A Walk for Ms. Wood

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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

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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.

In Honor of the Pope: Nana Rents a Porno

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Being the caregiver to an 87-year-old woman is never easy. I won’t go into specifics but, I will say, that waking up to find used Poise pads for women who have bladder control issues filling the trashcans, soiled, silky grandma panties piled up by the washer waiting to be washed, and a slew of semi-empty cat food cans strategically placed in every corner of the house just in case “kitty gets hungry during the night” should round the image nicely.

I love her. Don’t get me wrong. She is my mother, a pain in my ass, but an all-around good time when it comes to story material.

She’s in love with Charlie Sheen, a man she considers perfect. She will circle, with red pen, in her very important TV guide, exactly when Two and a Half Men will be on the television, and how many re-runs she can chalk up each day—to having a laugh with Charlie—while I’m off teaching high school English to the youth of America.

On special days, she will repeatedly dial me at work, unrelenting until I pick up, whether I’m teaching a class or not, long past the days of caring about anyone else’s schedule or needs. Queen of the blue Lazy Boy recliner, Empress of All to tell me, You’re never going to believe what Charlie did today, as if he were actually in the room with her—her bosom buddy—her best friend.

“It said in People magazine that he was dating one of those porno girls.” She told me. “Really…” (Here she actually paused for emphasis) “I don’t know what he sees in those porno girls.”

“I think everyone knows what he sees in those porno girls, Mom,” I mumbled.

“Well, I don’t think you’re very funny,” she snapped and turned up the television to block me out to suffer the theme song of Two and a Half Men—blasting through the house—my temporal punishment until willing to make reparation for my sin of mocking her beloved.

Fuck, I whispered and went about my business trying to find where I had just set my noise canceling headphones to get in a few precious quiet moments of writing time.

My mother’s love for Charlie was palpable and everyone knew it. Which is why I am sure that you can imagine her misery when after twelve years of having Charlie, exactly where she wanted him, I accidentally kept her from her love by switching our media service from Charter to FIOS and introducing her to a new remote control.

Now, any one who has dealt with an “Old” knows that Olds don’t do well with any type of new system and especially new remote controls. Olds push every button. Olds push just the blue buttons. Olds turn off the TV and sit and pout in the dark until you come in and manage the controller. And Olds expect you to drop everything and fucking figure it out now or you will be berated for weeks on end for keeping The Olds from what they love: a sense of continued control provided by familiarity.

Suddenly, she couldn’t find Charlie and she hated me for it and let me tell you: Hell hath no fury like a Nana scorned.

I spent several weeks trying to be patient. Trying to teach Nana the new remote. Trying to explain that Charlie was still there on channel 5.

“But how do I get to him?” she would lament in obvious pain.

“Just press five, Mom.”

She would then hold up the remote in a grand gesture, hold her finger down for an eternity on the number 5 and we would both watch as it registered 555555555 on the television screen and took us to some strange FIOS advertisement channel.

‘You see?” she would cry, her eyes big and sad like one of those horrible 70’s paintings that still hangs on the wall in our den.

“He’s not there!”

I would show her once again how to lift her finger quickly when pressing the 5, and suddenly, Charlie would appear. Her eyes would widen, her toes would flutter, and all would be right in the world for a moment but of course… it never lasted.

I had my students create giant charts that we taped all around her television set, letting Nana know when her favorite show was on and exactly how to find it but to no avail. I would still come home to find her pushing buttons repeatedly, creating channels I’ve never heard of, as if she was trying to cosmically call someone to make the damn thing work.

Each of my brothers took his shot, spending lengthy phone conversations hoping to walk her through the steps yet, she still couldn’t get the remote to work and I would return home from a long day of teaching to hear her cry, “Why did you have to change things? Why are you trying to ruin my life?”

So one day I just gave up. I left and went around the corner to my significant other’s house. Where we sat, blissfully TV free, Stephen reading some fascinating article in MOPAR magazine about neutral safety switches and me, rapt in Mira Bartok’s, The Memory Palace, envying Mira’s bleak situation, when she actually had to change her name, move away, to find solace from her mentally ill mother.

“I could move away,” I said casually to Stephen. “Change my name.”

“We’d miss you,” he said without even looking up from his read: as always, impossible to get a rise from the calmest man in the world.

