Butterflies

Not more than a couple days after the boxing gloves battle royale with mom, it became very clear to me that we were not going to be staying in that house anymore. It was more awkward and uncomfortable than ever. There was a lot of tension. I didn’t even know what the word tension meant at the time. I was’t even in second grade yet. But I knew that what I was feeling inside myself, that house, and within the family was definitely not good. It was clear and obvious to me that we were going to be leaving soon. And it was clear and obvious to me that we were not going to be staying with any of my mom’s family. Once mom took off it was obvious to me that her side of the family, at least the ones we shared a roof with currently, had no use or desire for my dad, or me and luke. This was just bad. Where in the world would we be going now? When? What was going to happen now? I can’t take this anymore. I knew something was coming and it was not gonna be awesome. And it was gonna be soon. I could just feel it. Plus I had learned the patterns by now, so it was only a matter of time, after a blowout like this, that something was about to happen. And I was right. Again. Here we go.

I am not certain how many days had passed since the incident where mom left, but it wasn’t many. But the day finally came. Dad told me and luke that we were gonna be leaving. Luke could barely talk and communicate, but I understood him perfectly. It’s weird how that connection happens amongst little siblings. I remember vividly, countless times when the adults and older cousins would have to ask me, “What’s Lukie saying?” But anyways, I could talk just fine. And I was perfectly up to speed with what just happened, and what was happening now. The packing of our stuff began. Dad got as much of our stuff together as he could. I gathered the essentials. Snuggles, Popples, and this white kids blanket with little Pandas on it. I loved that blanket. It had Pandas holding little pots of gold with rainbows shooting out patterned all over it.

The packing seemed to go by very quickly. Like in the blink of an eye quick. But there was also a lot of bickering and name calling between my dad and grandmother. They did not seem to like each other very much. She, along with others in the family blamed my dad for everything.

We got the last of our stuff loaded up in the red Ford Grenada with the white top, and backed out of the drive way. As we pulled off dad rolled the window down and made some kind of hand gesture out the window and said something like “fuck y’all mother fuckers.” Whatever that meant. I had absolutely no idea where we were going, but at least the three musketeers were gonna stick together. That I was almost always certain of. Until I wasn’t. But we had some snacks in the car, and we had some toys in the back seat with us. And off we drove. Into certain uncertainty.

Now, usually, when were moving it typically is to the other side of town. Or from this apartment to uncle ______’s house. Or to grandma’s. The drive usually only takes about 20 to 30 minutes. This one was taking an unusual amount of time. And I was starting to notice. Ugh. Where in the world were we going? I don’t think I had ever been in a car this long in my entire life. I didn’t even know that the world went on this far. We had to be reaching the edge of the world by now. Would we circle right back to where we came? It was night time now. Like really night time. And the incredibly tall highway signs for Waffle House, and truck stops would illuminate the back seat as we treked on through what I now know as the mountainous and hilly terrain of Northern Georgia, and Southeast Tennessee. We would pull over from time to time for gas, snacks, and to go to the bathroom. As we merge back on to the highway, somewhere in the middle of nowhere Tennessee I suppose, at about 3:00 a.m I wake up from one of my many naps in the back seat. “Where are we going, Dad?” “Well, Stevie, I am taking you and your brother to my sister’s in Tennessee for now.” “And I am going to find your mom.”

“Oh.” I thought. Somehow, in my little mind I knew it was going to be an answer like this. I cried myself to sleep in the back of the car, hugging Snuggles, saturating the stuffed bear in salt and snot on the final leg to Northwest Tennessee.

We spent the night, the three of us at my Aunt and Uncle’s house in Martin Tennessee. At first it was kind of awkward because I didn’t really know any of these people. I think I had met them before, but I didn’t actually know any of them. They lived on a really big farm with lots of animals which I thought was absolutely awesome! And I had 4 big cousins there who were always really good to me. My cousin Simone in particular. She became my best friend. I think she knew how fucked up everything had been for us and so she had empathy. We did everything together, her and me, and luke. I believe we moved there in the summer, so we had lots of time to play! I spent that whole summer exploring the nature of the farm and being lucas’ translator for my relatives. “What’s he sayin stevie?” I would be asked multiple times daily, and I was happy to oblige. It made me feel important. I had a job to do, not only as luke’s protector, but as his translator. Someone had to let the world know what my kid brother was saying.

Sometimes, I would get really sad. I would miss josh really bad. He was the best big brother, and when Mom took off, Josh stayed in Georgia. He stayed living with my grandma and them. His dad who we called “Uncle Bob” lived there too, so I guess I understand why he stayed. Grandma and them always seemed to favor him over us. I guess it was because there was so much animosity between grandma and my dad, that when she saw me and luke, she saw dad. And she let that resentment be made very clear. They were nice to us, sure. And they let us stay with them a lot. I have no doubt that they loved us very much, but I could always just feel this unspoken tension from her. It’s okay. I am not judging. I loved her and grandpa too. I wish I had gotten to bond with them more. But it is what it is.

