Me & Jeni

It was hot.  Miserably hot.  So much so that I could barely keep focused on the blade of the knife as stinging sweat poured into my eyes. I kept having to stop and wipe my brow, blink tears away.  On top of the sweltering heat, my nerves were destroying me and I was shaking.  In view of the fact that I had never purposefully cut into another person before, the shaking was appropriate.  Rarely appropriate, on the other hand, was a perfect description of the person I was cutting into.  Jeni.  Jeni didn’t really have time for things like being appropriate or conforming to etiquette.

“Oh my Jesus Christ, would you stop jerking around?”  Jeni spoke into the wind as she sat hunched on the hood of her Datsun 210.  “For fuck’s sake, Amber, it’s only a tiny patch! Just cut it out and let’s go!”  We were hungry and this little patch of skin on the back of her shoulder had to be taken care of before she would allow us to do anything else.

I can honestly say that I’d have demanded the same had I found that there was a decapitated tick head just under a patch of skin on my own shoulder. Even now it makes me gag a little.  She’d picked up a tick somewhere in Missouri.  We hadn’t caught it for a couple of days; it was minute in comparison to the Montana ticks we were used to and by the time she found it, it had embedded itself on the back of her left shoulder.  Of course, she swiped at it immediately, which had dislodged it.  She’d made me look at it closely to see if I could determine whether it’s head had come with it. Apparently my affirmative answer had been wrong.  Now, we were pulled over in some desolate parking lot, and I was trying to focus on cutting a patch of her skin out.

Now, before you get all reasonable and start asking stuff like “Hey, why not a doctor or medical clinic?” or “Why, just why?” or “Do you have a dead heart?” I should fill you in on a thing or two:

1.     We were 19

2.     We had just left our home state of Montana

3.      Neither of us had really ever traveled

4.      We were driving across the United States in a less than safe vehicle

5.      We had very little money

6.      We were so, so dumb

7.      We did not care about how dumb we were; we didn’t have a clue

8.      We had begun with two missions and already suffered one failure

9.      We had gone too far to turn back, almost in every way possible

10.    There was no force on Earth that could keep me from him and she knew it.

I was surprised when the blade popped through the surface of her skin.  Immediately, blood welled up around the incision and she yelled out, “Holy shit!” while jerking her body forward.

“Jeni, dammit, I had just got the guts up.  Now you’re just bleeding everywhere.”  Jeni had jumped off the hood of the car and was running in small circles, droplets of blood oozing through her fingers and splattering the ground in a swirl.

“Fuck, fuck fuckfuckfuck!” She was bending over while she screamed now. The blood droplets were finding their way into her mess of black hair, a few splashed against the white tips of her Converse shoes.  “Fuck!” She stood up straight as a board, threw her head back and started laughing like a maniac, tears streaming down the sides of her face.  Luckily, I was used to this action on her part.  It was her way of facing circumstances that were scary to her.  She chose to laugh like a crazy person and push through.

“Shit, we better do this,” she said “We’ve used up all the time we have for a brown person to be standing on the side of road with a knife. Fucking Feds will be rolling along any second now.  You’re ass is grass if we don’t hurry.” She turned her back on me and bit her lip.  I made two more cuts and scooped a triangle shaped chunk of her shoulder out.  Then we drove to the roadside diner down the road and ordered chicken fried steaks.

My memory of that diner is that everything seemed to be trapped in a time warp, cast under an orange glow and languishing under a thick layer of cigarette smoke.  The entries on the menu were numbered and foreign sounding, but there were some old familiars.  Jeni and I smoked our cigarettes boldly and drank coffee amidst tables full of elderly people who must have wondered a lot about the two of us.  We were not concerned with them at all.  I’d be willing to bet any of the biddies who eavesdropped on our conversation went home and blessed their own ears for having listened to the way Jeni and I used words.

 

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Vision

I can still see you.

Standing on your porch,

finishing a cig and watching the sun drop.

I am made of the distance in your eyes

as you carefully search the painted skies

looking for a promise that

she’ll never say goodbye.

I am built of the pain

that comes with knowing

that, in fact, she didn’t

and she never will.

I am frozen with the silence

that is her voice, forever still.

Those nights we should have been there

wrapped up and stamped with “don’t care”

are what she left behind.

You stare into the sunset

and pray for the bombs in your mind

to stop

to drop

but they don’t

and I can still see you.

