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  • “Mama, mama, mama,” repeats Georgia as she tries to shake mama awake. Mama isn’t really sleeping, though she ought to be. It’s Christmas Eve and nearly one in the morning. “Mama,” says Georgia again. I listen from the bedroom across the hall. “Shut up, Georgia,” I mutter to myself as I tug at the covers and turn over. Georgia’s compulsive behavior began nearly 10 years ago when she was 13 years old and has gotten progressively worse over time. “Call him mama, call him,” she begs our mother. Today is the one-year anniversary since Georgia and her loser boyfriend Curtis broke up and the memory has catapulted Georgia into one of her episodes. That’s what mama prefers to call them anyhow. “Georgia had an episode the other day,” mama will tell me on the telephone or “Shh, don’t aggravate her, she’ll have another episode.”
    “Call him mama, please call him.” Georgia wants mama to call Curtis and convince him somehow that he misses Georgia and wants her back. “Misses what?” I ask myself out loud in the darkness, “all the craziness?”
    Mama went through a similar situation with Georgia back in June. “I’ll never give Georgia a time frame again,” said mama when she called the next day. Mama was referring to the deal she made with Georgia after Curtis broke up with her and refused to take any of her calls. “Georgia, if you’ll just stop talking about him, I’ll make you a deal.” At that point mama would have said anything to simply quit hearing Curtis’ name. “If you stop talking about Curtis until June, I promise I’ll figure out a way to get him on the telephone so you can talk to him.” Mama figured six months was long enough for Georgia to get over Curtis and fixate on something or somebody else. She was wrong. The idea of six months merely allowed Georgia to set a ticking time bomb in her head, provoking her to count down to an evening of “Call him mama, call him, call him.”
    I look at the clock on the nightstand. It’s been going on for nearly 15 minutes. If she says it again I’m going to go into mama’s bedroom and make her stop. Silence, silence, silen… “Call him mama, call him.” That’s it. I throw back the covers and storm barefooted across the cold wooden hallway floor to mama’s bedroom and straight to Georgia who is on mama’s bed shaking her. “Enough!” I yell at Georgia who turns and glares at me. I grab Georgia by her arm and pull her off the bed. “Put your shoes on mama, we’re bringing Georgia back to her apartment.” I see in mama’s eyes she’s thankful I intervened. Mama, weakened after two strokes, no longer has the strength to fight back when it comes to Georgia’s episodes.
    Mama slips on her shoes and shuffles towards the door still in her nightgown. “You’re going to kill her,” I tell Georgia who knows better than to say another word. “You’re going to kill her and then you’ll be a murderer!” Georgia gives me the look she always gives me when she wants to scare me. She stares at me with her hateful green eyes burrowing into mine and refuses to blink. But I’m tired and although I’m afraid of her, I try not to show it. “Murderer,” I say again as I push her out the bedroom door.
    I’ve become increasingly afraid of Georgia over the last year. Her cocktail of anti-psychotic medications caused her to gain nearly 30 pounds and she clearly outweighs me, plus she’s just plain mean. Her “I’m going to kill you looks” even scared away Cole, my fiancé, who finally told me he just couldn’t deal with Georgia anymore because he thought one day she might follow through on one those looks. Last year, during one of our visits home to Pine Falls, he attempted to stop Georgia during one of her middle-of-the-night episodes only to come back to the bedroom with a look of fear on his face. “What happened?” I whispered to him as he returned to bed. “That bitch is crazy,” he replied wide eyed. “She gave me this look and I swear she’s going to kill me.” For the rest of our visit Cole stayed as far away from Georgia as possible and refused to make eye contact with her. He broke up with me shortly after we returned home to Seabrook. I can’t blame him. The thought of Georgia’s crazy DNA lurking in my bloodstream would make any sane man bolt.
    Thankfully Georgia believes she’s lost this evening’s battle and follows mama and I outside into the December cold where we pile into mama’s car. Georgia begged mama to live on her own and mama, as always, caved in to Georgia’s incessant begging. It didn’t make sense for mama to pay rent for an apartment since Georgia spent more than half of her time at mama’s house anyway. But here we are driving to her apartment on Maplewood, at 2 a.m. on Christmas morning. The heat in mama’s car is just beginning to take the chill out of us when I hear a meek, “I’m sorry,” coming from the backseat. I want to believe her, but Georgia is always sorry. I’ve been hearing Georgia say she’s sorry since we were children. When Georgia broke my favorite music box by throwing it across my bedroom in a fit of rage, she was sorry. She was sorry when she took mama’s car to go buy cigarettes in the middle of the night and drove it into tree. She was sorry for stealing, sorry for smoking pot, sorry for not coming home at night. Sorry, sorry, sorry. Now, at the age of 25, she’s still saying she’s sorry. There is silence for the rest of the 10-minute drive. I stare out the car window into the darkness and feel a familiar twinge of sickness in my stomach like I always do after one of Georgia’s episodes. We pull up to her apartment building and I refuse to turn around to say goodbye to her. “I’ll come back and get you around seven,” mama says wearily. I look at the car’s clock and realize mama will barely catch a few hours of sleep. “You mean I’m getting Santa,” asks Georgia, whose face lights up. Mama nods her head yes and pulls away leaving Georgia standing in the cold. “Did she just ask if she was getting Santa?” I ask turning to mama hoping I heard wrong. Again mama simply nods her head yes. “Seriously mama, she’s 25 years old! We haven’t gotten Santa in years.”

