Leaves {Turn} A New Leaf

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I went to the Renaissance Festival for the first time when I was nineteen. It was strictly off limits, even to the imagination, when I was a child because my righteous father (who had never been) told tales of the salacious nature of the event and the abhorrent behavior of all in attendance. As soon as the opportunity presented itself I followed my curiosity to the infamous event. I found the outrageous price of everything beyond the gates the most sinful part of the whole thing, but the cleavage was, in fact, impressive and the feeling of walking through a woodland village was worth the crowds and aimless quality of our whole experience. The thing I took away from the fair that had an impact on the rest of my life in a way I never could have guessed, was the handcrafted silver owl ring.
Fast forward three years. I’m back in my hometown, everything I had built upon leaving, now seen in reality. A life collapsed, my mind recoiling while my body went through the motions of keeping things afloat.
And then he shows up.
I knew Jesse in high school. We met when we were fourteen. I became new friends with all his old friends as he was silently transforming into a boy wise beyond his years, who knew the rest of us weren’t ready for the things he was discovering. So he just kept it all to himself. He was strange. Awkward. Didn’t say much. I had a messy relationship based in teen angst and drug addiction with his best friend. Jesse helped us get together, staying characteristically quiet about his own feelings for me. I was charismatic. Chaotic. Smart and mouthy and a tomboy who felt it useless to try to find a place in the teenage beauty hierarchy. Jesse never told me how much he appreciated that quality. He ended up dating my best friend.
Because of situations that arose from my activity with my boyfriend, my parents transferred me out of district for my junior year. In a fun twist, my boyfriend’s mom moved their family to that district at the same time. I only saw Jesse a handful more times. He visited me at my new school and got in trouble with the principal for standing on the school mascot statue out front, and we were all asked to leave. Most notably, he was there when I ran away and stole his mom’s car to deliver me to my planned hide out, where we shared the devastation of seeing his girlfriend, my best friend, for the last time before she moved out of town. We held each other and cried. Who could have guessed how often we would do that in the years to come?
We didn’t see each other for five years.
And then turns of fate brought us to pause in our hometown at the same time. I was in no position to start a new relationship but, long story short, he was everything I needed and he knew that. I didn’t fully understand what I felt for him, almost immediately upon reuniting, something I had never felt about anyone before. I told him it couldn’t happen, I wasn’t ready, I was a mess and I would just drag him through it. He had a trip planned to the west coast and he didn’t know how long it would take. He told me he would come back for me, but if I still wasn’t ready he would go on his way and who knew when we would see each other again? You can’t put a spark on a shelf and have a fire later.
He left. All I could think about was him. We talked every day. He made the fog in my life seem to clear, but I was afraid to jump into anything, especially anything that meant letting someone else take care of me at a time in my life where it was vital for me to know that I could float on my own. He was back three weeks later. His first stop was my house. What followed was a sort of organic fusion, and I don’t think it was conscious for either of us. It was just natural to be in one another’s company and it felt like it had always been this way. Nothing was stated, nothing assumed, we just were.
It was the end of August, after a handful of fairly serious shared experiences, that we realized, and spoke aloud, what exactly our bond was. Summer tipped gracefully into its usual, golden pre-winter attire, and found us taking hikes and long evening drives, lying about on sunny afternoons and spending hours at the skate park. We even spent time with one another’s parents and even they acted like it had just always been this way. There are a multitude of places my mind goes at each season’s turn, and as this summer fades I return to this place. I lost my job not long after Jesse returned from the coast and it was my first stretch of joblessness since I started working. You know the feeling when you have a couple days off in a row and twenty four hours seems endless and doing nothing is a luxury? My life transitioned into that place and as Jesse and I blossomed I realized I had never loved or been loved, with the exception of my children, in all my life. Everything from before seemed so dull and lifeless and base. It was like just being in his presence opened up this wealth of knowledge whose existence I had never come anywhere near.
I remember telling him I no longer believed in the permanence of love. I saw it as a formless, floating sort of thing, like smoke drifting from a constantly shape shifting flame. We were sitting on the orange leather couch in his parents’ garage and I said, “I feel like we should tell other people, ‘I love you right now,’ and only tell our children that we truly love them.”
We had spent night after sleepless night talking, sharing every minute thought, and just looking into one another. We had developed this habit of just staring at one another for a while and one of us would ask, “What are you thinking?”
Later on the night I made my statement about the transience love, we were in his old room, his head in my lap. He looked up at me and just stilled, his mossy amber eyes gentle and inviting. I knew what he was thinking, but I was afraid to say it. Instead I asked, “What are you thinking?”
His response was so comforting…It’s hard to put into words how it felt. Not quite comforting even, but comfortable. Like I was coming home in a way I had never been able to in all my existence. Every facet of my life is peppered with, or altogether steeped in some sort of horrible shade. All shapes and sizes of trauma, abuse, emptiness, disappointment, total lack of love, security, trust or ease. When he answered me I felt relief, like this was the beginning of what I had always been so desperate for- a place I could truly relax, knowing I was safe, knowing I belonged.
He kept his eyes locked onto mine and said, “You know.”
