Acid Queen

Excerpt from the unpublished memoir,
The Bear Went Over the Mountain
by Sonja Mongar

Gather your wits and hold on fast,
Your mind must learn to roam.
Just as the Gypsy Queen must do,
You're gonna hit the road!

—Tommy, The Who

Cyd never could hold her liquor, not like me. Maybe it was because once she started, she didn't stop or maybe she couldn't, especially when it came to sweet wine. That must have been why she didn't think before she picked up a jug of Ripple at a party one night and guzzled. Somebody must have warned her it was electric, or maybe they didn't. Things like that happened at parties, somebody thinking it was funny to get people stoned out of their minds.

But even if anyone had told Cyd the wine was spiked, it was likely she wouldn't have cared. She tended to follow, a bad habit she got into from being my little sister.

It was the creaking stair, second from the top of the landing that startled me awake on a Sunday dawn. Cyd soon appeared in the bedroom doorway, a wild-haired apparition. Blinking at me for a few moments, she crumbled to the floor.

"I can't stop it. I want it to stop," she wailed.

"What is it?" I asked alarmed.

She had been at a party at Big Mike's house Friday night. She remembered that she drank some wine. Nothing else she said made any sense. I could tell from her eyes that she was still tripping. Her pupils were so big, she looked like one of those sad little girl caricatures in go-go boots and mini skirts I used tape to my bedroom wall when I was thirteen.

What was the antidote for a bad trip? People I knew on bad trips went to hospitals and ended up in straight jackets.

"Shhhhhhhh, Dad's going to hear you and come up the stairs," I whispered stuffing my pillow over the circulation vent in the floor.

She froze. Even the two large tears that had squeezed from her eyes hung on her cheeks, afraid to fall.

Tears. Not allowed. No tears, no comfort. I didn't even get up, hold her, smooth down her hair or help her get undressed and into her own bed. I didn't question why I huddled in my blankets instead. Years later I would have to learn quickly about tenderness and tears or watch my own daughter spin away into that same teen-age abyss my sister and I swirled around in now.

No comfort. I followed Cyd with my eyes as she stumbled across the room, the heels of her boots clicking on the wooden floor. Shivering, she pulled off her clothes, her skinny, pale body glowing from the sunrise filtering in the window. Her crooked vertebrae poked from her back like something amphibious as she fumbled her way into bed. She lay there stiffly, staring at the ceiling, probably watching the orange and yellow flowered wallpaper garden grow.

I don't know when she finally fell asleep, but she stayed in bed all Sunday and when I left for school Monday morning, she croaked, "Tell Mom I'm sick."

I passed the news on to Mom as nonchalantly as possible. I was good at that too, acting normal even when nothing was. She just nodded her head, never looking up as she stooped and sorted piles of dirty laundry. Her muffled “eat” moved me towards the table where my three little brothers squirmed as they shoveled oatmeal into their mouths with their toast.

“Gotta go. Gonna be late,” I called cheerfully grabbing a piece of soggy toast. Side-stepping a pile of whites, I hurried out the back door to the sounds of the dishes in the dishwasher rattling on the rinse cycle and the steam from the iron sputtering on high.

When I got home, Cyd was listening to Blind Faith. The strains of the violins mixed with the dust of an afternoon sun and filled the room with a gentle haze. The music we played on a hand-me-down stereo formed an impervious bubble that kept us insulated from those ugly truths that lay beyond the orange and yellow flowered wallpaper of our bedroom. Here, we were safe from the disapproving faces of adults. Here we were immune to the jocks at school who pointed and laughed at our tie-dyes and patched Levis and the teachers who sent us to the office for the minor infraction of taking up their space. Not even Dad came up the stairs to intrude.

The music was calming, in our secret garden.

Cyd had washed her hair. It was still wet and clumped in mats. She sat cross-legged on the bed in a pair of bikini underwear, untangling the strands slowly with her fingers. It was a ritual that sometimes took hours.

"How do you feel," I asked.

From the cavern of her hair, the blue of her eyes were like tiny rims that barely held in her bulging pupils. She stared past me as if seeing something else.

"Invisible," she finally said.

Invisibility didn't help her one bit when she fell off a westbound Milwaukee Road freight train about a month later. The railroad bull had no problem seeing her running with a bunch of scraggly-dressed long-hairs as they all scrambled alongside a train picking up speed in the switcher yard. They were on their way to an outdoor rock concert in Spokane.

They had all managed to hop on and tuck themselves safely onto the floor of an open box car, except for Cyd.

I can picture the scene; her skinny fingers grasping the rusty rung of the box car ladder, her golden hair that she kept in tiny braids at night, unbound now, a gloriously frizzled mane swinging, her head swinging, her body swinging with the pitch and the roll of the train, faster and faster, while her boots ran on air, her face frozen in an expression of mad glee. She wasn't scared, not one bit. No, she was loving it, every second of it, because she was thinking to herself that she was getting away, that she was really getting away.

But gravity was unkind that day to fancies of flight that came from too much wine. It pulled, her fingers slipped, slamming her onto her back in the gravel, inches from the wheels whizzing by. Splayed out under a roaring freight train, she watched her grinning friends flapping their hands gaily at her from the door of the boxcar as it disappeared towards the Bitterroot foothills.

When the cop got to her, she had stood up unhurt and swung her fists at him just for being there and because he was an asshole too, she said later. He soon contained her and then the city police hauled her off to jail while she cussed a blue streak from the back seat of the squad car.

In jail, she got her one phone call. My mother answered and when she told my father, "Cyd's in jail," he had said, "Well she can just God damn well stay there."

And she did, until they let her out after the week-end. She walked home by herself. She was fourteen-years-old that month, going on fifteen. She was never really the same after that. But a lot of things were coming undone, so I don't think anybody noticed.

© 2006 Sonja Mongar

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