    “So how’s your sister,” Sadie asks as I snip away at her hair leaving it to fall to the floor. Sadie has been a client of mine for nearly eight years and is a makeup artist for a large cosmetic company. She is one of the few people I talk to about Georgia. I relay the holiday Georgia stories and she giggles between sips of her iced tea. Some of it even sounds funny to me when I hear it said out loud. “It sounds like you’re getting fed up though,” she notes. “I am. I’ve been putting up with her crap for years and it’s old.” Clip, clip, clip. Sadie has thick, curly hair that takes a long time to dry straight like she wants. I watch the clock while we talk so I don’t get behind with my other clients. She understands my frustration with Georgia and the rest of my family and gives me a different perspective on things. Sadie has been diagnosed as bi-polar since she was a teenager and teasingly calls her own family unit “dysfunction junction.” Her own ups and downs have been mild compared to Georgia’s but it’s nice to be able to discuss medication options and other issues with her that might help my sister. “Georgia’s last medication caused her to gain so much weight,” I tell her. “Remember when I put on all that weight?” Sadie asks, “Everything I ate went straight to my ass and thighs. It didn’t matter how hard I worked out at the gym because of the medications. I put on a good 20 pounds.”
    I did remember. Sadie is tall and lean but for nearly a year she had put on an unusual amount of weight. I didn’t think it looked bad on her. It actually gave her some shape and she was lucky since just as much of the weight went to her boobs as it did her butt. But the weight gain made her miserable.
    “By the way I’m glad you gave your hair a chance to grow out after your last cut,” I tell her. “I can’t believe you allowed me to cut it off,” she says regarding her attempt at a bob sported by many Hollywood actresses the past summer. “What was I thinking? Hell, what were you thinking?” she asks me with a laugh. “You should know by now anytime I ask you to cut off my hair I’ve gone off my meds. Never cut my hair without first asking if I’m taking my medication.” Sadie laughs. “I thought I could finally handle being medicine free, but I was wrong,” continues Sadie. “I didn’t sleep for nearly three months. It was miserable!”
    My mobile phone rings as I finish drying Sadie’s hair. It’s mama and I answer it. She's upset and I know instantly Georgia has done something again. “Mama, what’s wrong?” Mama crying and barely able to speaks tells me how the police came to her door this morning looking for Georgia. “Why this time mama?” I’m almost afraid to ask. “Because she has called Curtis more than 200 times since Christmas morning,” mama says. “My Lord, do you know how many calls a day that is?” she asks me. “No,” I reply, “but obviously it’s a lot given that Christmas was last week.” “It’s not funny, they’re talking about arresting her for harassment and they’re serious this time,” mama adds.
    I wish I understood this obsession Georgia had for Curtis. He is scraggly at best and barely intelligent enough to stand upright. Besides smoking marijuana all day, he simply used Georgia for sex when they were together and was always crashing at her apartment with his friends. Everybody in Pine Falls knew the Richardson family and thought them trashy. “Look at her driving around with that cigarette hanging out of her mouth,” mama would say about Mrs. Richardson, as we’d pass her on the road. I would look over and there would be Mrs. Richardson with a long cigarette dangling from the side of her mouth. “It’s so unladylike,” mama would say in disgust. Even the Richardson family dog was frowned upon. Pluff Mud, a matted four-legged muddy mess, ran around Pine Falls with a ratty Rebel flag bandana around its neck barking, digging holes in people’s yards and chasing cats. At the Richardson household, a birthday party consisted of a couple cases of beer, some shots of whiskey and a family trip to the local tattoo parlor. Mother, father, brother, aunts, uncles, grandmother and great grandmother all went to the tattoo parlor and got tattoos. For weeks Georgia told mama, “I wish our family was close like that,” as mama would cringe over the blow-by-blow details Georgia gave of each tattoo. I tried to imagine gram and pappy at a tattoo parlor and it made me gag. “Curtis Richardson is not worthy of you,” mama would tell Georgia. “You can’t marry into a family like that. For God’s sake Georgia, your great grandmother, grandmother and I were all debutantes and beauty queens! Mrs. Richardson, well, Mrs. Richardson doesn’t even know the difference between a fork and a knife.” Curtis was definitely not worth going to jail.

