The Slow-Cooked Sentence

I am not a rolling stone

Rachael Conlin Levy

Muscles stiffen with time and harden. I am a boulder, unmoved and unresponsive to anything but pain that covers me like moss. It caresses my shoulders, runs a finger along my spine, encircles my neck, and is breathtaking in its beauty — if beauty was measured by its debilitating potency.

In myth, a statute becomes a woman. In life, flesh cools to granite as I reverse Galatea’s transformation and return to rock. Pain is alive. Nerves scream, muscles spasm, and the brain bends to its will. Right. Now. This is a meditation through pain, a meditation on pain, a moment consumed. This moment. Breathing in I hurt, breathing out I hurt, and I hurt and I hurt and I hurt, and I am afraid I will hurt, always.

Two nights ago, I emptied the booze into the sink because I was drinking my way back from pain’s cliffside. With an open mouth, I inhaled the alcohol’s sweet perfume and salivated as it disappeared into the drain. A sidecar’s mix of brandy, orange liqueur and lemon was a delicious painkiller.

Sometimes I am grateful for the strength to choose pain over another addiction, unlike the alcoholic grandma I adored. Forever she sits on her vinyl couch, laughing, cussing and drinking whiskey sweating in a glass, a cigarette and the phone in hand’s reach. A pat on the empty seat beside her was the only invitation I needed. Young girl melted into an old woman’s flesh, smelling the smoky alcohol on her breath, and listening as ice tinked and plinked the Tom Russell tune against the side of the cup.

Darling don’t go to the city
You’ll get lost there in the crowd
All the boys there in the city
Drink and smoke and talk too loud
The women in the city sneak their whiskey from a cup
Oh isn’t it a pity when Irish girls grow up

God, how I loved her laugh, rough as gravel under bare feet, it exposed me, you, her, us. Its ghosty echoes hide in a cousin’s laugh and an uncle’s smile, but guesswork is all that remains of unknowable pain awash in whiskey, cool to the tongue, its watery heat weakened to the color of straw when cradled in glass.

… The Lord should strike me dead
Should this beset the likes of you
Your lips will not touch alcohol
It’s tea that you shall sup
Oh isn’t it a pity when Irish girls grow up.

When my grandma drank, she called my mom. Sometimes their long conversations ended with the phone being passed to me. Over long distance came a slurred promise to take me to the ocean one day, and to Big Sur, which she loved. Nearby my mom whispered, Don’t believe her; she’s drunk. And I’d nod back, as the inebriated promise stumbled over my heart.

Some days are like whiskey and hard to swallow. Others go down like glasses of water. In the end my grandma beat her addiction, and beat back her pain. At least that’s the story I tell myself. Over and over and over, I write her struggle into the stone I inhabit and defend. Disfigured in the act of living and scarred during the effort of loving, I am an imperfect rock mossed with pain. Beautiful, too, if beauty were measured in blemishes to the soul. One day, my weathered body will collapse into a thousand bits of stone. But not today.

8 responses to “I am not a rolling stone”

  1. Such a powerful piece, Rachael.

  2. Holly says:

    That was beautiful Rachael! You have such a gift of words

  3. Thank you, Aunt Holly.

  4. Hans de Vreij says:

    Painful yet beautiful!

  5. Kyna says:

    This is one of my favorite pieces you’ve written.

  6. Kyna, your opinion means a lot to me.

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