We went back to our silent ways before I noticed a text pop up quietly on my phone screen. It was from my son’s girlfriend, Penny. My favorite Nor Cal person now transplanted to my home in Long Beach. Heavily tattooed, Vegan, dark-haired Latina beauty, quiet like Stephen, but unwilling to take any shit from anyone, including “The Nana.”

The note read: Nana accidentally rented a porno. It will be on your next bill. Just thought you should know.

I could only imagine what had just happened. My mother: Trying to find Charlie. The repeated pressing of the buttons, the skip to On Demand, how she got down to the Adult movie folder would always be a mystery and one I really didn’t want to solve.

I didn’t even move.

I just texted back, always the writer, What was the title of it?

There was a long pause, ellipses of text flickering in anticipation before the response…

Lots of Big Butts for Every Guy.

There’s no need to tell you that the FIOS agent could not suppress laughter when I called to have the charge for Lots of Big Butts for Every Guy removed from the next bill.

Or that Dylan, my twenty-something son was mortified when he was the one to find her shouting, “Get it off! Get it off! Dylan you’re not going to believe what they are doing on my TV. Please get it off!”

He later told me that it was the most horrific moment of his life: accidentally watching porn with his Nana. “There are just some things you don’t want to do with your Nana, Mom… and watching porno is one of them.”

He said it was comical, the way she was waving the remote at the screen, in a large sweeping circle, as if it was some magical Harry Potter wand that would somehow make the debauchery; the big butts bouncing and banging go away. That said the joy of that visual was not worth what he had to witness on her TV screen.

I’d like to say that I felt sorry for her that I felt the need to comfort my mother but by the time I returned home, she was happily watching Two and a Half Men and seemed to now be unfazed by the incident, eating a pint of strawberry Haagen-Dazs, numerous miniature Chihuahuas parked upon her portly lap waiting for their bites, and Charlie on the TV saying, “Everybody’s got a little baggage … I drink and try to mouth kiss hookers.” My mom giggling like a fool.

“I heard you and Charlie have something in common,” I teased her during the commercial break.

“What’s that?” She asked.

“Ummm, that you both want Lots of Big Butts for Every Guy.”

She took a bite of ice cream, her look full of disdain before pointing her spoon at me as if to banish me from her kingdom.

No come back.

She knew she must concede and admit that she and Charlie were now forever connected… to porno girls.

 

Nana falls on her tailbone and decides it will be fine if someone puts a finger up there to “adjust” it.

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Living with OLDS isn’t easy.

I basically wake up each morning in a state of panic until I’m sure that everyone… including the OLD dog is still breathing.

And once I’ve made the rounds of the geriatric crowd… sure in my belief that we all can make it through one more day… I let my guard down and ready for other battles.

But not the morning of the broken ass incident… I don’t know if I will ever let my guard down again after that particularly disturbing event.

It was about 6 am when I heard a loud startling CRACK from the living room.

I knew immediately that my mom had taken a fall: It wasn’t the first time she had landed hard.

Eighty-five but still absolutely obstinate that she was not ready for a walker… that a cane would do her just fine… but the truth?

The cane was unstable.

Add our slick hardwood floors and it was literally a recipe for disaster and so… on this morning… it was.

I jumped from the bed and ran down the hallway to find my mom; legs splayed out in front of her, back pressed against the leg of a chair that had luckily inched back and pinned itself on the brick wall somewhat breaking her fall. Her cane flat on the floor next to her… a large angry scratch on the floor betraying the truth: that she had leaned on the cane for help but it had buckled and let her down.

I wanted to pick it up and throw it through the plate glass window and scream at her for not using the walker but, I held my temper and waited for Dylan as I knew he would soon be rushing down the stairs, to help me lift her into the chair and assess the damage.

“Something’s wrong with my butt,” she said. “It feels like something’s stuck up inside of it.”

Dylan, my son, looked at me and though he didn’t want to laugh at his Nana, especially if she was truly hurt, had to fight back amusement in regards to the cadence of my mother’s voice: Her comic timing, without realizing it, was impeccable.

I couldn’t stop myself.

I laughed loudly.

“Oh you think it’s so funny to have something up your ass?” She snapped.

At this time, Dylan completely lost it.

My mom frowned at both of us.

“Wait until it happens to you,” she said.

“You mean wait until I have something stuck up my ass or wait until I refuse to use a walker and fall on my ass?” my sarcasm beyond blatant.

“Oh you think you’re so funny,” she said as she grabbed hold of my arm and Dylan’s, righting herself, as she made Dylan hand her the cane.