    I tell mama I’ll call her back after I finish Sadie’s hair, which commands at least another half hour of drying time. As far as I’m concerned there is only one solution to the Georgia dilemma and bring it to mama's attention when I call her back. “Mama, Georgia needs to go back into a safe place,” I say. Everything we say regarding Georgia has a sickeningly gentle touch to it. The safe place I am speaking about is the mental institution in Cross about two hours north of Pine Falls. Georgia has been in and out of St. Matthews Hospital since she was 13 years old. Yet every time Georgia has been brought to “the safe place” mama signs her out within a week. So much for tough love. “Mama, she needs to stay there awhile. You can’t keep letting her come home. They need time to adjust her medications because they obviously aren’t working.” During Georgia’s last stay a year and a half ago the doctors suggested to mama they use shock therapy since little else seemed to be working. I hear silence on the other end and feel mama’s guilt. Mama believes it’s her fault Georgia’s the way she is. “It must have been something I did during my pregnancy,” mama says. “No mama, it’s not your fault,” I respond. Mama takes a mental stroll through our family tree hoping to pinpoint a nut or two and manages to come up with a couple. “Well, your Aunt Maude refused to leave the house for years. She swore people were out to get her and kept the doors locked and the curtains drawn. And I remember as a child I would hear everybody whispering about Aunt Jude and how she was “not feeling well and back in the hospital.” I have a feeling we have more nuts than apples falling from our family tree but I don’t tell mama this.
    “Listen I’ll come home and we can drive Georgia to Cross together.” Silence. “I just can’t,” says mama. “Mama, it’s either that or she’ll end up in jail for phone-fucking Curtis to death.” But I know there is no use in arguing with her. After all the years of fighting with Georgia, mama is not capable of being anything more than an enabler.

    Sometimes I hate Georgia. I hate her for what she is doing to mama. Besides endangering mama’s health, Georgia has caused mama financial hardship. For twelve years, mama has paid for Georgia’s hospitals, institutions, therapists and medications. Now with her own myriad of health problems mama is unable to work and has had to turn to the government for help.
    For the short term I get Mama to take away Georgia’s phone until we’re convinced she won’t call Curtis anymore. “Mama, I’m going to send you some money this month to help you pay for the bills. But you have to promise me you keep the money and it doesn’t go to Georgia.” She agrees and we say goodbye.
    The next day I place a check for $300.00 in an envelope and mail it to mama. Big mistake. That weekend mama and Georgia drive into town to pick up Georgia’s prescriptions from Creekside Pharmacy, a Pine Falls legacy. Creekside is the only pharmacy in Pine Falls for the past 30 years and is a gathering place of sorts. It’s more than a pharmacy; it’s also part mini-mart, and lunch counter. Mr. Tate, Creekside’s pharmacist and owner, is considered family by nearly everyone in Pine Falls. For years he has hand delivered medications to those unable to drive and can always be counted on to bring a bag full of groceries as well. I remember when Georgia and I both had chicken pox and mama was sick with the flu. Mr. Tate came to our house with more than just our medications. He also carried a brown bag full of women’s magazines for mama and coloring books, crayons and treats for us. Georgia and I loved to ride our bicycles to Creekside on the weekends. We would pedal the two miles into town as fast as we could to get a seat at the lunch counter before they were all taken. There we sat perched on the silver swiveling stools with red-torn plastic seats. We would spin around on our stools and dare one another to touch the underside of the counter where hundreds of children placed their wads of gum to make room for BLT sandwiches, candy, ice cream and fountain soda pop.
    Mr. Tate looks up from behind the counter and gives mama and Georgia a smile as he hands her the white paper bag full of medications while Georgia meanders through the isles looking at all the products. As they leave Creekside, Georgia notices the newest store to arrive in Pine Falls in years directly across the street. It’s a pet store. Pine Falls never had a pet store before. In fact, come to think of it, I wasn’t sure where we had gotten our childhood pets. I only knew we had plenty of them. Let's see, there were our two rabbits named Pia and Greta. It wasn’t long before two rabbits multiplied into ten. “I thought they were girls?” daddy said to mama, as they looked bewildered into the rabbit hutch one morning at a furry array of floppy ears and bunny tails. So we built a separate hutch for Greta and changed Pia's name to Pete. Then came our beagle Mr. Beagley. His nose wasn’t much good for anything but sniffing out mama’s holiday dinners. He managed to eat one Thanksgiving turkey and a Christmas ham before mama sent Mr. Beagley to live on a neighbor’s farm. Our two tomcats spent much of their lives prowling for Pine Fall’s finest felines. The only time we would see them was when they would show up at our front steps with their scratched up ears and scabby noses crying for food. Mama hated those cats. They would keep her up all night with their fighting and crying. “I’ll shoot those cats,” she’d say the next morning at breakfast. “Hissing and crying outside all night long fighting with one another.” The family pets came and went but not once did we go to a pet store to get any of them. They all came to us.

    “Let’s go inside mama,” urges Georgia. Against mama’s better judgment she follows Georgia across the street and into the pet store. Georgia instantly walks over to a glass enclosure holding a variety of colorful birds. “I want a bird mama, I want a bird.” Georgia doesn’t always speak in this manner, only when she wants to wear a person down mentally to get her own way and mama is the weakest link in our family chain. “What are you going to do with a bird?” mama inquires, as she stares at the birds behind the glass. “I want a bird mama.” Mama carefully eyes a couple of birds. They are pretty. One balances on its perch in the corner, one foot raised, its eyes closed. Another eats a millet spray. Mama reaches into her purse and with the money I sent her for bills buys Georgia not a bird but a pair of birds, a cage and a plethora of bird supplies. “I got two birds,” sings Georgia. “I got two birds.” Georgia swings the cage back and forth as she walks out the store with mama following her carrying two birds in a box. I yell at mama in frustration upon hearing about the purchase. “I sent you the money to help pay bills. Not so you could buy her two birds and bird supplies.”
    Georgia gave the birds away a week later. “I was allergic to them mama,” she said. I decide not to send mama any more money until I talk to her face to face during my next visit home in a couple of weeks. You’re only as strong as your weakest link and our family was a rusted chain at the bottom of the ocean.

