“You never get a headache from Scotch.”
My gravelly-voiced grandmother’s words still echo in my mind, years later. Advice was the most valuable thing that woman ever gave me. Well, maybe the second most valuable – she swore that ugly-ass vase she gave me when was cleaning out the basement was leaded crystal, and I hear that stuff sells like crazy on eBay. But I hear it’s a hassle selling stuff there. So I guess I’m back to the words. As for the Scotch, well, she would know. She drank the stuff like it was going out of style.
“Menthols clear you out. It’s like inhaling gasoline – lights a fire in your lungs and you just hack everything up and go on your way.”
She would sit there, dragging deep on menthol cigarettes, pulling great lung-bucketsful of exhaust-pipe fumes into what must have surely been the blackest, most shriveled lungs in the history of smoking, knocking back glass after glass, usually accompanied by a giant plate of deep fried something (it never seemed to matter what – meat, potatoes, even sometimes vegetables; as long as it was fried it was okay by her). I always imagined her internal organs engaged in a furious battle of wills – lungs, liver, throat, arteries, heart each refusing to give in to the inevitable, refusing to be the sad pathetic loser that gave out first.
“Life isn’t a damn card trick. You can’t lose focus, not even for a second, without losing big.”
Even now I wonder how she lived as long as she did. Why her body never gave up, gave out. How no one around her ever managed to garner even the slightest proximate benefit from her longevity. Whether she actually was fueled by liquor and smokes – some sort of bizarre human-hybrid that learned the secret to eternal life and then smuggled it away, parsing out dribs and drabs of the secret to a worthy few on rare occasions for inexplicable reasons.
“The truth never set anything free - at least not anything good.”
I went to live with her the year I turned seven. The year of Very Bad Things – of tears in school, blood on the road, and malicious whispers. The year I learned that “nice” girls are the meanest kind of all, that no one feels sorry for the kid of the drunk driver, that tiny pinches hurt, that telling yourself the enough lies eventually makes you forget the truth. The year she started giving me words to live by.