Chrissy (silverfinofhope) captivated me with poetry she disguises in prose form, and kept me with the revelation her son is named after a beloved character from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Through her word-snapshots of memories and could-have-been memories, constructed in such loving detail you’d swear you’d actually seen a photo, and the way she reflects on the questions her son presents, it’s easy to see the artistry that drives her soul while illuminating the world around it.
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It takes ten hours to drive to northern Mississippi from Knoxville, Tennessee. And it’s a long ten hours. Especially in mid-July when the whole south is choking on the humidity and practically going deaf from the roar of horny cicadas. Once you leave the peaceful mountains and gentle hills of East and Middle Tennessee, I-40 levels out and you’re surrounded by dry red earth and withering corn crops until you run smack into concrete, sprawling Memphis. Mississippi is just down the road from Tennessee at this point, and at first it appears like a lush, supple green oasis. Thunderstorms and agriculture have turned the northern part of the state Technicolor: the ground is an orangey-red, the sky is inky indigo, the cotton and corn crops are healthy and green. All that rain means that double rainbows are almost a daily occurrence, so occasionally you’ll pass an elderly farmer who’s stopped his tractor mid-field to stare open mouthed at the almost kaleidoscopic sky.
Northern Mississippi is so pretty on the outside that once you land in town, you feel like you’ve woken up from a particularly lovely dream. You’re only going to be in the town for a few days; you and your son are accompanying your husband on a film shoot. Essentially you’re just dropping him off for work; the two of you share a car and the studio didn’t pay for its crew to be transported to down deep Mississippi for a few weeks. The three of you are going to make the best of it before you head back to Tennessee. Maybe you’ll swim in the hotel pool, maybe you’ll window shop in the quaint, cobblestone downtown, maybe you’ll get lost in a grove of weeping willows and magnolias.
As your husband checks into the hotel you and your son stay in the car. The production isn’t paying for the hotel room, either, and your bank account is almost on empty. There’s just enough to pay for your husband to have a room for the duration of the shoot, to buy food, and to get home on, so you and your son must remain hidden. Once you get into the room, which reeks of moldy air, stale smoke, and curry, you realize that this will be no vacation. You check the beds for cleanliness, and are shocked (or maybe not) to discover rusty brown blood streaks of blood on the mattresses, faint smears of mascara on the pillows, and a not-so-mysterious, dried sort of milky stain on one of the top sheets. Your heart is broken. Your son knows something is wrong and stops asking when he can see the pool. It’s the image of him that’s breaking your heart: five years old, scuffed up legs that are finally getting a chance to stretch after ten hours in the car, gangly little arms clutching his stuffed monkey. You wanted to give him something. Things have been a little rough lately, money worries have haunted your heart for a while and it’s starting to show.
The rest of the room is no better. There’s a fly strip hanging from the ceiling (with a few flies in it). The carpet is coming up in spots; someone has stolen most of the light bulbs. There are no towels or toilet paper. You make your husband go to the office and demand a different room, both of you crossing your fingers that they don’t find out there are three guests instead of just one. He’s already given them his credit card to swipe, and you can’t afford the Best Western, though it has a vacancy and probably wouldn’t have rooms that resembled a Quentin Tarentino interior set.
There is another room, slightly better. Slightly less frightening, slightly less haunted with ghosts trapped in crime scenes. The gentle rain that brought the double rainbow earlier has now turned menacing.
The reality hits you that you and your son won’t visit the pool the next day at all, and not just because of the rain. The hotel is so terrible, so dirty, so sad and so dangerous that you must leave your husband in Mississippi so that he can work for two weeks until you drive to pick him back up when he’s done. Your son can’t stay there. The walls are too thin and the locks on the door are bent and broken. Your husband nods his head and says, “Absolutely. Please go home, it’s terrible here. Luckily I only have to come here to sleep a few hours a night and then in two weeks it will all be over.”
Earlier, after you switched rooms, the three of you pick up a cheap comforter, three pillows, and dollar bin towels from the only store open at midnight in town. The fifty dollars that you spend further depletes the miniscule balance in the checking account, but your husband says he doesn’t want to sleep on the hotel’s sheets, doesn’t want “his wife wiping her makeup off with one of their skanky towels,” doesn’t want his son “resting his head on something that might infect him.”
Miraculously, you all fall asleep in a comfortable heap on top of the navy blue, ten dollar comforter that your husband will toss in a dumpster once his two weeks of filming are done.
Before the sun comes up he leaves the hotel room to begin his duties on the multi-million dollar film, the reason you’re all in Mississippi in the first place. He tells you not to open the door to anyone, even if they work at the hotel. He kisses you, then your sleeping son, and you see the two weeks without him stretching across oceans, mountains, galaxies. Sadness turns all shaky in your chest, quickly turning to anger. You hate his fickle career, hate the industry he’s in, hate movies, hate rich people, hate the hotel, and hate Mississippi. How could a production with such a big budget not put up their crews better? How could they let them sleep in squalor before working until their fingers bled and their muscles ached in a the 100 degree Mississippi July?
You drag yourself to the shower (full of cave crickets and silverfish, and the shower curtain’s black with mildew) and feel dirtier after you bathe than before. You then wake up your son, have him use the restroom and brush his teeth with a bottled water, and together you leave the hotel room. On the way to the car (past the pool, which you notice has a dozen or so inflatable pool toys bobbing in the water) a hotel janitor stops and asks you if you need any towels. You mumble no and pull your son’s hand along a little too hard (let’s go, let’s go, let’s go). The janitor stares at you as you throw the suitcase in the trunk, struggling a bit with the pool noodles that were shoved in the trunk when you left Tennessee less than twenty four hours before. For some reason those pool noodles set you off. They’re a reminder of what Mississippi was supposed to be and everything that it wasn’t.
Careful not to squeal the tires, you drive around the backside of the building. Your son has fallen back asleep, still clutching his stuffed monkey close to his chest. He hadn’t put the monkey down even when we brushed his teeth, and told you to hold “George” while he used the bathroom and washed his hands.
Most of the curtains are drawn in the hotel; no one’s really awake yet and the film crew of course has already left for their early call time. One room, close to street, has both its curtains and door wide open to the parking lot. As you wait at the red light (which of course can’t turn green fast enough) you’re able to peek right into it.
The room is lit up brightly, and has a king-size bed. The comforter on the bed isn’t hotel issue, but rather a pink flowered one. On the brown shag carpet a great number of baby toys are strewn about, and near the front of the room is an Exersaucer; the same one your son had when he was a baby. On the dresser there are several large photos in frames, the tv is angled towards the Exersaucer, and Oswald is on. Whomever is staying in that room appears to be staying for much longer than a night, longer than two weeks even. A young mom walks out of the bathroom, carrying a nine or ten month old baby. She grabs a purse from the pink flowery mattress and closes the room’s door, locking it behind her.
By the time the light finally turns green you’re crying, grateful your son is asleep and can’t see the tears dripping hot and fast down your cheeks.