    Georgia and I were close as children. We were best friends and drove mama and daddy crazy with our games, songs and secret languages. “Aigroeg,” I would say. “Please pass the yvarg.” Georgia would giggle and pass the gravy bowl across the dinner table. A dress became a “sserd” and so forth. And then we went through our Hee Haw impersonation period. Daddy loved to watch Hee Haw and every night after dinner Georgia and I would run to our rooms and change into our blue jean overalls, put our hair in pigtails and grab brooms for our pitchforks. Standing back to back we would sing, “I searched the world over and thought I’d found true love, but you found another and psst, you were gone.” Of course the part in which we turned to each other and stuck out our tongues to say psst was insanely funny no matter how many times we sang the song. We usually ended up spitting on each other and would fall to the floor in a heap of a pile laughing hysterically. “Ewww, you spit on me Georgia,” I would say, barely able to get the words out of my mouth. “Enough girls,” daddy would interject as he strained to hear the evening news over the ruckus, “a little of that goes a long way.” We knew daddy only said this when we were on the cusp of not being funny anymore. But daddy loved us. We were his girls. So why he left us we never understood. But he left and Georgia in many ways left with him. It split her right down the middle like a lightening bolt. I remember Georgia and I sitting at the top of the stairs huddled next to the wall peering through the banister railings where mama and daddy stood motionless in the foyer. Daddy was holding a brown suitcase. He looked at mama who refused to look up at him and then he opened the screen door and was gone. That was the last time we ever saw him. I was six and Georgia was four.
    Mama never talked about why he left and we were afraid to ask. We didn’t want to say something to make her cry and I think we were afraid of knowing the truth. Why would daddy leave? We had never heard mama and daddy fight so it didn’t make any sense to us. So each night Georgia would crawl into my bed and I would make up stories about daddy’s mysterious disappearance to lull her to sleep. “Hey Georgia,” I would whisper in her ear as I wrapped my arms around her. “I bet daddy is a super hero. Mama misses him but, knows he’s doing what is best. He has to save lives and nobody is supposed to know who he is. He loves you Georgia but he’s protecting other little children too. For awhile the stories would soothe her but Georgia’s beautiful green eyes revealed a constant sadness that enveloped her even when she tried to smile. I would catch her looking at daddy’s recliner and the television. “Georgia,” I would say to distract her. “Let’s go outside and play.” But Georgia would just look at me with her head down and shake her head. Daddy might has well have been dead. He didn’t visit or call us once he moved out. It was like we never existed.
    I overheard Aunt Esther talking to a client one day. She said daddy had moved in with another woman who had two children of her own. Two girls as a matter of fact. I never told Georgia. She would think she had been replaced which was the truth.
    Georgia escaped into a world of fantasy, staring for long periods of time out her bedroom window rocking herself back and forth for hours. I knew it would only be a matter of time before her anger would surface. And that’s exactly what happened. About a year after daddy left Georgia exploded.
    Somehow she found out about daddy living with another woman and her two daughters. Mama came home from the salon one afternoon to a ransacked house and Georgia was missing. “I tried to stop her mama,” I said over and over. “She wouldn’t stop. She said she’s going to kill him.” Mama looked at me in horror and went racing up the stairs to the locked cabinet in her bedroom. The door to the cabinet where mama kept her gun was open and the gun was missing. “Dear God,” mama said, “dear God, please don’t let her do this.”
    Luckily, we found Georgia sitting in the barn in the backyard. She was holding the gun in silence. Mama reached over and gently took it from her and brought Georgia back inside the house where she gave her some milk and a piece of pie. It was never discussed again.
    Georgia had become a shell of the sister I knew as a child and I find myself with a myriad of conflicting emotions regarding her. There are times I am angry, sad and mad all within minutes. There are times I pity her and times I miss her. But every time I try to give her another chance it backfires. I worry Georgia’s antics might give mama another stroke and kill her, not to mention the stress she places on pappy’s heart by saying shocking things and sending him racing into the other room to take his blood pressure.

