Today is my birthday. It is the anniversary of the commencement of my life. From the age of seventeen, I have chosen to spend this day in solitude carrying out my own traditions. The first thing I do every birthday is pray. It is not a long or drawn out plea. It is a simple question. I ask God for one thing once a year. “Lord, please take these memories away.” Every year, I pray and wait for the big man upstairs to do something.
I give him a solid thirty minutes to respond to my birthday wish and make up for his failure to intervene whenever I may have needed him in the past. Then, after about half an hour of sitting patiently, I notice that nothing changes. The recollections continue to haunt me, and I am forced to continue this quest to forgetfulness alone. I decide once again that for the next three hundred and sixty-five days I must take matters into my own hands. I pop open a bottle of whiskey, point it toward the sky, and mutter a few last words, “Until next year, my friend. You cannot seem to help me, so I might as well help myself.” Then, I bring the bottle to my lips, and I drink.
When I am not praying or drinking, I try to distract myself with work or other people in an attempt to push these flashbacks into the darkest, deepest corridors of my mind. Everything will be fine as long as I manage to keep the memories of those nights at bay. Alcohol is the glue that keeps my sanity together as I shove the past away from my present state of being. Every birthday, I remind myself that my brain is a vault. It is a vault that carries no emotion. It will only carry the fact that the events occurred. This vault inside my head is the only safe place to hide those heart racing, gut wrenching moments from my past. It is the only place that can take feelings of regret and bitterness out of the picture long enough to let alcohol replace their emptied seats.
Don’t get me wrong. I know there are other methods for moving on from the past. I have tried almost all them too. Yet time after time, drinking has proven to be the most efficient way to reach at least a temporary version of the kind of amnesia I crave. Despite the amazing track record alcohol has when it comes to helping me forget, I cannot help but remain acutely aware of the bitterness that often accompanies excessive consumption of this sweet nectar. With that being said, although I keep a bottle of Maker’s Mark on deck, I will always keep prayer a birthday priority.
After all, you never know when God might decide to show up. Maybe one of these times I will be there waiting on God and out of the blue, I will be thrown from my chair as the Earth quakes under the resounding trumpets announcing Heaven’s acknowledgement of my cry! Perhaps God will reach down, scoop me up, and plop me on his shoulder as we travel back in time together. In stunned silence, I might one day gaze at his majesty as he takes a skyscraper-sized eraser and eliminates every single hideous memory from my childhood! Or not. I know that is a bit far fetched, but deep down I would like to think that everyone will get at least one teeny tiny miracle in his or her lifetime. I feel like now more than ever, a lot of us our especially in need of divine intervention.
I have not always been the jaded cynic I am today. It was not until I started teetering into adulthood that I began to realize those emotions I tried so hard to avoid were present in every single decision, situation, and person I encountered day in and day out. I am not sure when I started waking up to the stale stench of my meth head of a mother, Stacey. Perhaps it is all in my imagination. Or maybe it has always been there, and its constant presence has made the disgusting aroma impossible to ignore any longer. I am afraid that it has become a part of me.
Stacey was not your conventional mother-type. I never really had a father either. Of course, Stacey would disagree to both of those accusations wholeheartedly. We did not talk much, but when we did, the dialogue had a habit of escalating at an alarming rate. Our brief conversations usually consisted of demands and dismissals followed by harsh words and ridicule. I yelled at her about using, and she made her boy-toy of the week teach me a lesson. Then, I avoided speaking to either of them for days, sometimes weeks at a time until she apologized or I forgot why I was angry to begin with.
During those bouts of silence in my teenage years, I spent most of my days thinking and drawing. Oftentimes, school counselors and teachers tried to peak at my drawings, but I always kept my sketchbook close. It was for my eyes only. I knew deep down that the violent drawings of the dark spirits from my head were not normal. I knew better than to show them off and end up in the guidance counselor’s office or worse. I floated through elementary and middle school staying just below the radar of teachers and counselors. I was smart enough to know that I had to keep up some sort of social life during my time at school. I had seen too many peers taken away due to their lack of social skills and exposure of drama from home. I made it a point to get myself to school every day for a long time. I knew school was my only shot at growing up better than the empty woman who gave birth to me. Outside of school, I usually kept to myself.
It was around my tenth birthday when things began to change. Stacey’s new boyfriend, Ray, was spending a lot of time at our apartment. Him and Stacey would sometimes take needles and inject themselves with what I now know was heroin. Usually when this happened I would go on a walk or draw in my room. I knew that on average, I would have a few hours of peace and quiet while they just laid there somehow enjoying their latest poison. I had to time everything perfectly if I wanted to stay out of trouble. Once they made the switch to dope, it did not take long for me to realize the dangers of getting caught in the crossfire while they were coming down.
