Roads on Her Face #39: The Silver Bullet

The old Airstream settles on Don’s land, her tires sighing out the breath pumped into them 20 (goddamn!) years ago at some far away rest stop- Nevada- maybe Oregon air, seeping out of tires no longer hard and young. Happens to us all.

I see her aging, flaking, and I know her and my destinies include me making her new again. I have to, I’ll rip out her insides and make her mine, strong and road-worthy again. Not young, I don’t have that kind of magic. But youth is not everything. I’d rather have her history, her wisdom. I don’t care how long or how much it costs. We will travel the road again together. But there won’t be 6 of us packed in there again.

The Airstream will be 26 feet of pure minimalist modern luxury when I’m done. Light and bright inside, and light on the road. I wish someone could buff me up and take out the nascent wrinkles before I reach her state of tired.

Walking into the trailer, our old home, brings back Needles where we first lived encased in her well-kept confines, the relative luxury of running water and electricity, of Karl’s borrowed showers, and his desperate want of my mother. I see that most in retrospect, don’t know if it was true and only assume.

Clackamas and Mt. Hood National Forest, where the rain drummed on the taut aluminum body, until we had to leave, avoiding the rust and must that would surely follow. The previous owners, a sweet Canadian couple with their road-years behind them, carved wooden coyotes and saguaros into her bulwarks (the faces of interior cabinets, and my made up ship-name for them). Crude art, that I don’t like but am loathe to take down. So much love in simple art, mine included.

As most good things, she became ours when Dad wasn’t around to fuck things up. Mom asked Granny for the loan. $5 thousand? $8 thousand? I remember we all took turns holding the check because it seemed like a ridiculous amount of money. The most we’d ever seen.

As the only material thing Mom held on to, I’m glad it was this piece of the past. And I’m honored to take her and make her right again. There’s never been a doubt she was a she- mother, protector, road-ship. All vessels are female, the holders of everything important.

The smell inside, of old must books and wood long un-loved makes me want to scrub and scrub all the neglect away. Make her, and the past, belong to me.

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When Life is a Writer’s Block

Yeah, this isn’t a whiny post about why I haven’t been posting, or blah blah blah. Just an honest one- it will be a year tomorrow since my momma lost her happy ending. It put me off the story of us, of her, of me because it wasn’t the arc I had been writing, on to a generic upbeat ending about how life was better, about how we’re off the road now and mostly wish we were back on its endless curves, its excitement; where you don’t know what it means to be bored.

Life don’t work like that, kids, life is a shitty bastard that likes to kick you right in the guts when you are expecting sunshine and flowers. I won’t go into details, I’ll save that for the story that I’m back on track with now. It just took a year to realize that was the way it was, and there is more tragedy now. And I am a writer and that’s just another kind of story.

Roads on Her Face #32: It Wasn’t All Bad

Things I admire about my dad (he’s still kicking around, but the man I knew is probably different from the one today, hence the past tense):

  • He didn’t give a shit about you, or me, or anyone, if it didn’t suit his fancy.
  • He was a stylin’ dude. Black snakeskin boots, shades, slicked-back hair and muscles. I might have picked him up on the side of the road, too, if he’d had his thumb out and I wasn’t his daughter.
  • No one dared to give him shit. He thought he was a hard ass, and so did everyone else. He wasn’t scared of you, your mom, or your big Russian mobster brother. He somehow managed to portray a personality larger than life, bigger than his problems, much stronger than himself and all of his 5-foot-6-inches.
  • He ruled by fear with a fist of absolute power. We can all aspire to such heights of total dictatorship.
  • No matter where we were or what we were doing, he could handle it. He could fix any engine, patch together any broken thing, talk himself into a job, or ask someone for money. His minions had complete faith in his abilities and never doubted him, except when he was drunk or in jail.
  • He didn’t need much. He could live just fine with a backpack of odds and ends and a .44 in his jeans. He taught us all how to live sparely.
  • He’s got amazing genetics. His whole family is beautiful, high cheekbones, dark hair, strong bone structure.
  • Somehow, he learned the survivalist skills of Bear Grylls and could take off into the desert for weeks living off the land. Maybe it was growing up with 14 siblings that made him closer to our caveman roots. Grabbing food when you can, working your butt off, just surviving, surrounded by the needy mouths of your pack.
  • He’s a well-educated guy without ever going to college. He read constantly, Updike and conspiracy theory and Slocum and Rolling Stone and the Bible.
  • He is somehow able to go through life without taking responsibility for any of the things he causes, genuinely believing that none of it is his fault. It must be easy to live like that. Or maybe he’s a good faker.
  • He’s a virile little shit. Like the rest of his family, he spreads his seed like wildfire and his offspring pop up in his wake as if sprung from the dirt. There is no fear that his family tree will fall in the foreseeable future.
  • People follow him as if he were a disciple. He has strong ideas expressed with such utter belief in the truth of his words that it is difficult to doubt him. He could easily convince droves to drink his Kool-aid if he wanted to.
  • He always has done what he wanted, when he wanted, and never let anything stand in the way of that. I find myself often doing things I don’t want to do these days, and then I think of him. I wonder- has he ever been happy? Has living this way made him happy? I think not. I think he would say he has never chased being happy. But then what the hell has his life been for? What are any of our lives for?
  • He loves strongly, even if that means he runs away from it. I never doubted that he loved me. Sometimes, though, it doesn’t matter and it is not enough.

