How one author’s children’s picture book unfolded out for her in real life eventually making a fictional place real for social good.
Fifteen months ago, I had an “AHA” moment that, at first, involved marketing my book, Samuel T. Moore of Corte Magore, an epic children’s tale about a land and sea fiddler crab who wandered onto a beautiful island called Corte Magore. Sam wanted to stay and live there forever, but had to first overcome obstacles like building himself a home before the tides came in to sweep him back out to sea. He also had to work around naysayers and the big, bad beast, the Great Tidal Wave. Sam was a dreamer and a hard worker. He made mistakes but each time he failed, learned to pull himself up again and again by his bootstraps.
If you know me well, you’ll know there are some parallels between Samuel T. Moore of Corte Magore and my own life. Like Sam, I’m tenacious and a hard worker. Also like Sam, I too was once searching for a home. At the age of fifteen, I was placed in foster care. Mine was a dysfunctional family living well below the poverty line and things were often difficult for me growing up. The naysayer in my life was the system – the statistics that said I wasn’t supposed to break the cycle. Many children don’t, but I fortunately did. I’m resourceful, entrepreneurial, and when I’ve failed, I learned early on to pick myself up gracefully and work to get myself right back on track – just like Sam. I broke the mold and I know, in my heart of hearts, that it’s my duty to share with others that they can do it too. Despite their circumstances.
I tried to ingrain many pearls of wisdom throughout Samuel T. Moore of Corte Magore. If only I had a book, growing up, that told me it was okay to be searching for something, that acknowledged that my dreams had validity, that being punctual and minding the time and deadlines were important, and that though there would be bullies and naysayers in my life trying to squelch my dreams, it was up to me to tackle them anyway. Somehow, early on, I learned I’d have to do most everything for myself and on my own and that being independent can be incredibly empowering, even for a child faced with life’s difficulties.
My story was one I HAD to tell. But just telling it wasn’t enough. I had to figure out a way to market my book in a big way to children so they could make my story and Sam’s story, about overcoming obstacles and persevering, their own.
One morning, right before I woke up – a time when being “almost” lucid often brings clarity to my problems – the way to market my book in a big way came to me in an “AHA” moment. “AHA, I’ve got it,” I thought as I sat straight-up in bed. “If you can name a star in the sky, then why can’t I find some postage-stamped-sized island, somewhere in the world, and name it Corte Magore?”
That crazy, absurd, half-cocked idea put me on a personal journey that has changed the course of my life – rallied even my own family, one that’s forced me to get off my own personal, one-acre suburban “island” in Southern California, a life I eventually built for myself, step out of my cush comfort zone – and onto a real life, 29-acre, living/breathing, bio-diverse island along the devastatingly poor, Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua. That “AHA” moment, caused my passion (writing books for children) to be met with its purpose – having an island work to somehow keep an impoverished nation of child drop-outs in school. One adventure lead me to the next, just like in my story. And that “AHA” moment has snowballed into a new tale that now involves an ambassador, universities, conservation, eco-tourism, environmental learning, ocean science, crowdfunding, grant-writing, television/film, real estate development, and much, much more. In the course of a year, I’ve traveled to Nicaragua three times and have fallen in love with its people and possibilities, but most importantly, I’ve fallen in love with the journey to “Finding Corte Magore”.
Over the next few days and weeks, my team on the Finding Corte Magore project and I will attempt to break down this amazing adventure for you. Look for videos, pictures, and blog posts as we unfold the story from varying perspectives.
I promise that when it’s all over, you will be inspired to get up, dust off some of those old dreams of your own, dare to get off your own islands and realize that nothing at all is impossible.
The Fifth Annual Multicultural World BookFest will be held at the Camarillo Community Center on Saturday, November 1, 2014 from 10am-3pm.
I’ve been selected as one of the children’s book authors to present at the event at 11:00 AM, followed by book signings and readings.
• We will have six storytents representing: Asia; Africa; Latin America, North America, Europe, and Australia & New Zealand.
Location: Camarillo Community Center 1605 E. Burnley Street.
Take the 101fwy exit at Carmen Drive. Going north turn right @ light. Going south make 2 left turns; go over fwy. Continue on Carmen past City Hall to 4 way stop which is Burnley. Turn right then left into parking lot. Event will be inside the gated Community Center Room
Please join us for a day of books, readings, food trucks, fun and culture.
Hope to see you there!
Tonia Allen Gould/Author Samuel T. Moore of Corte Magore
I am pleased to recommend Tonia Allen Gould as a speaker for child related events -and adults as well.
I am a den leader for a group of Tiger Cub Scouts (first graders). Our meeting plan was how media is used to reach large audiences. I read about Tonia and her book Samuel T. Moore of Corte Magore on our neighborhood Facebook page and decide to contact her about speaking to the boys.
Tonia accepted and her presentation was more than I could hope for. The other dens (2nd and 3rd grade) joined us. She told the boys how she got the idea for her story, and how she turned the idea into an interactive and animated children’s book. She showed them the story that had music, narration and pictures. The story itself is wonderful for kids (and adults) about overcoming adversity to make your dreams come true and Tonia’s personal story is living proof. It was a great experience on many levels. All of the boys were engaged and interested. They were thrilled to meet an author and have signed books to take home.
I highly recommend Tonia and feel honored to know her.
I awakened a few hours later to the delightful aroma of side pork and eggs, fryin’ up cracklin’ hot on the griddle. I knew Mama was standin’ at the stove, dutifully making us breakfast where she was probably still adorned in her blood-stained pink robe. Daddy, undoubtedly would be sittin’ at the kitchen table—drinkin’ his coffee and tokin’ long and hard on his Marlboro, while starin’ out the window, surely carryin’ his thoughts out into the trailer park and farther past it to the great wide beyond. I never knowed where my Daddy went when he stared out that window at nothin’ in particular, but I imagined it was someplace other than Ardmore, Oklahoma, population 24,677.
