Little White Rings
I don't usually tell folks about my own private Hell, and I had no intention of doing so here, despite the invitation, but a second invitation from LilEnigma has also arisen--something about vulnerability... about trust. What kind of horrible things have we donein our lives--which kind of lends itself to a type of private Hell. So why not? I'd often heard about "the gates of Hell," but I always figured the term to be sort of... fantastical. As it turns out, there actually is a gate to Hell just outside of Poughkeepsie.
Poughkeepsie-- all my life, I'd never known, or considered, for that matter, how to spell it. Strange though, the moment you see it, you know how to pronounce it, regardless of its many letters, and regardless of how one might think it would be spelled. I got stuck staring at it-- Poughkeepsie. I stared at it so long that there developed little faint white rings on some of the keys of my otherwise black keyboard--a tell-tale sign of someone who has found one of the gates.
There's divided highway east of town called Haight Avenue, which turns into Manchester Road coming through Arlington-- three lanes of traffic headed either direction. Officially, it's simply, Highway 55. About three miles east, you can take an exit onto a plain, two-lane road, Old Manchester Road, which immediately turns into Titusville Road beginning at the bridge over Wappinger Creek, then leads south into, you guessed it... Titusville.
The gate of Hell, to which I refer, is located almost exactly halfway across the 181-foot bridge over Wappinger Creek. In June of 2016, I stood on the edge of that bridge and decided to jump.
I did not. Instead, my phone rang, and it was someone saying they wanted to publish my book. The gates of Hell would have to wait.
Telling you about the gate is the easy part. I've done that so many times that it's begun to become numb. No, the intriguing part of this exercise is the vulnerability... the trust. So, let's try this.
In 2012, Kendall was 17, Ashley was 9, and their mother would harm me physically if I revealed her age at the time. Danielle. Danni. I had recently published (self-published) The Second Rape of Doctor Emily Pershing. Life was good-- damn good. Our family had been on a quest, seeking out information regarding Danni's birth mother, as she had been adopted as an infant and had decided to find out as much as possible about her past. We found out a lot. A lot.
The love was thick, heavy, wonderful. The proverbial cup had runneth over. We decided to share the story-- share the love, so to speak. Danni, Kendall, and I shared as much as we could remember, and the majority of it was handed down from Danni's mother, and a beautiful friend whom we desperately wished we could meet. The crux of this thing-- the book-- was that sacrifices were made in order to give Danni life, and in turn, give life to her daughters, creating every beautiful thing which filled the cup.
As much as I wanted to believe the story was well-prepared and researched and presented, I have come to accept that there is something missing. The reviews have been as exceptional as they have been rare. To my knowledge, fewer than ten people have ever read the thing. Call it what you will, the simple fact is... it's a failure.
On March 4, 2016, Danni's impossibly adorable brother, Percy, had treated the girls to a road trip to visit my parents, who had moved to New York for reasons that I still cannot fathom. One of our family quirks was that, whenever we saw something while traveling which made any of us wonder, "What is that?" or "Where does that road go?" we'd head off to solve the puzzle. I imagine, someone must have thought, "Why do they call it 'Manchester Road?'" Then they convinced Uncle Percy to exit on Old Manchester Road, to confirm whether or not Manchester truly existed.
A moving truck lost a wheel-- an entire wheel-- while crossing westbound on the bridge over Wappinger Creek, causing the driver to lose control and cross over into the eastbound lane. Percy, Danni, 21-year-old Kendall, and 13-year-old Ashley were hit, head-on, bouncing their minivan up and over the guard rail and into the creek, killing everyone inside.
My heart damn near chokes me when I think about how I used to joke that life was going to suck when Ashley turned thirteen. I thought she'd be such a tremendous pain-in-the-butt, so head-strong and argumentative. I thought she'd be impossible.
She wasn't. She wasn't. Dear God in Heaven, she was absolutely perfect!
I've found salt formations to be remarkably resilient. How they last under constant abuse is beyond me. The only thing which seems to break them down, other than some type of cleaning agent which I haven't the heart to employ, is the very thing which created them. And here I am, having once again, added more droplets, which will eventually dry, the salt crystalizing, reinforcing the little white rings.
The publisher who called about the book was complete BS-- wanted me to spend hundreds of dollars to have them redesign the cover, proofread it, and put absolutely zero effort into advertising it anywhere other than where it's already easily found... and that's the hard part: the vulnerability. Sacrifices were made, lives were uprooted, hell, lives were lost in order to ensure just the possibility of Danni's existence. Her life was made possible, Danni's children's lives were made possible, and I was, by far, the greatest beneficiary of those lives... and now they're gone. All there is, to demonstrate the awesome selflessness of the people and the extraordinary beauty of the sacrifices made, is this story--my contribution, my effort-- and as I stood on the edge of that bridge and stared into mouth of the gates of Hell, it was my greatest, most profound and contemptible regret, in this cruel life, to have known that in that effort, I had failed them. All of them. It's as if none of them were ever here.
And neither am I.