I did, and he felt it, but it was one of those moments where crippling self doubt crept over the knowledge and made me afraid to say something stupid; to say I knew and be mortifyingly wrong. I couldn’t say it out loud. He felt that too. He could read me like a book, even then. But he waited. Silently challenged me to try, to trust myself.
I smiled a little. “Do you love me right now?”
He said, “I just love you.”
At the time I didn’t even understand how full bodied and true a statement that was. If I were to say, “I left him x number of times,” I would have to sit down and really think through the last four years. I ran from his truth and his peace so many times. But every situation in which I left had three things in common- One, as soon as I was gone I knew I couldn’t live without him, and my thoughts were always on him because, Two, he just loved me. And Three, I was always running from an opportunity I saw only has a threat. Out of that pure love he challenged me again and again to rise to the occasion. To burst out of my old skin and be the person he saw me keeping down, denying in favor of whatever was easier. We’ve all heard the phrase “brutally honest,” but never had those words been so thoroughly defined. His truths were like crushing blows to the skull. Like knives to the gut. Like looking into the eyes of a boa constrictor and thinking, “So this is how it ends,” as you feel your ribs give way. PC was not his MO. “Putting it nicely” was not his thing. And what I couldn’t appreciate was that he loved me enough to trust I could handle the things he was saying. That he saw me as someone who, even at her weakest, could catch the meteors he hurled at me and hold on while they burned down everything I thought I knew.
He almost lost me. I didn’t think I was as strong as he already knew I was. And now I’ve never been so thankful for anything as I am for my crushed skull, spilled guts and punctured lungs. We’ll leave phoenix metaphors out of this, because even my cheesy metaphors can’t do justice to what my husband did for me.
And now, summer is winding down and in my mind I’m back on my sun dappled street, outside the little brown house where I restarted my life, experiencing that weekend-off feeling and remembering those eyes on my soul, sizing up my potential. Jesse met my little, tattered family and knew he was home. No matter how hard I fought, how far I ran, how lost I felt, he was there, whittling off the useless bark and taking whatever undue retaliation I dished out. If I had tried half as hard to help myself as he has always helped me, we would have known years ago that I’m bi-polar and progress would have been a lot easier to make. We tell ourselves that ten years from now we won’t feel the weight of how things all started out, hell, maybe even five years out, but right now it’s like a long storm has stilled its raging and we’re finally piecing things back together.
I never took that owl ring off after I bought it, except for one of those times I ran off. Jesse found out I was planning to leave, I don’t even remember how, and he said, “At least let me take you myself.”
I agreed, but he also told me I should let him have my owl ring, so he could at least have something beautiful to hold onto out of all this. I really didn’t want to, but I felt guilty and agreed. I regretted it the whole time we were apart, although it wasn’t the greatest of my regrets from the moment I watched his car disappear around the bend. When we reunited I asked for my ring back. He was upset, I’d told him he could have it. I felt it was unfair to keep a relic of something you still have. As begrudgingly as I had first parted with it, he returned it. We both have a deep appreciation for owls, and it came to be “one of those things” that’s a deeply meaningful shared detail. That ring was a lot more to us than just a band of silver, in a lot of ways.
That year I scoured the internet, in hopes of finding a ring similar to mine. I used any and all keywords I could find, discovered all kinds of unique sites I’d never heard of, and found a lot of cool jewelry, but it seemed my handcrafted piece had no equal. Until, some time after I had given up hope of fulfilling my quest, but habitually continued the search, I happened upon a ring almost exactly like mine. It was glorious. It was fortuitous. I was ecstatic! I ordered it, intending to give it to him for our anniversary, but I couldn’t wait.
We were married that winter. His parents gave us their original gold bands that they’d replaced years ago as they grew older, but had always held onto. It was a deeply meaningful gesture, especially since it was my father in law’s idea, and he’s the prototype of the hardworking, emotionally distant male who is chronically disappointed in his sole heir. (Secretly he liked me. I always knew it!) We wore them proudly, but over time it just sort of came to be that we wore the owls on our left hands. It has become a symbol of affection to make a fist and rub their little silver faces together.
It was always going to be him, strolling in with a deep seated and well justified hatred of all mankind, yet carving out a space for the one person he thought could go against that belief. That first night we came back into each other’s lives we walked from my house to the river and sat on the bank hurling stones into the racing sludge. I tried to skip mine, impossible on that water, but he grabbed all the biggest rocks he could find and launched them like Zeus hurling smiting thunderbolts. I tried to argue with him on behalf of humankind. Ironic, considering what I’d just, and really always, been through. Years later I realized he hated everything because he was such a sweet and benevolent person, but no one ever seemed to prove worthy of the depth of his ability to love.
This is the first year in a while I haven’t faced the prospect of winter with some sense of dread. I can appreciate this autumn as a time of relief while rich colors wash over the land. This time four years ago was when I first happened upon “Wild Geese,” just flipped a book open to a random page and there it was, embodying everything I needed to hear, and when I shared it with Jesse it was like a piece of understanding of all things that we held between us. Right now, however, the wild geese are headed out, and the world goes on. Tarantulas come out in late summer here, and ticks start to consider leaving us alone for a bit. The air thins and no longer insists on being quite so soupy. And my head is full of images of my first meeting with deep, life changing love, and my place in the family of things.
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He Came Back From The Future To Save Himself

