My Belated Love Letter to Bukowski: Our Chance Encounter at the Racetrack

4 Comments

bukowski-2003-02-g

Bukowski was not a man I loved early in life.

I remember one of my male acquaintances, a member of a well-known local punk band, used to walk around town semi-stoned or drunk with a copy of a Bukowski book pinned tightly in the crook of his arm: the cover always pointed outward… pages systematically dog-eared for effect… a literary badge of sorts pinned to his chest which represented his own relationship with addiction. A prop used to prove that he was deep and not sauced and sloppy like most addicts and that like Bukowski he was literate, poetic, misunderstood and in need of a woman to “get him” but not get too close.

I of course considered this pathetic attempt for attention and literary greatness comical.

Although I did not love Bukowski I knew literary realism at its best and unlike Bukowski, this poor pathetic excuse for a “literary musician” would never be a literary master. He would in fact spend his lifetime writing anthems that would be sung by few… remembered by some, but only die-hard fans in need of their own “metaphorical version” of a Bukowski book pinned to their chests proclaiming to all within ear shot that they were in the scene when those lamentable anthems were written.

Bukowski, therefore represented to me a dark mentor, an abusive father figure, a symbol of the broken men that I dated. Men that could have been great artists in their own right if they hadn’t tried so hard to follow in his footsteps… relish in his painful life, which was difficult enough for him to survive, without passing down the legacy to the next generation.

I spent years angry at him… angry that he stood as a model for the great Los Angeles artist: broken, worn, drunk, sexually inappropriate, distant and unwilling to let anyone of real substance close for fear of having to give of himself or of the pain it might cause him.

I was like a petulant child unwilling to see past my own wounds to examine his.

Selfish, self-centered, alcoholic bastard I whispered to myself each time my husband watched Barfly, drank, used and slapped me with a barrage of verbal abuse. I blamed Bukowski for my lot in life and hoped that his pain was as great as mine… that where ever that mother fucker was… he was suffering.

And then… I stepped aside from my childish view of love; the view of a young woman who has not yet learned that all love holds pain… that there is no fairy tale formula… there is no perfect relationship. I decided as all good readers do that to ban him from my mind was literary sacrilege and that it wasn’t “giving in to him” it was “getting to know my enemy better” and soon… the deeper I delved into his world I found myself seduced by his words… his repetitive whisper that “all lovers betray.” I found solace in the knowledge that we all suffered this “betrayal” together and that we were all hopelessly flawed: even me.

By the time I was in my mid-twenties I considered myself taken… won over by his word. I longed to be the good woman he wrote about, the one that would have willingly stolen what he had left of his soul to find myself immortalized in his words.

But unfortunately, I did not have my moment with him until I was 28 years-old and it was barely a moment… and then… a year later… he was gone.

I was at the Los Alamitos racetrack: a favorite place of mine and a favorite place of his.

I had spent my childhood there with my own father who unlike Bukowski was most of the time a happy drunk, and loved to let me and my brothers make bets on the racetrack ponies. Each time we scored a winning  he turned and grinned at all of his friends as if we were protégés in the making.

These were good memories for me… the only girl in a group of boys and men… always trying to fit in… always trying to be on equal footing… always trying to make my father proud.

But the day I met Bukowski, my father was already years gone from me and the racetrack had become a place I liked to go to feel close to him by letting those memories of my childhood wash over me as I gambled with my friends.

I was with a group of people who were all in infamous bands at the time, all cult-followers of the writer, but the only one who spotted him through the crowd was my friend Chris.

He turned to me and grabbed my arm. “That’s Bukowski!” he said in an excited whisper. As if the man could hear us half a short track away.

 

“Come on,” Chris said as he dragged me across the great hall, past the ticket windows to meet him.

 

I stood back at first, almost as if Chris and I weren’t even together… as I watched Chris rush forward, tap the writer’s shoulder, reach for his hand.

I couldn’t hear what he was saying to him but I could see Bukowski becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the attention. His head was down, a small embarrassed smile on his face, nodding politely as Chris yammered on.

And then, Bukowski looked up, looked at me.

I noted so many things in that brief moment: his weathered skin, pock marks across his nose and cheeks, thick lips, his receding hairline, his large ears, before I stopped at his eyes which were still intensely focused on me.

And then I let myself be seen.

I smiled big and laughed.

I watched as he perked up… there was a coming to… a connection… and I saw the amusement in his eyes as he enjoyed first my shyness and then my exuberance. For once I was glad I was a girl, able to make Bukowski smile, and I ran forward with abandon and hugged him hard.

I don’t know what expression registered on Chris’s face when I did this but I heard later from the group it was a mixture of shock and embarrassment that I had over-stepped my bounds, and then.. complete and utter disappointment that he hadn’t thought to hug him first once he saw how Bukowski responded to me.

He opened his arms and pulled me close to his chest… pinning me in the crook… and any shock he may have felt at my reaching out to him so freely softened and left him quickly as I snuggled in, smelled the scent of him on his coat, my forehead pressed against the rough patch of hair on his chin and I knew that I was a metaphorical badge for him: he was not distant from me… he let me in and embraced the moment.

And then… the sounds of the racetrack returned… the quiet was broken as he patted my shoulder… the way a grandfather does… now uncomfortable with the outburst of my emotion but… wanting to let me know that it was wanted just the same.

My hand lingered with his for a moment and then he took his rolled up newspaper and tapped my fingers as if to say Enough child, before he bowed his head and stepped off with purpose to find a good spot to watch the fifth race.

We left the racetrack shortly after. Chris still yammering on about the encounter. Me… quiet… reflective… unwilling to talk for fear I would break the magic of the moment. But, it seemed to me, that I met him at the perfect time in my life… at the perfect place. It felt like I could feel my own father lingering in that hug… and maybe it’s just that melancholy and nostalgia now sets in as I write this… but it was one of the most tender moments of my life… maybe… because I chose to love him… as is.

 

My moment with Allen Ginsberg resulting in a misunderstanding over the word “asshole.”

7 Comments

Allen Ginsberg

I had grown up in the shadow of the 60’s.

Being born in 65, you could say that yes… I was a child of the era, but seeing that I would not be coming of age until well into the 80’s, what I picked up from that time period came directly from my older sister, Char, who was actually a senior in high school the year that I was born.

She spent my formative years raising me on the art, music, writing, pop culture of that time period and though I was so very small… it was not lost on me:

Being painted up with designs of psychedelic flowers and taken to the Griffith Park 1967 Summer of Love Love-in.

Studying the artwork in R. Crumb’s Big Yum Yum book; though my parents thought it was “inappropriate” for small children.

