Saturday, February 17, 2018

the radio plays static, reminding me i am in a low place

I stop off at the spot where the Double Deuces used to be. The bar that used to be here is leveled now, just a concrete slab with some pipes sticking up, weeds growing in the cracks. I stop here to sit on my truck's bumper and smoke a cigarette, staring at the places I imagine used to be a kitchen, a dance floor, the bar. The pink hat crumpled on the pavement in the weeds, the condom disintegrating on the pebbles. Concrete slabs and stacks of rusting rebar. Lines painted on crumbling asphalt, indicating parking places for a building that no longer stands. I stare hard at the details, exhaling the day.

My dad called me a couple weeks ago, telling me that day might be his last day. I took it in stride, as typical Dad fashion, and I asked him if he wanted me to come right then. I was prepared to come right then. I had been sick that day, but I was feeling better, and I could see myself throwing on some jeans, getting in my truck, driving out to his cabin. It takes about an hour and a half from my house. But he said no. Just come tomorrow. He had a doctor's appointment. He was sure it would be fine to wait until then. So I waited. And I went to work, and I got everything done that I could before leaving to drive to his cabin. I joked about what to do if I found a dead body. I googled it. But when I arrived at his cabin, he was alive as ever, and greeted me with the words, "We need to leave in about five minutes." I know, Dad. I stripped his bed and threw his sheets in the washing machine, filled up the sink with hot soapy water and dirty dishes, cleared out my truck and put the passenger seat all the way back. We left for his appointment with plenty of time.

He's getting old and I'm spending more time with him, doing his laundry and dishes, running the vacuum cleaner over his carpets, bringing him casseroles, running him to doctor visits. He keeps his house hot and I work pretty hard while I'm there, so no matter how cold it is outside, it always feels refreshing to step outside. Sweeping his porch feels like an escape. Stepping into the second bedroom, through the blanket he's hung in the doorway, the air feels cleaner because it's colder. Sweat runs down my neck and itches.

My dad's house smells like an animal's den. Every time I visit, I wash his sheets and his dishes, take out his trash, and run the vacuum cleaner. I usually sweep the porch, and I almost always bake a casserole. There is usually time for one additional special project. My last special project was to scrub his range top. I had turned on one of his burners and it actually ignited, there was so much gunk caked onto it, so I had Amazon deliver some new drip pans and on my next visit, I attacked the gunk with some SOS pads. I used up 3 SOS pads on that range. The grease and gunk was pretty thick. 

The visit before, I cleaned his refrigerator. I took the drawers and the shelves outside on a forty degree day to scrub them, gulping in fresh air and sunshine while I scrubbed at dried-up goo.

Laundry I've done is still sitting on his dryer, folded in stacks I stacked. Someday soon I will take on his dresser. I haven't opened the drawers. I've just wiped the sticky dust off the exterior.

Driving home from his house, I pull into the lot where the bar used to be, and I hope I'm inconspicuous but I probably make the neighbors wonder. I don't know, everybody probably knows everybody out there and maybe it looks weird. Or maybe they don't care. The people across the street have horses and burros, and sometimes I see a guy out there feeding the animals. A rooster crows over and over, and there is a pink motel in the next lot, possibly falling in on itself. It looks like a good place to get murdered. I sit on my bumper and roll the crackles out of my neck, focusing hard on the details of what used to be a bar.

I drive with the windows down and let the wind rush through the cab of my truck, dragging out the smell of my dad's house. My hair whips into my eyes and I think about the speed limit, how long it will take to get home from any given point, the roadside attractions I will probably never stop at. 

48 minutes. 36 minutes. 28 minutes. The Bass Pro shop in Broken Arrow is a welcome sight. The tire store on Sheridan is a sign I'd better get over to the right lane because my exit is coming up. 

Merle Travis, Country Legend. Various lake resorts. Signs pointing to other towns. The U.S.S. Batfish memorial. A flea market. 

I sit on the bumper and I don't cry, but I feel worse for not crying. I feel like gravity is pulling me extra hard. I feel heavy. The air drags at me when I move. I finish my cigarette and get back in the truck. There is always an irrational moment of fear as I start the truck, a feeling like the engine won't catch and I will be stuck here, like maybe I have always been stuck here, every small town I come into is just the small town I thought I had left, I am trapped - and then the engine turns over and I let out my breath and put the truck into gear and hit the gas. I have NPR on the radio, but that far out, the signal comes and goes. You can only get good reception at the tops of the hills out there. The radio plays static at the Double Deuces, reminding me I am in a low place.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

steve

Last night, I told a story about you and didn't go on to explain that you were dead now.