The American dream is only
For immigrants
And the blind;
we’ll take this boy from his home
To awaken new realities,
To show him the truth
Beyond the misery of “hometown.”
How disappointing
That true happiness is so often
only known by the most broken.
Did you know
That underneath rock bottom
Lies simplicity?
Either that or religion,
Depending on how capable
You see yourself being
Of becoming captain
Of your own destiny.
What good is a dream
If you wake and live
The opposite of your desires?

Round 2

This small Nebraska town was nearly unbearable last time, claiming the engines of our bus And our gettin around car during a hellacious heat wave, amidst gargantuan mosquitoes and the psychotic episodes of the locals we had the misfortune of getting to know too well. Or, in the case of Pastor Jack, just rubbing the wrong way, which apparently justified trying to get our kids taken away. So, when our new van, purchased to carry on the dream while the bus wonders if we’ll ever be back, starts to give us shit just a couple hours from this dreaded locale, my heart begins to race. And then he says it.
“Well, we know we can make it there and the cops are chill. Wife, you could get your job back. Should we just stay there and leave with the bus And the van? ”

I hated the idea. Unfortunately, I’m the guy who will agree to things if the group seems in favor, rather than be the diva who takes the vote away because I’m too high strung and my husband will [possibly] accommodate me. I balk. I hesitate. I spell out our whole plan and the changes as a result of this potential deviation. The others are gung ho. Reluctantly, I agree.

