By Mandy Shunnarah
Before the playground was strangled in kudzu and the weeds grew taller than me. Before the neighborhood meth lab burned to a charred shell of splintered wood.
Before mom stopped letting me play outside.
Before our neighbors moved into the leaning house next door and used their yard as a landfill. Crumpled Keystone cans, plastic tricycles with missing wheels, boots of an absent father slouched by the steps, discarded heroin needles. Before the longleaf pine pierced the faded blue lining of the forgotten above-ground pool. Before stray dogs chased cars from our street.
Before I realized our own two dogs dying within a week of each other was no accident.
Before mom wouldn’t even let me walk to the mailbox without the cover of her gaze. Before “dead” in “dead end” came to mean more than the road sign.
Before I knew the “bad part of town” was where we lived. Before I understood when the subdivision kids at school said “poor,” they were talking about us.
Home is a pastoral of shirtless men laid off from the steel plant sitting on porches; beer cans piling up around plastic lawn chairs. Home is a panorama of bare feet and crying babies sipping Coke-filled bottles slung onto wide momma hips. Home is the creek dammed with cigarette butts and Walmart bags. Home smells like campfire and standing water and fig trees and a urine-soaked mattress.
And afterward, in the woods, a brass doorknob, half-buried in the Alabama red clay dirt, remains––an artifact of a tornado’s muscled winds and a home I can no longer claim.
MANDY SHUNNARAH is a writer based in Columbus, Ohio, though Birmingham, Alabama, will always have her heart. Her essays and book reviews have appeared in The Citron Review, The Missing Slate, Entropy Magazine, PANK Magazine, New Southerner Magazine, and Deep South Magazine. You can read more of her work at her website, OffTheBeatenShelf.com.