PERSONAL ESSAY

The Sky is Crying

Stevie Ray, a million stars, and connecting the dots

Mindi Boston
Human Parts

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A shadowy figure stares up into the night sky.
Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

Darkness fell as I sat on the thin pullout in the hot camper. It was a humid summer night threatening rain in the early 90s. My only power was a frayed extension cord. I could run the lights or the small tabletop fan. Never both. Air-conditioning and television were luxuries we could not afford. So were dreams, but I still had plenty.

I propped open the tiny windows, but the stagnant air entering gave little relief. There wasn’t much to do in the dark other than stare at the aluminum walls, imagining I was in a freezer instead of an oven. Summer had barely commenced. I feared what loomed in the months ahead.

If I twisted just right, I could see up into the starlit sky. My only solace on those nights was the thought that somewhere, beneath that endless navy sea, existed a world where everything made sense again. That is where I yearned to be. In that alternate universe, I imagined a big brick house with a yard full of trees and buzzing fireflies. Maybe a husband that came home every night and spoke to me in dulcet tones, not hateful jabs.

I spat on the hem of my sweat-drenched nightgown and tried to rub away decades of dirt and rust on the stationary top panes. Through the smears, I saw the door to the house bang open and stick. Loud twangs of blues guitar slunk through the darkness to fill the gated yard and block out the sounds of sirens and revving engines. A shadowy figure emerged onto the porch, something grasped in their hand. A single cigarette cherry glowed orangey-red against the murky darkness. The figure teetered on the top step and swore softly before traveling to the middle of the yard, staring upward.

I watched silently, a mere twenty feet away. The figure swayed and bobbed to the sorrowful chords of Stevie Ray Vaughan. If I hadn’t been so miserable, I might have chuckled at the most Texas of scenes, the kind of stuff they write country songs about. My mother-in-law stood, her bony fingers tightened around the neck of a half-empty bottle of Wild Turkey, her face tilted heavenward, her slurred voice directed to a famous stranger who’d died three years prior.

It wasn’t the first time I’d found her like that. Work, work, work Monday through Friday. Drink, drink, drink Friday through Sunday. Shoot some stuff. Grill some food. Football on the old console TV. The other nights, there she stood — stereo blasting through her front yard confessional, seeking something in the music and the cosmos that no one else could hear.

“I don’t know,” I’d told her son the first time I saw her. We had been in bed for hours inside the boiling RV when the sound awoke us. “I think maybe she’s sick. She drinks a lot. Maybe she needs help, baby?”

“You’re such an asshole,” he’d retorted immediately. “A spoiled little pussy who knows nothing about life. For all you know, you’re looking into a fuckin’ mirror.” And then he’d disappeared inside his mother’s house while I languished alone in the tin can.

I had recoiled more at the thought of becoming her than the contempt in his words. I could never be like her. I would never give up on life, just trudging through my days of work to spend my weekends drunk and talking to a dead musician. But, even then, when I doth protested too much, something filled me with a sense of impending dread.

By fall, I had left my marriage and the crappy camper behind. That spring, the baby came. True colors shone through the lies and I hired a divorce lawyer I couldn’t afford (but couldn’t afford not to retain). Within two years, my mother-in-law succumbed to heart disease or liver damage, or maybe she just got tired of waiting for Stevie Ray to answer back. When I heard the news, I was a thousand miles away, trying like hell to make a life for myself and my precocious toddler. He had celebrated his second birthday on the day she died.

If I think back now, I recognize that look on her face that I mistook for resignation. It wasn’t giving up or giving in; it was acceptance. I’ve seen that look many times since, including in the mirror as my ex so aptly foretold. When I think about the parallels between us, I feel a sort of shamed kinship. I judged her harshly for things I couldn’t fathom then. The cost of being a young, shunned mother. The effects of a life lived much harder than necessary, everything in you required just to survive. The need for release for all the broken dreams, shattered hopes, and heavy sorrows. The realization that, in the end, all that mattered was the love you gave and the knowledge you did your best to show it.

While I never turned to the bottle, I held a lot of hate in my heart and shame in my bones. They put gray in my hair and lines on my face, too. Luckily, I discovered the soothing balm of forgiveness, something I didn’t even realize I needed until I had it. I forgave her and her son for things that happened a lifetime ago, learning to examine what makes a person think and act rather than judging them. I forgave the ones that came later, the people who made my life harder than it had to be, sometimes intentionally but more often not. Most of all, I learned to forgive myself — for being too young, naive, willfully ignorant, opinionated, and deeply damaged.

Two nights ago, I walked out the front door to stand in my yard. Behind me rose the brick house I now call home. Fireflies surrounded me in soft light and summer-crisp leaves from a dozen trees floated down to rest beside me. I tilted my eyes skyward, seeing a million stars above me, the same ones I once hoped would ferry me from my seventeen-year-old hell to somewhere that made sense, somewhere like the alternate world I’d dreamt up to keep hope alive.

She entered unbidden into my thoughts. I pictured her standing there, staring up at the sky thirty-two years ago, seeking something only she could name.

I hope, like me, she found it.

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Mindi Boston
Human Parts

Mindi Boston is a novelist and freelance writer out of the Midwest. For more information, visit www.mindiboston.com