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FTIAT: Grateful

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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Grateful

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.

(c) Gary R. Johnson Photography.

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.

last : One of the Things I’m Grateful For | The Thankful Writer: A Guest Blog About Gratitude
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  1. September 23, 2011 at 6:04 am

    Chrissy, seriously I could use about a tenth of your way with words. I know that drive (from Nashville) and it is just as achingly bland as you described. Great post :)

    • September 23, 2011 at 6:17 am

      It is such a bland, dusty drive…thank you so much for the kind words. Some memories are so preserved they just kind of…flow out, I guess!

  2. September 23, 2011 at 6:17 am

    You have written the most beautiful, heart-ripping post that I’ve read in a long time.

  3. September 23, 2011 at 6:21 am

    Those moments that remind you what you have, instead of what you lack, can be so important, but they can also feel like punches to the solar plexus.

    • September 23, 2011 at 6:24 am

      That is so true, Byron. We need those kinds of punches every now and then (and need to recognize them when their force hits!).

  4. September 23, 2011 at 6:24 am

    I am blown away by your words. I was caught up in them from the start and just riveted throughout your post. I felt like I was right there. Excellent, amazing job.

    • September 23, 2011 at 6:27 am

      Thank you so much. Be glad you weren’t there, though, that room was pretty gross! ;)

  5. Jess
    September 23, 2011 at 6:35 am

    Captivating. Beautifully written.

    • September 23, 2011 at 6:40 am

      Thank you, Jess.

      Deborah, your readers are probably the best readers in the internetworldz…

      • September 23, 2011 at 6:43 am

        I second that wholeheartedly, and hope you’re including yourself in that “awesome” count. Because you are. ♥

  6. September 23, 2011 at 6:53 am

    Beautiful post as always. My friend, the WordPress family celebrates with you today. Congrats! A toast to you… Wishing you all the sweet blessings.

  7. September 23, 2011 at 8:03 am

    You really do paint a picture with your words! That was a sad reminder that even when we think things suck for us, there are so many others with much harder things to deal with. I hope all turned out well with your husband’s shoot and that things are looking up for you financially. :) Wonderful post!

    • September 23, 2011 at 10:38 am

      Thank you! I think it’s good that the Universe grounds us, exactly when we need it the most.

  8. September 23, 2011 at 9:07 am

    Oh Chrissy…you are incredible! I recall the deafening cicadas, that southeast landscape so well. What an experience and what a contrast…working on a multi-million dollar project and sleeping in the dumps. I don’t think many people realize this.

    So blessed to have met you…xx

    • September 23, 2011 at 10:41 am

      So glad I could help bring you back there! I I forgot to mention the kudzu, though… :) Yes, the big budget films unfortunately tend to cut corners where there’s almost nothing left to cut! It is sad.

  9. September 23, 2011 at 11:31 am

    Wonderful piece, Chrissy, so rooted in place.

    • September 23, 2011 at 3:34 pm

      Thank you so much, Hannah! So nice to see you over here. :)

  10. September 23, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    This is stunning writing, Chrissy! Absolutely stunning! I don’t know what else to say. Exquisite!
    Kathy

    • September 23, 2011 at 3:34 pm

      You’ve made me feel so good! Thank you so much, Kathryn.

  11. John Erickson
    September 23, 2011 at 1:15 pm

    I was fortunate when I found my wife – she had spent a lot of time working in such .. “charming” places like the Motel 6 in South Bend where they actually had people killed IN THE ROOMS. When we first started doing road trips, she organised a “survival” pack. A couple decent towels, our own pillows, a bedsheet, sleep clothes (and I mean head-to-toe, what you saw the guys in “E.T.” wearing covering). Plus our own toiletries, and a TON of spray disinfectant for the bathroom. A real nifty tool? Dryer sheets. Yes, you take them, and some cheap wood or plastic clothespins, and clip a BUNCH to the output of the AC unit. Makes the room smell a whole lot better. And Lysol. Hose the room, and leave, just as if you bug-bombed it.
    I thought she was nuts, until we stayed at that very same, drug-pushing, people-murdering Motel 6. She took about 15 minutes with my help, and actually made the room look presentable.
    Great presentation of a less-than-pleasant topic. And good for you for not letting it get to you TOO much!

    • September 23, 2011 at 3:35 pm

      That is some sage advice…will have to pass on to my husband (as much as he travels for work it could come in handy).

  12. September 23, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    It’s very nice to meet you with this post, Chrissy! I love the way you told this story with such subtlety, and how powerful it was to experience the deeper meaning in it just before the end.

    Part of me wants to rail about how unfair things are for those of us who do so much of the heavy lifting and the dirty work in so many poorly paid professions, but you have already shone a light on that so eloquently in this personal story, so I’ll just say thank you so much for sharing it with us.

    • September 23, 2011 at 3:36 pm

      So nice to meet you, too! And thank you for your sweet words!

