What possible relevance could a story about a Welsh mining family have to my own life? Furthermore, much of the dialogue was in Welsh and therefore impossible to follow for someone like me, who’d previously subsisted on sports biographies and watered-down history books, to understand.
It turns out the Jesuits knew what they were doing. While I never reconsidered How Green Was My Valley as a book, while viewing the film version many years later, I recognized the similarities between the setting of the story and the part of Pennsylvania where I grew up. Once upon a time, Scranton and the surrounding area had been an anthracite coal super-power. The men who mined the coal were able to provide for their families, but the work was often dangerous and unpredictable, as How Green Was My Valley demonstrated.
It was August when Mom’s body finally showed up, caught in the dam at Goat Rock, twelve miles from home. She had floated across the state border to Georgia, so Dad had to fill out extra paperwork to bring her back to Freedom, the town where we live in Alabama. I wonder sometimes how many miles Mom swam before she drowned; she could hold her breath underwater for a long time. She was an excellent swimmer in her sleep.
We’d already known Mom was dead, of course, we’d felt it for most of the summer. We felt it from the moment we found her swim goggles on the bank of the Chattahoochee River, at the beach down the road from our house, the place where Mom swam. There had been flooding that June, the river running fast and lathered up.
At the police station, two officers took Dad away first to ask him questions, just to be sure he hadn’t killed Mom and dumped her in the river. It didn’t occur to Lizzie or me then that we might be suspects. It was two years ago; I’m twelve now, but I was still only ten then. Lizzie was fifteen and most people thought she was too pretty to hurt anyone, unless you knew her well enough to know better. The police officer already knew Lizzie.
Bring back those full-page portraits that pronounced I wrote a book, damn it.
So often the body becomes a distraction—
delicate husk, inconvenient hair,
the bizarre need to recharge. I’ve heard
you die young if you don’t sleep, but if you do
you’ll just snooze through your extra time.