It's the first time that's happened, and I saw it go by and felt the urge to tell the rest of the story, but I didn't want to be a downer.

Last week, I cried in a bar over you because I tried to explain to a friend that you are always on my mind, ever since you died, more than you were when you were alive maybe, maybe not, it's hard to know because I have all these memories of you, and since you died, all of those memories have turned up sharp edges. So now, every time a memory of you goes by, it nicks me just a little. All those memories of laughing so hard we couldn't breathe make me cry now. Like now.

I see you all the time now. Every dark head, every tall man, every long arm is you for just a second, for long enough that sometimes I have to blink really hard, because I'm staring at strangers and I probably look like I've been shot. Like I've been shot. That's funny. You would laugh.

I don't know how to get past this. We weren't even that close, especially there at the end. There was a time when we talked a lot, but I would never have called us especially close. I don't know. We hadn't talked in years, maybe, when you took a gun nobody knew you had into the woods and shot yourself instead of going to work.

it's fucking me up and I don't know how to get past it. So I tried writing it out to a friend, and this is how it went.

I get stuck on things, sometimes for years. A friend of mine killed himself a couple of years ago and it's really only now starting to get to me how stuck I am on that. I don't know if that makes any sense, the way I've phrased it. I had this friend, one half of a married couple who had been together since they were in high school, and I met this couple through my ex husband, back when we were married, because they all went to high school together. They were sort of our main "couple friends," meaning, we'd go to their house for card games or parties or whatever, and they came down to the Gulf Coast to visit us a few times when we were married and lived there. We were all close. We had a lot of fun together. We laughed a lot. My ex husband used to set up a video camera (that's how long ago this was) and set it to film us as we sat in a circle talking, and after a while we'd forget it was there. Everyone just got used to it. James had sort of an obsession with chronicling everything. I remember he recorded the news broadcasts of the 911 attacks for something like 48 hours afterward? Anyway, him putting a camera on us wasn't out of character. Everybody just rolled with it (nyuck, nyuck), and it ended up capturing some of those hilarious stories that otherwise might have been lost to the fog of bad memories. There were a ton of great stories. Steve told some of the best stories. 

Steve was always the guy who would do anything. He was the bravest, the ballsiest, the guy with the loudest laugh. He lit up the room. He and his wife had a tumultuous relationship. She had a hot temper, he had poor impulse control, he played in bands and frequently had girls sort of throw themselves at him -- the marriage wasn't perfect. Misty, his wife (his widow, since remarried), is lovely in her own right. They were a good couple, for all their disasters, I always thought. 

We didn't talk for a couple of years after James and I divorced, and then Misty sought me out and we reconnected. I hung out with them a few times, and then sort of drifted away like I usually do. But I liked being friends again. It was good to talk it out with them and have Misty tell me, "We love you for you." And it was good to have the awkwardness taken away. After the divorce, it was tricky navigating some of the friendships. You know, the custody battle over the friendships that happen when relationships end? James brought most of the friends into the relationship, so he ended up with most of them when it ended, and that made sense. But I appreciated the people who made an effort. And Steve and Misty were special. I just loved them, kind of from the get-go.

But we didn't have the kind of friendship that needed daily maintenance (friendships like that are doomed for me), and I hadn't talked to either of them in months, maybe a year, when my sister sent me a text. I think it was a text. She said she had seen something on Facebook and she hoped it was a joke, even a bad one, but she thought Steve might have died. I looked at the post, I don't remember exactly what it was, but I hoped it was a joke too. And I think I texted James. I don't know, I reached out to him in some way. And he confirmed it, and I've been baffled ever since. 

 Your daughter is having a baby. Isn't that crazy? What are we supposed to do without you, dude?

Friday, January 19, 2018

4/7/15

There are things I want to write that have nothing to do with my dead cat, or me, or my daddy issues, or the other bullshit I can't even articulate but I know is in my way, but I can't seem to get through the stuff that is in my way -

I'm not sure I know the difference between what is in my way and the thing I am actually looking for. It all blends together until I'm looking at a photo of a landfill trying to pick out the refrigerator, the locket, the baby doll. And I don't know which is what.

So I stayed home drinking cold coffee and eating microwaved leftovers. Eating instead of producing. Consuming instead of creating. Barbecue sauce mustache in the epsom salt bath.

I don't know how people go crazy anymore, since everything is allowed. Pay your rent and you can do whatever you like inside your rented space.

As long as it doesn't do any damage. But how can I tell what's going to be damaging? What do I know about home repairs?