Mama always served us up a big, pipin’ hot breakfast on Saturday mornin’s and so I reckon I was mighty hungry enough ’cause I pulled back them covers back and jumped out of bed, not realizin’ how dreadful cold the air felt in the room. November in Carter County was a frigid reminder that winter was comin’ and before too long now, Daddy would be makin’ overtime plowing them roads again for the Oklahoma State Highway Department. When my feet touched the bare floor, I shrieked and jumped back to the bed, grabbed the coverlet and draped it tightly around my body and then peeked my head out the door to look into the kitchen makin’ good and sure the coast was clear.
Mama’s forehead was bruised up somethin’ fierce already and it looked like she’d be needin’ some stitches from Doc Patton, what with that gash running down her temple and all, but the good thing was–the blood was all dried-up now and she didn’t look as frightenin’ as she did before. She tiredly looked up from where she was standin’ at the stove, forced me a quick smile with her pearly whites, and told me to go on and grab me a plate. I could hear Saturday mornin’ cartoons blarin’ from the television in the adjacent livin’ room, where I’m sure Bartlett and Graham were already holed-up and congregated together on the couch.
“Barley, you and me is going into town after you eat your breakfast,” Daddy mumbled while stampin’ out his cigarette and without turning to even look at me straight in the gosh-darned face. Daddy, I’m here…Yohoo…Look at me, I thought to myself.
“I’m gonna need your help workin’ out on the yard on the Impala today, so hurry up and eat,” he said, just now lookin’ up at me for only a second before he barked, “Wear somethin’ good and warm. It’s gonna be a cold one out there,” and turned away. Obediently, I finished breakfast and raced to get myself dressed, elated that it was gonna be just me and him runnin’ into town, and there ain’t nobody else was gonna join us.
Back in my room, I threw me on a flannel shirt over a turtleneck, poured on my jeans and tugged on my socks and boots when I heard Daddy yell at Mama, “Old Lady, fetch me my shoes!” Not missing my stride, I raced back into the kitchen ready to tackle the day out with my Daddy. In all the years since I had been born, I don’t never recall hearin’ Daddy refer to my Mama as Franny; shucks, I was even quite certain “Old Lady” was the only moniker she ever knew besides Mama.
“Jesus Christ, Earl, let me finish cleaning-up first. I ain’t your goddamned slave. Just give me a second to breathe,” Mama snapped in return while she moved to the counter where she slowly scraped the cooling bacon grease with a rubber spatula from the griddle into an empty Miracle Whip jar.
Daddy’s muscles on his neck tightened, and I thought he was gonna to get right up off that chair and put her in her place once again. Ain’t nuthin’ was gonna ruin this day for me; I was gonna personally see certain to that.
“I’ll get ‘em,” I said joyfully, as I ran into their bedroom and clasped the shoes by their strings from their bedroom floor and carried them obediently to my father where I dropped them at his feet. Daddy pulled on the black, steel-toed shoes and stood up, simultaneously hoistin’ his jeans up onto his trim hips. Like a veritable hapless giant that loomed over my frail frame, he effortlessly nudged me out of his way, then walked to the other side of the kitchen where he grabbed his flannel jacket from the pegs on the wall near the door.
“Barley, let’s go,” he growled, “Ain’t got me all day.”
Outside, the crisp November wind gnawed at my rubicund face while the tall Maple nearby rustled and shook the last of her amber leaves at me. I felt a shiver run from my head to my toes and pulled my jacket tautly around my body. Suzie, dad’s huntin’ Beagle, met us at the door and raced down in front of us along the gravel walkway to the car, stretchin’ her chain out as far as it would reach, until it jerked her back and placed her on her hind quarters where she sat dazed for a second realizin’ she was still tethered to the gosh-darned trailer. Unaffected, she got up and sprinted to Daddy, and greeted him by jumpin’ on him until he finally kneed her in the chest to get her to stop. She took the hint and sidled on up next to me and mounted me just the same. I bent over to pet her for only a moment, because I knew if I didn’t hurry and catch-up to Daddy, who was already in the car, he’d be leavin’ for town without me. I wasn’t about to let that happen, so I ran to the Impala and slid into the bench seat of the car from the passenger side where I flashed my Daddy the biggest smile in all of Carter County.
Daddy and I drove in silence the full fifteen minutes it took us to get into town and on down to Denny’s Auto Shop where we was pickin’ up a new ignition switch for the Impala. But, on the ride there, my thoughts kept detourin’ back to the early mornin’ hours and to what Daddy had done to my Mama. Mama sometimes told me I didn’t know what my Daddy was capable of, and well now I knowed, and that knowledge festered inside me as fierce as a boil from an infection ‘cause I didn’t want it to be so. But, sometimes I couldn’t help but think Mama had it comin’ to her. I wished she would just finally learn how to bite her tongue.
As we ambled down Highway 35 and out past Old Man Ardy’s pecan stand, now boarded up nice and tight for the winter, the image of Daddy standin’ over Mama with that chair in his hands played over and again in my head. One. By the time we passed Lake Murray, the chair came crashing down. Two. And by the time we reached Ardmore, Mama was splayed out on the floor in a batch of her own blood. Three. Everything bad happens when it comes in threes like that.
By the time we rolled into Denny’s, I was wipin’ the cold tears away from my face and did my best to smile and fake like I hadn’t been wankin’ like a baby when the tall, red-headed owner of the shop greeted me with his standard high-five hand in the air.
