national anthology of the best undergraduate writing 2011

Alzheimer’s

Jillian Jackman  • 
University of Georgia

You couldn’t live in that town and escape the steel mill. When they graduated from Hopewell High, a disappointment of its own, they walked right off the stage and kept walking, right on down to the mill. Rows of grey lunch boxes filled with home ec success, waiting to feed dark empty bellies. The girls found themselves a steel mill guy to wed, married at eighteen, pregnant with success. Food stamps to accidents, benefiting from father’s newfound lunacy. Lunacy’s their fault, but poverty is still passed down from Pa.

If you strip me down bare I look just like them. Deep blue veins on pale sunless skin. Stout from the Italians, plump from the Polish. They all had headaches from the mill. They all had cracked hands and dirty nails. My head throbs from dangers in the womb.

There were always delusions at the breakfast table and fear of grandfathers who caress more than hands. Love shouldn’t let that happen. My great-grandmother sighs and says, “Ignorant hands build ignorant towns.” We’re all slaves to the mental disease we breed. “Promise me you’ll grow away. Promise me you’ll bury three generations of suffering into one compact sentence.” They ran from the Germans in Europe to struggle in the mills of Aliquippa so that I could free their memories. Alzheimer’s runs in our family.