Since we discovered the bottles, I can’t stop counting, and my therapist reassures me, tells me it is anxiety’s way of working through fresh trauma, but all I know is that at night, after I’m done playing mommy and left prostrate on my back staring at the ceiling fan, it feels like I must count to survive, and so I perform Cole Prize–worthy mathematical equations that stump me time and again and always, always, I start with the bottles: those we found that dimension-rocking afternoon, plus the ones I didn’t find, but my dad did (in the attic a few weeks later), and the complexities of the items—of the empty liquor bottles piled into jagged, glassy mountains and the numbers populating my endless algebraic loops—somehow keep me from going to sleep and from staying awake and my counting order is always the same: the photo first, the haunting, sickening photograph I captured electronically, a perfectly timed snapshot of a family’s demise, the 1 of Mom sitting on the bed (the rest of us out of view since we were working, uncovering her secret again and again in every drawer and corner), of Mom hovering over her hidden treasures like the ghost of piracy she’s come to be, just watching us as we pile and pile—bottles clinking their clinks that I’m so glad I didn’t count, into the rising heap, spotted with crumpled cigarette packs and brown prescription bottles and used tissues for the love of God—used tissues?—and I know by memory that the picture displays about 1/5 of what we found that day (that’s 20 percent, I tell myself and the ceiling fan blades as I solve), so if those bottles are 20 percent of what we found, and we filled 5 yardwork-sized trash bags with our discoveries on that first day, then I should multiply by 5 whatever is in the photograph, and I know by examining that photograph too fucking often that there are about 50 to 60 bottles in that image alone, so we probably bagged 250 to 300 empty bottles that afternoon, then, surprise surprise, I can’t forget (we mustn’t forget) to add the bags my father found hidden in the attic, well, not hidden exactly, but presented to him by my mother, when she led him 1 otherwise peaceful Sunday up the stairs, over the garage, and through the locked attic door, when she begged him not to “be mad,” and revealed her hidden booty—10 or 12 more trash bags full to the brim, which saved him the trouble of having to play hide-and-seek for each empty nightmare, a second surreal hide-and-seek I’m not sure he would’ve survived, so that’s a positive, I think to myself, as I try to add another 500 to 600 bottles to my total (carry the 1) or is it possible there were more, or fewer, and good lord, I haven’t even started the division yet, so if she had 1 bottle of alcohol per day, this woman who used to be 1/5 of my family but presents more like a carcass, and there are a total of 800 to 900 bottles and 365 bottles in a year . . . I mean, days in a year . . . wait, that’s how many lies, wait . . . I mean, how many bottles—the consumption of which all started according to her (the carcass, not the mother) in May 2009, coinciding (she posits) with my breast cancer diagnosis, which stings in strange and deep places—but we found the bottles in September 2011, or 2.3 years later—could it be that she drank that much in 2.3 years or no it must’ve been longer and the list of lies too extensive to possibly count and Jesus now things about my mother and the carcass are starting to make sense but, hold up, how many bottles were in the photo again?
Let me start over.
Tracy Rothschild Lynch has written poetry and creative nonfiction for more than 20 years. She holds an MA from Virginia Commonwealth University and an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte. When not writing, she devours books, plays mediocre tennis, watches movies, and divides her time between her home in Glen Allen, Virginia and London, where she currently lives with her husband Mike and a handsome one-eyed Shih Tzu named Fergus. She’s the proud mother of two young-adult, smarty-pants daughters. Tracy’s favorite thing is teaching. In addition to creating and teaching online creative writing courses for adults, she has worked with more than 200 teens in the past ten years, helping them find confidence and voice in their writing. Tracy has recently completed a memoir about her mother’s sudden death from secret alcoholism; is finalizing a collection of flash essays exploring the “micro-moments” of her breast cancer treatment; and is working on her first screenplay, which explores the quirks of southern small towns and the power of strong women.