Below is an excerpt from the book I’m writing about my 2nd great-grandfather, James G. Crutcher, a Confederate soldier from Frankfort, Kentucky. In this passage, it’s 1889. James and his family are living in Louisville, where he’s been working as a brakeman for the railroad. Things haven’t been going well for a while now, and he’s struggling to hold his life together while trying to be a good husband and father, but finding himself failing at everything. It’s at this point, James finds himself walking away from all that he knows and loves…
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As usual, I couldn’t sleep, but that night the smoldering in my brain was a raging fire. After tossing and turning, I crept out of bed, quietly slipping into my pants and boots while Rosey slept on peacefully– the sleep of the self-righteous. The moon was small and faint, billowing black clouds starting to glow softly with dim morning light before the rooster crowed. I was tense and anxious, muscles bunched as if anticipating danger. I made my way to our family photograph, still in its broken frame on the floor. I quietly swept away the glass before gently pulling it from the frame. A tiny glittering shard pierced my skin, and I wiped some blood from Rosey’s features before folding the image in half and tucking it into my pocket. Then silently, I opened the door, stepped outside, and walked out of my family’s lives forever.
At first, I didn’t know where I was going or what I was gonna do. I didn’t have any plans, I just knew I needed to get away before Rosey and I killed each other. I found myself slipping into first one tavern, then another. It was easy, since this side of town flaunted the laws that prohibited serving alcohol early in the day, and in this case, Sunday. I imbibed restlessly and relentlessly, trying to erase my guilt and shame. Finally, I spilled out into the street, only realizing it was the Lord’s day when I stumbled in front of St. John’s Evangelical Church, its virtuous worshippers eyeing me with disgust and contempt for my low moral behavior. I was blind drunk and it wasn’t even noon.
I slunk off towards the river, tripping and lurching over rough ground until I fell just beside the water. I remained there, not bothering to lift myself and move on. I sobbed like a broken child, clenching earth and grass in my hands, as I tried to push my agony through my chest, out of my head, and into the world around me. The problem was, it stayed with me, even as my tears rained down on the soil and soaked my shirt. My brain boiled again, bringing up the events from the previous night. Perhaps Rosey was justified in feeling self-righteous. I had failed my family repeatedly. She just wanted to hurt me, but me– me– I wanted to kill her, and I knew in my heart that a man shouldn’t feel that way about his wife and the way I was heading, I was going to put her in a grave some day. I was a man who could no longer face himself in the mirror. My mind continued to replay the look in the eyes of my children as they watched me try to squeeze the life from their mother, as they saw my hands throttling her flesh, my uncontrollable rage and desire to kill.
I don’t know how long I lay there, but I was so worn out, I must have fallen asleep. When I woke, it was dark and cold and I was glad. I deserved all the pain and suffering the world saw fit to give me. After a while, I crawled forward, dragging myself close enough to the edge of the water to hang my head below the surface, allowing the icy liquid to fill my lungs. I tried to kick myself further into the river, determined to sink to the bottom and allow it to wash away all my sins, but before I could, I felt a hand on my leg, and someone dragged me backward.
“What are you doin’, boy?” a voice cried out, slicing through my waterlogged head.
The man flipped me on my back and pressed on my torso, forcing the water from my lungs. I continued to cough, now on my knees as the man slapped between my shoulder blades. When I finally settled down, I collapsed onto my back again. I heard a sharp intake of breath. “Jim Crutcher– that you?” I didn’t care enough to open my eyes, but I did anyway, for I’d heard the voice of my old friend, Henry Burns, who’d served with me in the war.
My throat was raw as the words carved their way through it. “You shoulda’ let me die, Burnsy.”
He stared at me in silence, his eyes bleak with understanding.
After a while, he helped me up. “Come on. You can tell me about it as we walk to my house. Mary will warm the leftovers from supper and we’ll make up a bed for you.”
I glanced at him as I trudged along, taking in his policeman’s uniform with its shining brass buttons. “Thought we left the army back in sixty-five.”
He gave me a hard look. “I did, but sure looks like you didn’t.”
Heretic: The Life and Death of Akhenaten by Bijit Reed is available on Amazon.com. You can read the first chapter free or “look inside”. It’s available to buy in paperback and Kindle. Click on the link: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009H6R8GC