Going to the Glide church in San Francisco to get a hug from Reverend Cecil Williams and listen to the “Church of Rock n Roll.” And of course browsing in the City Lights bookstore (where on any given day) we could have a chance run-in with one of the numerous beat poets my sister taught me to emulate and admire.

It wasn’t really a normal childhood but… one that made me blessed with awareness of the greater world around me and the numerous possibilities that lay ahead.

And so… influenced by it all, I carried it with me over the years and hoped that someday… my path would cross with some of the greats of that time period.

So it was with profound joy, that in my early 20’s, just after finishing my first album with Hollywood Records, that I finally had my moment with Allen Ginsberg.

I couldn’t believe it.

I’d basically been waiting to meet the man since I was three and as luck would have it, he was signing books in Long Beach that week.

I couldn’t wait to see him.

I had no babysitter that day…

Joe, my husband was “on the road.”

I was broke and waiting for my advance to come in from just making my first record.

But I didn’t care… I grabbed my son, who was just a baby at the time, grabbed my vintage Ginsberg books, one of which was a rare photo diary of the Beat Poets in Tangiers only 2,000 copies ever made, and off I went.

When I walked inside, I found a decent, yet modest line, and I was surprised that he hadn’t drawn more of a crowd.

But I stood there in awe: watching every move he made until it was my turn to approach him.

And when I was finally next in line, he finished talking to the person he was with and turned to look at me.

I think now I must have seemed so young to him… standing there in cut off shorts, an old pair of chucks, an old worn wife beater, a baby with a baby slung up on my hip… some of his oldest books clasped tightly in my hand.

I looked at his large eyes… what was left of his graying hair… he seemed a bit removed… stone-like, a Founding Father of literature…. looking at me as if I were puzzling to him… without a smile on his face… and I was immediately intimidated by his presence.

In a small voice, I told him how much his writing had influenced my own, how I hoped that he would sign these books I had brought with me… and that as soon as my advance came in from my record, I would buy his new book, but barely had enough money today to pay for the gas to come and see him. And then, I pulled my cd from my pocket and asked him if he would accept it as a gift.

He took the books and the cd from my hands.

He paused as he looked over the two books I had brought, before looking up at me and saying, “These books are older than you are.”

I smiled as he flipped through the photos of him frolicking with Kerouac, Burroughs and the others down in Tangiers.

“And this?” he said as he looked at my cd. “Is this spoken word?”

“No,” I said.  Almost embarrassed that it wasn’t. But then I held my head up and bravely said,  “It’s music. These are my songs. I wrote them.”

He looked at the photo of me holding the baby on the cd cover and then back at me holding the baby in real life.

He didn’t speak again.

He opened both books… signed them… and handed them back to me.

I smiled… thanked him… and remained in a daze the entire ride home.

I didn’t need much.

I wasn’t necessarily “star struck” but I was silenced by the magnitude of his work and the influence it had had on so many.

When I got home I put Dylan down to play and sat on the swing to look at what he had written.

In each of the books he had signed his name… the date… and then had printed a large A and a large H inside of a circle.

I didn’t know what to think.

What did it mean?

Why A.H.?

What was with the circle?

I felt a bit uneasy suddenly about the whole exchange… I began to wonder if this was some secret code to distinguish me as one of the jerks that hadn’t bought his new book and then I realized what it meant.

“Asshole,” I whispered.

He totally got away with calling me an “ASSHOLE” for not buying his book. 

Suddenly my heart went cold.

I was embarrassed.

Furious.

Disappointed that he would do something so low.

I fumed about the insult all evening until my husband called me from the road.

“Did he really write the word asshole?” my husband asked.

“No,” I said. “But he put A. H. with a circle.”

“Yeah…” he said. “Sounds like code for asshole. Especially with that circle and all.”

I suddenly hated Allen Ginsberg.

How could he be so cruel?

Hadn’t he once been a young struggling artist?

I wanted to go find where he was staying in Long Beach and slap his old face.

But instead.. I sat down and wrote a vicious and scathing poem about him and then shoved it in a box, along with my bruised ego, and let the years brush the incident aside.

It wasn’t until Dylan, my baby boy, was in his early 20’s that the memory came back to me… when I found my son, in my writing room, looking at my signed copies of Ginsberg’s books, Dylan’s hands gingerly touching the pages, studying the faces of the Beat Poets in Tangiers.

“Did Allen Ginsberg really sign this for you mom?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “But he was a jerk.”

“How so?” Dylan asked.

And so I sat down and told him the story of when we met Ginsberg.

Dylan, obviously not as idiotic as his parents, listened to my story before looking at me and saying, “Yeah but how do you know he was being a jerk? You just assumed he was being a jerk because you felt bad you couldn’t buy his book that day.” He closed the books and put them back on the shelf. “Now that we have internet have you ever gone on line and looked to see if he wrote that in anyone else’s book?”

I stared at him.

Of course I had never thought to do that.

After I had been so humbled by the incident I tried to never think about it again.

“Come on,” Dylan said. “Let’s look.”

I sat down on the computer, beyond trepidacious, with my son standing behind me, and my hands on the keyboard.

I typed the words: Allen Ginsberg A H in books.

And a moment later… this explanation appeared:

From the Holy Soul Jelly Roll liner notes Ginsberg explains how he came up with “Ah”, “…[I] got in the middle of the group who were going off to blockade a highway and started chanting “Ah” after asking them to chant with me. Everybody sat down, then we discussed strategy calmly rather than as a hysterical mob. “Om” closes out at the end but “Ah” leaves the mouth open, breath goes out [see Ginsberg’s Mind Breaths poem for more]. On the 4th of July you see the fireworks and say “Ah”, or you recognize something and say “Ah!” When Trungpa said “Why don’t you try ‘Ah’?” he joined an American sound with Himalayan wisdom, and I’ve used it ever since. “Ah” for recognition, appreciation, the intelligence of speech joining body and mind and for a measure of the breath.”

Suddenly, I felt sick.

All of these years… all of this time…

He had died with me angry at him.

“Wow,” Dylan said. “That’s really cool and super sad that you thought you were an asshole all of these years when really he was showing you recognition for being an artist.”

I wanted to cry.

I wanted to shout, “I AM AN ASSHOLE for thinking Ginsberg was the asshole.”

I wanted to go back in time and rush back into the store and hug him until it felt like his old bones would break.

But I couldn’t.

That’s not how life works.

We make our mistakes.

We misjudge those we love.

We allow skewed perspectives to lead to rash judgements which get in our way.

I would never have a chance to meet with Ginsberg again… and the sting of that… painful.

“It’s okay Mom,” Dylan said. “He didn’t know what you thought all of these years.” And then hugged me hard. “Think about it…” he continued. “He might have been listening to your music this whole time… and glad that he inspired you to write it.”

And I was proud of my son.

Proud of his voice.