Other times I got sad, was when I would catch myself wondering where Mom and Dad were. I would wonder if they were coming back at all, or if this was gonna be our new family. And then I would think about that option, which didn’t actually seem so bad. We had the best times there! We chased the cows around the pasture, and played with the baby chicks. We even learned how to can veggies and make home made wine! I know I know, children making wine? It sounds bad, but we never drank it. They just let us help in the process. They had these big long Muscadine vines in their yard, and we would pick them and load up buckets with them and stomp them with our bare feet! Me and luke thought it was just the coolest thing ever.

One morning, Simone came and woke me up what seemed to be much earlier than normal. “Stevie, get up, I wanna show you something.” I was instantly up and excited. She was really nice to me. Very “Tom-boyish” at the time, so she was into a lot of the stuff I was into too. This was exciting! what was she gonna show me. I knew it was gonna be something cool and I trusted her completely! It was like an adventure, as we padded around through the old farm house and clod hopped our bare foot asses right out the front door, off the deck and down toward the barnyard. We kept on walking right up to the gate of the barnyard, where all the chickens hung out and did their chicken thing. There were these big long broad leaf vines hanging down, and intertwined all throughout the chain link fence were vines. Crawling and stretching in every direction. I thought this is what she wanted me to see, and this alone was really cool! I was so happy she woke me up to show me such a cool plant growing in such a cool way! “No, Stevie, come closer, come look.” She lifted up a couple of the big broad leaves to reveal hundreds if not thousands of those big gnarly green, yellow, and white caterpillars crawling all over the leaves and chewing them to bits. I was in awe. They were so cool looking! We would pick them up and let them crawl all over us, and even let them crawl on our heads! It was such a cool moment for me. “You know what were gonna do, Stevie? We’re gonna come out here every day, and we’re gonna check on them.” “Cuz these little guys, guess what?- They’re gonna turn into butterflies! And we get to watch the whole thing!” NO WAY! This was the coolest thing ever. I just had to tell luke. So I got him up and showed him too. And we checked those leaves and the progress being made by the caterpillars every day that summer. All the way until they turned into big and bright Butterflies, and flew away. It was one of the coolest experiences of my childhood. Simone was a good friend.

The summer flew by! I think my relatives did the best they could to keep our little minds occupied. So that we weren’t constantly thinking about our parents and where they could be. I got to “drive” the tractor while uncle plowed the fields, we chased the chickens, we chased the cows, we played all summer long. It was a lot of fun.

Although I was having a lot a big fun on the farm, I still somehow knew that I was in the space shuttle. That I was still “away” from my thoughts about my parents and brother josh. Looking back on things, I was pretty disassociated most of the time. And had developed the “Skill” of jumping in and out of the shuttle as need be. I could secretly tell deep inside how much time had passed. And that Mom and Dad were still gone. I cried myself to sleep a lot of the time. And would do my best to protect lucas. I would read him books, and lay with him until he fell asleep. More nights than not, I would wait till all of the relatives were asleep and I would sneak out into the living room and hop up on the couch in front of the picture window. Knees on the cushions, and my little torso against the back of the couch, I would just stare out side. It was a very rural and remote little town, so seldom did a car pass by. But every single time one did, I would lock onto the headlights way off in the distance, and say to myself “please, please, please, please”, only for each and everyone to come and go. It was never them. And I cried a lot of tears on that couch that no one knew about.

And one night, my aunt had gotten up to get something to drink, and caught me sitting there looking out the window crying. It had to be at least midnight. I can still hear her voice, in her ol’ southern twang, “Whatcha doin hun?” And I lost it. “They’re not coming back are they?” She was the most gentle and loving lady. She was exactly who I needed at the time. And she just floated right on over to me and held me as I cried. She rocked me and “shhhhhhhh-shhhhhhhhhhh-shhhhhhhhh’d” me and did her best to ease my pain. She did everything she could to make me feel better. And then she did something that I don’t think she fully understands just how profoundly it impacted me to this day. She taught me how to pray. And she talked to me about God. She told me about the power of prayer and what it had done in her own life. And right there, in almost second grade, I offered my heart to Jesus. I didn’t know who He was or why he was so important, but I trusted my aunt and she sure seemed to think this was very important. So I followed her prompted prayers right along. Word for word. It didn’t seem to make a difference at the time for me, but trust me, it would later. I am eternally grateful for her selfless love and guidance for me. She loved me very much. And we just sat there, me on her lap. And she hummed me songs, and sometimes there were words. And sometimes there were tears. But I trusted her. And somehow I knew, that someday, everything was gonna be okay. I did not know that that day would not come until I was 37 and one half years old. But I knew it would come.