“Lollipops are inside on the counter, Barls,” Denny chirped as I met his hand with mine. I raced inside and looked around the shop for the candy. In the garage bay, a newer Chevy Nova was jacked up high enough for two men in dark blue uniforms and work boots to be under it tinkerin’ round with their wrenches. Daddy and Denny came-in to the shop and started talkin’ about engines, carburetors and ignition switches while I stood there crouched real low like with my legs tangled around each other.
“Christ Barley, use the toilet before you piss yerself and then go on back out and sit in the car. Denny and me is gonna be a while,” Daddy said, but I was already off to the races lookin’ around the shop for the bathroom. I relieved myself while sucking on my orange flavored lollipop, finished real quick ’cause the toilet seat felt like I was sittin’ on an iceberg, pulled my pants back up, washed my hands in the sink, and then made my way back out into the shop. Denny was standin’ back in the corner of the garage handin’ somethin’ to Daddy in a little plastic baggy.
Back in that Impala I was havin’ trouble keeping myself warm, so I rolled myself up nice and tight into a ball and leaned against the door of the car, alone for a spell I reckon, and tryin’ hard not to conjure up any recollections buried deep in my mind. But, something was badgerin’ me, tuggin’ and pullin’ at me real hard, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it—somethin’ about Aunt June that Mama brought up last night before her world and that dang chair came crashin’ down. I looked across town and from where I was sittin’ I could see dark loomin’ clouds approachin’ far up overhead. It looked like Ardmore was mighty ripe for some heavy rain. And then that thing about Aunt June, that I couldn’t remember, well, it hit me so hard it felt like someone had reached down and smacked me upside the head and left me breathless. Before I knowed what hit me, a childhood memory took me back to a time and a place sometime long before my little brother, Graham, was born.
It was late and the rain was peltin’ down somethin’ ferocious outside; I could hear the clank of thunder and see flashes of lightnin’ ricochetin’ off the walls as I am being pulled from a deep slumber in a bedroom from the basement at my Aunt Debbie’s house. It’s my Daddy, come sometime ‘round Midnight to take us home. He lifts me out of the bed and lugs me about the house, feelin’ his way up the stairs into the quasi-darkness and makin’ his way to the door. I want to pull in close to his warm body, ease into him just like that and have him hold me in his arms like that forever. But, my sleepy and dulled senses suddenly become magnified. Daddy was stumblin’ and weavin’ around as he walked, so I held on tighter, almost certain he was going to drop me on my head, my tangled bed head and all. Through my groggy, sleep deprived eyes, I could see Mama’s nose was all red, and glistening with snot from a lot of cryin’ before.
Daddy suddenly becomes less agile, and my face was positioned so close to his, I could smell the Bourbon on his breath and permeating clear through his pores. Once outside, Daddy does nothing to protect me from the harsh cold rain peltin’ my face and soakin’ up into my skin from my already drenched clothes. Finally, none too soon, we reach the old rusty car left idlin’ in the driveway, and Daddy dumps me in the backseat without looking backwards to see if I’m ok. Bartlett opens the passenger door next to me and quietly slides into the backseat with me, while Mama hops into the front seat, and we drive off. It’s still rainin’ somethin’ fierce outside and I start to fall asleep to the lolling sound of the rain and the windshield wipers thrashing out a tune. It doesn’t take long before my parents start in to arguing in the front seat. Swish, swash, swish, swash, swish, swash, the windshield wipers make perfect time with my parent’s argument which is getting really heated now. I hear them, but I’m so tired, I can’t muster the energy to open my eyes to see what’s going on. Shoot. It’s best to pretend that I’m asleep anyway.
“She just had to fuckin’ be there, didn’t she, Earl?” Mama started in again. You must think I am pretty damned stupid. June turned up because she knew you was gonna be there and I saw how she was lookin’ at you and you was lookin’ at her.”
“Jesus Christ, old lady. I didn’t know she was gonna be there. You’re just fuckin’ crazy you know that? I can’t take a piss without you lookin’ down my back.”
“And why the hell not, Rex? Look at what cha did. That’s my brother’s wife…that fuckin’ whore! You don’t think I don’t know what I seen? I have a pretty good idea and so does John. You just better watch out ‘cause when HE finds out, he’s gonna kill ya and I will stand there laughin’ at your grave when he does. Fuck you, Earl!”
Swish. Swash. I find solace from the sound the windshield wipers make as I curl into a tighter ball in the backseat, swaddlin’ myself with my threadbare winter coat, a hand-me-down from one of my older cousins. Bartlett stirs next to me, but I don’t know if she’s awake too, or just pretendin’ to be asleep like me. The car is speedin’ now; I can hear it movin’ fast, water splashin’ up under the wheels as we zoom down the road at a breakneck speed. Every now and then I feel the body of the car swerve ever so slightly as my father overcompensates at the wheel from hydroplaning on the wet pavement or from his own drunkenness, which one, I ain’t none too sure. I dare to lift my head and open my eyes. The fields and trees are whizzin’ past us, and the lights from passin’ houses are nothing but a blur. I pray that my Mama will just hold her tongue or we will all crash and die. I bury my forehead against the window and repeatedly, tap it against the cold glass willin’ it all to stop; all the while the fighting becomes more languid like God hisself was playin’ an awful trick on me and did the opposite of answerin’ my prayers.
