In the third week of our series we pick up at chapter 5: “Lines & Smoke”
If you’re just coming across this series, you can catch up from the beginning HERE.
From the trilogy
Somewhere Between This & That: An Absurd Journey
THE MAKING OF A NATURAL DISASTER
This is a work of fiction. Although it is written in the form of an autobiography, it is not one. Clearly, no reasonable person would ever consider this absurd story to be true. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used in a fictitious manner. With the exception of public figures and those with reputations of public renown, any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. Full of salty language – This is intended for mature audiences.
Lines & Smoke
GRANDMA VIOLA CAME to visit that summer and stayed longer than expected. While in California, she received a call from a relative about my grandfather’s shenanigans back in Myrtle Beach. Granddaddy’s womanizing was not news to anyone, especially Grandma, but this time was different. He was carrying on with a woman who was more than two decades younger. In fact, Bambi was younger than all three of the daughters they’d raised together. Seeing as their youngest child, Uncle Trey, was now grown, Grandma decided to end their nearly 30-year marriage. She ended up staying with us for a while and engaged in a few shenanigans of her own.
The relationship between my mom and Daddy-Keys took a turn as well. Keys worked long hours and Mom spent at least as much time partying as she did in the studio. She began to treat him more like a roommate. They were no longer affectionate toward one another and Keys seemed to just fade into the shadows.
In early September, Mom went to Los Angeles to do some work in the studio, but she didn’t return home when expected. She didn’t come home the next day either. She was on a binge, partying her ass off, and Keys was over it. He finally tracked her down by phone and told her to get her ass home or it was over.
Within a few hours, we got the call that my mother had been in an accident. Grandma Viola told me she was hurt bad, but would be home that night. I could feel the blood drain from my face and wanted to throw up. I waited on the couch for what seemed like hours with a heaviness in my chest and a sick feeling in my stomach.
When I finally heard the front door, I jumped up to help, but I was afraid to touch my mother. She was pale, weak, and unsteady. Her head was wrapped with several layers of white gauze that were holding a large bandage in place on the left side of her head. What I could see of her hair had clumps of dark dried blood. There were specks of blood on her face and neck. When the light caught her clothing on the way to the couch, I could see blood glistening on the dark fabric. She was covered in it. My throat hurt as I fought back the tears.
“I’ll be all right, baby, don’t worry.” She murmured to me and my quivering chin as she settled in on the couch for the night.
Mom headed home after her binge and subsequent argument with Keys. Rushing down the L.A. freeway, she decided the emergency lane was a clever idea. She crashed her car into the back of a disabled pickup truck, traveling at a speed of more than 50 miles per hour. In addition to the multitude of bruises all over her body, the left side of her head was split open on the windshield. To my knowledge, no one else was injured in the accident, but I’ve often wondered why she was sent home in this condition. It’s completely possible, and quite probable under the circumstances, that she left the hospital against medical advice.
The next morning, I awoke to hushed voices and a commotion. Mom was on a stretcher and being loaded into an ambulance. She had no feeling on the right side of her body, thought Nixon was still president and was mispronouncing words, saying things like “idjnury” instead of “injury”.
The next time I saw my mother she was rolled into the house in a wheelchair. Paralyzed on the right side of her body, the doctors told her she’d never walk again. She began wearing caftans full time because they were more comfortable and made things easier in the bathroom. In subsequent weeks, her hair began to fall out and she’d started wearing a turban to cover the bald patches.
She tried to put up a good front, but Mom was no longer the strong and dominant personality in our home. Keys had all but checked out and this sudden change in my mother confused and frightened me. I was almost mad at her for not being who she was before and I didn’t know how to handle it.
When Grandma went home to South Carolina, I took on more responsibilities around the house. In addition to mowing the lawn, pulling weeds, and my other household chores, I learned a little more cooking, with Mom talking me through recipes from her wheelchair.
Mom chose not to cancel the Halloween party that she’d planned long before the accident. She thought a party might lift all our spirits and she was looking forward to seeing her friends. This time she hired a DJ with an insane mountain of turntables, lights, and fog machines that might’ve seemed a little over the top for our sunken living room. He also worked as a chauffeur and asked if he could invite his boss to the party. Mom was always seeking out mutually beneficial connections and was intrigued by the possible opportunities this well-timed meeting might provide. She could no longer drive in her condition but could introduce the owner of a limousine company to a potentially lucrative clientele of music industry insiders. She thought this could work out well and extended the invitation.
The man who called himself Smoke arrived at the Halloween party with a belly dancer on his arm. He immediately began mingling with the crowd, seeking the hostess of the party to thank her for the invitation.
“That’s the craziest costume I’ve ever seen! What exactly are you supposed to be?” he asked.
“Bald and crippled, mother fucker.” Said Lyric from her wheelchair, in her colorful caftan and turban. “What the fuck are you supposed to be? Some sort of garden-variety asshole?”
Smoke was confused. He’d been there less than five minutes and already managed to piss somebody off.
