The little boy sat all alone at his bright red folding table. He was trying to keep his mind busy and off of the fact he was in a strange new town. He diligently sorted through the pieces of his brand new model car. It was a perfect day to be outside doing just about anything. The warm sun heated the cold metal bench where Ben sat. It also glared through the dirty casement windows that Ben’s mother and Aunt were trying franticly to clean. Ben was blissfully unaware of his mothers frustration, or his Aunts blind obedience to her every instruction. He was focused intently, so much so that he didn’t notice the little blond haired girl approaching. She had been watching Bens house ever since he moved in, only a week prior. She lived across the street and up the hill two houses from Ben. Her name was Connie and she was almost at Ben’s work-bench before he jumped in astonishment at her presence.
“Oh, ha-ha… didn’t mean to scare ya.” she laughed. Ben quickly picked up the cardboard box that contained his model car parts and pretended to read the fine print as if nothing had happened.
“What… oh, you didn’t scare me.” he declared defiantly. Ben said that with conviction, because he knew what being scared really meant. I know this because I am Ben… Ben Hawkins. The first time I can remember being honestly scared was just before my family moved to Silverton, Maryland. I was playing on my swing set with my three closest friends when I heard the crash, the big bang so to speak, that changed my little world forever. The air was filled with the sweet summer smell of freshly mown grass. Everything up to that point had been as normal as normal gets in my tiny Tennessee-mountain home. The monotonous day to day struggles of the adult world in Erma was only translated to me as sadness. I missed my father who had to leave home to find work. I missed my friends when they had to go home after playing in my big back yard. And I missed my brother who was in the army stationed in Japan, where ever that was. My grandmother once told me I was “born missing”.
It happened one hot dry Sunday afternoon, at about three thirty. That is when my emotional evolution began. The crash came from the front yard where, only a few minutes earlier, my best friend Jerry and I had been playing. The speeding car had raced down the hill in front of my house and plowed right through the concrete and steel fence that bordered my front yard. The woman driving the car had spent the afternoon drinking with friends at the local VFW chapter. Her timing couldn’t have been more precise had it been arranged by some divine intervention.
When I ran to see what had happened I saw something that I just couldn’t wrap my little nine year old head around. There was a screaming woman sitting in a smoking car right in my front yard. Blood was running down her face and coming out of her mouth as she was franticly trying to move the car. Her futile efforts only managed to spin the tires, grind the gears, and kick up a lot of dirt and grass. There were large chunks of concrete laying all over the front yard with rusty steel bars sticking up out of them. People were running toward my house from the neighboring houses on my street. The thing that bothered me most was the lawn mower that was sitting next to the car with the screaming lady inside. The mower was still running but Grandma wasn’t mowing the grass any longer. As a matter of fact I didn’t see Grandma anywhere.
This surrealistic image frightened me so much that I turned and ran in the opposite direction. I ran to the back yard and then up the old wooden steps that led to my back door and into the house. There I found my Mom and my Aunt Rayne both in a panic. They were crying and my Mom was screaming something unintelligible. I ran to the front porch to get a better look at what was going on outside. As I peered out through the dirty jalousie windows above the front yard I immediately knew why I hadn’t seen Grandma before. Grandma was under the car. That’s the first time I can remember being afraid of my own thoughts. There were so many of them all racing through my head at the same time. I wanted to cry, I wanted to run, I wanted to pray that God would help my Grandma and for some strange reason I felt sorry for the screaming lady in the smoking car.
Change had finally come. I could feel it deep down in my soul. Ever since I can remember there has been an unsettled restless feeling inside me. In Erma, Tennessee people were obsessed with interpreting the Bible word for word and taking literally every scripture. It was an embedded Sunday ritual. Being raised with dark mountain folk lore is how it became rooted in my family. It was the torrent of hell fire and brimstone spewing from the pulpit of the Holiness Church down the road that frightened me most. Speaking in tongues seemed to be a normal Sunday ritual as well. The first time I experienced that freakish display it made my skin crawl. It was like something from that other place, surely not from the “House of God”. No one could ever say that there was a shortage of melodrama in our little notch of the bible-belt. They were indeed very efficient at devising new ways to control their fellow man. Even through the constant bombardment of superstition and fear, change had come anyway. Sometimes it seemed I was the only one who felt it. But then again I always felt different. Not only did I not fit in… I didn’t even know where to begin to even try.