Soothed by the comfort he offered me… when I was unable to forgive myself.

Nana Tries to Get Me in the Shower

7 Comments

I have lived with my mother for many years.

First, out of necessity and later by choice.

Most of the time, we get along just fine but every once in awhile, like every parent-child relationship, we “get into it.”

Maybe it’s when I’m trying to leave for work in the morning and she decides that it is absolutely imperative to stop me in my tracks and tell me a story about when she… “Stepped on a small animal once and didn’t like it.”

Or…it could be when she asks me for the millionth time to show her which button to push to turn on the cable, so that she can BLAST Two and a Half Men re-runs for the entire day.

Or… Maybe it’s when I’m just about to nod off to sleep and I hear her cane thumping down our entrance walkway, my hall door creak open quietly, as she screeches at the top of her lungs,  “Are you awake? I said Deidre… ARE YOU AWAKE?”

No… I want to shout back… I’m just lying here pretending to be dead.

It is in these moments, that I must admit, that I feel like Danny DeVito’s character “Owen” in Throw Momma from the Train, and the fantasies of knocking the old woman down and rolling her out the front door are actually palpable.

But… I love her… and so… I deal with her quirks and foibles as I’m sure she must deal with mine.

But the day she tried to get me into the shower with her naked… was the day I knew she had really gone too far.

It was after her second knee surgery.

She hadn’t bathed in over a week and ripe, as only an old person can be, I suggested that it might be a good idea to wash up a bit.

“Well,” she countered. “I have been using these wet wipes they gave me at the hospital.” I watched as she picked the pack up and waved them at me… as if I couldn’t possibly see them lying on the table next to her.

She then threw them back down, disgusted with my lack of hospital hygiene knowledge, and became engrossed in a quick newsflash related to Charlie Sheen’s latest antics.

“That Charlie,” she shook her head at the television and looked back at me. “I don’t know what he thinks he’s doing going at it with those girls.”

I tried not to roll my eyes but it felt like they went on automatic pilot and circled my head for a good minute.

I was sure that everyone in the world knew why Charlie Sheen was getting it on with porno girls.

“Mom,” I said trying to direct her attention back to bathing. “Mom…” I said again a bit louder.

She sighed, exasperated by my interruptions, held up the TV remote, pressed the mute button repeatedly… confused each time the sound turned on and off… on and off.

“I just don’t get this remote,” she said. “Something must be wrong with it,” she pressed the button with a flamboyant finger flare one too many times and I snatched it from her hand and showed her, with a very exaggerated face and a snide tone, “One time, Mom.” I paused for emphasis after pressing the button. “See?” I said again. “One time.”

She ignored my demonstration and fed one of the chihuahuas the left over bits of her Breakfast Jack.

“Don’t feed them that Mom,” I pleaded. “It’s not good for them.” She grabbed another piece of egg sandwich off her plate, stared me down, smirked, and gave the dog another bite of food.

I felt my eye actually twitch.

The thought of hurling the chihuahua across the room and knocking my mom’s old, worn, blue recliner chair out from under her while shouting, “Look Old Woman! How do you feel about feeding that damn dog now?” Crossed my mind but I refrained from acting on impulse.

“You have to take a shower,” I said calmly.

“Fine,” she snapped as she snatched the remote from my hand, dropped it on the TV table, and slowly got up from her chair to walk to her room and get her things together.

“Can you at least help me?” She asked.

“Sure mom,” I said. “Just call me when you’re ready.”

I went back into my office to type, and catch up on my writing, I didn’t hear my hall door open, or the cane thump down the wood floor towards the bathroom, or the shower water begin to run, until I heard, “READY!” from somewhere inside my bathroom.

I stopped.

Paused.

Not sure if I had heard her correctly.

I got up from my computer and opened the office door.

“Mom?” I said.

“YES I’m in the BATHROOM!” She shouted over the blast of the water.

“What are you doing in my bathroom?” I asked through the closed door.

“You said you’d help me,” she shouted. “It will just be easier if I’m in here.”

My shower had an eight inch step over ledge.

My shower had no elderly hand rails, or grip tape on the floor, only an old white porcelain soap dish attached to the wall that you could hang on to in case of emergency.

It would not be easier in my bathroom.

“But Mom!” I shouted. “It’s not safe and…”

“Just come in and help me!”

Suddenly the horrible realization of what she meant by helping her with her shower became quite clear.

She didn’t want me to hand her a towel, or give her a robe or clean clothing discreetly from my side of the door, she wanted me there with her the entire time.

Oh God… I thought to myself. I hadn’t prepared for this.

I opened the door slowly and found my mom naked… a full frontal assault…  standing there… waiting for me.

I tried to divert my eyes anywhere away from her naked flesh but dealing with my present…. and confronted with what would be, one day, my inevitable future… I felt like I had suddenly stumbled into a chapter of Burroughs’ Naked Lunch or a deleted scene from Lynch’s, Blue Velvet.

It was horrific.

I watched as she carefully climbed into the shower, and I steadied her by keeping my hand pressed gently to her back as she grabbed the soap dish on the wall and centered herself beneath the shower head.

“Oh that’s nice,” she said as she felt the warm water rinse over her and began to scrub up with the bar of soap.

I stood, my back pressed against the wall, listening to her wash and thought, Okay… it’s really not that bad. I think I can handle doing this every now and then if she needs me to.

I smiled to myself… feeling a bit altruistic actually, impressed with my ability to handle the situation so calmly.

And then…  I heard the bar of soap hit the tile floor.

“Deidre,” my mom said. “Can you come pick up this soap for me and wash my back?”

I felt like I was pinned to the wall.

Like some unknown force was holding me back and warning me not to go in there alone.

“Deidre” I heard my mom call again.

I steeled myself for the moment and like a good offensive player in football, who tries to recover the play after he fumbles the ball, I took a quick step, bent forward, grabbed the bar of soap from the floor, while trying to ignore my mother’s naked ass, and jumped up satisfied that I had completed my play and began scrubbing her back.

Everything was right in my world for exactly a second.

One second.

Then… I heard her say, “Oh this is ridiculous! Just take off your clothes and get in here with me. It will be so much easier if you just get naked and wash me down. I need help with my butt.”

I don’t really remember much after that, but I do know that I threw the soap towards the soap dish, threw my hands up into the air, and did some type of cha-cha back pedal out of the bathroom as I waved my hands back in forth in front of my ears, trying to erase the words I had just heard, while babbling something like, “LALALALALALALALALLA.”

It was horrible.

I was out of the bathroom door faster than ever before in my life and I slammed that door behind me.

“What the hell are you doing?” She shouted after me.

“That’s it!” I screamed. “Get your ass washed and get the fuck out of that shower now!”