Running to love in a Datsun 210

When I met my husband, I was freshly 19 and he was 21. He had come home on leave from where he was stationed in NC as a soldier with the 82nd Airborne, 3/4 ADA. He was supposed to be home visiting family and friends and I absolutely stole every extra second he had. (Sorry, Della!) When he went back to NC, the amount of time I spent thinking of him was unbelievable- so was the long distance phone bill (Sorry Amber!) Luckily, I had an adventurous friend who had been planning to travel to New Mexico with me to stay with my Aunt and help with a new baby. We quickly modified our plans to stop by North Carolina. You know, on our way to New Mexico. Because 19 + hopelessly in love = really, really smart and rational. (Sorry Auntie Toni!)

We rolled through Wolf Point to say goodbye and left my dad in an utter state of desperation after he learned we had less than enough $ to actually make it across the nation. (Sorry Dad!) “Oh well! YOLO!” We yelled and drove our rickety 1980’s red Datsun 210 right outta MT and into the great unknown. (OK, we didn’t yell that). It took us two weeks to get to Fayetteville, NC and when we got there, we had just enough money left for a hotel room for one night. Marty came to our rescue. Two weeks later we had moved from temporary lodging (an empty trailer in a park where he was friends with the manager) that had almost melted us to death because it had no power or AC and it was July. And we were Montanans. In North Carolina. We now were living in our own tiny trailer that had 8 layers of dog hair and cockroaches in the walls. We had eaten no other food than bowling alley food because Marty fed us by charging it all on his commissary card. I’d managed to scrape my way into a job at a steakhouse, thanks to his friends, where I was a TERRIBLE waitress.

Everything was crazy, and everything was perfect. Two weeks after arriving in NC, Marty asked me to marry him. My first response was to tell him that he didn’t even know me. (See? I tried to warn him.) We were wed the next weekend, in a little roadside chapel that had seen countless young soldiers and brides come and go. I picked our wedding song without even knowing what song it was- I just liked the title- Unchained Melody by The Righteous Brothers. I wore the dress I’d worn for my high school graduation. I stood next to that handsome, sweet, kind young man at the alter in borrowed shoes that were too big for me and vowed to be his wife. I knew virtually nothing about life, but I knew one thing for sure- that I could never be thankful enough for having found him.

Poor Man’s Camper

My dad used to tell me and my brothers that patience is a virtue.  As an adult, I have come to view this saying as a both a truth and a tactic.  It’s no coincidence that he would impart this nugget of wisdom on us during times when HE needed patience to deal with our antics, I just didn’t notice that as a child.

Looking back, I know that he lived by this saying for a number of reasons.  It’s a good mantra for people who are poor or struggling.  And for most of his life, my dad has been poor or struggling or both.  Sometimes people get offended by the use of the word “poor”.  Trust me, it is not a description that my father would hesitate to use for himself.  Ever ridden in a Poor Man’s Camper? Not a recognizable term?  Probably because it is one of those things that my father invented out of desperation.

Poor Man’s Camper defined:  A refrigerator box in the back of a pickup truck, filled with kids and about to travel a few hundred miles on MT roads so that transport of the entire family would be possible in the one vehicle we owned.  Also known as a box of potential death or, to my brother, Sonny, the box of torture where he was forced to lick chicken Mcnugget sweet & sour sauce off the cardboard walls. Forced by me. Because he spilled it and I didn’t want it to get in my hair.  It was fine, he could see the gross spots with no struggle; we were child geniuses and had poked holes through the cardboard for light.

My father is a highly talented sculptor.  He can paint and draw too, but he loved sculpting.  His sculptures are breathtaking- and not in the “I can kind of relate to what the artist is doing on subconscious level” way… more in the “holy &%$&^, that is so beautiful I can’t believe you made it” way.  I truly believe that if he had more administrative skills and less children, his career would have been much different.  He never gave up with his work, even though it meant months of travelling, going to art shows all over the US and long stretches of having no money at all.  My childhood memories are riddled with waxballs, foundry tailings, paint specks and art pencils.  He believed in following his dreams, he wanted all of us to believe in our following our own dreams too.  My mom tried not to give up, she really did- but years of near isolation and being almost solely responsible for the daily tasks of raising four kids eventually took their toll.
Of course when the marriage ended, I blamed her- because I was 12 and dumb. Romance and dreams just don’t feed, clothe or diaper children and you can’t stay in love with someone who is always gone. He was running around the country as a hip, starving artist (ok, he probably would say that is not as glorious as it sounds, and I know it wasn’t). She was the “welfare mom” dragging 4 kids around Montana towns where she knew no one without a car. I can understand this now that I’m almost 40 and a little less dumb.  Mom only had to wait for about 10 years for me to come to my senses and cut her some slack.