When the car finally comes to a complete stop, I look up and couldn’t help but noticin’ that we were already at home which tells me that I musta fallen asleep sometime durin’ part of the trip. But the car ain’t in the driveway. It sits parallel to the road and faces the lone, giant oak standin’ like a solider next to the trailer. Our home was parked closest to the exit of the trailer park, and we was lucky we only had a neighbor on just one side. The tree’s branches shake its limbs at us, as if in warning, and bends and sways from the wind and rain. I noticed the trailer sat vacant and dark since no one gave it no nevermind to leave a light on for when we came home. My father flips on the interior light of the car and turns his head around and faces the backseat where both my sister and I are now sittin’ on full alert, our bodies erect, waitin’ to see what happens next.
“You girls wanna go with me or yer mom? The choice is yours, but go on and make it good and quick.” Bartlett immediately opens the door roadside and races around the car to our mother who is already standin’ facin’ the driver’s side window a few steps away. “I want to go with my Mama. I don’t want to go with you!” she says loudly into Daddy’s rolled-down window and then turns on her heels and positions her back towards him a good distance away from the car. Stupid, stubborn Bartlett, I think to myself. Not now. And then Daddy turns the rearview mirror so he can see me sitting alone and awkwardly in the backseat.
“Barley, make yer pick. It’s me on yer Mama,” he growls.
Pleadin’ with my eyes, I start to beg, “No, daddy, no! I want you both. I want you both!” I say again for effect. But, instinctively I know that it’s prob’ly time to exit the car. I brace myself before I get out of the warm vehicle and begin to shiver expectedly because I knew the torrential downpour continued to pelt unforgivingly outside. Dad was leavin’ us. I knew it was really happenin’ this time. Why couldn’t Mama just learn to leave things gosh-darned alone? And, why did Stupid Bartlett have to go on and pick sides between them?
Just before I shut the door, Daddy turned around and looked at me with what seemed to be sadness in his eyes, “Then come on around here and give yer Dad a kiss and say goodbye now,” my father slurs out the words slowly, all the while he’s looking directly at me. But, I bolt out the door and race around to my mother and sister’s side.
With much more conviction I say louder as if to change his mind about leaving, “But, I want you both!” I scream into Daddy’s rolled-down window. “Don’t go daddy. Please don’t go. I’ll be good.” He motioned me forward and I knew I had to obey or he’d get right out of that car and whoop me blind. Resigned now in the fact that he was leavin’ us whether I wanted him to or not; I walked over to the driver’s side window, apprehensively peckin’ my father on the cheek and not trustin’ how he would react to all my cryin’. This is it. He’s leavin’ and I knowed it. He had never asked for me for a kiss before. Wait. What? He had never asked me for a kiss before. It felt like love, or somethin’ like it. I couldn’t be too sure.
Suddenly, Daddy guns the engine and the car bolts forward, just as Mama steps over to pull me away from the moving tires kickin’ up gravel beneath them. Moments later, Daddy slams the car into the giant Oak tree by the road. The engine falters and dies as the headlights from the car pierce through the otherwise darkness. The three of us, Mama, Bartlett and me stood motionless and in shock. An eerie cascade of light from the headlamps along with radiator steam suddenly envelopes the darkness, castin’ shadows from the tree all around. Reality sets in and I’m the first to react. “Dad is dead!” I screamed over and over. “Dad is dead!” My whole body is tremblin’ somethin’ fierce as my mother, sister and I huddle against each other; each of us sobbin’ uncontrollably, and wishin’ and willin’ it not to be so.
Time passes and no one has enough courage to walk over to the purple Chevy that was crumpled against the tree. The steam risin’ from it seemed to be the only breathin’ entity comin’ from the car. The interior of the vehicle was all aglow, and the light from the headlamps was refractin’ into the car and onto my father’s lifeless body that was lyin’ in a heap slumped clear across the steerin’ wheel. Minutes pass as the three of us continue to wail into the empty night, rain-soaked and all convinced that my Daddy was dead. Lights come on from nearby trailers and George, who was just a pup at the time, along with all the other dogs in the trailer park start to bark and howl.
Finally, after what seemed like a very long time, dad sits up; we can see the dark outline of his hand rubbin’ his head as he repositions hisself in the front seat. He turns over the ignition, and the car sputters then eventually starts. He slowly backs away from the enormous oak, navigatin’ the car in reverse for a spell and then puts it into drive and eases up gently onto the road headin’ away from us. Obviously still stunned by the impact of collidin’ with a dang tree, my father now drives off with somewhat lackluster conviction now. I watch the taillights retreat into the dark night. Dad’s not dead, I sung over and again in my head, and I am overcome by joy and relief.
My mother grabs my sister and me and races us into the house where she clamors about hurriedly openin’ and slammin’ drawers and doors. Frantically, she stuffs our clothes into giant, black plastic bags pulling each of them tightly closed by their yellow loops when each bag was filled almost to the top. She tells us to grab a few things because we might not be comin’ back none too soon. My mother fights back her tears and snaps at us to hurry up, resolved in the fact that we were leavin’. She picks up the phone and tells the other person who shared our party line that we had an emergency and that she needed to make an important phone call. It was early in the mornin’, by now, and I wondered who that person was on the other line and why they’d be makin’ a call so late. Maybe their father left ’em too? In any case, I knowed who my Mama was callin’ at this hour, and he wasn’t gonna be none too happy about it neither.
A half an hour or so later a red, rusted-out Ford truck pulls into our driveway and a strong, burly man gets out and makes his way to the porch where my mother had placed all them trash bags. He was rubbin’ his bald head, lookin’ tired and grumpy as he walked up the porch steps to meet us. Grandpa didn’t say a word as he heaves the bags, one by one, into the bed of the old pickup truck, our clothin’ and belongin’s reduced to trash thankfully encased in plastic, protected from the pouring rain. We all pile onto the long, black vinyl seat that was cracked, and weathered from both age and sun. The sharp vinyl pokes through my still damp pajamas from all the rain. I knew we was safe now, as I eased my small frame in closer and closer to my Grandfather. I could feel his warm body close to mine, and I could smell the telltale scent of tobacco along with a hint of beer.