Summer was coming to a close and me and Simone and Luke did our bests to maximize the time. It had been communicated to us, that we were gonna be doing school this year in Martin with them. Which I had kinda figured by now. Our parents were still gone. And I had just kind of accepted the fact that they may not be coming back. But I knew how to talk to God now, so I did that every single night. One night, toward the end of the summer, the three of us were playing in some mud across the street where they were building the new high school. We had found a spot that we could jump from and land in a big puddle that was about knee deep and made a big splash! We were about to wrap up the evening hours and head in for dinner, and decided to all jump in one more time. Simone went, and then it was my turn. I went for the big splash! I jumped off the man hole yet to be installed into the puddle and made the biggest splash I could! And as I did I felt a really sharp pinch on my right heel. “Owwwwww!!!!!” And I quickly hopped up onto the street from the ditch to find that my entire right foot from heel up by my Achilles Tendon, running all the way under the bottom of my heel was wide open and deep rich purple blood was pulsing out with every heart beat. We all three took a look at it and took off toward the house. Simone scooped up luke as I did my best to hobble as fast as I could toward the lights spouting out through the kitchen door window. I knew this was bad and they were gonna be so worried, but I had to make it there as fast as I could. I was losing a lot of blood, and remember getting dizzier with every step. It seemed like a mile to the house, but was only about 100 yards. and I had to cross a full blown rocky ass gravel driveway, barefoot, on basically bare bone, and torn open flesh. But it had to be done. I gritted through it with all I could muster and slammed the door open. “Help!” I screamed in agony as I made my entry into the kitchen area. My aunt and uncle took one look at my foot and looked at each other. the looks on their faces said it all. This was really bad.

“Call 911 I need to go to the hospital!” But apparently that was not an option, and this needed to be dealt with now. Apparently the nearest hospital was a long ways away, and it would take forever for an ambulance to get there. So the good ol country relatives of mine did what good ol country relatives do. They handled it themselves.

Aunt threw me into the big wash tub sink in the laundry room butt ass naked and scrubbed all of the mud and filth off of me as fast as she could, while uncle got a bunch of stuff out of a cabinet above. He then cleared a table off in movie style fashion with one arm and took his belt off. My aunt flopped me down on the table on my belly and shoved the belt folded up in my mouth while uncle prepared a needle and some kind of thread. “Stevie, baby, I need you to bite this belt as hard as you can.” I can still taste the leather. “This is gonna burn really really bad, ok?” I was squirming and flopping all over the table and she leaned her entire body weight on me to pin me down. As uncle poured some kind of alcohol all over my heel, and then iodine. He wrestled my flailing leg into his grasp and pinned it to the table and began sewing away. I passed out and woke up laying in bed. Fully clothed with my foot wrapped in towels and elevated on some pillows that were wrapped in trash bags. I had just experienced some good ol fashioned country medical work. They probably saved my life honestly, as bad as I was bleeding. And whatever it was in the mud that cut me so badly, just happened to miss my Achilles Tendon by like half an inch. God was looking out for me that day. I still cannot believe to this day how good of a job they did at repairing my foot like that. I am very grateful.

The summer finally wrapped up and school was beginning. I was attending Martin Elementary school and my teacher was Miss Jackson. I think that my aunt may have filled her in on what was going on in our lives because she was really nice to me from the start. I remember she gave me a book called “A Pocket for Corduroy”. She even signed it and everything. I must have read that book to Luke 100 times. We loved that one. I think I still some how have that book too. Packed away somewhere with all of my trophies and shit. The school time really made time go by fast! It kept me busy and occupied. I would come home and watch Goof Troop every day with my cousin. And Dark Wing Duck. We would play in the pastures after school once I could run around again, and I was just pretty much accustomed to my new life now. I hadn’t sat at the window for a while now, and had kind of just accepted life as it was now. A few months had gone by into the school year now, and I would read luke books at night, and just do life as it was. One night I found myself really sad, missing my parents and crying silently in bed. But I remembered the prayer that my aunt had taught me, so I was using it and talking to God. But I just couldn’t shake this feeling that I had. Like something was up. I cried and prayed. I tossed and turned. Why was this happening? It has been such a good stretch of life lately and things were going smoothly. I prayed and I cried, but I just could not seem to shake this anxious and sad feeling I had. I better go look out the window. So I did. It was about oh, I would guess about 10, maybe 11 o’clock at night. The whole house was asleep. And I just sat there on the couch. Knees on the cushions, torso against the back of that couch. Silently crying and talking to God. When a set of head lights appeared up the county road. I latched on to those damn head lights with all of my will, and with all my might and with all of strength. “Please, please, please,please, please….” And as the head lights drew closer and closer. The approaching car passed underneath a far off street light overhead, and the white top of the Ford Grenada shown in the county road. It was them! They had finally made it back! I watched as the car drew nearer and nearer, only to pass the the house.

Brake lights. The car began to reverse backwards, back past the driveway again. And then lurch forward and finally settle into the drive way. Dad was back. He has just missed the house. But he was back. I ran to the kitchen door, and looked out through the window. They were both back! He had found mom! Oh thank God! The prayers worked! We were finally going Home!

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