Unravelling a life

Edwina never ceases to surprise me.

As I move forward with my book about the unlikely bond that has developed between Edwina and me, I’ve taken to audiorecording some of our conversations. Yesterday, Edwina and I spent the afternoon together as she slowly unravelled layers of her life. Some of what she shared I already knew, but there was a lot I didn’t know.

She told me about growing up in Pratt City and the troubles that plagued her family–two alcoholic parents, never enough food or money to pay the gas bill. According to Edwina, her daddy would come home on Friday with his paycheck from Birmingham Fabrication, get cleaned up and hit the town–sometimes until Tuesday. Her mama told the kids to “eat up, cause you don’t know when you gonna get something to eat again once daddy leaves.”

At one point, Edwina and her siblings–3 sisters and 1 brother–took to chopping up the abandoned house of a neighbor who had died to have enough wood to keep the Big Boy Heater stoked. “When the city came to take down the house for real,” she told me, “there wasn’t nothin left to it.”

When Edwina was just 8 years old, she peered out her bedroom window and saw a man shot in the head. “I heard some men arguing and all and then one of ’em pulled out a gun and shot that man right in the head.” Her life is sprinkled with images that would cause most of us to pause–Edwina grabbing a shotgun to persuade her auntie, also an alcoholic, to stop beating her daughter; scenes involving pocket knives, forks or random sharp instruments to assist in escaping bad situations and bad folks–but Edwina talks straight through them. They’re all part of the life she knows.

I asked Edwina what she wishes for her life, what she wants to do but hasn’t had the opportunity to fit in. “I wanna go somewhere,” she said. “I ain’t never been nowhere but Georgia and Florida once. And that’s just ’cause my mama and daddy took me there with ’em cause I was the baby and nobody want to watch the baby.”

“Where would you like to go?” I asked her.

“Maybe Texas, or Detroit . . . just for a few days to see what it’s like.” She thought for a minute and continued: “I really want to go to Disney. I be acting like a little kid if I got to go there.”

Edwina is due for some adventure.

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