AN ALABAMA RECKONING

Photo: http://ucfbelovedproject.wordpress.com/2012/04/23/sethes-chokecherry-tree/

Photo: http://ucfbelovedproject.wordpress.com/2012/04/23/sethes-chokecherry-tree/

*Warning. This post is about fighting the dark. Uplifting? Maybe, if you believe in the power of good over evil. Otherwise: turn back now. I have “charmed” it. (Like the drawing? Me, too. I was once given a painting of this as Beloved is my favorite novel. The “artist” allowed me to believe that she was the originator. Curses have lying roots, but once uncovered, wither like so many mealworms in the sun.)

In the midst of this chopping sea of civilized life, such are the clouds and storms and quicksands and thousand-and-one items to b e allowed for, that a man has to live, if he would not founder and go to the bottom and not make his port at all, by dead reckoning, and he must be a great calculator indeed who succeeds.
— Henry David Thoreau
April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
— T. S. Eliot
Truth is truth to the end of reckoning.
— William Shakespeare
Truth. It feels cool, like water washing over my sticky-hot body. Cooling a heat that’s been burning me up all my life. Truth, I say inside my head again, just for that feeling.
— Kathryn Stockett, The Help

Memory:  1995.  Sitting with three kids on the worn steps of the only house I’ve ever owned, facing the fact that I must lose it to save them.  There’s a squat, five-foot sidewalk we made etched in little girl handprints and stones from the garden, a fig tree by the window, a yucca next to a lone, free-standing fireplace in the yard and a moving van perched precariously in the mud pit we called a driveway.  I am reckoning.  Reckoning with the fact that I may never own a home again.  Strange, how it felt like a tradeoff, how I knew that price even then.  How I sat, that last night, running my hands through the grass as if it were hair.  Missing it already.

It wasn’t fair.  But my life has never danced in fairgrounds.

Ten years later, I had gone from the bumpkin with a GED to the witch with a Doctorate paying exorbitant rent and barely holding on.

Twelve years later, I was happily married–teaching in a school I loved–and barely holding on.

It was my birthright to own land.  My grandma wanted nothing more for me, tried to assure its manifestation, but nothing could assuage the Reckoning of a broken childhood and its costs.  At every turn, that dream has been thwarted:  A bankruptcy to save my middle son from certain doom.  The aggressive removal of my name from every will (up to five now) that had ever named me inheritor.  An antagonist who would see my family ruined for cackle fodder.  A predatory contract.  A down-sizing at my university that places me near economic ruin.  And I have struggled through all of it.

But then . . .

Recently (I will leave the details out so that no predator could possibly engage in further asshattery) something magical happened.  My, um, debt to the Universe has been, shall we say, “overpaid.”  That’s right.  Way overpaid.  And now: it lies on other heads.

Don’t fear the reaper? (Well, I don’t anymore.  There are a few others out there, however, who might wanna duck.)

It seems there’s more “reckoning” to be done, here.  First, let’s look at a general *account* of what the term means:

c.1300, “reckoning of money received and paid,” from Old French acont “account, reckoning, terminal payment,” from a “to” (see ad-) + cont “counting, reckoning of money to be paid,” from Late Latin computus “a calculation,” from Latin computare “calculate”

(Love this, BTW.  Southerns have been a’ calculating for a while.)  So then, a “reckoning” means to “come into account.”  Right then.  But play with this some more, let’s say, from a maritime position:

Bowditch’s American Practical Navigator (1958 edition and some later editions) splits the difference by making both etymologies right. According to this theory, “dead reckoning” in nautical use is properly restricted to mean reckoning relative to something that is dead in the water, taking no account of current and leeway. In contrast to the dead reckoning (DR) position, a reckoning that does take leeway and current into account is now usually called the “estimated position” (EP). [1]

Hmm.  Now we’re cooking with butter.  Seems that SKW was “dead in the water” there for, oh, several thousand leagues at least.  Assuming that I owed the Universe, and assuming that the reckoning was just, I floated there for just a bit too long.  And here’s this interesting current . . .

Memory: The shower, last Tuesday.  Gray tile under my toes, sore shoulders.   A word, slipping in and out of the steam, around my arms and under my earlobes: birthright.  ?  That cannot be right.  Me?  I have no “birthright,” all has been stripped of me.  Then:  birth rite.  ?  Wait.  Ahhhh!  And there I was.  Floating there, in the steam, waking up, realizing that I had been in a state of dead reckoning for so long.  My account is overpaid and not one finger has lifted against the bleeding.  My bond sister’s words whispered in my ear, all the way from Louisiana: “fight.  Pick up your sword and fight.  The dark cannot exist in the light.  You are of the light.”  Like an abused child, I had simply covered my head and awaited the end of my punishment, nary a time questioning the bruises, the loss of property, land, security.  Only floating there, dead in the water.

After all.  I have been told most of my life how “bad” I am.  The Black Sheep of the Family, floating like a bad buoy in an eighties film waiting on rot.  And all of the voices, whispers at first, echoed in that shower stall.

“She is our Sun, our Moon.  Do not hurt her.”
“You are my only family.  Never die.”
“Mom.  You are the best mother anyone could have.”
“Baby, do you know how happy you have made my life?”
“I was accepted into Law School–and wouldn’t have made it without you.”
“You are special, Tater.  Someone will always hate you because of it.”

Swirling under my feet, this current, this birthright, this birth rite.  My account had been paid, in full, long ago.

Memory: yesterday, front porch and a bottle of wine.  The Hubby looks at me and says: *she* wants to ruin you, take all of your dreams, your church, your land, watch you lose everything.  And you are letting her.

And, it has been true.  But the story has a surprise ending, a twist, if you will.  I may lose my home again.  I may be penniless again.  I may be jobless and car-less and food-less. But I will not be without the love of friendship, real and thick and platelet rich.  As my account has been paid, all that is taken from me now is on another’s head. Perhaps, more than one.  For now: I am calling in all accounts.  Every blessed one.  Perhaps, a little justice is in order?

That’s the way prayer do. It’s like electricity, it keeps things going.
— Kathryn Stockett, The Help

My DR (dead reckoning) has been abandoned by the haints of my past. My EP (estimated position) is paddling fast down a brand new current somewhere between divine right and late afternoon justice. My Big Momma has always been an eleventh-hour goddess, on account of I’m a stubborn mule of a chile. It has always been a mistake to assume, however, that a still body is incapable of motion–and a bigger one to assume that it holds no heavenly sanctuary from an unjust spear.

Fireproof doesn’t mean the fire will never come. It means when the fire comes that you will be able to withstand it.
— “Enough,” 2002

May the goddess weigh between my soul and *that* which has taken more than its share.  Heavily.  Finally.  This eleven year curse has stepped over the line and onto hallowed ground.

As a child, I was proficient in “dead man’s float.”  I could hold it longer, stronger, than any other kid in my swim class.

Guess was my second talent was? [2]

Till next time, I reckon.

Seba


1.  http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2053/is-dead-reckoning-short-for-deduced-reckoning

2.  As all horror movie fanatics know well, never step over an assumed “dead” body.

This post is dedicated to anyone out there that has allowed a curse to wreak havoc upon their life.  Fight.  Do it so that you will always know that you tried.  Do it like you are fighting for air.  Do it for everyone who was too afraid, too tired, too lost.  Do it so that the last thing anyone will see is the whites of your eyes and the glint of your heart weighed against their darkness.  

Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it.
— Malcolm X

Ode to a Curse:

Seba O'KileyComment