by Patricia Feeney    

“But Patty, you’re my happiest child.”
My mother spoke with a dreamy smile,
eyes lit, tiny glints in the darkened bedroom,
the sanctuary of my ten-year-old self.    
She held me in her arms as I sobbed and pleaded for help.    
Her happiest child.
Riddled with bullet holes of anxiety.
Sleepless. Fearful of my father’s footfalls.
His fists. His baritone roar. The lethal calm
that preceded his assaults on my brothers.  
One beaten, convicted of concocted crimes
when our father’s love of alcohol morphed to violence.    

One threatened with beatings if he became his brother.
His life a foil to justify our father’s judgment of his oldest son.                 

One drop-kicked down a hallway. Shoved aside by our father’s storming stride.
Nicknamed Football by the oldest boy.    
I was the girl, ignored.
Curled in a ball in the back of my bedroom closet.
Trying not to witness what I heard.
Counting on a mother who couldn’t save me.     
The boys of my childhood are dead,
Startling endings that did not surprise.  

The first at thirty-three. A paroled drug dealer. 
Overcome by a ferocious infection.    

The second at fifty. An alcoholic.
Naked, dead on the floor of his bathroom, the shower pelting icy rivulets.  

The third at fifty-three. An alcoholic with a fondness for Percocet.
Dead in the narrow bed of a homeless shelter. Sober, but too late.  
I am here.
Survivor of my childhood. Riddled with bullet holes of anxiety. 
Survivor of a parent’s apocalypse: Critical injuries. Life support.  
My husband and I on a dawn flight to our son’s broken body. 
I am here.
Dreading sleep: the lethal calm that precedes the drop of the next phone call.
But I am here.
Perhaps I was Mom’s happiest child.    

About the Author:
Patricia Feeney lives in St. Louis, MO, and teaches in Lindenwood University’s MFA program. She is a member of the St. Louis Writers Guild; the association of Writers and Writing Professionals; and a founding member of the Crooked Tree Writers, a writing critique group. Feeney’s work has appeared in the Muse Press anthology, Shifts; The Lindenwood Review; Inscape; Windmill; and Bayou Magazine, which nominated her essay, “Lifeline,” for a Pushcart Prize. “Mom’s Happiest Child” is her first poem.