My brother left for Illinois last week and has not said much since. I was surprised to be upset by his leaving. I didn't get to see him off, the timing didn't work out and I stubbornly refused to alter my evening plans to go meet him at the bus station again to say another awkward goodbye. He was leaving because the rent was due on the room he rented over a bar downtown, and he didn't have the money because his boss had mysteriously disappeared again. His boss, a 26 year old chubby guy with no fence around his yard and no screen door, so on a nice day the front door would just be standing open revealing a black gap like a missing tooth - that boss, had mysteriously disappeared again, leaving Alan with no income, no prospects. Alan said he refused to go back to the homeless shelter. I thought but did not say that his stand was a bit late. Where was the refusal when it was time to look for a job that might be more reliable than what an unkempt 26 year old with no discernible professional skills can offer? Or when the money did come in, how much was saved? These questions would not help, so I did not ask. I told him to have fun in Illinois. I did not tell him I thought he was leaving in a hissy fit. That also would not help.

My dead cat. That cat was pretty much my favorite creature. He was fluffy and petulant, apprehensive and gleeful by turns. I related to him, even when he sometimes took a dark turn and bit me as hard as he could. Especially then. Usually he was not like that, though. He rolled on his back on the deck in the sun, twisting his face up to the sunshine and basking in the warmth of the almost-spring. Then the neighbor's dog killed him and my friend took his body and had it cremated and I picked up the ashes at the funeral home, in a wooden box with his name and the birth and death years, just five years, carved into the box. And I put the box first into a bin with winter running clothes because I could not look at it, then after a few days I put the box on a bookshelf in the bedroom, next to a bamboo plant, where I would look at it sometimes without thinking before remembering what it was, what it signified. I am not sure it's a good idea to have the box in the house, whether I can see it or not. I am not sure I am the type of person who should have a pet, or who should ever get another pet.

I still have a cat. I have my dead cat's brother, who I got to be a companion to the cat who died. It's as awkward as it sounds. It's like adopting your husband's child who you don't really have a bond with, and then your husband dies and the child has no one but you. So ostensibly it's your child. Ostensibly it's my cat. And I love him, reflexively. When he went missing I despaired. I cried a lot. He came back and I was overjoyed. I cried a lot more. Then his brother died and I lost my mind.

Not to compare cats to children or husbands, which I would know very little about anyway. It's just the closest words I had. Feel free to exchange the references with something more appropriate, like cats and cats.

I wonder if there is a cigarette in this house.

There is.


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Summer in the teens

This has been the itchiest summer I can remember since I was a kid. Mosquitoes lie in wait for me to step outside so they can try to bleed me to death through my feet. All they manage to do is keep me awake at night with the itching, experimenting with various itch remedies, pondering the usefulness of parasites. Trying to remember the symptoms of West Nile.

Survival of the fittest. Let he who is without malaria cast the first quinine pill. This calls for Jynnan Tonix. 

I slept a long time today with a pillow over my face, half convinced that staring at screens is turning me migraineful. And here I am staring at another screen.

I finally read Barbara Kingsolver's Prodigal Summer, and it got me thinking about predators in a way I hadn't before. I liked the book, my second try at it. I put it down a couple of years ago, put off by the biology, not ready for all the nature. I'm finally old enough for it.

Barbara Kingsolver is 58 this year, the same age my mom was when she died. I only looked her up to make sure she wasn't dead, or worse. Every suicide I hear about scares me. The only solution is to avoid the news, because we haven't figured out how to stop swallowing bullets, jumping into nooses. But she's alive. I just had to check.

Because now I'm reading David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, but sometimes I have to go back and reread for the chuckles I missed the first time when I read it looking for clues.

I mean, you see lots of clues in lots of things. Coincidences, clever word plays. They don't all mean everything you try to pack into them. It's exhausting to keep putting pieces together like it's one big puzzle that's going to come together in the end, because it won't. Or, shit, maybe it will. Don't ask me. Maybe it will.

But the clues all point different directions and none of them answer my question, which drags a bunch of little questions behind it like little wooden ducks on strings and becomes so selfish, I don't even ask it in the end. I just keep reading for clues and studying pictures, looking for anything familiar, afraid I will find it, afraid I won't. I don't think it always looks the same, I don't know if it always comes from the same place.

My brother is planning to board a bus on Saturday and head for North Dakota. He doesn't have a job, or even an interview lined up. He says his ex wife's step brother wants him to come build a smoker. I guess that's sort of a job. And I guess he'll have a place to stay, at least for a while.