Roads on Her Face #13: Life Sucks, and Then You Die

Dad used to say that a lot, that “Life sucks, and then you die.” He would laugh, a cackle really, and bite down on the cold stump of his Cuban cigars. I never knew where he got those cigars from in the height of the Cuban embargo. They were probably fakes, rolled from tobacco grown on the East Coast somewhere, with the little gold Habanos rings slipped over them like false promises of ‘til death do us part’ slipped onto girlish naïve fingers. The stumps always smelled like a wet ashtray, and saliva, and from the rolling of the stump from left to right there were permanent yellowed streaks in his mostly-grey beard on each side of his mouth.

He would give me the cigar boxes if I asked nicely, and I would wait impatiently for him to finish the 25 cigars, for the perfumed treasure chests of pinkish cedar, the aroma of the wood and tobacco and the apple slices he used to humidify them creating a heady scent that would permeate the foreign bills, and pieces of dyed snakeskin, the notes and drawings that I thought important enough to take with me everywhere, through the changing homes of cars or buses or trailers, to stash in my backpack while letting go of the other things, old comic books or sketchbooks or clothing.

But that wasn’t what I set out to write about. I considered how to write about it objectively, and there is only my own objection. There is only what I know about myself, and my own feelings, as there only ever is. In thinking about the whys of me, the wherefores, the whens, I have to consider the whys of him, of others in my life. It’s hard to do, but easier because I know certain things, things I have learned with adult hindsight and things I knew instantly without thinking. I know he was not as hard as he liked to pretend, that he must have been angry that he always felt he had to run, angry at his parents and their too-many children, angry at his own shortcomings, angry with the government and the way-things-were. Angry with my mother, for wanting, for needing. He must have felt powerless. So he bought a lot of guns, and he drank, and he screamed, and he railed against it all and he grew more frustrated and impotent. He killed, not people, but helpless things that couldn’t fight back. I think it is why the innocent things tear at my heart so, why I pick up the injured animals and bring them home, why I take in the rescues and why I love them so hard it hurts. It’s why I don’t want to understand him, not really, because to be in a place where your only power comes from hurting others is a sad place.

He took a whole litter of kittens, once, and he stomped on each of their tiny heads until my brothers ran sobbing away. He didn’t bother to wipe the blood from the bottom of his boots. He always had a good reason, and this time it was that we couldn’t feed them all. “If that cat gets knocked up again the same thing is going to happen,” he said. He would laugh when he told people the story of how he got a free goat, a pet goat that the owners wanted a good home for, and he said he walked into the yard and he cut that goats’ throat in front of them all and watched the blood and the horror flow all around him. “But we needed the meat, you know,” he would say, as if that made the brutality justifiable. “They didn’t see that one coming, huh? Bet those kids had never seen anything like that shit.” I bet they hadn’t. I never doubted the story.

He brought home a puppy, in a moment of thinking of us, he said, and we all fell promptly in love with the little pitbull mix. A few weeks later he ripped up a bicycle seat, and when my dad beat him mercilessly and the puppy growled at him in pain and fear, he shot it in the head with his .45. Thinking of us, again. The blast rang in my head, over and over, a death knell, and I let go of the feelings I had for the puppy.  “Don’t go out there,” Mom said, perfectly still. The puppy’s yelping had stopped with the sound of the gunshot, instantly. “He was no good, he would have been a killer,” Dad said. “If they growl at you like that you can tell.”

I cry more now than I ever did as a child. When an emotion comes I try to embrace it, to let it be. The feelings weren’t easy to read on my face when I was a child. I took care to hide them and all signs of weakness, because life was hard and it would eat you up and spit you out if you showed you were weak enough to allow it. As a protective measure, I could shut it all out behind a big, smooth wall that stretched farther than I could see. I would withdraw, and I would forget for the moment until I had space to think about the things that hurt.

I am surrounded by love now, and permission to be, and gentleness, and kindness. Those things flood your heart, and make you weaker so you succumb to the tears and the feelings. I know that dad tried to make us hard, and it worked. We were all as hard as kids could be, our faces locked into masks and our feet thick as leather from running on stones. I hope that my siblings meet someone that can break that wall down for them, that they have not let the wall become them. Feeling the world hurts, yeah it does, but that’s what it takes to live. You can’t run and hide forever. I mean, you can, but at the end what do you offer to eternity – do you hold in your two hands the broken pieces of your heart? That’s what my dad will hold, and I hope he has regrets.  I plan to hold my whole heart with all its scars, and to look back with love and thankfulness and joy. It all does matter, I know it does. Every kindness, every beautiful moment.