Copperheads & Elephant Strings

Imported from Tumblr, Spring, 2019

I am risk-averse in recovery.

But I haven’t always been this way.

There used to be a time when I delighted in rebellion- something savory and sexy about bold and brash choices, in shocking those around me. A motorcycle-riding boyfriend, a solo trip across the country to see my estranged opiate-addicted father, a secret elopement. This was when I  hung my hat on the hooks of my family’s colored disappointment- smug in delivering what the good Irish-Catholic bred women always expected- ‘Mary- the troubled child’. Inside, I raged with resentment. Inside was pain buried so deep it shook me to my core to let it  peek from under covers. “Jesus, Mary and Joseph”.

Flash forward to my mid-twenties- freshly divorced and cleaning up the mess my father left when he mixed too many pills and laid down to die on my living room couch (”accidental overdose, I think the toxicologist report declared)- found me in recovery. Sobering up, counting steps, and single-  trying to raise my young daughter without my own parents to guide me. Over-correcting the barrel-through-life mentality that swept me away in my late teens. Shocked at how far off I’d veered  from the path I’d set out for.

Years later, deep in introspection, come memories bubbling to the surface.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – 

You flash back to the earliest you can recall- the sound of rain hitting third-story rooftop shingles, the music of the Travelling Wilbury’s floating up from downstairs. It sounds like a party, but it’s just Mommy and Daddy. And the light snooze of your big sister- warm and asleep and dancing in dreamland beside you. I am 3 and from the dark corners of the attic floor, a sound unmistakable despite the laughter and rain and music and sister’s gentle purring. It is the rustle of movement. It is the slither of something- somethings– coming out of the chimney.

And fear tears through you like a lightning bolt- ripping the scream out of your lungs before you realize where its coming from. And your cries are joined by your sister’s while your parents’ dumbstruck horror dawns into understanding.  Having raced to the top of the attic stairs, lantern in hand, Mommy joins in the shrieking as all realize a dozen Copperhead snakes are twisting from the chimney- darting in every direction. Thick, scaled bodies, gray and pulsing, bright yellow tails catching the light. A newborn den.

Then quick light lightning, Daddy’s gone down the stairs and returns back wielding a large, black, shining machete. “Stand back, Echan” he says to Mommy, and she readily obliges. Like a Samurai king he hacks and spins and slashes the snakes to bits across the bedroom floor-  young daughters and beautiful Korean wife staring on in silent shock. A gruesome midnight sword fight.

The scene is over, the snakes all dead, the cries have stopped. Mommy and Daddy refuse your pleas to sleep on the couch downstairs. To escape from the snake corpse pit. “It’s back to sleep”, Daddy holds firm. Tear-stained toddlers were no whiskey chaser. Lights out.

So you huddle as close as you can to your sister’s warm body- her strong back thawing your frozen body- reminding you to breath. You stare on in the darkness thinking about how once your eyes close, the Coppherhead mother may come back for revenge. To swallow you up alive.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – 

I heard a story of how baby elephants are rope-tied to a secured pole to prevent them from running away. When they are young, they learn that no amount of pulling or pushing will serve strength enough for freedom. So they grow and they grow, and the rope stays fastened until they no longer try. Freedom to a full grown elephant is one push or pull away, but by that time there’s nothing to indicate their might and majesty will serve them up their heart’s desire.

Today is a new and different day and although I’ve never lived it before, I have been here. Some days are like that.

While I’m finding middle ground between risk-obsession and risk-aversion- there are days where Copperheads and Elephant Strings are still wrapped around my heart.

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