I'm all kinds of worried. I can't even sort out all my objections. I guess that's why I'm awake so late. I told Alan I'd give him the blankets he left here, and Eddie threw in a couple of paperbacks for the bus ride. I can get a care package together to send with him.

I guess the rest of his stuff can go to Goodwill. The army cot, the mostly empty plastic storage containers, most of it stuff I bought him anyway, just the stuff he didn't take with him when he left that last time. Big stupid knives and bits of welded metal.

Probably I'll hang on to the knives.

We had a cookout for Alan on Saturday. I got him a cake that said congratulations, but I was still hoping he had an actual job when I asked to have that put on a cake. I probably would have gone with "good luck" if I'd known, but the steaks would have been the same. Over the course of the evening, I got sharper and snappier and should have left before biting Eddie's head off.

I asked if it counted as a fight, but Eddie said no. He ditched me after dropping my brother at his motel, a ditching I thoroughly deserved, and I curled up alone, feeling like I'd swallowed a wasp that wouldn't die. I felt the stinger bounce around my chest, sliding with my pulse, hot and mean. It started just behind the top of my sternum and slid in a rush of blood down toward the bottom, tracing a circuitous route as if it really were following a blood vessel. Or a twisty slide. When it got to the bottom, it reversed, climbing back up. I curled up around it and didn't sleep for a long time. I woke up in time to ignore Eddie's text messages, but I left my phone in the bedroom to avoid the temptation to reply. After a couple of hours, I finally came back in to see if he'd sent any more messages, and he was already calling. 

So of course I cried, and I was surprised when I did. I'm no good at fighting. I always assume it's the end. Right, this is where you blow up and I say something horrible and you leave and you're never coming back. And we're both sorry, but we can stuff our sorries in a sack.

It's not so much the horrible things I say, it's the contemptuous way I have of saying them. I get all sneery, and the nastiness just drips off the words. Here, have some of this vile and poisonous resentment, all hot and juicy and made fresh for you.

So of course I'm going to die alone, but probably not today. Because he said he was sorry too, and he said I wasn't really all that bad and he should have come over instead of leaving me to wonder, and I said what are you going to do if we move in together? Go stay in a hotel? Because I said something shitty? Because I'm really sorry I said shitty things, but I'm probably going to say something shitty in the future, and I should really be held responsible for that in an adult sort of responsible way. You know, in person. And he said that's why we definitely need two bathrooms. Because he knows I won't follow him to the bathroom. And he said it didn't count as a fight.

But I think it counted. And I think it went okay.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

switchbacks/rumspringa

I stopped in for beer because I had to wait for a train, and I saw a little sign with an arrow, so I pulled over and parked the truck. Inside a tiny shop, a man in a yellow sweatshirt flapped open the blanket-curtain separating the back room from the store. Vian. The town must have been Vian. His sweatshirt said Wolverines, the high school sports team. I could hear a tv from the back room, could just see a recliner. The place looked grubby and cozy.

The beer selection was mainstream, not a microbrew or craft beer in sight. I grabbed a six pack of Lone Star in cans and a six pack of Shiner. I asked about ales, but didn't get much out of the talkative clerk/proprietor. He offered up some Grolsch he had in the back, and I took it. He insisted on helping me carry my purchases out to the truck, maybe just to see if I was telling the truth about going camping in the mountains in January. Taylor watched us from the front seat of the truck. The liquor store guy said he could tell she was a kind dog. He whistled at my paper tag and told me to make sure I stopped at all the stop signs, because small town cops don't have much of anything better to do.

The train had passed. I got back on the road, heading for the Ouachitas. Another hour or so on the pavement, then 3 miles down a dirt road, and there I was.

My imaginary friend came without his wife. She's my other imaginary friend. It was too cold for her this year, and he was running the 50k. He opened beer bottles for me with his wedding ring. He told me I'd meet more friends of his at the top of the mountain. I found the bottle opener after a while. Other friends showed up. I made new friends.

People set up camp. People sleeping in their vehicles, people hanging hammocks between trees. One guy had converted his Honda Element into an enviable dirtbag RV, complete with shelves along one side, blacked out windows, and a bed that he could stretch out on - and he's 6'2". I asked. I was jealous. At least one sprinter van prowled the dirt parking lot, but I didn't get a look inside.

It was bitterly cold. I was giddy with cold. I went into the woods to scavenge firewood and scratched my face and my hands on the brambles. Dora served spaghetti at the edge of the parking lot. Runners and volunteers balanced plates and beers while we stood around the fire, grinning at each other. It felt like we were getting away with something.