My mom didn’t say a word. I heard her humming softly to herself and knew that she had won this battle.

The water soon stopped.

She dried herself with the towel I’d left hanging on the rod before asking me to go grab her robe that she had left hanging in her bedroom.

I walked across the house, mumbling angrily to myself, furious that I had been so stupid as to be the one to sign up to live with mom.

I stomped into the room that she had shared with my father for most of my life, and stopped… stared… at the many photographs and mementos she had placed about the room:

My baby teeth sitting in a small glass cup.

A photograph of me smiling, a tooth missing, red jump suit on, doll in one hand.

A card I had given her for Mother’s day last year… displayed prominently next to her bed.

A photograph of both of us together at my college graduation, her arm wrapped proudly around my shoulders and I felt overwhelmed by the passage of the years.

I grabbed her robe and quietly walked back down the hall.

“Mom?” I said suddenly humbled by my experience. “Are you okay?”

“Yes,” she said, “I’m clean now. Are you happy?”

I handed her the robe through the crack in the open door.

I wanted to tell her, “No actually. I’m not. I would prefer you to be young again. I would prefer you to live forever. I would prefer to never think of the day when you won’t be here to shout at me from inside of a shower to hurry up and get naked and get in there and help you.”

But… that’s not what I said… and that’s not the way the world works… so being the good daughter that I am… I said, “I can’t believe you wanted me to wash your ass.”

She smiled as she picked up her cane, thumped the floor, and hobbled out past me.

“Well,” she said. “I always washed yours you little shit.”

I smiled.

I knew this dance.

It was our, I love you, and it would always be this way.

My First Love: Hugo Man of a Thousand Faces

3 Comments

hugo-thousand-faces

Just recently one of my good friends procured a doll that I had coveted since elementary school: Hugo, Man of a Thousand Faces.

You should of seen my expression when he told me about finding Hugo in almost mint condition… that most of his pieces were included (even his sideburns!)… and yes… he had received him in the original packaging.

I tell you… my face must have shown the pain and longing I felt for my first love… the shame and humiliation I had endured… knowing that I one day carelessly tossed him aside, left him to fend on his own, while I headed off to a joyous time at summer camp, not knowing that my mother would seize the opportunity of my absence, root through my room, and quickly hand Hugo and other misfit toys over to the Goodwill.

I looked at my friend’s new Hugo doll and suddenly, I felt an irrational anger. Just like a child unwilling to share, I wanted to snatch that Hugo box from out of his hands and make a mad dash to my car where I could sit and play with him free from interruption.

But just as I was about to throw a tantrum and exclaim that Hugo should really be mine, my friend said, his voice sweet as he held the box gingerly in his large manly hands and looked lovingly at the photos and description, “I always wanted a Hugo. But no one ever got him for me.”

And I felt my heart give… I wanted to steel myself to the moment but I couldn’t… my envy turned into understanding: I knew what it felt like to pray for Hugo and believe you weren’t going to get him.

I couldn’t begrudge him this gift. I smiled and expressed my happiness at his find, while my thoughts turned back to my own childhood.

It was Christmas, 1975. I was ten years old.

My world had consisted of a multitude of Barbies and G.I Joes.

I had every doll that you could imagine.

I had dream houses and Barbie jets.

G.I Joe tanks and an arsenal of weapons.

I had elaborate stories for each one of my dolls; most of them hinging on the fact that we were in the midst of the Vietnam war during 1975 and my Barbies were always waiting, hoping, praying that my G.I Joe dolls would return safely from war.

I had just come back inside after making my large and very scary clown doll, attack my entire Barbie village while the G.I Joes tried to contain the situation to a “20 mile radius,” when I heard an announcer’s voice from our old Zenith console TV shout: HUGO CAN BE ANYTHING AND HE’S A HAND PUPPET TOO!

Something about his voice seemed “urgent.”

As if I was about to miss out on the deal of a life time.

I ran to the living room and watched as a boy, about the same age as me, used Hugo’s numerous disguises to create “thousands of pretend fiends.”

I knew immediately: I had to have him.

I screamed for my mother who took one look at the TV and said, “That is the most hideously ugly doll I have every seen. I’m not buying you that” and headed back to the kitchen to finish making our tuna, toast and gravy for our Saturday dinner.

I was barely deterred.

I knew how to lobby for a toy.

I would make a campaign to win my Hugo.

I started by leaving my Richie Rich and Little Archie comic books laying around the house, because I found that they always had an ad for Hugo, on the back page.

Each time the commercial came on the TV I would mimic the announcer’s voice loudly and draw attention to the screen.

I wrote my Christmas list early and HUGO was the only item on it.

And when I was afraid that even that might fail, I prayed out loud each night that Jesus would not only protect me while I slept but also bring me Hugo… just Hugo… and with him… I could save the world!

By the time Christmas morning arrived I could barely contain myself.

I was up by 3am, begging at my parents’ bedside, to open presents early.

I’m surprised they didn’t get out of bed and spank me senseless with the orange Hot Wheel track… their weapon of choice… but they didn’t. They told me I could grab my Christmas stocking, open it in my room, and not to come back to wake them again until it was a more reasonable hour like 5am.

I sat on the floor of my room and looked at the pathetic offering in my stocking: a candy cane, an orange, a bag of jacks, a box of crayons and a coloring book.

Nothing was enough without Hugo.

The hours until 5am were some of the most painful of my young life… each second an eternity… as I lay on my stomach, ate my orange, and colored.

When my kitty cat clock finally hit the magic hour of FIVE OH OH… I ran down the stairs at a furious pace… rushed past the Christmas tree to scream for my brothers who slept in the downstairs rooms off the back hallway, and then did a quick reverse and ran back to our tree.

I looked at all of the unwrapped gifts Santa had brought to us: Schwinn banana seat bicycles, Malibu Barbie, the game of Sorry, but no Hugo in sight.

I tried to look happy.

I tried not to behave as a spoiled brat.

But I would have traded everything under that tree for my Hugo: EVERYTHING.

An hour passed by with each of us taking turns opening gifts while my mother and father sat in the recliner chairs, sipping their coffee, and trying to keep some semblance of order in the present opening rotation.

And soon… all of the presents were open…

All of the wrapping paper was being burned brilliantly, by my brothers, in our fireplace… while I sat in the corner by the stairs, pretending to play with my Malibu Barbie, my head down, big warm tears rolling down my cheeks.

I thought I was doing a pretty good job of being quiet and hiding my pain but I guess I should have known that I couldn’t hide my emotions from my parents.

My father came over and stood beside me, his COOL menthol cigarette in one hand, coffee cup in the other.

“What’s a matter with you?” he barked.

I shook my head… afraid to speak… afraid that I would sob and look like an idiot that didn’t appreciate what was given to me.