“I was in a car accident. This ain’t no fucking costume, but it is my fucking house, So I’m gonna need you to tell me just who the fuck you are?”
“I’m so sorry, I had no idea. I’m truly embarrassed. My name is Smoke and I think I’m going to kick Tim’s ass.” He said referring to the DJ who hadn’t given him a heads up.
“SMOKE? What the hell kind of name is that for a white boy? I’m Lyric.” She said softening her demeanor and offering her hand, which he kissed.
“Very nice to meet you, Lyric. You have an interesting name as well, for a white girl. I have the limo company.”
This clearly wasn’t a case of love at first sight, but within about a month, Smoke moved into our guest room. It wasn’t long before I awoke in the middle of the night to hear Mom and Daddy-Keys talking divorce. I could hear them both crying, but I didn’t get up. I just laid there listening until I cried myself back to sleep.
Keys was the only father I’d truly ever known. I knew he wasn’t my “real” dad, as some would say, but he’d been my “Daddy-Keys” for as long as my little 10-year-old self could remember. He’d quiz me constantly with trivia questions and teach me impersonations. He even wrote a song for me on his piano, an instrumental. I would only see Keys sporadically over the next few years. Mom often wouldn’t allow him to have our phone number, which changed frequently. When she would let me see him, it was usually just to ask about her alimony check that hadn’t caught up with our latest change of address. Eventually, he was no longer obligated to pay alimony and we just completely lost touch with each other.
During this time of so many changes, I found my solace in music. My new favorite was the long-anticipated DOUBLE FANTASY album from John Lennon and Yoko Ono. The Beatles may have broken up the year I was born, but their songs were ubiquitous, and I loved their movies. I grew up loving Paul’s post-Beatles work, but when the rumors started about John Lennon recording a new album, I was over the moon, and couldn’t wait to get my little hands on it. Upon first listen, “Watching the Wheels” became my instant favorite. I couldn’t get enough and had to start listening to it in the headphones so I didn’t drive everyone else in the house crazy. I’d take the album to my room at night and lean it up against the wall, with the hallway light illuminating it. I’d been waiting over half of my life for this moment and it was finally here. New music from John Lennon, my favorite Beatle.
I’d been retiring to my room earlier and earlier. Eventually, I just headed there right after cleaning the kitchen from dinner. Even though Mom let me stay up late on weekends to watch SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, I’d been skipping it. Things were just far too weird with the grown-ups. When I was feeling particularly anti-social, I’d turn off the lights in my room and read a book by the light of the hallway until I drifted off to sleep. That’s just what I did on December 8th, to the faint sounds of MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL coming from the den.
“WHAT?” A loud voice made my eyes pop open and I could hear the TV getting louder.
“OH, MY GOD!” I could hear the grown-ups. “OH NO! NO NO NO!”
There were gasps and sobs and my heart began to pound. I didn’t know if I should get up and see what was going on or hide under the covers, but I knew something was terribly wrong. Then I heard the distinctive voice of Howard Cosell repeating the news for those who’d missed it. The words “dead on arrival” burned through my brain and took my breath away. It felt as if my entire body was going to rip in two. I wanted to scream, but I didn’t. I just buried my face in my pillow and sobbed with my entire body. Unlike when Elvis died, I now knew what dead meant, and I was devastated. The assassination of John Lennon was the first death that ever affected me. I slept with the DOUBLE FANTASY album cover in my arms for weeks. Not only had nearly everything in my little life changed, it now appeared the entire world had changed, and I didn’t like it one bit.
Smoke moved into Mom’s bedroom after Keys moved out. He was estranged from the mother of his children but went up North to see his third son being born. He returned with his oldest son, Sparks, in tow. Smoke hadn’t discussed bringing this two-year-old little terror into our home with Mom, but there he was, in all his soggy diapered glory, sucking on a bottle. Just great.
I didn’t like this dude, Smoke. In the first place, I didn’t think he was good looking like Daddy-Keys. Second, I didn’t like this asshole moving in and telling me what to do all the time. Thirdly, he obviously didn’t get the memo that I was an only child. Horseshit, and what’s with these stupid fucking names? Plus, his so-called “limo company” consisted of exactly one limo that also served as his personal vehicle. Claiming to have previously owned a “modeling” agency, he said he met the mother of his children when she was modeling for him. I saw a picture of this young girl, but she didn’t look like any model I’d ever seen. Nope, I didn’t like him and I didn’t trust him.
Things had really gone to shit by the end of 1980. Everything was in upheaval. Then, as if the year hadn’t already been fucked up enough, the landlord decided not to renew our lease and some assholes robbed our house on Christmas Eve. Having no idea where we were even going to live next, someone came up with the bright idea to send me to South Carolina. That was just fine by me. 1980 could go fuck itself.
The absurd journey continues in chapter 6: “The Matriarch & Me”
If you don’t want to wait, you can purchase the paperback or eBook HERE
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