Southern Legitimacy Statement: The South is a place where past meets present, where ghosts of things long gone seem, at times, to be more real than the person standing beside you. It’s a place of memory and escape, a place of pain and hope, joy and deliverance, and ultimately a place where you must confront yourself: stare into that glass reflection and search your depths for what is important and true. It is a place to close your eyes and find out who you really are.
I work late three nights a week serving drinks at O’Gillys down on Eighth Street and Towne. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. It earns some extra cash, which helps now, especially since Meggie’s braces went on two months ago, and then Jimmy just started football, so there’s the helmets and pads to buy, the uniforms, too. It’s just a lot, and what with Donna out of work since she broke her leg, and disability doesn’t cover much. I tell Skip all the time to call me if other shifts open up at the bar, but he says the only ones he’s got start early afternoon, and I’m still on site til five thirty, swinging the sledge or driving and dumping, but he tells me if things come up he’ll let me know. And I’ll take what I can get.
By the time I get home those nights, the house is quiet. The lights are out, all except the one Donna leaves on for me at the back of the house so I can see my way around the couch and chairs.
When I walk inside, I take a deep breath in, smelling at whatever dinner Donna’s made that night, guessing at what it was. Sometimes I’ll go to the fridge and look at the leftovers, see if I was right. I find I’m right more times than not.
I brush my teeth in the kitchen so I don’t wake the kids or Donna with the noise, and after I do that I go check on them. The kids’ doors are always cracked open just enough for me to look inside and see them sleeping. I like listening to them—guessing at the rise and fall of the bedsheets from their breathing; though I can’t really see much in the dark of the rooms, I know they’re in there, hearts beating, secreted dreams playing in their minds.
After I look in on them, I go out to the front room and put on my headphones. I scroll through the different songs on the iPod until I find the right one—it’s a different song every time.
In those microscopic seconds before the drum or guitar or synthesizer starts the song, I think of the soreness in my legs, a soreness that seems to have collected all the tired aches, all the pain and frustrations and anger of the day. I wonder at times whether I should just stop for the night and sit on the couch, close my eyes there and drift off to sleep, but I never do.
And the music begins.
I let go of the soreness and the aches; I push away the pain and frustrations and anger and I just exist for those three or four minutes.
In the dim room, crammed with furniture and lit only from that back light that Donna left on, my feet lighten and bounce. My arms leave my sides and float this way and that, guided it seems by some alien thing, some string that I’m not in control of, like I’m a puppet to the music. I turn and turn around, spinning until the room blurs and I smile and wonder how much longer I can go before I fall down. I laugh in those precious minutes, jumping up and down, giving myself over to something I can’t even define. Money and jobs, Donna’s leg and Jimmy’s football and Meggie’s braces, they all disappear. They’re muted by the beat that’s coming through the headphones.
And then the song ends. Before another can start, I take the headphones off. This moment is mine. My only moment. I’m out of breath, but I smile.
During those few minutes three nights a week, I am not a father, not a husband, not a coworker or bartender, not a brother or friend, not a neighbor; I’m not connected to anyone else, and I’m not wishing to be.
I put the iPod back on the ledge where I’ll get it the next time, and then I slowly make my way to the back bedroom.
Donna might shift her position when I come in, or maybe she’ll be snoring—she no longer wakes up anymore—and I’ll lay down next to her, looking up at the dark patterns on the ceiling. Sweat will be covering me in a thin extra skin, dampening the shirt I’m wearing, and my heart will be beating hard in my chest. I’ll lay there for a while and begin to think of everything that I need to do the next day. After a few minutes, though, I’ll turn so that I’m facing Donna and I’ll listen to her breath while I fall asleep.