My mom shouted from the kitchen, “I think you have another present behind the tree.”

And for a brief moment… my hope returned.

I dropped Malibu Barbie and crawled across the floor, slid under the pine branches of our tree, and reached to the far back corner where I found a box that looked… unfortunately… like a shoebox.

I pressed my back against the wood paneling of our wall and sat… unwilling to come out and open yet another disappointment… a new pair of Ked’s or worse yet… Wallabees.

“Come out,” my dad said.

I crawled from behind the tree and sat with the box in my hands.

“Open it,” he told me.

I said a silent prayer… a final prayer for Hugo.

I reached up and slowly began to rip the Santa paper off the box.

Through a small hole in the top I saw a large “H” and suddenly the rest of the moment escapes me.

I think I actually lost my mind.

There he was!

MY HUGO!

MY MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES!

I squealed with delight and rushed up the stairs to open the box in private.

It was even better than I imagined.

I opened the instruction manual and began to count off the itemized list of disguises:

  • 1 wig
  • 1 goatee/hairpiece
  • 2 glue sticks
  • 2 sideburns
  • 1 mask
  • 4 eyebrows/mustaches
  • 2 noses
  • 2 glasses
  • 2 chins
  • 1 eye patch
  • 2 eye pieces
  • 1 bandage (with fake bloodstain!)
  • 4 scars A bunch of warts/moles
  • 1 set of fangs

It was fantastic.

I spent the entire morning making Hugo into numerous fiends while my brothers sat next to me, eating crispy bacon, mesmerized by my immediate “mastery” of disguises.

Hugo became the villain and the hero in each and everyone of my stories.

He sat proudly on my desk, his mysterious smile, holding all of my childhood secrets that I had quietly whispered to him in moments of play.

Yes… Hugo was my best friend and confidant until that fated day my mother got her hands on him and finally got rid of the “hideously ugly” doll I had begged for.

I often wondered why she got him for me to begin with if she felt so strongly about him?

Maybe she had once wished for a toy that she had never received.

Or maybe it was my father’s doing.

But either way… Hugo was the best Christmas present of my entire childhood.

The Katella Deli Cornbread Incident: Or why you shouldn’t punk nice people in front of Ms. Wood

16 Comments

clint gif

I have never hid the fact that I like to brawl. You can ask anyone… even my students. I am not proud of my violent past… I made incredibly raw mistakes as a punk rock rebel of the early 1980s and I have felt very grateful on numerous occasions to still be alive. However… I have to admit, that I am also a bit distraught that I am no longer able to put myself in “compromising” situations due to the fact that teachers cannot be felons.

And when I say brawl… please don’t picture me walking around like any number of bullies in books or film who are just “looking” for a fight.  That was never my style. I’m more like the bully that likes to fuck with the bully. And now that I am approaching the age of  “menopause” I’m finding the temptation is returning with a passion and my only fear regarding the looming age of my retirement, is that I will no longer have teaching to keep me in “check.” And honestly… the idea of finishing my life in a prison cell where I can write every day, only to be disturbed during, exercise, eating, or shower time with a bit of one-on-one shank and fist-a-cuffs thrown in… sounds like a Pulitzer prize winning novel to me.

So I swear, on whatever oath you hold dearest to your heart, that I really tried not to brawl at the Katella Deli. I really didn’t want to get into it in front of a whole restaurant of really old people, their main clientele, but the cornbread incident was just too much for me.

He was a middle-aged, white man. Short, squat… one of those guys that overreacts at his kid’s soccer game… who wants to check the rule book before he agrees with the call. The guy that will phone the city if you are out of compliance in anyway then walks around, breaking the leash law, with a giant fluffy poodle shouting to everyone in ear shot, “She’s trained. She’s trained. She doesn’t need to be on a leash.”

Yeah… I know you’re already getting annoyed just reading this…

I glanced at him briefly. He was standing at the take-out counter. I noted his bald spot, his attempt at a comb-over, his cargo shorts and his strappy Drew Warren orthotic man sandals, while sitting on a bench waiting for my own take-out order. He couldn’t keep my attention for long. I’d been conversing with this lovely older African-American man who had not only won me over with his good looks and charm but had really gone in for the kill when he just happened to let it slip that he was a Ph.d of Literature at one of the local prestigious colleges. I was enamored and we were both well into a serious conversation when suddenly a ruckus broke out at the counter.

We both stopped and stared. The little Napoleonic take-out bastard was harassing the waitress pretty good. I felt my eyes begin to narrow and focus. My hearing honed in on his words.

“You will give me the cornbread. Do you understand? I don’t have to explain myself to a take-out waitress. Give me my cornbread, now.”

I waited… I was dying to jump in… but I knew I had to give this young girl a chance to stand up to a bully on her own.

“I’m sorry, Sir,” she said in her kindest voice. “Your order only comes with one piece of cornbread. If you want another piece, I will have to charge you extra.”

Here I watched as he stomped his little hairy-toed foot and threw his arms up in the air, his plastic take-out bag almost clocking the old man eating his matzo ball soup quietly at the counter, before slamming his hand down and making a loud smacking noise on the Formica.

“If you don’t give me another piece of cornbread right now…”

But he was unable to finish.

An older woman, who had been mid-order when the scene went down, turned towards him and said, “Excuse me, but I was ordering for me and my daughter. Could you please let me finish?”

I thought he was going to have a mental breakdown right then and there. His eyes grew large, he turned to the woman and began yelling, “This is none of your business. I was here first. Can’t you see this bag in my hand?” Here he threw the bag towards her and I watched as the young woman behind her flinched. She was small and meek, a girl of about sixteen and you could see immediately that she was special. Her sweet face now confused by social cues she did not understand. Her eyes looking up towards her mother, terrified by the incident, and that was it.

He had gone too far.

If he wanted to pick on someone, he was gonna get a mother fucking handful from Ms. Wood.

“All for a piece of cornbread?” I said.

The restaurant stopped.

I swear to God the restaurant stopped.

My voice, as most of you know, and as some of you current and former students have unfortunately heard in one of my wrathful moments know, that my voice can stop traffic on a busy day in Bangladesh. It is a force to be reckoned with… an entity of it’s own…. a weapon of mass-destruction able to bring the most stoic and unruly bully to tears. I barely raised the level a notch but everyone in that restaurant knew that hell was coming.

He turned to me. Not really sure if the pudgy, white middle-aged woman standing in front of him said it. Then he stepped forward, all bravado, to confront me head on.

“Excuse me?” he said.

I walked right up to his face, my eyes level with his, my chest inches from his chest and said, “You’re really going to behave this way over a piece of cornbread? You’re really going to berate a waitress, abuse an older woman, terrify a special child in front of ALL OF US over your need for one more FREE piece of fucking cornbread?”

