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By Elane Johnson

After the skies broke open with a stunning crack about two o’clock in the morning, brilliant flashes of blue flooding the Winnebago like strobe lights; after the rain cut rivulets through the sand, long scratches of some malevolent creature obviously displeased with the earth; after Kennie and his dad had been out on the beach before the wan sunrise, fishing for supper; after the jeep’s rear wheels made themselves at home, settled into the saturated sand, so Ken dug them out, leaving the valley and the mountain, a man-made dune; after I got in the back seat of the jeep because I thought Kennie was only driving to the front of the camp site; after my seat belt wouldn’t snap and I said let me out; after Kennie wheeled onto the beach and headed for that dune; after the jeep, aloft for a slow second, dove into the ditch beyond the dune, catapulting me into space; after the violence of the solid steel bar slamming into my face, crushing the right side, obliterating the orbit, splitting the cheek bone in two, just long enough for the muscles and nerves of my eye to fall into the chasm and remain entrapped when the halves snapped jaggedly back together; after someone’s screams woke me, and I found myself in the brine and grit on the floor of the red jeep, my head on fire, an explosion behind my eyes; after Kennie, synapses firing on sixteen-year-old naked fear, broke myriad traffic laws getting us back to the camp site; after my mother, still in her two-piece and a gauzy summer shirt, thought we were laughing and came out of the Winnebago when she realized the commotion was maniacal shrieks, urgent, panicked; after her boyfriend molded himself into the driver’s seat and Mother held my swollen head in her lap in the rear seat as I ruined her white shirt with my blood, and we kicked up sand backing out; after we stopped at the little store near the front of the camp ground to ask for directions to the emergency room and I saw the girl, with her waist-length black hair and eternal tan, the one from the high dive earlier, the one who executed a flawless reverse with two and half somersaults—sickening—slicing the water so cleanly there was hardly any entry wound, and I felt embarrassed that I was wailing and out of control in front of her; after we headed out on the Interstate and I turned gray and my mother slapped me over and over and told me not to leave her; after the effects of my bruised brain made me vomit all over my mother’s boyfriend, and I saw with my good eye that she reached up and raked the ham and cheese and sweet tea off the back of his striped shirt with her right arm; after we slowed down and I thought we were there, blessed relief was imminent, Ken jerked the jeep into the parking lot of a liquor store. And he got out. And went into the store. And came out with Tanqueray. Gin for his nightly ritual. He reached around behind the seat and dropped the brown sack, crinkled around the shape of that bottle, dropped the medication that would lace his blood, staunch his pain, dropped it right at my feet. After Ken took that detour on the way to my salvation, after he showed his colors, showed that he was so weak, so pathetic, I thought If I make it, if I live, I’m going to remember this.

Elane Johnson has written scores of nonfiction profiles for the Indianapolis Star, both on-line and print editions, and for The East County Gazette. Several of her fiction and nonfiction pieces have been published in The National University Literary Journal, The Gnu. Elane’s paper, “Journey to Memoir: Reaching and Retrieving Long-Lost Memories,” has been selected for The AWP Pedagogy Papers 2010, and she will be a presenter at the AWP Annual Conference, April 2010, in Denver. Johnson, an adjunct instructor in Georgia, earned her M.F.A. in Creative Nonfiction with Distinction at National University.

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