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Louisiana Dreams

i. On even-numbered days, I crawl out through my two-story window at midnight. The smell of cranberry bogs and summer heat is heavy in the air. I sit on the cracked and weathered shingles on the roof overhang of my father's house, just sit there. The view's nice, really. I can see Mrs. Lafayette's willow trees illuminated by the corner street lamp. A stray cat rummages through someone's garbage can on the curb, spilling out empty coke bottles and dinner scraps over the cement. But these things are only nice to look at when the earth is preventing the moon from reflecting any sunlight off its cratered surface. I always think that an inky black orb in the sky looks better than a giant harvest moon, anyway. Sometimes, my thoughts are interrupted by a broken shingle tumbling off from the overhang, falling down onto the stone pathway below, shattering and splintering loudly. I then crawl back in my window, fearful that it might have awoken my father. So I lay in bed, staring at the ceiling fan going around and around. I cannot sleep in this house.

ii. I cannot sleep in a house where I do not live. I learned this when I was a child. Back in those times, I didn't get along with other children my age. I spent my time on the edge of the playground blacktop, picking bouquets of weeds for my grandmother and capturing dirty brown chipped-winged butterflies. One day, as I was sitting alone with the sun in my eyes, a blonde curled cherub named Annie approached me. She sat in the dry scratchy grass beside me, and we watched the butterflies flutter by in the stale breeze. Annie talked a lot, which was nice because I didn't really know what to say. Her voice was like iced honey tea in the summertime. So I sat and listened. That day after school, I followed Annie to her house. We sat at her kitchen table eating the spaghetti that her father cooked for us. We played board games afterwards. It was late by the time she fell asleep to the droning sounds and flashing images of late night television commercials. I didn't fall asleep, though. I lay on her living room floor, dreadfully homesick and painfully awake.


iii. I still felt sick when I returned home the following morning. My father, whom I expected to give me a hug and tell me that he missed me, was very angry. he stomped around, making picture frames fall off the walls. He yelled horrible things at me until he was blue in the face. I told him I was at Annie's house, but he wouldn't listen. I tried to run upstairs to my bedroom when he started throwing empty bottles and punching the kitchen cabinets, but he wouldn't let me. I couldn't get away from him, so I sat in a slump on the hardwood floor, hot salty tears staining my face. When my father finally stormed out of the house, slamming the door behind him, I didn't feel like returning to my room. I felt like I didn't belong in this house anymore.

vi. But I stayed to take care of my father. As I got older, Annie moved away and my father got sicker. Everyday when I returned home from school, I would prepare dinner for him. He would sit in his brown leather recliner, staring at black and white pictures moving on the television, but not watching them. When I would serve him his food, he would stop staring for a few moments. Some days, he would pick at the snow peas or steak on his plate, hardly eating any of it. Other days, he would throw the fine china back at me violently and continue to sit and stare at the television set. Often at night when I was unable to go to sleep, I would hear him coughing down the hallway.

v. I heard him cough every night, sometimes for hours on end. This one particular night, I laid in bed, listening to him, until the coughs became muffled. And then, they stopped all together. The silence that followed was so thick you could cut it with a knife. Now I'm the only one that lives in this house, but even now, I still feel like he lives here. I feel like the house is his, and that I don't belong within it's walls. I'm still unable to fall asleep under this roof. Sometimes late at night, when the moon is milky white and round in the summer night sky, I lay awake under my covers. I wrap my fingers around my throat and say, "goodnight" through chapped lips. I'd wait until my lungs felt like they were too small and my ribs felt like they were too tight, and then I'd let go. Maybe one time I shouldn't let go—then perhaps I could get fall asleep.





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