Suddenly, he realized that the entire foyer was silent. That every person in the area was waiting for his response.

I was ready to grab somebody’s walker and bash this son-of-a-bitch but good. I was actually hoping for the opportunity.

He tried to hold his ground… he tried to steady his gaze… but he could see that there was something “challenging” in my eyes and he was rocked to the core. It took less than a second for his appearance to crumble and the true wimp to be exposed for all to see.

No balls.

All bite.

“That’s a rhetorical question,” I heard the Professor say from behind me. “I think you better just take your cornbread now, Son… and leave.”

There we were… the ebony and ivory super heroes of the literary world… able to vanquish villains with glossary terms and fine, proud speaking voices.

He stomped out of the restaurant and of course, didn’t say another word until he was within “running distance” of his car but by then, the Professor and I were already surrounded by a round of applause and everyone enjoying a moment of camaraderie as we recapped Mr. Cornbread’s idiocy.

“Thank you,” the older woman said to me. I smiled and then made eye contact with her daughter. “Hi,” I said. “I’m Ms. Wood. I’m a teacher.”

Her face just moments ago scared and sad, looked up towards her mother and said, “Teacher” then she reached out and touched my arm and I held her soft white hand for a moment before she came close to me and hugged me.”

“You’ve got a gift,” the Professor said. “Teaching’s a calling.”

“Teaching lessons to idiots?” I said as I continued to hug my new friend.

“If that’s what it takes,” he said.

We both said our goodbyes, wished each other luck, as we walked off with our take-out orders and on to our regular daily lives.

It wasn’t until I got home that I found a small box in my bag with a piece of free cornbread in it and a note written in blue ball-point pen, on the top of the box, that said, “Thank you, Ms. Wood.”

And it wasn’t until hours later that Mia, my former student, a waitress at Katella Deli, texted me and said, “It was you wasn’t it, Ms. Wood? I heard all about it! Text me!”

I did text Mia that day. She updated me on her progress in college, as she worked her way towards her teaching credential, and reminded me that I was one of the teachers who inspired her to become a teacher.

And isn’t that the great thing about life? That we can have a profound influence on any human being… at any given time… and teach lessons based on our own experiences and maybe by doing the right thing every once in awhile… even end up with a free piece of cornbread?

A Walk for Ms. Wood

14 Comments

Opal Green Door.jpg

A Walk for Ms. Wood

I live in the forest now. It has been something I have wanted since I was a child spending most of my summers in the mountains around Big Bear and now, here I sit, in an old historic cabin in the middle of the woods. Yes, that’s right. Not in town: in the woods.

I don’t miss my hometown of Long Beach when I am here. I know, like anything or anyone that truly matters; that Long Beach is always there waiting for me. Like a good parent, she let’s me wander and return for comfort as needed. It feels good to feel her strength somewhere off in the distance; just a short drive to the city that holds the people that I love.

Today the wind is blowing through the mountains, what feels like a warm Santa Ana, a precursor to the coming Fall, and I listen as the trees bend and sway knowing that I am completely alone. There is a quiet to the woods, a shift in energy when people pack up and head down the hill, and I know that my cabin neighbors are not present today.

Opal, my baby pit bull, has just come up to me as I write this, tail wagging, whole body wagging really, ball in mouth, hoping I will open the cabin door so we will go outside and therefore I pause for a moment and we do.

Being in the National Forest is not like walking in our town’s Nature Center. Yes, when I am in the Center I may run into a coyote, spot a hawk or an owl, or on the rare occasion glimpse a fox but, I don’t walk the path worried for my mortal life.

Here, I know that once I take the path into the woods there are any number of predators that I may come across and though most people find me to be a person that they see as “fearless” there are twinges that creep in, especially when I am with Opal; who to me seems like a lure for anything wild. I always have the feeling that she is a city girl in the country and that the true beasts will show her just what wild is as she gallops down the path chasing yet another beautiful butterfly or rushing to find exactly where the ground squirrel or the chipmunk live, oblivious to what lurks in her new surroundings.

A few months back, Stephen and I were stopped from our bickering, over who was going to build what inside of the cabin, by a beautiful gray bobcat that crossed in front of our kitchen window. We have always marveled at this window. A ten-foot by five-foot giant pane of glass, brought up the mountain sometime in the 40s and installed so that it captures a large span of forest and lake and makes you feel that you are viewing a landscape painting of magnitude.

The cat came up to the left of the glass, from the base of the ravine, and entered the picture and at first, my mind could not fathom what it was, too big to be a house cat or a raccoon, but not the right shape for a large breed dog.

He was beautiful, the way he moved at a steady pace, sure in his stride, aware of his surroundings with almost a strut to his style. He stopped in front of our window, enjoying the warmth of the sun and preened himself for a moment before something in his nature knew, just as I knew when I was in the forest alone, he knew that someone was watching.

He turned his head quickly and stared us down. We had been sure he couldn’t see us through the reflection in the glass but he had and we were privy to a moment of connection to something truly wild. It was the strangest feeling. His intensity burned through the window. I felt like I had been caught naked: vulnerable and unsure. It was then that I was glad that Opal had not been outside bounding about when he appeared, and though many locals said he probably would have “gone to tree” if Opal was present, something in his steely glare seemed to negate their reassurance.

His ears pricked up as he watched us and I noticed the fine feathered tips that shot straight up from the tips of his ears as if he had his own permanent party favors or fireworks displayed for all to see.

Then, he left, as mysteriously as he came to us, over the ridge and into the next ravine and I prayed to whatever God the forest listens to that he would live a long beautiful life undisturbed in his habitat.

Yesterday, there was a mama black bear and her two cubs destroying bird feeders for their liquid sugar and frolicking and playing in the trees across from our cabin. Someone had taken a video from the safety of their window and once again I was glad that Opal and I had been inside, an instant image of her running forward, baby-to-babies, all cubs really wanting to play and mama, ready to protect.

People love to act as if black bears are “no big deal” when I tell them that we have bears in our area and though I never correct them, I do like to imagine each of these people, walking a path, as they are crossed by a 400-pound black bear with cubs. I tell you what they wouldn’t do in this situation, they would never say something as stupid as black bears are no big deal ever again.

A bear is a bear.

And though yes, a grizzly can be terrifying, and anyone who has seen the film, The Revenant, has now had that idea seriously hammered home, a black bear can be scary too. I’m not quite sure what I would do if I were crossed. I imagine making myself big: arms raised, legs wide, mouth loud, as I have done before when dealing with coyote incidents at the park at home, I doubt I would pull out bear spray as a means of trying to ward a mama bear off; especially if this was a mama bear protecting her cubs. I know how fierce I can be protecting my own children, I can’t even imagine how terrifying I would be if I had canines several inches long and claws that could rip open a gut with one swipe. I imagine that my posturing would most likely amuse her but that my bear spray may be what would set her off. Hopefully, I won’t ever have to find out.

