orange glow

The orange glow moves up and down, keeping time with the creaking platform rocker. 

When it moves completely out of sight I know she’s taking a sip of her beer.

We are locked together in this nightly ritual in the second floor apartment above the insurance agency and I love it, love the intimacy of it, almost as much as I love her. 

Grandpa is in the other room snoring.   Flat on his back with his feet snagging the sheets of the twin bed next to the window.  We’re thick as thieves in the tiny living room expansion, speaking softly and filling the low atmosphere with smoky words. 

Snug in a sleeping bag on a couch under the eaves, I process statements and observations through a grade school mind that houses a deep running river and a tornado of an imagination.   

The habits of my grandparents that differ from my parents strike me as odd and exotic and I struggle to interpret them.  Why Grandpa cuts his toenails into devil’s forks.  And the reason Grandma has a hammer in a plastic yellow trash can next to her bed or a mannequin without a head in the corner.  Why their tub has feet and a rubber stopper on a chain.  And how Grandpa can be both a Lion and an Elk.  Whether they ever used to sleep in the same bed.  And what exactly could cause a nervous breakdown.

She talks freely of the nervous breakdown, referring to things that took place “before the crack up” and “after the crack up.”

“I was never the same person after the crack up” hit the top 40 in my head.

Not sure what a “crack up” is or why a doctor would prescribe a couple of beers before bed as an alternative to sleeping pills or tranquilizers, I become aware of the need for a quiet mind before bed at an early age.

It will be years before I understand my own unique fingerprint of anxiety and discover my own formula for self-care.  One of them — it should come as no surprise — is visualizing the orange glow at the end of a rocking cigarette. 

Author: Julie Ann Stevens

My art flows from the patterns & paths of my lived experience which ⏤ like yours ⏤ are at once deeply personal and entirely universal.

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