Taylor wailed when the runners took off the next morning. She doesn't like it when she doesn't get to run. There's no explaining to a dog.

I got to my aid station a little later than I meant to, and all the water was frozen, but I had a pot in my backpack that I'd meant to use to make soup, and we used it to thaw out some water, me and my new friends on the top of the mountain. We shivered and grinned at each other. I laid out olives, cheese and crackers, homemade baked goods, and handwarmers. My new friends cooked quesadillas, logged runners' bib numbers, and we all cheered. I burned the shit out of my thumb on the water pot. There is a shiny line across the pad of it today. I keep digging my fingernails into it. A strip of skin will come off eventually.

I sent Taylor down the mountain with some friends so she would stop sulking and protest-napping. So she got 8 miles in. I was down the mountain before she got done, and she came running to the finish, OSU coat swinging, so excited. She curled up in her chair by the fire after that and couldn't find much reason to complain. A tired dog is a good dog. The other humans and I stayed up talking and drinking beer, building the fire up, melting our beer bottles in the fire, passing around the whiskey, staring slack-jawed at the stars whenever we turned away from the fire. Or maybe that was just me. The stars are so bright out there. The sky is so clear. I stood as close to the fire as I could get without burning, slowly turning, trying to keep all my sides from freezing. I put Taylor to bed in the truck and stayed up longer, still talking.

I don't know how cold it was. Cold. Freezing. It was a test of will when I went to climb into my sleeping bag. I knew I should strip down, change into something clean. I parted with a layer, shivered, pulled off another layer.

Sunday morning crept up on me. My imaginary friend and my new friend were making breakfast before I wriggled out of my sleeping bag and back into layers and layers of wool and fleece and jeans. Someone noted that the campsite had dwindled down to just our three Tacomas. I felt like we'd won something.

I stopped at the first Tote-A-Poke I saw, and I was disappointed that it didn't have any vending machines in the bathroom. I bought coffee and gas and a pack of cigarettes. The clerk asked to see my ID, for the cigarettes. She handed it back and said she'd thought I couldn't be more than twenty five. I laughed and said my beauty secret was going two days without a shower and camping in the back of a truck. I'm forty. Rumor has it, I was put down three months ago.

I drove until I saw the pink building with the giant T-Rex sculpture out front. The dinosaur held a metal handbag that said "GONE SHOPPING." I stood in front of the closed store, trying not to look too weird, smoking in front of the signs that warned of video surveillance, staring at the oddities, until the cold got to be too much again and I had to get back into the truck. My imaginary friend drove past and I felt very uncool to be caught staring at the thing that was meant to be stared at. Like a sucker.

I didn't take any pictures. My iPhone was dead most of the weekend. iPhones don't like cold, and I never remember to put my phone in a warm pocket.

Maybe next year.

Monday, January 15, 2018

alan, september, over pizza

Alan 9/10 8 pm

Any who, we left - see what was it, Tuesday of last week

(crash from dogs) it’s fine

before I left, told sheila, hey, check on the dogs, make sure they get fed, make sure they get water, and she said fine, and i said they’re used to sleeping in their crates if you don’t mind bringing them in and 

wednesday she called and said she was approved for an apartment, i said great.

i get home friday and they’re gone. i mean sheila’s gone with the babies and everything. i walk out into the backyard and both the dogs are fucking filthy. the water in their buckets was clearly not fresh.

I go in the house and there, both sinks are full of dirty dishes. there’s food laying out on the fucking stove. i told her, you kind of left me with a mess here, i mean, i’m not mr. goddamn clean but -

i’m not a slob, but, by some people’s standards i might be.

she finally showed up on friday to clean the litter box.

he got a bath. bull dog’s tomorrow.

we’ve been short handed at work. the guy i pick up went to jail. what happened was dylan, one of the other guys with a company truck, the other foreman, he’s going on vacation to ireland. i took Foster, the other guy, over to his house to get his truck and 

so i get a call from Foster, and he says “tell my wife i am going to jail.” so i call him. ask him what the hell’s going on, and i can hear the cop. i can hear the cop’s radio, i guess he’s standing right there, and he says he got pulled over for an expired tag and found out he had an outstanding warrant in macintosh county. 

like, well shit. i called paul, paul’s like i’m on it, we got the tag for the truck, we just didn’t put it on it. 

(but they didn’t impound the truck. somebody showed up to take the truck) *raises hand* oh, you! okay.

i go, 

any who, so we go in the waffle house, sit down, i told melanie, i said tell him what you told me.