I have seen numerous black bears but I have seen a grizzly only once in the Big Bear Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. I watched as he floated in a pool and swatted a telephone pole around and bear hugged it as if he was on a floatie in a pool in my own backyard. It was then, in real life, not in film, that I understood just how easy it would be to “end me.”

But, having said all that, I do believe that I rather come across a bear than a cougar. I have thought about that more than I probably should, imagining me grabbing the scruff of it’s neck after it had pinned Opal to the ground and I of course, being who I am, would not allow my pup to fight it alone, and yes, I might die beating it off, but this is not the Nature Center and this is what you sign up for when you decide to live in the woods.

I have a healthy respect and a great love and admiration for these animals and I understand that this is their home, their territory and they have invited me in as a guest of the forest. I don’t carry a gun, though I have thought about getting one lately to deal with people, not animals, but for now, my only weapon of defense is a big stick, very Teddy Roosevelt as I walk through the National Park and thank him in spirit for creating this for me, for all of us really.

And so, I will stop writing now, and I will put on my shoes and grab my pack, and take baby Opal where she longs to go, out in the wild, and though I’ve heard whispers of a cougar somewhere up by Camp Cedar Lake and that the bears are now rumored to be close to the mineral springs, we will walk that way and be part of this great vast wilderness because as Franklin Roosevelt, Teddy’s cousin once said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself” and I was not born to stay cradled in a cocoon but to live life to its fullest and look for a story worth telling and so off we go, into the woods, Opal rushing ahead as I follow her lead.

Snowshoeing with Stephen

2 Comments

12509375_10153412048947677_2358965795997726621_n

To say that I was fussy would be an understatement. Leaving Long Beach late, we hit bumper-to-bumper traffic all the way up the 605 and straight onto the 210.

Our trip to Big Bear would now take a solid three to four hours to get there instead of the usual two and after a long day of teaching, nothing to eat since breakfast, I was beating up Stephen pretty good. And as usual, he sat there and took it; his Buddha like demeanor in almost all situations infuriating.

“You’re like the guy in that Snickers’ commercial.” He said.

If looks could kill, Stephen would have been tossed out the door and rolling down the slow lane of the 605 at that very moment.

“No, no!” he said, correcting himself, “You’re like that guy from Network. You know… I’m mad as hell and I just can’t…

“I know the guy,” I said.

“Yeah but what was his name?” Stephen pushed our pup, Opal towards me as he made room to rummaged about in his pocket, obvious glee registering on his face, “Hang on, I can’t remember his name. I’m going to look him up.” He pulled his phone out and Googled: Mad as hell.

There was a blissful moment of silence before he pressed the phone towards my face and said, “I forgot my reading glasses at home could you read this for me and tell me…”

“Howard Beale! God damn it.” I shouted. “It was Howard Beale!” My knuckles tight and white on the steering wheel. “I’m driving!” I pushed Opal back onto Stephen’s lap and watched as he adjusted himself around her large, lanky puppy body.

“Yeah,” Stephen said. “That’s who you are.” He pointed his finger at me. “You’re that guy.”

We didn’t talk much after that.

Stephen, a keen observer of my road Tourette’s syndrome, chose to take a nap with Opal, so he didn’t have to deal with me, as I navigated the rest of the way up the mountain.

We hit Big Bear around 7, chained up the truck and grabbed take-out from Denny’s, which was a slow and painful mistake, and headed up the paved but pot-holed forestry road to our cabin that sat back in the woods.

Owning a cabin in a National Forest has many advantages: privacy for one, but unplowed dirt roads is not part of the package. I knew that even with the truck we might not get in but I went up to the high road behind our cabin and planned to hit the gas and hope that the chains would carry me up and over the first drift and we’d use gravity to drop us into the area where our cabin sat.

A parked Subaru Outback blocking the road foiled my plan.

I was furious that someone had blocked the community road but Stephen calmly hopped out and headed up to the cabin that sat just a few feet off in the distance.

I rolled down the cab window to listen to the soon to be exchange.

A nice looking older man with jet white hair came out on the porch, he was wearing a fair isle sweater and was a picture postcard representation of how I imagined Alpine skiers in the 1950’s to look. He shook Stephen’s hand and then in a thick Czech accent shouted down to me, “Hello, I am Merik. You can try to go up that road but I tell you, you won’t get in.”

Being a big believer in signs, jinxes, and fate, I was pretty sure that Merik had just fucked me from getting anywhere but my frustration and rage, combined with my super ego was pushing me to show him—show them both really.

He walked down from his cabin and moved his car out of my way and watched as I floored it up into the drive and slammed head first into an ice bank that almost stuck the truck.

I didn’t care.

I was so hell-bent that I backed it up, floored the truck again and slammed right back into the bank.

I watched as Merik put his hands up to his temples, comic really, and shook his head back and forth, Stephen standing next to him, his mouth agape.

When I went back for a third run, I backed up too far and the truck slid down the icy road and went sideways to the edge of the cliff.

This was the moment when Stephen ran over to the cab and whispered, “You’re being stubborn. You’re going to get hurt. Stop it. Let it go. We’ll hike in.”

Merik sensing my fury tried to calm the situation down by shouting to me, “Come on now. Come inside. Let’s have a drink on this.”

Goddamn Czechs. I thought: Always a reason to party.

I waved him off and drove up the road away from the men and went a good clip before finding a small turn around and heading back down towards them.

By the time I returned, Merik was back in his warm cabin and Stephen was waiting to jump back into the cab.

“Just park there,” he said, and pointed to the side of the road. “We’ll take Dora’s path straight up the mountain.”

We parked on the edge of the main road and looked up at our cabin that sat a good football field straight up a bouldered outcrop.

I don’t know what Stephen was thinking but I was thinking, How the hell did a woman in her 80s climb that path everyday for the years she lived there before us?

“Let me get the snowshoes” Stephen said.

I watched as he got out of the truck, the air sharp, beyond cold, and reached under the blue tarp of the truck bed for the shoes.

“Where’s the other pair?” I asked through the open door of the cab.

“I just got shoes for me.” He said.

I swear to God our dog, Opal turned around and looked at me as if to say, “Oh shit.” A serious frown on her baby pitbull face.

“Why didn’t you get me snow shoes?” I asked.

“Well you didn’t seem to think it would be a problem to get into the cabin and you seemed to think I was over-reacting so I bought a pair and thought we could get you a pair later.”

I looked back up at the ravine we would have to traverse to get up to the cabin. A solid six feet of snow at least, giant boulders and tree branches jutting out from each side and then back at Stephen, glaring with hatred.

