A Beautiful Trench It Was

AUDIO STORIES — We left mid-October, two months into seventh grade. Mom and Dad had finally hit a wall, and the exodus began. My last memory of that stint before escaping to Florida was the sting of Mr. Addison’s paddle. He was sharing a mnemonic tool to help us learn the fifty states and their capitals, and something struck me as funny. Like accident victims who recall singular images in the moment before the crash, I remember cracking one, last, timely joke before he stopped, reached into the drawer for an arm’s length piece of oak, and asked me to step into the hall.

Sting is perhaps too mild. A bee stings. Alcohol in a fresh cut stings. The paddle, however, begins its work at the surface with an explosive searing that penetrates into the muscle, making you clench your teeth till they hurt. Bones lock in place, tears squeeze through, and the burn howls wild inside before returning again slowly, painfully to the surface.

Mr. Addison seemed professional enough about it, but he had done his deed. I shuffled to my seat, embarrassed and trying to pretend that my buttocks weren’t on fire.

We left the next day. I didn’t know I’d need his mnemonic so soon.

I remember very little about our escape. I do remember that night after school and Mr. Addison’s paddle, and the pressure to select items to pack. Uncle Gary was coming for us from Florida with a small lawncare trailer hitched to his station wagon and the five of us could only take a few things—changes of clothes, Bibles, our bicycles. Gary was on the road already and would be here just after sunrise. We couldn’t pick through the details.

My sisters and I were excited, mostly because what we felt was so different than Mom’s reality. We certainly didn’t know that the suddenness of our departure was influenced by an imminent threat. My father had reached a tipping point, and for the first time, she couldn’t read him.

Dad learned of it in the morning when he was sober and half-asleep and we hugged him goodbye. Gary stood there silently, like an angel of death to the unexpecting.

LISTEN to the series and to the rest of “002: Paddled” here:

A Beautiful Trench It Was