Grandpa reaches under the seat and tosses me a pack of Kraft cheese and crackers and then ruffles my hair with his fat, calloused hands. He still had not said one gosh-danged word. I peel back the plastic wrapper on the Handi-Snack and find the little red stick. I smear the cheese across a cracker as my Grandpa pulls the truck onto the road, flips on the windshield wipers and heads in the same direction that my father had went. The indulgence, the cheese and crackers, was one that Grandpa and me always shared together when we was alone, and was his way of soothin’ me here with him tonight. Grandpa made it better and I momentarily forgot about my Daddy and where he was headin’, out alone and out into the darkness of the night, the cold and the rain. I was cognizant that my mother’s face lay propped up against the window next to me, her shoulders shudderin’ up and down as she cried and cried. Bartlett was leanin’ on her shoulder tryin’ hard to soothe my Mama. I watched as my mother’s spirit withered away and died that night. That was the last time I had ever seen Mama stand-up to my Daddy enough to leave him.
Daddy knocks on the car window, waking me up from my reverie and gets in as the vehicle shifts a little from the sheer brute force of his muscular body. He motions up ahead at the thunderstorm clouds that were now movin’ in fast above us, and flips on the wipers just as raindrops began to pitter patter across the windshield and said, “Looks like we’re in for some mighty heavy rain, Barley. Won’t be workin’ on the car today. Let’s head on home.”
This is Chapter 3 of my new novel, a work of Young Adult, Mature Subject, Fiction. Young readers should be particularly advised that this chapter is harsh. Chapters 1 and 2 are published here also at www.toniaalengould.com. I’m uncertain how many chapters I will publish here on this blog. Your feedback is welcomed and appreciated, and please kindly note that this is only fairly edited to this point.
Please forgive errant commas or semi-colons. My focus is on writing at this juncture.
Meet My Daddy
Last night, when the house was quiet and nothin’ was keeping the room lit but for the dime store digital alarm clock Mama got me and Bartlett for Christmas last year; my sister broke the night’s calm by shifting her weight and turning over in her bed to face me in mine. “Barley, you awake?” she whispered. Not waitin’ long enough for me to answer she continued, “It’s real late and daddy ain’t home yet. When he gets in, I don’t want you to make one single, solitary sound in here, no matter what happens. Ya hear me?” Bartlett pleaded. I shivered and pulled the covers tighter over my body and used the top of them to wipe the tears that already began to roll as big as quarters down my cheek and said, “Uh huh, I hear you,” I said, knowing she was right and that the shit was about to hit the fan. I tried to muster a voice inside me big and loud, but what came out of my mouth squeaked like one of them kangaroo mice that we occasionally caught meekly pokin’ their heads out of our paneled wood walls, disappearin’ as quickly as they came, here and gone again, just like my tears now. My whole body began to tremble and shake and my feet were so cold, it felt like I had popsicles for toes.
Bartlett rose up out of her bed lookin’ like a ghost or something, loomin’ over me like that in her cotton white nightgown; her face was nothin’ but a shadow in the darkness, and for a second, I thought I was dreaming or having a nightmare or somethin’. I pinched myself sharply and only when I felt the pain was I certain she was real and not a figment of my own imagination. Finally, she sat down on the edge of my bed. “Sit up for a second,” she said, as she pulled back the covers and tugged at my arms, effortlessly bringing me up next to her. I couldn’t make out her face in the darkness, although her white cotton nightgown seemed to illuminate the whole bedroom. She stroked my long, dark hair and whispered in my ear. I know she could feel me tremblin’ beside her, and even though sometimes I hated her, I was grateful for my sister’s warmth tonight. “Shhh,” she said. “Maybe it won’t be so bad this time. Give me a hug and try to go on back to sleep now and remember that no matter what happens, you stay in this here bed and don’t get outta it for anything, until Kingdom come if you have to, or at least until I say so” she said, as she pulled me tighter in next to her body. I hugged her limply, like something had sucked the bones out of me and I was nothing but a gob of dangling, cold skin, but it weren’t for but a second, before she got up and paced across the room to check on Graham, who was sleeping soundly in his own bed. I knew Bartlett would be by his side, stifling him, muzzling his mouth if she had to, if things got all out ugly. So I just laid there—cold and limp, a lifeless, waiting, trembling, hoping and praying mass of a person. If you’ve never had the experience, waiting for something bad to happen feels like all the oxygen has been snatched-up outta the air, your throat and lips feel awful dry, you can’t hardly swallow your own spit for the lump in your throat won’t let it go down nice and easy. Shoot it’s as if the Earth collapsed and shattered to giants chunks of rubble right next to you, pinning you in and leaving you breathless. Yes. Waiting feels like somethin’ as big and looming and enormous as that.
Another hour or so must’ve passed as we laid there in silence before the headlights from daddy’s ’59 Impala finally ricocheted off the walls and reflected from the mirror that sat on top of our dresser. The light was so bright, it was blinding, and it felt like Lord Jesus had come to take us home. I could hear the tires spitting-up gravel from the driveway and the pistons rumble and fade away into the darkness once Daddy turned off the ignition. Moments pass and he finally gets out of the car, slamming the door forcibly as he exits. Then the thud, thud, thud of his feet comin’ up the porch steps, tromping the whole way. Suddenly, I became consumed by each and every sound my father was making, each noise was a siren, a warning call that rang loud and true and into the stillness of the night. It was almost more than I could bear, waitin’ for my Daddy to find his keys and enter the trailer. I wasn’t breathin’, but I wasn’t holding my breath neither, it’s like I had my foot stomped on and was punched in the belly all at the same time. Rattle, Rattle, rattle; he fumbled with the doorknob, turned it, and then finally fell into the kitchen which was right outside our bedroom. He was strugglin’ to find the light switch; I could hear him grasping at the walls, groping the wood paneling, and scraping the dinette chairs across the floor as he clumsily made his way to the light switch across the small kitchen.
