The dust storm grew behind, metal rattling and voices howling. Before we turned tail against the angry stinging sand, a train rumbled by, the empty windows of this abandoned place staring desolate through the flashes of space between cars.
I did go visit him partly for self-serving purposes, partly because I might could write him onto a page and feel as if I understand him better, give him a more real place in my life and in my story. One visit won’t do that, of course, and so I will go visit him again. He’s 90, living now in a tiny town near the Arizona/Mexico border, a town with one restaurant and a fast-food joint and a whole hour from his VA hospital. I can easily imagine myself in his shoes, all alone and waiting to see which year of the next 10 will be his last. Which of these breaths will suddenly stop? I know how quickly I will be there looking back. I hope someone will visit me then, and I partly go to build up stock in my karma bank for when I’m old too.
But visiting him was a wealth of surprises and feelings, stories I’d never heard and someone else’s explanations for things that were wrong. The more explanations I hear the more I feel as if I could draw a thread out of all of them that would be closest to the true beginning of the cloth, the one true explanation woven of pieces of all explanations.
I remembered him as a smiling presence, a husky soft laugh like my dad’s, vague memories of him taking out his false teeth and clacking them at me, liquor on his breath and that ha, ha, ha; Grandma with her louder cackling laugh and smell of cigarettes, all of them laughing at these teeth and me looking at him with no expression the way I often did. I always liked him well enough.
I decided to visit Grandpa since I’m living close to him again, for a few years signed on to the ebb and flow of the desert, the way it brings me closer to the younger me, to the family we had that passed for nuclear, to the traveling and the moving of my dreams each night. To the empty howl of a train, the night sounds of crickets and whippoorwhils and the dark silhouettes of saguaros against brilliant jewel-toned Arizona sunsets. To what passes for home.
I called him once and got the answering machine, leaving him a message that I’d call him after work. “This is- this is your granddaughter. James’s daughter,” I said, picturing him knitting his brows on the other end and trying to pick out which of his 50 grandchildren this could be. When I called later that afternoon, he picked it up right away as if he’d been sitting beside it staring at it, willing his hearing aide to work.
So, ahem, yeah- what happened to this little blog of mine? I guess I have to get my ass in gear, kinda.
For your viewing pleasure is the actual photo from Roads on Her Face: The Safari Photo. Her very nice note on the back indicates that any of suspicions I had about her were most likely wrong. I mean, I AM usually the one making things up about other people.
Mom let me take it and scan it, barely- I think it’s one of her favorites. Note: Me, perpetually with a book in hand- and Soph with a fistful of dollars from somewhere.
Does it make any sense to speak of the road as a place, as a state of being? Long-haul truckers will recognize the feeling. Bus drivers recognize their office. The vagrants and vagabonds of the world know. It is a constant state of flux, of change passing outside the windows of your sealed-off little universe. It is the thrum of tires underneath you, the ticking of miles rolling through the odometer. The smell of gasoline, French fries, dirty clothes. A stiff, sore butt. It is the feeling that any second you can get back in the car and drive, to anywhere, for as long as you want. It is unmoored, exciting, and frightening. I feel complete ease only when driving somewhere, anywhere, my thoughts at their clearest and my emotions at their most known.
As a kid all you want is to be like everybody else, desperate to fit in and be accepted. I would imagine other families, my face pressed close to the glass of a car window as we passed some evening, the red sun sinking behind skylines of cities that we wouldn’t remember.
The people in those families, pulling up chairs around a dinner table, everyone’s rooms waiting for them after they ate. These unknown people with their normal lives, with friends and phones and parents with a plan. My parents’ planning involved maybe knowing where we would stop for the night, and a rough sketch for the next couple of days. The man with the plan, had a plan to have no plan. Planning was for dipshits, for all these sheep. He wanted to be the wolf among them. Momma’s plan was to take care of her children, to keep them fed and hope they might have some kind of life when all of this was done. Because she knew, somewhere down the line, it would be done.
Where were we? Talking about your boyfriends.
Gene Benton from first grade.
Go ahead, talk about Gene.
Oh..it. It was first grade boyfriend. Laughs. What is there to say?
I don’t know what that is. I never had a first grade boyfriend.
Well, it’s just, you know…it was just a title. First grade boyfriend. Wasn’t anything to it. Let’s see- I think I got my first halfway serious boyfriend in sixth grade. His name was Mark Faulkner, and his best friend Buddy Aldridge, was my next boyfriend and I ended up marrying him right out of my second year of college. I stayed married for about a year and a half, and of course I was 18 when I got married, so we just grew apart. We were just kids.
Were you guys married from sixth grade, or?
Umm…no, I had a black boyfriend in between that time. Laughs again..
What was his name?
How did that happen?
It, just I was being rebellious. We had just integrated school in about the eighth grade, and some of the girls were interested in some of the black guys. So I just got involved with some of those girls, and they got me involved with a black boy, and that didn’t go over very well cuz then the whole town found out about it. The principal said I was “struck down in the prime of my life.” Laughter.
Wow. Who was the principal?
Old…white-haired man. I can see him. Uh…Mr Baloo. Yeah! His name was Mr Baloo.
Did he tell you that, that you were struck down?
Yeah. Yeah. It was the day that everyone (interrupted) that the whole school found out, because the, the black boy that I was going out with, his sister was pissed off at one of the other white girls cuz she was going out with her boyfriend. So she told the whole school and it was a huge deal so the principal took a couple of us girls home, during school that day, to get us out of there I guess.
Ahh fall…the time of endings and beginnings both, lovely saturated colors and sleeping in too late, coffee and hoodies, crisp nights and short days. I get the urge to travel in the fall and spring more strongly than the rest of the year combined because it was our habitual move time. It was about to get too cold somewhere and just right somewhere else, and it usually meant floating away to the next spot like dandelion fluff. It gets a little easier each year to stay put, as I grow older and more settled. I hate saying older and settled. Those two words were never part of my life-view. I wanted change, constant excitement, wandering, new experiences, never-stay-put and a hundred different loves. I still want all those things except for all the loves. It makes me too scattered and takes up too much time. I’m happy with my one, and 10-20 non-person-type loves, like beer and pizza and Halloween.
Is it just that we settle for less as we grow up? Or is it that we are more content with life as it is right now? I like to think it’s the latter, but who the fuck knows. Settle for too long and all you end up with is dead.