Still, my brothers and I idolized our dad.  Remember how when taking a solemn vow as a kid, you used to say “I swear to God” because you really, really meant it?  It seemed that the consequences of having lied in an oath including God’s name were bad beyond imagination.  Well…my brothers and I used to ask each other “You swear in Dad’s Name?” to ascertain whether the truth was being told.  I know.  It’s hilarious and sad and we’re all cool with that because sad is always easier with a little bit of humor.  Those who have done some real suffering in life know that this is a truth of surviving tragedy and hardship.   The divorce between my parents was long, truth be told, it pretty much consumed my life after the age of 12. By the time I was 16, I was thoroughly convinced that my parents would hate each other forever and I would never be allowed the privilege of planning an event with my future husband and kids that wouldn’t include having to keep my parents separate.

That was true for a few years, but thankfully, patience is a virtue and grand-kids change everything. I think the reason for that is because grand-kids mean your kids are full grown and you KNOW how fast it happened.  You realize that time with them while they are little really should be a high priority and you’re willing to work through your own personal issues in order to soak up that time. By the time my parents came up for air from their custody battle, two of their kids were old enough to decide who they wanted to live with.   These days, my parents easily hang out with eachother at family functions and, actually, my brothers and I get totally creeped out if they spend any amount of time alone. No, Mom & Dad, you can’t go outside and share a smoke, we’ve had enough of your antics, thank you.

Another Beginning

“Hey Cat?” Tony turned his blue eyes to the sky, leaning his head back, blonde hair shuffling and falling over his ear and cheekbone.  They were sitting on the picnic table in his backyard; an after school ritual.  Cat was perched on the table top with her legs crossed. Tony sat on the bench, reclined with his back against the top of the table, his legs stretched out in front of him.  Over the years, that table had served as many a different setting in their games as they grew.  When they were eight, it was often a pirate ship, or a space ship, a car, a covered wagon.  Last year for awhile it had been their stage during their lip-synced air guitar performances as a rock and roll band.  They’d gotten in trouble for playing the radio too loud and so… the band had to quit, man.  This year they’d both turned thirteen, and so far, the table had only been used as a table.  The tree it sat under, of course, was a different story.

“Hey what?” Cat was quiet these days, her dark eyes often glinting in a way that Tony didn’t recognize.  When she’d first moved into the house next door, she officially became the only girl on the block. The very first day she was there, she’d caught him lurking in the lilac bushes that separated their front yards.  He’d been spying as she helped carry boxes and bags into the house.  Truthfully, he’d been staring because he couldn’t believe how much she could carry considering how skinny she was.  He’d been lost enough in his thoughts about the subject he hadn’t even registered that she’d seen him and made a turn in his direction.  He’d almost jumped out of his skin when he realized that suddenly, she was standing right in front of him, holding a box of clay. She’d dropped the box and put her hands on her hips.  Then, seeing the look on his face, she laughed, reached through bushes, tapped his shoulder and exclaimed, “You’re it!”.  That game of tag had lasted six years so far.

“I haven’t seen Dane for a couple weeks.  Where is he?”  Tony liked Cat’s older brother; he was mysterious.  Dane had always seemed like he was only half present in everything, like part of him was wandering somewhere else.

“He’s in Great Falls with Dad.”  Cat tossed her head back and jumped up, latching on to a bottom branch of the tree with both hands.  In two fluid motions, she hauled her body up and curved it around the branch, coming to a rest in a sitting position on the skinny limb.

“Monkey.”  Tony said as he raised his body from the table and hefted himself up the trunk.  “I have to get on a bigger branch.  That one’s gonna break if I sit on it.”  Cat began to climb to the top of the tree, living up to her name.  She was a fast climber, fearless in that tree, always moving like if she fell, she’d land on her feet for sure.  Tony had gotten less adept at climbing. By the time he reached their spot at the top of the tree, she’d been gazing at the sunset for four minutes.

“Old guy,”  Cat said with a smirk.  He smiled and looked at her, as he’d done hundreds of times since they’d been friends.  Her long black hair always floated around her face as if there was a breeze even if there wasn’t.  Tonight, though, as the sun cast brazen colors into their tree top vantage before fading into a starlit evening, Cat seemed to be shadowed.  Tony quietly sat beside her, wondering what the secret could be.

Debris

Debris

Photo Credit: Ayres Photogragphy

When the wind died down

and the dust settled,

we sat looking at the disaster.

Sifting through debris,

promising to go back to better times.

Times during which complication didn’t mar our intentions.

Times when our needs were less like chains

and more like opportunities.

Now we know,

we should have paid more attention

when what we wanted for ourselves

began to steal from what we wanted for each other. 

Then came the storm,

created by our selfish misunderstandings.

It poured rain into our hearts,

day after day.

It wrought clouds to crowd our minds

moment after moment,

building doubt so thick

we could not see the sea

until we were already choking,

flailing, sinking.

And as we reached out,

aching for something to save us,

all we found was each other to cling to

and that was all we needed.