From where I was layin’, I could see the dark shadow of his body through the crack in our bedroom door. I screeched a bit when he finally found and turned on the lights in the kitchen. It scared the bejesus outta of me, since I had become particularly fixated on all the sounds he was making, but mostly due to the suspense of it all. Bartlett shushed me again, but fortunately Daddy hadn’t heard me. Bartlett was right, it was best to pretend I was asleep, but I couldn’t help but watch through that small opening in our bedroom door.
I wanted to roll over in my bed and face Bartlett, but it was too darn late, I had to lay still, or I might’ve caught Daddy’s attention, so I watched as he tried to navigate hisself around the kitchen. Daddy has knocked over a chair, and I watch as he stumbled and fell forward, trying to pick it up. When he finally brought the chair upright, he heaved his body into and lit himself up a Marlboro, and thankfully the whole trailer fell quiet again. We can hear Mama as she slowly eases herself up out of her bed through the paper thin walls leading to the bedroom next to ours. The rickety old box springs from the cast iron bed Mama and Daddy got from a flea market, is the only thing to break the silence. “No Mama,” I prayed. “Please don’t get up. Let him be. Don’t go in there,” I prayed. But I knew God wasn’t listening to Barley Sullivan tonight, because I watched as Mama drowsily entered the kitchen, wiping the sleep out of her reddened eyes. I could see that Mama had been crying, and guessed prob’ly she had cried the whole night long. The stench of the alcohol on Daddy’s breath, and what smells like a somewhat familiar perfume now permeates the air throughout the entire trailer. Mama is ten shades of mad because Daddy has been out so late. She glances around the kitchen in disbelief. “Earl, it looks like a God-damned circus ran through here,” she says as she stoops to pick up an errant chair up off the floor. Mama’s right. It was a circus in there and unbeknownst to her; she just stepped into the lion’s lair. Like I’ve said before, Mama don’t have too much common sense.
“You think ya can just saunter on in here, any old time ya God-damned want, drunker than a skunk and smellin’ like June’s cheap-ass perfume all the time? I’m getting pretty fuckin’ sick and tired of it, Earl!” she yells. “If my brother John gets a hold of you, he’s gonna kill you for runnin’ around with her like that. What? You think I don’t know? I’m not as stupid as you think I am,” my Mama laughs. The argument ensues, both of them screaming back and forth at one another, but some of what they are talkin’ about makes absolutely no sense to me—like what does Aunt June have to do with any of this, anyway? It’s all over my head stuff I don’t come to understand, and Daddy is so belligerent, I can’t make right or wrong of what he is saying at all. Their voices rise another octave, and the neighbor’s dog, George, begins to bark and that beckons other dogs in the trailer park to wake and come alive with their unrelenting barking, too. Daddy’s voice suddenly shifts to a dangerous tone, and I can feel it in my gut; it’s too late, there’s no undoing what’s Mama’s done. She has incensed my father.
Despite Bartlett’s admonishment, I sit up on the side of my bed, my legs dangling, holding on tightly to the stuffed monkey I got from that time I got put in the hospital when my appendix almost burst. Doctor Cooper gave him to me. I loved that stuffed monkey because he reminded me of a special time. For two weeks, while I was in the hospital, I got to eat all the ice cream I ever wanted, there weren’t any televisions on blaring loudly twenty-four-hours a day, and Daddy and Mama weren’t there fighting about things I just didn’t understand, like they were doing tonight. Hell, Mama and Daddy barely even came to see me when I was in the hospital back when I was only just nine-years-old, and oddly enough, I was okay with that. Those two weeks were the first time in my life I had ever experienced what silence was. I could think there in the hospital. I wasn’t all wound-up like a toy and scared all the time. In fact, it felt like I had boarded a plane, and landed in some faraway perfect place. For a kid like me, growing up in a trailer park, staying in a hospital feels something like staying at one of those fine resorts I read about in one of those magazines Jeannie Bell had down in her parlor shop in town.
Bartlett breaks me away from my reverie and whispered loudly again, “Lie back down and pretend that you’re asleep! If Daddy sees you, he’ll up and come on in here and whoop us both. Do it now!” But I don’t listen to Bartlett. My body feels possessed by someone much bigger and braver than me. Instead, I continue to rock myself gently back and forth, trying to will away the feuding coming from the other room. Daddy is cursing something fierce, and then I hear him push a chair out of his way as he crosses over to Mama where I can’t see them anymore. I knew better, and despite all of Bartlett’s warnings, I got up and tip-toed myself across the floor to the door and stepped quietly over to the other side of it to peer through the crack to see where my Mama and Daddy are standing on the other side of the kitchen. Daddy’s already got her pressed right up against the wall, his arm pinned across her throat and he is yellin’ directly into her face. He’s so mad, I can see little droplets of spittle flying into the air as he screams at her. And then, before I can digest what I am seeing, I watch in outright horror as Daddy leans over and picks up one of those fallen chairs and busts it right across my Mama’s head. She falters and falls hard to the ground, moaning in anguish; her body is now a lifeless heap strewn clear across the floor in a pink, cotton-candy-colored, terry-cloth robe. With a grumble underneath his breath, my Daddy steps over her body, like she’s nothing more than the day’s trash, and stumbles into their bedroom. I watch him hoist his fully-clothed body onto that old bed, the sheer weight of him causes those box springs to creak and whine again, and almost immediately, the sound of his snoring breaks the dead quiet silence of daybreak. The morning light is already filtering in through the windows, casting an eerie light on my poor mother, splayed out on the floor, all out of kilter like that in her pink robe.
