Weeds and Roots

Creative nonfiction

By Amy Wilson

After my husband yanked our newborn son from my arms in a fit of rage and subsequently hurled his Bud Lite bottle toward my head, and after he tried to kick my head during my game of solitaire on our living room floor, the thought crossed my mind that if I didn’t start appropriately using my head, then it would likely soon be smashed in. 

In consequence, I gathered my engorged breasts, several diapers, and one bag of animal cookies, and my son and I traveled to West Virginia, the place of my childhood. Since I found myself faced with the responsibility of establishing, from scratch, a safe and solid foundation on which to build our new life, it made sense to begin with the obvious, with what was familiar. 

That is how I ended up in the Bellview Cemetery, pulling weeds from among the long forgotten grave markers and spreading them, with the loosed dirt from their roots, underneath my bare feet. Weeds choke out the good, and it was good to pull them up and put them to use. The dead among the weeds, buried under the weeds, would not miss them. If the dead could talk – and likely they were that day – they might actually have thanked me for such a kindness. I did not hear them because this moment was for myself, and the seriousness of the weed project merited silent concentration, except for a distant lawn mower sputtering intermittently on Highland Avenue, which could not be helped.

“They are nothing but a nuisance,” sweet old Ruby Wise declared regarding the weeds, approving of my effort here in the cemetery, which happened to be situated against the property of the house she lived in when she was alive, the house where she served me coffee in a white Corelle mug trimmed in green after Sunday School. She would be 115 years old now.

Another corpse, anonymous, agreed. “They choke the grass, and the grass gives me pleasure.”

Another chimed in, critically, “What kind of messed up girl would want weeds to spread under her feet? Why not daisies or mums or petals from a rose? Why not Spanish Moss? Or bright purple Morning Glories?” This one was a poet at heart, back in his day.

Another pointed out, “Morning Glories are just as bad as weeds, so don’t even get me started.”

Then someone who once knew me as a child said, “That girl who is pulling them up from the earth – she is trying to fix her mess. She is trying to deal with the death and debris of the terror. She must start here, among the dead, pulling up what is left that still has a root to offer.”

Spanish Moss certainly would have looked better than the weeds I found, but that was no matter. I spread the weeds, the shaken-loose soil, and the roots of the weeds beneath me, and I stood straight and tall, my feet not moving as I absorbed the new earth I had created below me. Then, eventually, I sprouted, my own roots joining with the weeds, spreading and thickening, like the bold blue Interstate 79 line on the map, stretching up and down through West Virginia, up through Pennsylvania, and through the  of grave sites of my Grandma Greta, Aunt Ruth, and Molly, a local artist renowned for her silhouettes of kindergarteners, her laughter like a Miracle Gro, inspiring the proliferation of joy.

“Hand me my son,” I announced to no one in particular, feeling strong, my arms outstretched like the roots themselves, my fingers tingling, a Live Oak, building and growing and becoming green and budding with the possibility of a flower. It was Spring time, after all, and even though I strived for a bright orange hibiscus (unlikely in the West Virginia climate) I would settle for even a dandelion, any sort of proof of progress. I waited as the orange sun set, bright as the hibiscus I wanted to be that glowed neon against the backdrop of Waimea Falls where my son was conceived. It set over and over again, many evenings on end, my profile a silhouette that Molly drew from the ashes in her urn.

My baby attached himself to me. Who brought him? Brother Chapman from the New Life Worship Center? Jesus? The voices from the earth? Or, ostensibly, he swam to me through a canal of room temperature Chardonnay. Or was it vitamin B- infused amniotic fluid? Or blood? – and as he fed from me, he, too, began to sprout, developing roots and strength, and through my milk I imparted hope. 

Then, somehow, we survived.

                                           *   *   *

Amy Williams Wilson is a mom, an educator, and an advocate at her local domestic violence shelter in Fairmont, West Virginia. Her book The Bite, The Breast and The Blood: Why Modern Vampire Stories Suck Us In (McFarland, 2018) explores meaningful attachment and human loneliness. Her work has been presented at academic and pop culture conferences throughout the United States. She has an affinity for banana peppers and writes for clarity.

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