    It was nice to wake up in my childhood room. It was late by the time I arrived in Pine Falls and mama, gram and pappy were already asleep. A quick peek into Georgia’s room revealed it to be vacant, meaning she was at her apartment. Tired, I crawled back into my bed and look around my room. Mama didn’t have the money to repair the house and it was starting to look worn. Pink-painted walls led to a tired wooden floor and faded white and pink polka-dotted curtains hung from a metal curtain rod across the window. It felt safe to be in my room. Mama even left my drawing of a lion’s head on the wall. I stretch out and my feet touch the bottom of my bed. Mama and daddy gave me the bed for my 10th birthday. Oh, how I wanted this bed. It was a white canopy four-poster bed and I remember asking for it after my best friend Christine got one for her birthday a few months early.
    I loved growing up in Pine Falls. It was a simple place and as a child there were no restrictions as to where I could roam as long as I was home by dinner. But it was the salon where I chose to spend the majority of my time. Mama and Aunt Esther owned a hair salon in town and nearly everyday after school I would run there as fast as I could. I would open the screen door to a row of women sitting in their chairs with tight curlers in their hair and the smell of perm solution permeating the air. Box fans located strategically throughout strained to keep the salon cool, but the women were constantly dabbing at their foreheads with handkerchiefs. “Feels, like I’m having a personal summer,” mama would mutter waving her handkerchief back and forth in front of her face. The women of Pine Falls loved to spend time with mama and Aunt Esther who were blessed with the gift of gab. Every afternoon I would go into the back of the salon and grab a cookie and a glass of milk and meander quietly about with perked up ears hoping to hear the latest gossip. “Marlene caught Ernie cheating the other night.” “With who? With who?” was the whispering response, although the entire salon was within hearing distance of the conversation. “With Mary Jo,” one would say. “We all knew she was no good,” would say another. “What do you expect from a woman who walks around in those tight pants,” yet another would comment. I shook my head in quiet agreement. Yup, they were right. I had seen Mary Jo in the grocery store plenty of times while shopping with mama and her pants looked like they were painted onto her body. In fact, they were so tight; they went up her butt causing her buttocks to looks like slices of cantaloupe. “I hear she puts her pants on when they’re wet and lets them dry to her. That’s the only way she can get them to fit like that.” I chuckle out loud and mama shoots me a look and shoos me away with her hand.

    I smile as I stare upwards into the cloud-like white canopy. These memories remind me of why I love being a hairstylist. Not only do I love the creativity but I love the camaraderie of women a salon attracts. There are two kinds of therapy all women need in life: retail therapy and hair therapy.
    Throwing on my robe and slippers I walk downstairs and see Georgia, gram and pappy in the living room. When I visit, mama makes it a point to leave early in the morning to pick up Georgia from her apartment so she can be at the house. I say hi to Georgia and give gram and pappy each a kiss on the cheek and head to the kitchen where mama is reaching into the cupboards to fetch some plates and coffee mugs. “Hi mama,” I say. Mama gives me a smile almost like she did before her strokes. This morning I only see a faint hint of weakness on her left side although her eye still slightly droops. I hug her. She’s lost weight. I’m sure it’s a direct result of the stress of taking care of Georgia but I decide to say nothing.
    I reach for a bunch of bananas sitting on the counter and a frying pan. Then I grab the butter and mayonnaise. Trust me, it sounds gross, but a banana and mayonnaise sandwich has been a family staple for many generations and we can’t all be wrong. I get mama’s attention and whisper to her, “If Georgia asks for a sandwich, don’t you make it for her mama. Promise me. She can make her own damn sandwich.” Mama nods in agreement. I turn the sandwich over one more time in the frying pan. The bread is lightly toasted on both sides and slightly greasy with butter. I place my sandwich on a plate, add the mayonnaise and mashed banana, grab a cup of coffee and go into the living room where I plop myself on the couch next to Georgia. “I want a banana and mayonnaise sandwich,” she pipes up as I engross myself in mine. I ignore her and give a warning glance to mama in the kitchen. “Mama, make me a banana and mayonnaise sandwich.” No answer. “Make it yourself Georgia,” I tell her as I take another bite of mine and wash it down with coffee. “Mama,” Georgia calls louder. “Make me a sandwich.” I give mama another don’t you dare glance and Georgia catches on and turns to gram. “Grammy, you’ve always made the best banana and mayonnaise sandwiches. Will you make me one?” Gram, who can barely maneuver around even with a walker, tries to get out of the chair she is sitting in and make it to the kitchen. You’ve got to be kidding me I think. “Gram, you sit down right now,” I tell her. “Georgia, make your own damn sandwich,” I say. “You can make it just as good as anyone else.” Georgia huffs and gives me the I’m going to kill you look. She heads to the kitchen where low and behold she manages to make a banana and mayonnaise sandwich.
    It could take years of this constant intervention to make the rest of the family see how their actions are harming Georgia more than helping her. I remember watching Dr. Phil on television one afternoon. He was explaining how people only do what works for them and they have to be getting some kind of reward or they wouldn’t carry on with the same behavior over and over, even if the behavior were negative. Hmm, perhaps I should write to Dr. Phil and get our family on his show, but the thought of my friends in Charleston seeing my family in action on television made me quickly scrap the idea.

