Dampness clung to my charcoal hoodie. It clawed its way through my skin, much like a hungry hawk attacking its prey. I felt vulnerable, out of breath again. And, I hadn’t even descended the root cellar steps . . . yet.
A lazy autumnal sun stretched out attempting to warm my cold soul, but I wasn’t havin’ any of it. I circled my grandmother’s yard hopin’ for a way out of the reunion with the root cellar.
And then I saw Dr. Abernathy roundin’ the side of the house accompanied by my social worker, Ms. Dunlap. Her blonde ponytail bobbed up and down as she walked. Heck, she was barely older than me. I got angry every time she threw that “holier than holy water, ‘you oughta come with me to church this Sunday’” attitude at me. Her sparkly blue eyes and perky smile were almost too much for me.
Dr. Abernathy wasn’t much better. While he spouted off to me about why I acted out and ‘wasn’t it a shame I missed out on the mother-daughter relationship that’s so important to young girls,’ I saw right through ‘im. Someone was payin’ ‘im way too much to make up stuff about why I thought the way I did. I saw that string of letters behind his name on his office wall and it never impressed me.
Why couldn’t they just understand I wanted to be left alone? And I sure as hell didn’t wanna go down those root cellar steps again. No way. No how.
“Alyssa, how are you doing, dear?” It was the perky blonde, testing the murky waters of my mind again.
I shrugged, not wanting to give up my leverage.
Next it was the doc’s attempt to turn the tide. His bushy eyebrows knitted together and I saw that same false concern he exuded during all our sessions. “Alyssa, for you to get well, you need to go down those stairs and into the root cellar. You must face your fear and the event that traumatized you ten years ago. Only then can you truly be free.”
“Why do you care anyway?”
Ms. Dunlap’s painted lips pouted. “Now Alyssa you know Dr. Abernathy and I care about you. We wouldn’t be here with you if we didn’t. And, we’ve worked toward this day with you for five years. We haven’t given up on you and you shouldn’t either.”
My teenage angst gave way and I rolled my eyes at her. I thrust both hands deep into denim pockets that felt warm and secure next to my thighs. The cold autumn air chilled my cheeks and I felt an unfamiliar stinging at the edge of my right eye. Nope, I wasn’t havin’ any of that.
Hours passed and I continued to resist. I watched out of the corner of my eye as Dr. Abernathy plopped down under a large oak tree, crunching dry brown leaves in his wake. The “social-ite” stood her ground, circling me, continually whispering yes phrases. Man, she just wouldn’t give up. Stubbornness finally gave way to reluctance which relented to the nausea in my belly and somehow my heart knew they were right. I must confront the root cellar.
I gingerly traversed the leaves, making my way to the large mound at the back of the property. Tufts of green grass still peeked through dead leaves atop the dug-out. It didn’t look that ominous. Or did it? All dead and dreary. I sensed two pairs of eyes on my back and a hint of apprehension on the breeze.
As I drew closer, a silent movie began to spool in my mind. The events of that day in 1989 when I was nine and when my mother died were foggy. Would descending into the root cellar bring back the memories? Could I watch her die all over again?
It was ten years ago when I made that first pilgrimage to the root cellar. Now I go back each year to descend the stairs, remember my mother, then ascend into the light. Dr. Abernathy said that I couldn’t go down into the depths of myself without coming back up into the light of freedom. My life has had its ups and downs, its darkness and light, its coldness and its warmth. And now I know just what he meant. God goes with me into all those places, even into the root cellar. Especially the root cellar.
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