We’ve been here about two weeks. The mornings and evenings are still cool, but the river is shallow enough in most places to not be too cold for a splash when the midday heat rises, and the mosquitoes aren’t out in force yet. I finally got my only pants patched up. We’ve made the acquaintance of a handful of fellow travelers passing through, including a couple with a griddle the very same morning a stranger randomly offered us a couple pounds of bacon. My friend shipped my refill of the new medication to me and I’m plumb and level and square, so far this second round.

Yesterday, as we prepared to leave the truck stop outside town and head back after job applications, the van wouldn’t start. We knew we needed a new stater and just figured we put it off too long. Unfortunately, we were marooned Out of town and our road dog wasn’t even with us. This conundrum, however, led to a pleasant discovery. Of all the things I’ve seen people turn a blind eye to, people pushing their vehicle is apparently not so easy to callously ignore. Strangers seem to feel compelled to help. My husband and I moved the van to an outer parking space where he would have more room to get under the hood. A man came over, first saying, “You know that’s a lot easier if you start the thing.”
He then got under the hood with my husband, went and got his own tools, and helped us figure out exactly what was wrong and what we needed.

The sprinklers went off in the wee hours (my husband is seasoned enough to know the sound of the sprinklers rising out of the ground, even in his sleep, and leapt to the front to roll up the windows just in the nick of time, as I stared at him half asleep, wondering what was happening) and spawned a stinking pit of black mud and standing water at the front of the van. Not quite the greatest work space. So, again, we begin to push the van, and a middle aged woman with colorful beads woven all throughout the hair on top of her head a la “I bought my granddaughter a bead kit,” jumped right in without saying a word. Her husband wasn’t far behind, and once we got the van in place he offered to save my husband the three plus mile walk in the eighty six degree afternoon, and give him a lift to the auto parts store. Within two hours the van was running again.

A trucker redeemed some free shower points for us and our road dog, and hooked it up with a laundromat pack, which is to say a ziploc loaded with detergent pods, dryer sheets and quarters. We finish our shower and come out to find our homie distraught, pacing the field behind the truck stop. While we were showering he got pack jacked. We asked inside and drove the roads nearby, hoping to see someone on foot sporting their new ill gotten gear, but no luck. He was amazingly sporting about the whole thing. His sleeping bag, bivvy, fresh socks, gemstones and photos are gone, but his hammock, ID and birth certificate were in the van, and he had his pocket knife and phone on him.

We stopped by the storage lot to get some things off the bus and found it in front of the shop. Somehow, when we were here last time, we didn’t hear that the building on the edge of the lot where the bus slumbers is a body shop. A shop run by a good ol’ boy who lives in the room off the garage and likes to drink beer and make good deals for people who help him come up with money before his bills are due. When the bus died last year the main shop in town quoted us $5k for an engine swap, and we still had to source our own engine. Tim asked for $650 by June first, for the 350 he had laying around, and another $600 when the job is done. I think my husband could have kissed him on the mouth. Instead he shook his hand, we raged up $650 over Memorial Day weekend, and my husband and the frequently mentioned traveling companion, Burns aka Mama Burns aka Beer Cup, buy beers and go drink them with Tim and his friends every couple nights. Seeing the bus opened up tonight was like finally seeing your kid arrive at the top of the transplant list. Even Burns couldn’t feel too down seeing good ol’ M.U.T.S sitting there, humbly awaiting her new heart.

Today has been wonderful, and the guy sleeping on the strip of grass at the edge of the Walmart parking lot is here to remind why we have this strange, strange love for this shitty Nebraska town. Not only is their Chinese buffet unrivaled in all the land (even if they do get sneaky every once in a while and slip in a charge for the baby), but the police and the Walmart parking lot maintenance truck (I’ve never seen a walmart vacuum truck before… And I’ve slept at a lot of walmarts… This is an entire mental tangent for me right now) slide right on by, taking notice of said sleeping Deadhead and not giving a rat’s ass where he sleeps, because at least if he’s sleeping, he must not be tweaking.

Good night, Nebraska. Don’t let the bed bugs bite.