Usually I made sure to leave the apartment at that time. If not, Stacey would usually hurl insults and objects at me for just looking at her the wrong way. That was par for the course until she started seeing Ray. All she had to do was raise her voice a notch or two for him to come stomping into my room. She liked to think he was her loyal pit bull terror, ready to pounce at her beck and call, but I knew it was because he just wanted to take any and all action necessary to cut off her annoying squeals of anger. Usually they were harmless, but one night, Ray’s anger reached a new level that even Stacey couldn’t stop.
It was the day after my tenth birthday. I was turning a new page in my sketchbook. Technically it was my art teacher, Mr. Green’s sketchbook before I swiped it from him the week before as a birthday gift to myself. I was in a good mood that evening, so instead of the usual drawings of goblins and demons, I doodled a couple cartoons of Ray and Stacey falling over and laying on top of each other passed out. I also tried imagining what angels would look like if they were real. I never could get the wings to look like they did in my head. Sometimes I told myself that if I could draw an angel that was close enough to the real thing, God would send one as a token of gratitude for keeping my cool through all the shit I put up with.
After I got tired of the cartoons, I tried drawing an angel named Gabriel. One of my religious friends at school told me that he was the most powerful angel in God’s army. I didn’t believe in her God, let alone his rockstar angel, but I tried to create him on paper anyways. I wanted to see if he would be able to save me. While I was fixing Gabriel’s wings, I guess I lost track of time. I heard Ray yelling about cash missing from the freezer. He was scary when he got like that. He had a tendency of using his former college football skills to destroy everything around him in hopes that whatever he needed might reveal itself within the wake of his destruction. Usually he took his anger out on Stacey. She never protested from what I could hear.
I was rushing to pack an overnight bag when I heard an uncharacteristic yelp from Stacey. Suddenly, I felt a sense of uneasiness sounding an alarm in my body. For a moment, I was paralyzed. I wanted to scream. I wanted to leave my things and sneak out my second floor window, but I couldn’t. I quickly realized that something was different. He was angrier than usual. He was louder than usual. Then, Stacey was quieter than usual. I was concerned for her, but my nerves had me glued to the floor. I was not going anywhere.
I looked at my feet, but all I noticed was my heart pounding against the walls of my ribcage like a prisoner trying to break free. Just when my fight or flight response convinced me to start flying out of there, I saw Ray storm into my room accompanied by an extension cord in his hands and a darkness in his eyes. He was grinning. That grin and those eyes made him seem almost identical to one of the spirits in my sketchbook. I couldn’t help but marvel at the similarities, so I continued staring.
I am not sure how long he was standing there, probably shouting at me before I felt the sting of power cord on skin for the first time. The pain was so foreign to me at first. I remember trying to run out of my bedroom when I felt the prongs sting my back as a sharp pain shot up my spine. I fell to my knees.
Quite sure that I was going to die that night, I went limp and closed my eyes as he dragged me. With all my heart and soul, I begged for God to send Gabriel soaring through my bedroom window to save me. In a round about way, God answered my prayers that night. Maybe you could call it a miracle. I kept pleading as he threw me onto the bed. Suddenly, before I was able to fully realize Ray’s twisted intentions, an army of soldiers dressed in black stormed through the front door. It may not have been Gabriel and his legions that saved me that night. The important thing is that I was saved. Instead of an angel, God sent scary men in black with three big yellow letters written on their backs.
That night was the closest thing to a miracle that I have ever seen. My prayers were answered, and I have been sailing in smooth waters ever since. I am using an isolated nightmare from my past to justify my alcoholic tendencies. Maybe I am. Or maybe that is not the end of the story. Maybe it is the beginning of a far more horrific tale. Maybe the Drug Enforcement Administration was followed by Child Protective Services. Maybe I never saw Stacey again. Maybe I celebrate my birthday the way that I do because despite the noble efforts of my federally funded social workers, there were more versions of Ray and Stacey with every foster home I stayed in. Maybe all of my nightmarish foster family experiences led to this tradition that I began at the ripe age of seventeen.
As much as I hate to admit it, there will never be a valid excuse for my excessive drinking habits. With that being said, I have a couple of parting thoughts while I earnestly wait for God to take action and respond to this morning’s prayer. According to our tradition, God has four more minutes before his time runs out this year, and we are forced to part ways once more.
Maybe all this time God has been trying to tell me something in his silence. After all these years, I can feel that my resolve is weakening as I feel my self becoming more and more like Stacey and less and less like the ten year old girl drawing angels in her room. Perhaps this one time, I might try be more like that ten year old girl who with all her strength, listened to God a little longer, prayed a little harder, and believed that he could save even me as a his daughter.