paused, "No. I shouldn't talk about that sort of stuff around you two."
"Mama's happy," Jerome said abruptly, sounding more like a grown man than a 16 year old boy, "We're all very happy."
"Mais oui, I'm certain you are, but you do not know everything that goes on."
"Like what?" I asked.
Pauline shrugged and looked at us with a glint in her eye like she knew something that we did not.
"It's unfortunate that you two are now old enough to notice these things, and yet you turn a blind eye to it. You see what you wanna see. But the truth is what unbinds you."
"You're talkin' in riddles," Jerome said.
"You haven't wondered what's been bothering your mother lately, Noelle?"
"Mama is happy," Jerome said again. I looked from my brother to Pauline and back to my brother again. I realized that they both knew something I did not.
"You know that she is not, Jerome. How could anybody be happy after that?"
"You're talkin' nonsense again like you always do," Jerome said.
"What's going on?" I asked, my voice quavering. Pauline looked at me, her mouth open like she was about to say something, but held back.
"Nothing Noelle," Jerome said quickly, "C'mon, let's get back to the house."
"Your Daddy is a cheater, Noelle," Pauline said, "He's a lying cheater."
"Pauline, you stop that!" Jerome cried, his finger in her face as she sat there, her bony legs crossed, her wrinkled mouth pursed into a straight line.
"What?" I grasped onto my skirt, and struggled to comprehend what was quickly unfolding before me. I looked at Jerome. His face was flushed and his eyes glistened with stubborn tears. I tried to look for reassurance in him - Pauline was just talking foolishly, as she always did - but he glared at her as if she had betrayed him.
"I said c'mon," Jerome turned to me. He grabbed my elbow and began leading me towards the hall.
I refused to go and stood over Pauline, "How could you say any of that!? You're lying and I know it! Tell her Jerome! She's lying!"
"No, darling. You ask your brother. He caught him in the act."
Jerome's face was redder than a beet. "Goddamit, you always have to ruin everything!" He said viciously through clenched teeth.
"The girl deserves to know," Pauline leapt from her chair and stood erect. She was proud of what she had done.
Jerome wouldn't let go of my arm. I began to cry.
"I'll bet you've told God and everyone by now," he said. "You can't keep nothin' to yourself."
"I knew what he was up to," Pauline said, "I saw him down there. He was in them bars. Mon Dieu! What was I supposed to do? I told your Mama so that she'd know him for who he really was."
"You're lying," I heard myself saw again, "Why would you say that about my Daddy? All you do is lie and the devil hates liars."
"Your Daddy is the liar. Ton pere est le diable!" She said hatefully.

I jerked myself away from my brother's grasp and rushed quickly by her, shoving her out of my path with my elbow. Pauline went tumbling to the floor, and her head caught the edge of the coffee table.
"Jesus Noelle!" Jerome hollered as I got to the front door. I stood on the threshold, holding the storm door half open as I listened for sounds coming from my aunt. She was silent, and I turned slowly to see Jerome standing over her, and calling to her, imploring her to wake up.
"Jerome, is she alright?"
"I don't know, "Jerome bent down over her and listened for breathing.
"Jerome!" I cried, hot tears coming quickly to my eyes as I rushed back into the living room,
"Well, is she alright?"
"She ain't breathin'," he said. My eyes wandered all over the darkening room in desperation. The sun was setting and the shadows had begun to grow along the walls. I quietly prayed she wasn't dead.
"Cut on some lights in here," Jerome ordered and with shaking hands I managed to turn on a lamp next to the sofa. He bent over her and listened to her heart.
"Nothing," he said. He looked up at me with his sorrowful gray eyes, "I think she's dead."
"Oh God no!" I cried and collapsed onto the floor next to her. I heaved wretched sobs, nearly choking myself in grief and fear. I had killed my Aunt.
"It was an accident," Jerome said quietly. "It was just an accident."
I could not breathe. My stomach churned and my skin crawled.
"I'm gonna call an ambulance," Jerome said, his voice far away, "And I will tell them that she fell. And we found her this way."
"I killed her!" I cried frantically. I couldn't get a hold of myself, "I killed her and I will have to pay for it!"
Jerome came to me and began to shake me by the shoulders, "Shut up Noelle, shut up! It was an accident, you hear me?"

He went for the phone in the kitchen. I heard him wind the rotary for the operator. I sat still on the floor, my legs folded beneath me, my arms hugging my waist. I looked over Pauline who lied there motionless. Her head was turned away from me, and her bony body was twisted grotesquely in the opposite direction. I had never seen a dead person before but I had not imagined it would look like this. She appeared as though she were merely asleep, but I dared not touch her.

Jerome and I waited quietly on the front porch. I stood leaning on a chipped pillar, my eyes all swollen with tears.
"Now, when they get here, don't you say anything. I'll take care of it," he said.
I did not reply, but listened to the crickets' loud refrain and the bullfrogs bellowing and the poule d'eaus barking as they flew over the bayou. They were all witnesses to the truth, but could never speak of it. The truth was unbearable.
The idea that my father had cheated still weighed so heavily on my soul, despite what had happened to Pauline. I could not fathom it; my father, who was so loving towards us and who worked so hard to see us through all the good times and bad, who seemed to adore my mother, was a cheater. How could that be possible?
"Jerome," I said finally after what had seemed like an eternity, "Is it true?"
Jerome didn't answer at first, but he finally said, "Yes. It is true."
I began to sob again. Pauline had for once told the truth, and I had refused to believe her.

"Mama and I had noticed he didn't come home right after work some nights," Jerome said, steadily, "And then Pauline told Mama she saw Daddy down in Bayou d'Etienne one night as she was leaving church. You know nothing escaped that woman's eyes. So one night Mama made me go into town to try to find him, while you were asleep. That was the same night we told you he was down at Uncle Ben's helping him fix his truck."
"Did you find him?" I asked, already assuming what the answer would be.
"Yes. I looked all over and finally found his truck down near the river. And he was in it, with a woman. I did not confront him. I went home. Mama wouldn't leave me alone. She knew I had found him but I tried to pretend like I hadn't seen him. But she pried it out of me. And then she must have told Pauline. And...damn it, that woman couldn't keep her mouth shut! We wanted to keep it from you as long as we could. I know how much you adore Daddy."
"What's Mama gonna do?" I asked. I turned to see that my brother was sitting on the steps, looking out over the muddy front lawn overgrown with kudzu vines and weeds.
"Nothing. She ain't gonna do nothing, Noelle. What can she do? It's better if she never knew what he was doin in the first place."
"The truth is what unbinds you."
"So they say."

I sat down next to him and laid my head on his shoulder. I felt like crying, but knew that I couldn't. Everything had fallen apart right in front of me, in such a short time. My brother was the only person who I could trust, and now we were caught in over our heads. I was responsible for Pauline's death, and we were planning to lie to get away with it, and we could get away with it, but it didn't seem fair.
"We have to tell the truth, Jerome. It was an accident, but we must tell the truth."
"I know," he said quietly.

I latched onto his arm. We sat quietly as night enclosed around us, and the mosquitoes started to bite. The lightning bugs danced over the lawn and in the trees. The porch light flickered on, and moths and gnats began to gather. Out of the humid air came the sirens of an ambulance coming down Rue de Chapelle. As I heard them my heart threatened to leap out of my chest. I came to an awful realization.
"I never thanked her for my present," I whispered into the still night, but the animals of the world did not care to listen.

*Bayou d'Etienne is a fictional town...