by Tennessee Hill
My mother knew a boy once who thought he was a glass of orange juice. In a hospital bed, he would lay tensely straight and yell at anyone who tried to touch him. “You’ll tip me over,” he’d scream and swat nearing hands. “I’ll spill. You’ll tip me over and I’ll spill.”
This boy my mother knew was originally a stock-character teenager. The story I’d heard about him was that he’d been walking home from school with drugs in his backpack. As a child, “drugs” were a cosmic spit wad of refracting neon colors. I created a recipe I likened this backpack drug to; night lights with broken bulbs, a backward J, estuary of cough syrup, needle pricks and the smear of sense when a leg wakes up, the Itsy-Bitsy spider crawling up my neck.
My mother’s orange juice boy had been walking in the rain with his mix of demons nestled against his spine, beneath a Walkman and sketchbook. It began to rain not just on him, but everyone, an outright storm. And in the storm, he and his drugs got wet and the latter bled through the thin canvas sack to touch his skin, and they bled through that, too. It was so much of a mediocre thing or just enough of a good one, that the drugs found a magical way into his body, brain, and blood stream. As a child, this, too, was not something I could digest except in the idea of Kool Aid powder dissolving in a paper cup of water. Around and around I could stir the cosmic spit into the boy’s body and understand how things went orange and all over the place.
As it went, the boy was shed of himself, right there on a wet sidewalk, and became the incarnate of vulnerability; a glass completely full. He teetered on the cusp of losing himself with every blink. “And what for?” My mother would ask both him and me. “To get high?” She would shake her head and beg me never to put drugs in my backpack or anywhere else. I agreed to this easily enough. I wanted only to spare her the horror she saw in the story she told. It did not occur to my mother that the boy only went about things differently. But so young, I didn’t understand the abstract fear of thinking you were something you were not. It sounded like acting on a stage, dressing up as princesses with the neighborhood girls. It was like the boy got stuck playing pretend the way adults said my face would if I frowned. It sounded like a fable. It sounded like dreaming.
Tennessee Hill is a Sophomore at Stephen F. Austin State University working toward her BFA in Creative Writing. She is an alum of the Sewanee Young Writers’ Conference and has work featured in The Sandy River Review, Elke Journal, Kaaterskill Basin, and HUMID.