    After finishing her sandwich, Georgia decides to torture poor pappy with details of her latest tattoo. Pappy, a devote Baptist, is extremely upset by Georgia’s decision to have tattoos strewn across her body. “Your body is a temple,” he tries to tell her over and over. “Pappy it’s a form of self expression,” she would reply and begin her long rendition of how people have been tattooing their bodies for centuries. "You don't put bumper stickers on a Mercedes!" says mama shaking her head.
    I’ll admit, I didn’t mind the first tattoo Georgia chose. I liked the small butterfly she had placed on her ankle. But then much bigger tattoos began to show up. Like the one on the back of her neck of a cross and sword, one on her lower back of a raven, her inner thigh is now trashed with something she says is supposed to be about her life's hardships and one on her upper left shoulder of a skull. The raven is a real beauty since I get to view it in conjunction with the crack of her ass every time she bends over. I try to make a mental joke of it. The raven falls in the crack. The crack and the raven. The crack engulfs the raven and the raven can’t caw anymore.
    “Pappy, want to see my new tattoo?” she asks. “No, Georgia, I don’t,” he says without looking up from his paper. “But pappy you’ll like this one.” “I doubt it Georgia,” he replies softly. Pappy always speaks softly out of fear of having a heart attack. This drives Georgia crazy since she isn’t receiving the attention she craves. So Georgia, refusing to take the hint, whips her right breast out from under her tank top in the middle of the living room for all to see and radiating out from her nipple are what are supposed to be the rays of the sun. Pappy at the mere idea of seeing Georgia’s breast races into the other room where we all hear the frantic puff, puff, puff as he pumps the bulb on the mobile blood pressure machine. Mama races after him to make sure he’s all right. Gram on the other hand never moves, her expression barely changing. “You are such an ass,” I tell Georgia. “That is the ugliest tattoo I have ever seen.” Georgia could care less, having caused drama and chaos she is pleased with herself. She pulls her tank top back into place and smiles. Pappy, flushed and panting, returns to the living room holding tightly onto mama’s arm. She guides him back into the recliner and with an angry look on her face tells Georgia how inappropriate it is to show her breast in front of her grandfather.

    Inappropriate behavior is typical for Georgia. She has no clear definition of what is deemed appropriate and what is not. I recall the time when Georgia, who was ten at the time, went running naked down the street in front of a group of teenage boys thinking it was funny. Mama calmly took Georgia aside and explained to her that young ladies keep their clothes on. Less then a week later, mama caught Georgia outside in the front yard holding a little boy down and trying to kiss him. The boy was squirming furiously and he tried to get out from under Georgia who was hell-bent on making their lips connect. Mama pulled Georgia off the boy, who ran away as fast as his little legs would carry him and dragged Georgia into the house. “Georgia,” mama said exasperated, “Stop, you can’t go around kissing on boys. Now let’s get you something to eat for lunch. You must be hungry.” And Georgia replied, “I am hungry mama, I’m hungry for kissing Payton.” Mama threw her hands into the air and walked away. Georgia was simply sexually in sync with her body more than most little girls her age. Even at four and five she would flutter her beautiful green eyes at you as you gave her a kiss goodbye and then she would beg for another. As a teen she began to dress seductively and would strike poses to accentuate her curves. Even her teachers at school took notice. Ms. Pinckney, Georgia’s English teacher, pulled mama aside at Georgia’s seventh grade parent/teacher conference and told mama Georgia had more moves than she did at midnight. Mama got the hint and every morning thereafter would make Georgia wake her up so she could see what Georgia was wearing to school. “That’s a nice outfit Georgia,” mama would say. “See, you don’t need to show your body to be attractive.” Then as soon as Georgia closed mama’s bedroom door she would sprint downstairs to the spare bathroom where she would change her outfit again. Mama never caught on. Georgia insisted on getting attention one way or another and started to rim her eyes heavily in black eyeliner. Day after day the black lines became thicker and more catlike. “Give me your eyeliner,” mama said to Georgia as she held out her hand. “But mama,” Georgia resisted. “Georgia, give me the eyeliner. You look much too old for your age.” Georgia handed mama her kohl eyeliner and stormed off. The next day mama received a call from the school principal. Georgia had started a fight with another girl and mama had to pick her up immediately. Mama opens the office door and to her surprise there sat Georgia, dressed in a mini skirt and tank top with her eyes as black as a raccoon.
    Mama was furious. The ride to the house was uncomfortably quiet. Georgia knew mama was mad and tried to disappear by slumping into the seat of the car. Mama pulled down the dirt road to the house and into the driveway. “Give me your bag,” she told Georgia when she shut the car off. Georgia handed mama her black book bag and mama opened the car door and emptied it into yard. Out fell the clothes mama had seen Georgia wearing earlier in the morning and at least 10 black eyeliners. Mama quickly grabbed the eyeliners as Georgia swooped down to retrieve them. “You’re grounded Georgia. No phone, no television and no eyeliners…nothing for at least a month.” But mama knew in her heart grounding Georgia wouldn’t help. Georgia was heading down a slippery slope and mama knew all she could do was pray.

    “Pick your battles,” Aunt Esther warns mama at the salon the next morning, “don’t you remember when we were her age?” Mama places a comb in the blue liquid inside the Barbicide jar and while replacing the lid turns to Aunt Esther. “We were never like that,” mama replies. “You’re kidding right?” says Aunt Esther. “What about the time we took a bottle of rum out of Uncle Jack’s bar one Christmas and got so drunk we were sick for two days and mama thought we both had the flu. Or the time we told mama we were going to sleep over Jean’s house and ended up in Chester at a party instead?”
    For the rest of the afternoon mama and Aunt Esther reminisced over their childhood antics together. At times breaking out into such laughter Aunt Esther would go running into the back room afraid she’d wet her pants from laughing so hard.
    The next day mama returned the black eyeliners to Georgia but put her foot down with regards to the provocative clothing. She made Georgia empty her closet and dresser drawers and confiscated the short shorts, mini skirts and tank tops.

