Last Letter To My Love

     As you know, in the South, all one’s relatives think that when you’ve had a disappointment or something even more deeply troubling that food is the answer.  When we broke up and I finally had to tell it, every time I was in the company of family, food was pushed my way in great quantities as if I were going to literally starve to death between today and tomorrow.  I’d never seen so many ham hocks, beaten biscuits, elderberry and muscadine jams, pickled pigs feet, corn pones, green beans swimming in bacon grease and topped with streak-o-lean, grits doused with butter (often served at breakfast, lunch, or dinner – and sometimes fried grits), sweet potato pies, chow-chows, turnip greens, creamed potatoes, fried chicken, collards, pulled pork, corn puddings, and stack cakes in my life.  I would not have believed it if I hadn’t lived it – eaten through a lot of it – myself.

     Each time I survived one of these mega-meals I felt like one of granddaddy’s fatted calves or like the mule he had that died from eating too much corn.  That mule would eat anything and never knew when to stop.  His demise was from battering in one side of the corn crib when grandma and granddaddy were gone to a cattle auction for a couple of days last year.

     After attending a family meal on a Sunday afternoon, I felt restless (most likely from my stomach protesting another “stretch”) and was pacing in my solitude.  In one of the rounds of walking through my house, I looked out the window onto the patio, remembering all the meals we had there; all the seasons we enjoyed just sitting with our arms around each other – whether in the warmth or in the cold; then there was nothing but cold whether we were inside or outside; whether we were within or without.  The without grew and grew.

     The other day, I saw someone's cat sitting in the sun, in the middle of the patio table.  The way she moved, turning her head back and forth, stretched, and shrugged, all reminded me of you.  Even her elongated way of shifting until she was sure she'd created the best position for her nap.

     Days later, something on the fence caught my eye.  The cat. She was hanging, like all the stuffing had come out of her, fence point lodged in her belly. 

     I felt the most awful sense of dread.  How could she stand it?

     All day, each time I passed the window, I’d see her in the same position.  I felt sick.  I paced back and forth, chewing my nails, as I used to do in waiting for you, until I learned better. 

     What to do?  Poke it and see if it roused?  Creep close and clap my hands?

     My mind drifted back to all the dead animals I’d seen on granddaddy’s farm, from chickens to cows to that engorged mule lying on its side with its legs straight out like someone had just tipped it over.  I’ve never gotten past the first time I saw grandma chop a chicken’s head off and the chicken’s body still ran around the yard.  Every thought of this made me sick!  I’ve not been able to eat chicken since.  I just don’t handle dead critters well at all.    

     Sensible or not, sleep visited me little.  In the deep nights, I walked back and forth to the windows even though I could see nothing but lots of dark.  I looked anyway.  Like I used to search for you.

     I could do nothing and the body would rot on my fence.  The idea made my stomach lurch and my skin crawl.

     Then an almost unrelated thought surfaced: The cat was not my responsibility, but the fence was.  You used to speak thoughts like these – how to be blameless.  Thoughts that circled around everything, especially around and around in my head.

     Did you leave your circles behind for me to fall into?