Roar for the Ages
by Andrea Jarrell
I’m hungover but not from drugging or drinking. Partying of a different kind. I go over the details of the night before: the sparkling conversation, the tinkling glasses. Did I laugh too loud? Shine too bright? Kiss, kiss on each cheek to her and him and him and her and? Having too much fun to remember to reel myself in. Was I too big for my britches, revealing too much of who I am, forgetting to keep myself in check in the middle distance of my mind’s eye as if screening a movie ready to yell “cut” when my lines aren’t just right?
“It’s not polite to sing at the table,” my mother says. Caught now, my bright yellow songbird beats its frantic wings, searching for a way out of the dark tunnel of my throat. A whiff of light and sky somewhere up above, it flaps and waits just behind my tonsils. Suppressed but protected – as if pinned in a dentist’s chair, lead blanket shielding the possibility of future births.
For the longest time I was just trying to get back to my first-grade self. That audacious girl who introduced people to her mother through open car windows at traffic lights. First grade was long red ponytails and a basket on my bike with a small dog that looked like a fox. A first grader doesn’t think whether she’s brave or not. She just is. This first grader went from brave to not in a heartbeat that stretched from family of four to mother and me. A down-the-rabbit-hole fall from house to apartment to netherworld wondering how to rise again, how to return to my once brave self.
My boyfriend and I are in the grocery store. We’ve just moved in together. Progresso and Campbell’s soup cans on either side of the aisle, I think it’s safe to be myself. A muzak version of “Burning Down the House” fills the air with a beat you just have to move to. At least I do. My hips gyrate towards him and I lift my arms overhead, the pretty girl at the party enjoying her own flirty display. “Stop that,” he says, hushing and harsh. His eyes not on me but on the old man behind me watching. My arms hang loose and limp as we push the cart past frozen waffles, paper towels, boxes of dried pasta. It will take two more years to realize any man who wants to quiet my hips is not for me.
At first I sit in the back row in church basement rooms, crying like so many other daughters and wives, mothers and girlfriends. Months go by until I raise my hand. Tell my story, unremarkable yet mine. The girl with the long red ponytails shaped by addiction – father, uncles, stepfather, grandmother, boyfriend, husband and her own. The flutter of wings, slowly as if newly born, shaking off the wet, until, yes, I am singing. I am singing my heart out.
I go back to school, learning how to get my stories down on paper. I start a business. People seek me out. My voice is one they listen to. As my business grows, I think back to the early days when my husband and I rolled pennies and quarters, watching “Ren and Stimpy” and eating scrambled eggs. But now. Now we have enough in the bank to send our kids to college.
My song becomes a body song – dancer, wheel, half moon, headstand, handstand, flying crow. Audacious once again, I take to the sea. The Pacific Ocean laps over my thighs as my husband, son and I wait for the next wave. Belly to my board, Venus rising I stand, arms outstretched, fall, suit full of sand and surf, climb back on, paddle out, try again.
We rescue Hurley. He is a Chihuahua-Beagle mix that makes him both yapper and bellowing hound. Found in the Maryland woods, he was eking out his living on a beaver damn. At first, his ribs showed through his tawny close-cropped coat. Now he’s as fat as a little sausage. When we arrive home he rolls on his back, paws in the air bay-shrieking his delight. My husband says, “He can’t even.” And it’s true. Hurley’s cup runneth over. I sit beside him, perched on the steps of our entryway, stroking his velvety throat. Then together we throw back our heads. Our wild howls of love for this life of ours echoing and rising. We can’t even.
Andrea Jarrell’s essays have appeared in Narrative Magazine; The New York Times “Modern Love” column; Memoir Journal; Full Grown People; Brain, Child; The Washington Post and several anthologies, sites and publications. Her memoir I’m the One Who Got Away will be published in 2016.
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