    Mama tried to pick her battles when it came to Georgia for the next year, but by age 14 Georgia had become one of those girls talked about in mama and Aunt Ester’s salon. The women knew better than to bring up Georgia’s latest escapades. But Mama knew people were talking. They just did it at the local coffee shop and corner store instead. The girls at our school hated Georgia and our house was the constant target of toilet papering and egging by cheerleaders during football season as payback for Georgia having slept with their boyfriends

    The funny thing was Georgia could care less about the sex; it was simply the means to an end. She wanted to prove to herself she could make a boy want to have sex with her. It wasn’t until she met Curtis that she saw sex as something more and then Curtis used her and cheated on her. That’s why she became obsessed with winning back Curtis. He didn’t want her.

    After the break up with Curtis last December, things took a turn for the worse for Georgia and it was decided she should move back into the house with mama for a while.
    Mama started to notice cuts on Georgia’s arms and legs and knew she needed to keep a close eye on her. Georgia had been cutting herself on and off for the past five years. It was a way for her to reduce her stress level by causing pain to herself, which would refocus her attention from the real problem, in this instance Curtis. When Georgia was in high school it was difficult to hide the cuts on her arms and the kids started to call her an emo, which infuriated Georgia. The scars on her arms would just begin to fade when something in Georgia’s life would set her off again and the cutting would begin.
    For the first week back at mama’s house Georgia would stay up all hours of the night. Some nights she would wake mama by vacuuming or watching television. Other nights would involve Georgia in the kitchen banging pots and pans as she attempted to make herself something to eat. Then Georgia started to sneak out of the house in the middle of the night to find Curtis whether it is at his parent’s home or the home of one of his friends.
    Once again the police arrived on mama’s front porch threatening to arrest Georgia for harassment. “I just don’t know what to do with the girl,” mama told the officers. “Madam, you have to do something. Curtis says he has had enough and if it happens again he’s going to get a restraining order against your daughter.” The next day Mama installed an alarm system to alert her if Georgia tried to leave during the night and for the next few nights Georgia seemed to settle down.
    “Mama, I need to get my cigarettes out of the car. Mama, wake up, I need to get my cigarettes out of the car.” “Go back to bed Georgia,” mama replies. “Mama, I need...” Mama, dazed and sleepy, slowly swings her legs over to the side of the bed. “Georgia, it’s 3:00 in the morning. You don’t need to have a cigarette. Please go back to bed.”
    “Mama, I need… “Fine, Georgia, we’ll get your cigarettes.” Mama walks downstairs in a sleepy stupor with Georgia trailing her and punches in the security code and out the door Georgia goes. Mama waits and then waits some more. Finally she starts to panic. Mama knows it doesn’t take this long to go to the car and get a pack of cigarettes. Grabbing the extra set of car keys she keeps hanging near the front door mama races to the car in her robe and slippers. There is no sign of Georgia. Mama frantically looks around but doesn’t see Georgia anywhere. Jumping into the car, mama throws the car into reverse and backs out of the driveway and down the dirt road that leads into town. About a half mile up the road, mama sees a figure in flip-flops and short shorts running up the road and jumping into a vehicle waiting in the dark. “Oh no you don’t Georgia,” mama says to herself and pushes her foot down on the gas pedal. The chase is on. Mama refuses to allow Georgia to hang out with the riff raft she calls friends and speeds dangerously close to the tail end of the car in front of her. Without warning the car’s break lights come on and mama sees a passenger door open. Georgia jumps out of the moving vehicle and rolls into a ditch. “Get in this car,” yells mama out the passenger side window at Georgia as she pulls up beside the ditch. Georgia mad at her getaway failure gets in mama’s car and slams the door.