Mama was lying perfectly still on the floor, and I was almost certain she was dead. A thin, red trickle of blood oozed from a wide, deep gash on her forehead. I was cryin’, but my sobs were coming from some subterranean part of myself I hadn’t felt before. Even if I wanted to, I could not project any noise; I had learnt early on in life to stifle my emotions and to filter my own pain. My stomach was heaving in and out while a steady train of new tears rolled down my face. It took every ounce of my courage to walk over to my Mama to see if she was breathing fire or was dead cold. Just as I crossed over the kitchen and came to her side, my mother looked up at me, and it scared me somethin’ fierce to see her bloodied face staring up at me like that. She was surprised to see me and immediately placed her right index finger next to her lips and mouthed the word “Shhhhh!” I leaned over her and gave her my hand, which she gratefully took, and I helped her up off the cold, hard linoleum tiles. Without saying a word, she led me back to my room where Bartlett stood cryin’ at the door, holding Graham in her arms; he was almost too big for her carry. He was holding on to her for dear life just like an ape’s baby. Although he was already seven-years-old, and too big too hold, his arms were draped across her neck and his face was buried deep in her bosom. I knew Bartlett hadn’t let him see anything that went on in the kitchen. “Go on back in there now, you three. Ain’t nothin’ more to see out here tonight,” Mama said as she motioned us back into our bedroom. “I’m ok,” she said, “It ain’t nothin’ more than a little bump on the head and a little blood. Y’all go back to sleep, and stay good and quiet in here, you hear me?” she whispered. Mama led me back into our room, where she tucked me into bed, checked on Graham, who rolled over immediately and went back to sleep, and then looked thankfully towards Bartlett. Then with some degree of dignity, she straightened her back and walked out of our room and out into the kitchen.
The door to our room was left cracked open again and I watched as she lit herself a cigarette, inhaling the smoke deeply into her lungs where she savored it a moment until she finally exhaled, and then she sat down at the dinette table, drew her feet up onto the chair and rested her head on her knees, her body trembling from head-to-toe as she silently watered her lap with her tears. I wanted to go to her again, but I knew if I did, she would retaliate on me just to prove she was still strong and in charge, like she had done so many times before after a beating from Daddy, so I just laid there and saw her arms heave up and down as she cried, watching as the early morning light cleansed and clarified the kitchen, hoping for a new and brighter day.
I’m about ninety, 8.5’x11″ pages into writing my first novel. I sure would enjoy some feedback on the first six pages from people in my network. Thanking anyone in advance who takes the time to read this, and please remember this is unedited, for the most part.
When It Comes in Threes
by TONIA ALLEN GOULD
Right before you die, your feet turn white and your legs get all mottled-up in color somewhere between the vibrant hues of purple and blue. You can’t see your legs and feet anymore, because you’re immobile and on your back, where you have been placed, in your final resting pose by your nurse. Your hearing is strong, and the audible whispers of the people around you confirm what is happening to the body that you can no longer see or feel. It frightens everyone around you to watch the metamorphism as your organs begin to shut down, one-by-one. Life, or what was left of it, leaves your eyes long before this, before your body becomes a chameleon and starts to change its colors.
The bright blue eyes that you once had are now dark and glassy and all fogged up. The people around you become nothing more than clouded, living and breathing visions through your own drug-induced, fog daze. Thankfully, the morphine you have been administered takes the edge off of anything that resembles pain.
It takes you awhile to focus in on your surroundings and find who you are looking for as you scan through the sea of faces hovering over you. You give an obligatory nod to each new one you see to let them know, that you know, that they are there. These are the people who have come to watch you die, but your pride won’t allow you to do it in front of them.
While your family is gripping your hands and holding you tight; you stare off, for a time, into a place that only the dying can see. You’ve just started to entertain the prospect of going there and start to play with your own breath to see if you can stop the beating of your own heart, but you’re not quite powerful enough for that. Also, you’re not ready yet, because people have come to pay their respects, and waiting is the right thing to do.
Your loved ones seem more prepared for you to go than you are because they don’t want you to suffer anymore. In those brief moments you have to escape within yourself, you admit, if only for a fleeting second that you are scared. But, by now; you’ve ultimately come to grips with your destiny. You know you will soon die, and suddenly you have an altruistic sense of what that really means.
You muster up just enough energy and final breath to say goodbye to all the people that float in, and drift around you; a steady influx of people that rattle the door every time they enter your personal space and pull you away from where you almost went. You’re just lucid enough to stay awake, because you owe it to them, and know it’s important that they get to say their final goodbyes. They are the people that care about you the most, the ones who have come to bid their final farewells, and you chalk off the people who didn’t; they are now permanently erased from your mind.
You tell everyone that you love them, and you say it with your eyes too, because speaking takes too much out of you. This time, you mean it with all of your heart and soul, and in a way that only the dying can feel, and you wish you had the words and the voice and a loudspeaker so that you are sure that they know. Those people who stand over you, lurking, are hoping and praying that you’ll die soon, while they are watching, because secretly they are in awe of your teeter-totter between life and death, but mostly because they don’t want to watch you feel any more pain. They have no qualms about telling you that it’s alright to go, and that they’ll see you on the other side. But, you’re not quite sure that is where you’ll end up.
