The Dam

21 February 2012


Torie Rivera, Contributor

Illustration by James G. Morales

My life, for what it is worth, has been the construction site of a dam. Since my birth, the job has been underway. Think of it in this way: the initial body of water is my heart (or soul).  There are many creeks and rivers flowing to and from this body of water. At some point, the dam halts the flow that leads to my mind. This dam has left my mind a bare desolate place, rigged, unlovable, resembling nothing that it should. Occasionally, water gets through, and the conditions are not so horrid.

As I stood outside the Pleasant Hill Baptist Church—a church resting at the foot of the Smokey Appalachian Mountains—I was taking in the surreal moment, coming to terms with what had happened. Inside, the church was filled with people that I’d never met. Some of them had known my mother and brother from the few times they had attended the church since they moved to Tennessee. Since my arrival, the people of this small community had done nothing but open their arms to me. Not only did they arrange this memorial, they had collectively prepared days worth of food upon the news of my mother’s death. Unfortunately, I did not know anyone to invite. The service was more for my brother, so that he could say goodbye to all the people he’d befriended since relocating. Soon we’d return to California. Nonetheless, it was a statement of true kindness on their part.

When I entered the church the number of people that had attended was surprising.

I fear there would only be a handful had it been I that died.

The service was about to begin. I took a seat beside my little brother as the pastor started to recite biblical passages. He proceeded to speak about life and death, something to the effect of how life is but a blink of an eye compared to eternity. Too bad I do not share the same spiritual sediments as the pastor. His afterlife sounds much more pleasant than what awaits me—dirt. When he neared the end of his speech, he subtly glanced my way. Having only briefly exchanged words with him prior to the service, I was a little uncomfortable. Before I knew it, he was calling me up to “share a few words.” I slowly stood up and made my way to the podium.

As I walked up the steps, I removed my sweaty hands from my coat pockets, taking a deep breath in through my nose. I had held my breath until I reached the podium. Once in place, I exhaled keeping my eyes and fixated on the light pine podium. A part of me thought that somehow the right words would just spill out of my mouth. This was not the case. Once I knew the dead wood which stood before me had no inspiration to lend, I raised my head, set my vision to an absent gaze, forgetting to breathe.

After I had finally taken in the holy air of the church, words made their way off of my tongue. “I would like to thank this church for all it has done. I could have not imagined such a nice gesture. You all have done so much for my brother and me. Thank you.”  My throat began to tighten and dry as my gaze subsided, giving a glimpse of the audience; soon after, my view would be flooded by tears. “My mother’s life had more downs than ups…” Or, should I say she had more ups considering her romance with methamphetamines. “…but that made her into the person she was.” My vision was slowly returning; I couldn’t say the same for my speech. If these people knew her like I did, would they still be here?

On the tail of a crippled exhale I spoke again: “And who she was made me who I am.” Nothing like her. Deep breaths consumed me. An audience of welcoming strangers awaited my next words. As I gathered vowels and consonants, attempting to form words, a man in the third row of the pews spoke: “Amen… praise the lord.” My mind began to wander to memories of her, or a lack thereof. As my mind refocused I said, “Without her I am lost.” She was the fuel of my hate, the reason for my insanity—constantly failing to obtain affection time after time.

As I stepped down from the stage, placed my hands back into my coat pockets, and looked at the ground through hazy eyes, another day of construction on the dam had been completed.


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