  13. wordsfallfrommyeyes
    September 23, 2011 at 3:04 pm

    This is a huge blog, but very engaging. My gosh, hard work…It blows me away what John Erickson said – fancy having to pack THAT much. Is it really, really so bad? Sounds AWful.

  14. September 23, 2011 at 7:58 pm

    What an amazing piece of writing! I am in awe! What a gorgeous picture you present: all that expectation — and then it is so horribly juxtaposed with the hotel/motel. It does break your heart when folks have to live in “those” places. You are amazing. I think you’ve got a new follower.

    Nice to meet you.

    • September 24, 2011 at 4:21 am

      Renee,

      Thank you so much! It’s so nice to meet you, too…and let me tell you I was humbled by your FTIAT essay as well.

      xoxo

  15. September 24, 2011 at 12:32 am

    “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.”

    Priceless literature!

    • September 24, 2011 at 4:22 am

      Thank you! I guess I need to enter hovel hotels more often; scary as they are, they make for loads of inspiration! ;)

  16. September 24, 2011 at 7:32 am

    This is so beautifully written, Chrissy! You’ve definitely left me wanting to know more; I’m looking forward to checking out your blog!

  17. September 25, 2011 at 7:01 am

    You have a true gift, my friend. Keep sharing it.

    • September 25, 2011 at 5:42 pm

      Thank you, The Hook! Words like yours help keep me motivated. I’m truly humbled by all of these beautiful, supportive comments.

  18. September 25, 2011 at 7:23 pm

    Wow! I was so hopeful at first reading your descriptions of double rainbows and inky indigo skies. Beautiful words! Sigh… It’s one thing to be disappointed for ourselves, but it’s another thing altogether when we feel disappointed for our kids. Especially when they put on a brave face, like your son did holding onto his monkey. I’m glad you were able to leave that place for the comfort of your cozy home, and see how lucky you are to have it.

    I have a friend who’s an actress and travels quite a bit on a tight budget. She rents a furnished apartment or stays in a room in a nice boarding house. Would those be just as expensive?

    Thanks for sharing your story. Heartbreaking as it was, I was glad to be reminded how lucky I am to have a humble-but-nice home.

    • September 26, 2011 at 3:48 pm

      Hi Karla!

      Thank you for your kind words about my essay. Yes, Xander certainly is a brave little soul. When this occurred, we had just moved back to the lower 48 after living for eighteen months in Alaska. He had been through a lot in a few short weeks!

      On films the crews tend to stay together (lighting department stays with gaffers, grips, best boy, etc)…the little town this particular film was being created in had only a couple of housing options. Luckily, my husband usually works in cable television, and when he does have to travel they tend to put him up in a nice business class hotel. He’s very, very fond of these clean, somewhat bland spaces now. :)

  19. September 26, 2011 at 8:47 am

    This is both heartrendingly beautiful and sad… But you did get away and the mom with the pink comforter didn’t. I read about those seedy motels and the people who have no where to go but to live in them… The irony is that the film production company hires its crew for a multimillion dollar movie and puts them in hell holes and works them to the bone…tragic. :-(
    This post reminds me of Barbara Ehrenreich’s book – Nickel and Dimed.
    Great post Chrissy! :-)
    Eliz

    • September 26, 2011 at 3:50 pm

      I’ve read Nickled and Dimed a few times, actually! I used to clean houses and I enjoyed reading prose from someone in the trenches.

      I hope the mom w/the pink comforter was able to get out of there eventually. It’s moments like that that remind me how very alike we all are.

  20. September 26, 2011 at 8:49 am

    Ugh! That line was meant to read ‘I’ve read about those seedy motels… etc
    Finally catching up again… where did the time go? Phew! :-)
    Eliz

  21. September 29, 2011 at 10:27 am

    Wow. How awfully stunning to walk into a scene like that. I can only imagine seeing it, and you help with that imagination tremendously with your intense description. My daughter and I lived for a short period of time in a very scary apartment situation where crime was part of the neighborhood. We’d hear the mom next door screaming bloody murder at her 5 kids in a one-room apartment, experienced a drunken/drugged hit and run that pummeled into 4 vehicles parked in front of the complex at 2AM, as well as someone who shot out the back car window of another neighbor, again, during the wee hours of the morning. Each one sounding as if it was happening right in our little upstairs bedroom. Needless to say, living through that gives me huge gratitude for where we are today-a much better place. I can’t wait to read more of your posts! Thank you so much for sharing this one. :-)

  22. October 1, 2011 at 6:06 pm

    I have no words to describe the sadness I feel. I felt so much empathy reading this that my heart was being torn apart and I was as grateful as you were that your son was asleep and unaware of most of what you have to go through during those frightening hours.

    You’re an incredible writer.

  1. September 30, 2011 at 3:28 pm
  2. October 7, 2011 at 5:30 am

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