Miraculously, your closest loved-ones, your children and your spouse, are each willing you to live and praying for you to die at the same time. They are silently begging you with their own eyes to stay, as if you have some degree of say in the matter. They also are praying that you’ll be taken comfortably and without any further degree of suffering. They are conflicted by this push/pull of both willing you to live and willing you to die. These people are the ones with words still left unspoken. They have unresolved issues with you about how you lived your life, and how that impacted them. You know they are in turmoil, and even though you took so much from them, and caused them so much pain, they are still there—forgiving you for the life you lived, and letting go of whatever was left of what they were still holding onto. The guilt of this and of dying consumes you. You’ve caused everyone so much pain already, and you know that they will be there when you take your last breath. If only you had more time, then maybe you’d undo some of the things that you did.
Chapter 1: The Journey
Less than twenty-four hours earlier, I was sitting with my husband under the pavilion in our backyard, sheltered from the sun, snacking on real images of my home and life, with my laptop finally open, pecking away at that novel I’m only half-way finished writing. Occasionally, I would glance-up to watch my son’s newly perfected dive permeating the pool’s crystal clear surface. When his head broke the water each time, and he managed to catch his breath again, he would look up at me to see if I had been watching him. I’d smile, he’d swim to the edge of the pool and get out and do it again. I sat there for hours, watching him, and reveling in the fact that my husband was home from his business travels for a spell, both of us content to just sit there, and just be home together again for a while. Both of us, I’m sure, sat their wondering what our lives would be like, just the three of us, when my daughter, Gabriella finally left for the University of Colorado at Boulder in just two short weeks.
But, as anyone knows who has ever suffered any degree of loss, life can turn on you like a dime. Here it is now, vast and wide, and staring me straight in the face from the window of a Boeing 767. I rub the misty, double-paned glass, and realize the drops of moisture are only present on the outside of the window. I resolve myself to settle into my seat and relax during the four-hour flight from Los Angeles to Detroit. Jesus. How did I even get here? Hopping on a plane wasn’t part of any one of the carefully laid-out plans I had for myself today.
The flight attendants’ finally prepare themselves for take-off and the plane gains speed and shimmies down the runway and I am almost instantly and immensely humbled by the intense sunset glowing starboard, burning hot like a California wildfire. The distant fiery blaze ignites the horizon, as the plane rises and ascends to the West over the Pacific, as one lone tear traces my face, and lingers a moment on my chin before dropping to a small, wet stain on my white linen shirt. I haven’t the energy to wipe it away. Already it has been a very long day and I wish that I was home with my family having the backyard barbecue we had planned with our friends, The Coopers.
Like my tears, the sunset begins to fade and the other passengers fall quiet as they reach up to turn off their seat lights. It is in this instance that I welcome the sudden hushed voices in the cabin along with the steady hum of the plane’s engine. Somehow, I am soothed, like a baby who is quieted by the constant purr of a washing machine or a vacuum cleaner despite her mother’s own desperation to calm her. Turning again to face the window, I just barely catch the sight of the sun as it finally dips and then drops, disappearing entirely into the horizon as the plane continues to rise up over the Pacific where it finally makes its subtle turn towards the East and back to the place where I was born. The magnificent peace of the sunset coupled with the plane sailing through the air, penetrating the clouds, quiets my mind for the first time today and I surrender to the beauty and enormity of it all. I have never felt so small.
My circumstances preclude me from getting up to use the restroom, although I really have to go. I’ve had to pee since I pulled out of my driveway to make the sixty-minute commute to LAX from my suburban bedroom community in Agoura Hills, located just northwest of Los Angeles. I wish now, too late, that I had used the restroom at the airport, mostly because the small, dark-haired woman with a pixie haircut who sat next to me appeared to be hunkered down for the night. Coiled up neatly into herself, her tiny frame was completely shrouded by the airline-issued red, micro-fleece blanket.
My seatmate stirred only once when the plane shook from a bit of turbulence. I wondered how many people before her have used the very same blanket she cuddled with so contentedly, and I imagined that it had never been washed by the airline. A bit of bile rises in my throat and I am sickened momentarily by the thought of someone else before her wiping their nose or slobbering on the blanket that she surely thinks is her own now. I don’t even want to think about the thinly covered pillow that rests behind my own head which was propped against the window. I was happy to have been assigned a window seat so I would have someplace to rest my head. At least my husband had the foresight to take care of that detail for me when he desperately raced to book my emergency flight back to the Midwest.
I really didn’t want to talk to anyone right now, particularly not a stranger who might like to engage in small talk. Tonight I was lucky. I usually end-up sitting next to some chatty person wanting to know what I did for a living or asking me other trivial questions that, in my opinion, a perfect stranger should never ask another. Besides, I really wanted to be alone with my thoughts to take the inevitable journey down my old and cobbled memory lane. This is a one journey I wouldn’t necessarily be taking right now if it were not for today’s earlier events.
True, it has been some time since I have allowed myself to dig-up the old decaying bones of my somewhat repressed childhood. Something told me that I should do it now, on my own terms. Otherwise, all of those memories and emotions will come flooding back to me tomorrow morning, in one giant sensory and environmental overload the moment I pulled my rental car into my parent’s driveway.
Finding myself unable to sleep, I finally succumb to the nagging, incessant urge to get out my laptop. I bend over at the waist and stretch my right hand as far as it will reach and poke around for my backpack that is jammed inextricably under the seat in front of me. I am aware that the tall man sitting there feels the commotion and I hope not to make him my mortal enemy on the trip as a result of my restlessness. Unzipping my bag and extracting the computer; I immediately revel in the thought of using it for something other than to rifle through various client presentations or to check email. It’s rare for me to “turn-off” work, but I know I won’t be able to do much for my marketing business this week when I am back in the Midwest dealing with the latest Colbert Family upheaval.