It was my birthday. I was alone again, but I was used to it by now and had figured out how to keep myself company. In the background a lady's voice began to sing, trilling from a baby monitor on the table in the corner, "Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday Dear Zachary! Happy Birthday to youuuuu!"
"And many more," I added dryly. I was officially 21 years old now. Old enough to drink and old enough to do whatever the hell I wanted.
The handle of tequila had been sitting next to the baby monitor all night, tempting me with its silvery liquid. When I heard the voice singing my name, I took it as the signal that I could finally indulge. I grabbed the tequila and took a long swig. It burned the back of my throat and warmed my chest. This was my first real drink of alcohol and I didn't know what to expect, other than feeling good. Mother had always warned me against the dangers of underage drinking. She said it was not only against the law, but a slap to God's face.
"Drunkenness is a sin my child, and drunkenness at an unlawful age is even worse," she had said. "Not only does it stain your temple, but it also breaks the laws of the leaders who God has appointed."
The liquor hit my stomach hard. I hadn't eaten in 21 days straight and there was nothing but acid boiling inside me. I was certain I had multiple ulcers by now. I'd woken up every morning with shooting pain in my abdomen and whenever I tried to move, I grew so tired that all I wanted to do was lie back down.
The locks outside my door jangled and I heard a set of keys methodically opening each one. Mother was here.
I was an adult now and Mother had always promised me that when the day came, I could start making adult decisions. "A boy needs his parents to guide him, for he is childish and full of wickedness," she would say to me. "But when he is a man, he must give up his childish ways and seek the Lord on his own."
I was done being a child. I'd spent my entire life in this room and I was ready to be an adult in the real world. Grabbing the handle of tequila, I took another long swig. It burned, but my body was growing warmer and a pleasant buzzing sensation had crept in.
Mother entered the room. She closed the door, holstered her keys with one hand, and then held out a cake. "Happy birthday my..." Mother paused and a look of concern crept onto her face. "Dear, please tell me you haven't started drinking already?"
Shame and confusion crawled up my back, raising the hairs on my neck. I looked down at the tequila in my hands and replied, "You said I could drink it when I turned twenty-one."
Mother frowned. "And are you twenty-one yet?"
I tried to think. Had I forgotten something important? I was too dizzy from lack of food and an excess of liquor that the images in my mind were fuzzy and jumbled together. I didn't understand.
Mother opened the door, set the cake down outside, then walked back and placed her hands on her hips. "What time were you born at dear?"
My cheeks flushed red. I panicked and dropped the bottle. It shattered and alcohol spilled onto the floor in front of my feet. I started shaking. I had sinned and there was no taking it back. "Eleven – " I said with a labored sigh. My lips grew heavy and the words oozed out slowly and painfully, "Eleven o' nine."
"And what time is it now?" Mother asked. Her voice had dropped an octave and I could hear the judgment pronounced in every syllable.
"Eleven o' one." My throat tightened.
"Patience is a virtue, my dear. You know this. Have you forgotten what the good Lord tells us?"
"No Mother." Tears began to well in my eyes. I thought of the cake she had brought in. I had only seen it for a few seconds at most before she took it out of the room. It looked so inviting and tasty.
"Perseverance and faith shall carry you through your trials and persecutions my dear. The good Lord tempts his followers to test their faith. You have given into temptation." The lines on Mother's face drooped as she frowned again. "Do you want to be counted worthy for your suffering, or don't you?"
"Yes Mother, of course!" I said, choking on my words. The tears continued to fall. I could see my freedom slowly fading from my grasp. How did I make such a simple mistake? Only a few more minutes and I would have been fine, but instead I chose to sin.
"It appears you're not ready to give up the ways of a child." Mother looked at the mess in front of my feet and shook her head. "You disappoint me Dear. I had such faith that you would be ready."
Mother turned her back to me, slumping her shoulders as she did so.
"When..." I paused. My mother's outline seemed to blur for a second, and then returned to normal. "When... will I be ready?"
"When God tells us it is time."
I'd heard her repeat that phrase many times and it seemed like God's time was different than mine. I had waited 21 years and I didn't know about God, but that seemed like a damn long time to me.
I loped forward and tried to grasp Mother's skirt. I was trembling and in my drunkenness, I missed my target, instead grazing her skirt and grasping helplessly at the door frame. I scratched and clawed it as she tried to leave. "Please!" I begged, "Please. I'm ready. I'll pray for forgiveness, I swear!"
Mother grabbed my hand and shoved me. I couldn't fight back even if I tried. She was a good foot taller than me and had more meat on her bones than I did. I fell backward, tripping and falling onto a piece of glass. Mother furrowed her brows and wagged her finger. "The wages of sin are death. I will come for you when you have made your peace with God."
Then she was gone.
I forced myself to my knees. A large piece of glass had speared through the back of my right leg and broke through the skin on the top of my thigh. There was a small trickle of blood around the wound. I touched it expecting pain, but there was only warm liquid. I lifted my fingers and licked them, revealing a salty flavor. It tasted amazing – far better than the bland diet Mother kept me on when she wasn't forcing me to fast and grow closer to God.
I placed my hand against the wound again and scooped up a line of blood, then licked it. The acid inside my gut churned and worked to eat something other than my stomach lining. I examined the wound. There was only a little blood since the glass was blocking the hole. If I just removed it, I could have all I wanted and I wouldn't be hungry. I tugged at the glass just a tiny bit to see what would happen. It was uncomfortable, but mostly I felt pressure and not pain.
What would Jesus do? The words rang through my head as I considered the words Mother had drilled into me. Anger filled my soul. Jesus wouldn't do shit. It had been 21 years and there was no end in sight. I hadn't eaten in almost a month and I was starving. Surely Jesus would have to forgive me.
Yanking the shard of glass out of my leg, I watched as the blood spurted out. I had opened a major artery and there was no stopping it now. I was going to die, of that I was sure, but I was still so hungry. I just wanted to fill my stomach.
I cupped my hands underneath the blood flow, catching as much as I could, then raised it to my mouth and lapped at it like a dog. It was so refreshing. Warmer than I would have liked, but it was something. The more I lapped at it, the more I wanted. It was only liquid, after all. I needed food inside me. I needed it now!
I squeezed the glass shard tight between my fingers and then pressed it against the wound, sawing at it until a chunk of flesh ripped free. I raised the flesh to my mouth and chewed. It was thin and slightly tough to the bite. I swallowed. It didn't taste like anything special, but it filled the empty hole.
My vision blurred, then returned, and blurred again. I was lightheaded. Probably the loss of blood. I didn't care. I wanted more.
Again, I brought the glass down on myself and sawed away. I pressed the sharp edge past the skin and into the meaty flesh beneath. The glass struck a nerve as I dug deeper and an electric jolt of pain shot through me. It hurt like hell, but the pain made me alert. I felt alive!
My stomach churned. I ripped off my shirt and without thinking, plunged the glass into my belly and twisted it left and right. God, it fucking hurt, but it made me feel something, and I had been in a state of limbo so long I welcomed it. I pressed my fingers inside my belly and felt around, then grabbed the first thing I felt, and yanked on it. It was soft and warm.
The cavity beneath my skin grew larger as I pulled. My vision blurred even more and I felt the blood leaving me quick. Overcome by the shock of blood loss, I fell on my back.
Looking up, I saw what I had been tugging on. Part of my intestines had coiled together in a pink mass on my abdomen. Through the haze, it looked kind of like a funnel cake topped with strawberry syrup. I salivated at the thought. It was my birthday after all and I deserved all the cake I could get.