    Then Mama comes up with an idea. “Why not have Georgia come and live with you in Charleston? She could use new scenery and it might be a fresh start of sorts.” I wasn’t totally against the idea. I thought it would be good for Georgia and even better for mama, so I went and picked Georgia up in Bluffton and brought her to Charleston.
    I live in downtown Charleston in a small condominium complex. My neighbor Lee owns the complex and I have always found him attractive. He’s not the type I usually go for, but there’s something about him, dark hair, dark eyes, but slightly a metro-man. Plus, there’s a substantial age difference between us and I tell myself the idea of a relationship between the two of us is out of the question. Plus, I see Lee around town at different events but he never shows any interest in me besides being neighborly.
    “Would you watch my place for the weekend,” Lee asks me one Thursday afternoon in the parking lot. “I’m going to North Carolina for the weekend. I’m bringing the dogs with me, so you don’t have to worry about them. “Sure,” I tell him. Lee often asks me to watch his place for him. He goes to the mountains at least once a month to his cabin and always takes his two black labs Hampton and Wagner with him.
    Georgia strolls up to the two of us, wearing a pair of gym shorts rolled down low to reveal her belly button ring and a white tank top without a bra underneath. “Um, this is my sister Georgia, she’s going to stay with me for the summer. “Nice, to meet you Georgia,” says Lee, trying politely not to stare at Georgia. I know Georgia is already thinking of how to make a move on him and I pull her away. “Don’t even think about it,” I warn her once we’re inside the condo. “What?” she asks, but her eyes give her away as they always do. Whenever Georgia is guilty of something she lifts her left brow higher than normal. “You’re doing it, the eye thing. Just leave him alone. I really like him.”
    The next morning I hear Lee’s condo door slam and the sound of Hampton and Wagner as they maneuver their way down the stairs and then the jeep as it roars off. I’m sure he’s going with Beth. Lee always dates pretty woman and Beth is no exception. They have been dating for nearly six months and she spends the majority of her free time at his condo. She has a key to his place and often waits there for him to come home from his job as a real estate attorney. I often catch glimpses of her in the condo sitting on the couch. I feel a twinge of jealousy when I see her long blond hair and model-thin body. But then I try to remember what mama used to say to me. “Don’t be jealous of another person. We all have problems and their life isn’t perfect either.” I know you’re right mama I think to myself but it sure must help to be beautiful. It’s not that I don’t think I’m pretty, but she’s beautiful and I know I can’t compete. “Isn’t it ironic,” I sing, “a little too ironic. You meet the man of your dreams and then meet his beautiful wife.” Sheryl Crow hit it right on the head.

    I head to the kitchen for a cup of coffee. “Georgia?” No answer. Georgia must have left already. On the weekends she likes to walk through the market and look for trinkets. Good, I thought, it’ll give me some quiet time to sit and enjoy a cup of coffee before heading to the salon. Mama and I were hoping Georgia would get a job here in Charleston since she is in walking distance of many restaurants and shops. Georgia doesn’t drive and mama didn’t have the time to bring her back and forth to a job in Creekside. But Georgia, being the perfect manipulator, manages to find an excuse as to why she’s unable to work in Charleston as well.

    It was a long day at the salon. My hair appointments were back to back and I had a bridal party from hell. When I walked out the salon doors I headed straight to Therapy, the local bar where the majority of the salon’s stylists gather. “Good God, do I need a drink,” I said as I sat next to Marjorie. “Trust me I saw the wedding party you had," she quipped. "They should be on that reality television show for monster brides.” I order a vodka tonic and then two. As the bartender flipped through the channels, she briefly pauses on the Weather Channel. “Lots of rain for much of North and South Carolina,” states the weatherman. “In many places we expect to see flooding. So if you have any plans this weekend bring a raincoat and umbrella.”
    Great, a crappy weekend I thought. Suddenly I look at my watch and realize it was after eight already. “I’ve got to go. Georgia’s at home and I told her I’d be back around eight.” As I got outside I looked up at the sky. The rain clouds had moved in and the rain was just beginning. Drop, drip, drop, drip, drip, drip. I jog to my car and drive the 10 minutes from the salon to the condo in what was now a downpour. As I pull into the parking lot I notice Lee hurrying to pull his duffle bag out of the back seat of his jeep. Wagner and Hampton were still sitting in the back. “Home already,” I yell to him. “Yeah, it was pouring up there too and I didn’t want to have to try and get out of there if there was any flooding, so I came home,” he yells back to me. I make a mad dash from my car to the condo stairs with Lee right behind me and Wagner and Hampton behind him. When we reach the top of the stairs and turn the corner what we see stops us both in our tracks. Crawling out through the doggie door of Lee’s condo was Georgia. Her ass, with her crack and the raven, were shimmying backwards out of Hampton and Wagner’s doggie door. Wagner and Hampton growl but Georgia, still inside the doggie door, couldn’t turn around. “What in the hell..?” Lee says. Georgia stops and pretends to be invisible by being motionless. “Georgia, we can see you. You might as well keep coming.” Georgia shimmied out the rest of the way with a handful of women’s clothing.” I couldn’t believe it! She was stealing Lee’s girlfriend’s clothing. Lee was as shocked as I was and we both stared at her in disbelief. I had seen his girlfriend in one of the outfits she was holding. It wouldn’t even fit Georgia, but there she was with the tiny little yellow sundress in her hands. I apologize as I snatch the clothes out of her hands and hand Lee back the yellow sundress and white skirt. Luckily, Lee didn’t press any charges against Georgia once I explained her problems to him. “Don’t worry about it,” Lee tells me with sympathy in his eyes. “It all worked out. Wagner and Hampton have their doggie door back and Beth has her clothing back.” Arrrgghhhhh. I’m going to kill her, I thought as I open the condo door and slam it behind me in search of Georgia. “Are you crazy?” I ask when I find her in the spare bedroom. “What would possess you to crawl through a doggie door for a bunch of clothes that won’t even fit you?"
    Georgia looks up at me and with no sign of remorse or embarrassment replies, “I thought they would look good on me."
    I call mama to tell her I was bringing Georgia home the next morning. Not only had Georgia reduced herself to crawling through doggie doors but she had ruined any chance of my ever going on a date with Lee.
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