Zachary Bull

2017-2018 Live Deliberately Essay Contest

Zachary Bull, 20
Winner, 19-21 Age Group
Elgin, IL

“Trials Along the Trail”


Alarms go off
without a snooze button to hit.
she stumbles upstairs
without a syllable to speak.

And this is how it was monthly…weekly…now nightly. The security alarm blaring at 2 o’clock in the morning, she remained quiet in her own thoughts. I would dart up from my bed, peek my head outside my room just enough to catch a glimpse of her faltering silhouette, and hold my heart before it fell through my own chest. She would smile as she passed by, and I’d quietly whisper, “I love you.”

Headlights in the mirror
now red and blue.
She repeats the alphabet:
“A, B, D, E, I, F…”

With two DUI’s in one year, the push-start was replaced with a blow-start. I remember a blaring BUZZ sounding before she would drop me off at school each morning, “Sorry honey, the car won’t start without it knowing I’m safe.” I thought it was quite a bargain for what had happened though; I would take a couple exhales into a hose over wearing a ragged orange jumpsuit any day. And as she pulled into the school, I’d lean over and wrap my arms around her, weighing my options of releasing my grip or missing part of my first hour. I thought to myself that if I never let go, well quite honestly it might be hard for her to drive, but it would make it impossible for her to pick up another drink.

Who ever said
the loudest one triumphs?
They slipped into this propaganda
My virgin ears— no longer.

Then one Sunday evening, my siblings and I sat hand in hand, tucked behind closed doors. We tried to drown out the ear wrenching language from my younger sister: my hand pressing her left ear, my older sister pressing her right. Words like these were too explicit for any rap album— a genre we weren’t even allowed to listen to. But after they took aim and shot their remaining word bullets across the battlefield, everything was still. I stood up and tip toed downstairs, discovering them building up the strength to tell us that the war is over. The words “It is finished” no longer sounded as hopeful as it did that morning. My father, exhausted and betrayed, stared at me. I knew almost immediately: divorce. I glanced over to see my mother was beside herself too. As if trying to wake up from a nightmare, she kept her head low and whimpering to herself in resentment. I knelt and lifted her chin up, barely able to recognize her anymore. I didn’t have any words this time, only a soft smile and some peace of mind.

“Pursuing a path
however narrow and crooked
in which you can walk
with love and reverence”

The path that will never stop pursuing, however off-road and mountainous, with all the love and respect of my being, is my mother. I hold an exuberant amount of faith in her, that she will get back on her feet, even after rehab and the inevitable relapse; after pursuing the wrong crowd and getting laid off; after losing all communication from her for weeks at a time; my hope remains. And she still, three years and counting, is tiptoeing across this tightrope over an alcohol washed river. I’ve learned that consistency is the key to getting her back to her endearing motherly self. Even as a college student, more than 1000 miles away, I’ll give her a phone call after getting out of class each week. With each phone call, I’ve noticed that her tone has changed little by little as she realizes that not everyone has given up on her. I know even as she drowns in the depths of that alcohol washed river, her true self remains, waiting to be pulled out.

I think the strongest love I’ll ever have is for my mom. I came into this world with a loving heart, which had to originate from somewhere…or someone. With each laugh and smile and hug, I start to see her come back to her roots. That’s what forgiveness does, I realized; it’s what keeps me from wandering off this narrow and crooked path that my mother has forged. It allows me to love her despite her mistakes because she continues to love me despite my mistakes too. And there’s only one way to endure whatever terrain lies ahead: together.