“I was gonna get you shoes,” he said, “but you were making fun and…”

I cut Stephen off in a fury.

“I want you to put on your little snowshoes and leave.” I snapped. “I want you to climb your little pathway and leave me alone to eat my chicken sandwich. Do you understand me?”

Stephen reached down and strapped his snowshoes on, all the while mumbling, “You didn’t even want snowshoes. You made fun of me thinking we needed snowshoes.”

“What?” I said.

Stephen stood up and looked at me. “Do you want to go home?”

“I want to eat my chicken sandwich in peace.”

He sighed, and turned to head up the hill though I’m sure I heard him say something again about Ned Beale as he slammed the cab door.

I watched him struggling to get up the four feet of solid ice from the lip of the road before he stumbled and fell into the drifts of snow. He righted himself, fell again, righted himself, then stumbled, then suddenly caught his bearings and headed steadily up the hill.

I took the moment to put on my fingerless mittens, my beanie, pump up the old Dodge’s truck heater to high and sat eating my now cold chicken sandwich with Opal.

If she had been upset when Stephen exited the cab, she was now intent on staring at my sandwich, in hopes that I would understand how desirable it was to her.

I fed her small bites of chicken as I watched the hill and wondered where Stephen was.

After a bit, now semi sated, I realized that I was being ridiculous and that if an eighty-year-old woman could climb up that hill in the middle of winter well then Goddamn it, I could too.

I didn’t need any Goddamn snowshoes.

Dora never had any Goddamn snowshoes.

Who cares if I was wearing rubber Crocs and a long dress?

I could do this!

I brought my Oh, Pioneer! mindset to the table and stepped out of the cab with gusto—Opal close behind me on her leash. I reached under the blue tarp on the back of the truck and grabbed my bag of clothes and my pillow: that was all I needed to make it through the night and look at this problem fresh in the morning.

We carefully crossed the icy road. Opal jumping easily up the ice ledge and onto the fresh snow turning to look at me as she landed, as if to offer encouragement.

I steeled myself to the moment, and pushed ahead and my chubby middle-aged body dropped a good four feet down into the snow as I fell forward, face first, into the thick powder.

Opal tried to help, pulling me ahead, trying to get me out of the snow, but each time she tugged I ended up deeper in the drift.

My first irrational thought? Kill The Stephen.

I flipped over on my back and realized that the only way I was going to get back to the road was to actually roll there.

I threw my body weight towards a downhill direction and rolled up over the snow, up over the ice ledge, and down onto the icy street where Opal then dragged me down the road on my back, my rubber Crocs acting as a make-shift sled until my shouts of her to stop finally halted her about twenty feet from where we first tried to climb up the hill.

My second irrational thought? Fuck Dora.

I kept picturing her. Her reed thin tiny body, her long gray wild hair, her large blue eyes and that hard look on her face and I knew that if she would have been watching me at this moment she would have been laughing her ass off.

Pussy, I heard her say in my imaginary scenario.

“Fuck,” I said under my breath as I rolled onto my knees and worked to stand back up.

“You need help?” I heard Stephen shout from somewhere up the hill.

I refused to answer back but took the moment to look up and see that the lights were now lit in the cabin and it’s picturesque beauty was in direct juxtaposition to my situation here down below.

“Fuck,” I said again.

I went back to the truck with Opal to regroup. I turned the engine back on and warmed myself in the cab, my head reclining on the cushioned seat when after a moment; Stephen was at the passenger door.

“Hey,” he said. “Take my snowshoes and we will head up that small road.” He pointed to somewhere a bit further up the mountain. “It’s not too steep. You can wear the snowshoes and I can follow behind in your footsteps.”

I looked at The Stephen.

Still trying to please me.

Still trying to make things right, and I didn’t have the energy or the heart to tell him that in the last few minutes I had already been Googling hotels considering a warm bath and room service for the evening.

“I’ll take Opal,” he said and off they both went towards the new path.

I cut the engine, locked the truck, and stood on the edge of the road working to put on Stephen’s snowshoes.

He watched for a minute, afraid to step in, before seeing that I was once again becoming frustrated, and walked over to help me adjust them.

“Like this,” he said as he tightened my foot into the shoes and strapped my heels to the back. “See?” he said. “Pretty easy.”

He walked on and I followed him in silence, the metal cleats of the shoes striking loudly on the icy road.

I went up the bank first, and of course, fell forward again but this time, my snowshoes kept me towards the top of the surface.

I had a hard time righting myself with my clothes bag in one hand and a hefty bag holding my pillow in the other but I did and stepped forward again. And again, I fell face first in the snow as the fucks began to fly.

“Shhhhh,” Stephen said trying to calm me. “Baby steps. Just take baby…”

“Stephen!” I shouted. Fuck!”

He stood quietly behind me and waited.

I thought of Dora again, how she had lived in this cabin alone for over 20 years, no man, no dog, only her grit and her shotgun and I stood up and pushed myself forward again.

This time, I made it a good ten feet before I face planted.

“We need to make better time,” Stephen said quietly from behind me.

I lifted myself up onto my elbows and turned and glared at him.

He got the message.

“You know what,” he said. “I think I can make it on my own.” I’ll go ahead and you take your time.”

He stepped over me and walked ahead, dropping into drifts every now and then but then Opal pulled him forward and I watched them work as a team until they disappeared down the road.

I lay there a moment. Ready to give up, working to catch my breath before I pulled my phone from my bag and used the light from it to survey the area. I could see Merrick’s cabin far away from me now, the truck, down on the road and then, just a few feet away from me, a long stick, which I grabbed, and dragged towards me and sticking it deep in the snow used it to right myself and steady my balance.

It worked.

My pioneer spirit was back, and I moved forward with a vengeance, my phone light and my bags in one hand, my walking stick in the other. And after a few minutes, I had a steady solid rhythm and for a moment, realized that I really liked snowshoeing.

I paused again.

My eyes had adjusted to the night so I put my phone away and readied to follow the path to the cabin. And in that moment, everything changed for me.

The forest was bright all around me.

The snow reflecting the moon.

I was surprised by how light it all was and looked up to note the thousands of stars, the full round moon, the beauty of everything around me, so lovely, everything I had ever wanted, and then I looked toward my cabin.

The cabin I had wanted since I was a very little girl, the good man inside of it who would do anything for me, and I stood in that forest and cried with relief that I had been strong enough to make it up the hill and cried with joy for how blessed I was, and cried and laughed as I heard Stephen call from the cabin, “Do you want me to help you?” and laughing like a fool as I shouted back, my true self again, “No, I’ve got it. I’m almost there.”

Before walking on into my forest, towards my new life.