Daily Dose – Impression

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/impression/
I wonder what his first impression was, as the Dollar Monster made a sudden right into the driveway a few yards ahead of him and swung up to the sidewalk where he was walking, guitar in hand.

“Where Ricky at? ” we all yelled, slightly out of sync. This kid, in his purple pants and skeleton shirt, walking around town with his electric guitar, seemed the type who might be able to help us locate our friend. Unfortunately, Ricky seems to get a new number every couple months so we have to locate him by alternative means when we come through town. This kid can’t help though. He’s only been in Nebraska two weeks and doesn’t know anyone, other than the girl he left Arizona to be with.

I open the bus doors and, to his surprise, invite him in. We pull away and start talking, learn that the girl he came here for burned him in four short weeks and he’s staying at the shelter, trying to decide what’s next.

“You’re staying at the shelter?” My husband asks incredulously. “If you wanna get outta there you can kick it with us.” Everyone echoes this sentiment, whooping encouragement. This kid can’t believe his ears and within fifteen minutes all his earthly possessions are piled on the floor of the van.

We get him food, and a drink whose partially empty can he crushes with his foot, a guitar case and a chair within the space of ten minutes, earning himself the nickname Crush. My husband and our road dog tell him what gear he’ll need if he wants to travel, let him know he’s more than welcome to join us, and we all talk about what led us here and what life on the road has afforded us, then we all jam. By the end of the night Crush is telling us he already feels like we’re family, and he knows he could trust us with his life.

He leaves to find a bathroom and I say, “You know, I’m thinking about how this is just what we do, but for him, his whole life just did a 180 in five minutes.”

The guys laugh. “We did just roll up on him super hard. Lucky him.” I wonder if he’ll tell his grandkids one day about the night the Dollar Monster pulled up next to him. DollarMonster

Fish Languishes

The trouble with posting and living is that so much is happening I forget to keep up, or there’s no signal, or we enter that realm of the perpetually dying phone with unreliable /shared charging options.

Weird things have happened; I haven’t been the only one with mental health issues on  this trip. An impromptu stop in Gig Harbor, WA resulted in a trigger fest, an abandoned vehicle, ratchet straps as seat belts and a vow of silence. There were almost new pets; a cockatoo, an eclectus, a handful of bulldogs, but matching our sporadic trip timing with others’ internet communication availability… Well, we didn’t add to our family. We found a couple gems in little Spearfish, SD (Golden Dragon Chinese Restaurant, Soul Food Bistro and the off season priced Bell’s Motor Lodge, at $50/night for a room that included a full kitchen!) where we chilled for Mother’s Day and realized,  when we woke in the wee hours of my daughter’s seventh birthday, that all but two of us had mild food poisoning. It was, however, in Spearfish that, for once in my awkward life, I had an instant response for some mouthy rednecks that shut them right up.

We did some uncharacteristic touristy things (Reptile Gardens gets 4⭐, Bear Country gets 3⭐for being cool but overpriced, and Devil’s Tower is impressive), met new people, camped in multiple national forests, found new money spots and work opportunities, and revised our life plans for the next three months. All the while Fish roamed the storage areas of the van, my hands too busy taking pictures and corralling the baby to worry about poses and further dividing my attention.

Now we’re in the all too familiar terrain of vehicle trouble as we totter on the border of the [mostly] dreaded midwest.

Pacific Northwet behind us, a trip to the Pacific now under our belt, and the horror of another humid, mosquito ridden summer before us, we plod ahead, bold, fearless (or at least trying to be), and a little more seasoned. Most of us, anyway. Fish is just bored.

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May 12th, 2017

My hands are dirty
And my face is raw
And this is where I belong.
I may never see
The countries I have heard of
And thought about
For so long.
The world is like a dream
Unreal;
Mystical,
Promising and foreboding,
And I could hide away forever,
Telling myself
I didn’t miss out on anything
Or
I could forge ahead,
be every part
Of everything
And make peace with my smallness,
For it is all I have
And the world is indifferent.