“But Nana,” Dylan said sweetly. “What if…”

“I’ll be fine,” she barked at him. “It’s just a swore ass.”

She hobbled off to the TV room where moments later I heard Regis and Kelly blasting from the set and so I assumed… “it was only a flesh wound” and that she had already gotten over it.

I told Dylan to go back upstairs but to keep an eye and an ear out for Nana once I left for school.

He kissed Nana on the head and walked away… a bit of a giggle escaping unexpectedly somewhere around the 10th stair-step.

I got dressed, left for work, believing everything was okay until later that day my mother fell again.

This time, she just slipped right out of her recliner and fell butt first on the floor.

Luckily, my good friend Darryl was doing some work on the house, and heard her calling for help over the sound of his power tools.

When I saw his number pop up on my phone at school, I told the students that it might be an emergency and I’d have to take the call.

They all leaned forward in their desks, wondering what “Ms. Wood escapades” they would be privy to this morning.

“Hey D.D.” Darryl said. “Your mom fell out of her chair and hurt her butt.”

“Is she okay?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “I was able to get her back up into her chair but…” he paused. “She says she has something stuck up her butt and I can’t really do anything about that.”

“She actually told you that?” I asked. “She actually told you she had something stuck up her butt?”

I couldn’t believe it. My mom was totally out of control.

At that moment… I was reminded how much like my mother I was… when I turned to see 35 young and highly interested faces wonder:

Who was on the phone?

Who had something stuck up their butt?

And thank God Ms. Wood was so absent-minded she would repeat the up-the-butt scenario in front of her entire class.

I saw Tyler Ericksen in the back of the room turn to A.J. Santos and mouth the words “Up her butt” before they both just fell out laughing.

I turned my best glare at them and they immediately silenced themselves.

“Does she want me to come home?” I said to Darryl.

“No,” Darryl said. “She’s okay. She said she could wait to get up when you get home and… I’m here.”

“Fine,” I said and hung up the phone.

“Who’s got something up their butt?” Tyler asked as he tried not to smirk or giggle.

“You’re gonna have something up your butt Tyler if you don’t crack that book and get back to work.”

A.J. put his face down on his desk. His shoulders heaving with laughter.

“A.J.?” I asked.

He looked up, tears streaming down his face and whispered, “You said crack.”

“OH JESUS!” I screeched. “It’s my mom. She took a fall. She hit her ass. Now she thinks somethings stuck up there!”

The entire room went silent.

“My brother stuck a small mallet up his butt once,” Kylie said. “Maybe your mom landed on something and it…”

“My mother does not have a small mallet up her ass!” I screamed.

Kylie looked around the room as if she was only trying to help.

Everyone else just seemed dumbfounded that 11th grade American History had turned into Local Current Affairs in under a minute.

“Let’s just go back to work,” I said calmly now. “My mom will be fine. I’m sure she just bruised her tailbone.”

And so… my class went back to silently working and I counted the minutes until I could get home and check on my mother.

By 3 pm I realized my mother was not fine.

Darryl was long gone, smart man, and mom was bent over the kitchen sink.

She had her arms folded in front of her and her ass up in the air.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Taking the pressure off.”

I watched her shift her weight from one orthopedic sandal to the other her short cotton blend roomy capris moving with her.

“I think I need to go to the doctor,” she said.

I waited… listening… watching her in action.

“Yep,” she said. “I’m sure of it.”

Here she turned to look at me head on.

“You know when it just feels like you need someone to stick a finger up there and set it right. That’s what I need. A finger adjustment.”

I cannot describe my face at the moment these words registered in my brain.

In fact, I’m not sure if Hemingway could have described it.

Or even Palahniuk or Leonard.

“Did you really just say that?” I asked.

“What? That I need a finger up my ass. Yes Dede. That is what I said. I need a finger up my ass.”

I couldn’t take anymore. “Jesus Christ Old Woman!” I screamed. “Do you hear the shit that comes out of your mouth?”

I stomped from the kitchen and down the hall, where I slammed the door behind me and called my oldest daughter, who was in nursing school, to help me out with this situation.

Lexi answered the phone on the first ring.

“I hear Nana needs a finger up her ass,” she said followed by her hysterical laughter. “Don’t worry Mom,” she said. “I’m already on the way.”

I stayed in the back of the house unwilling to watch the full-blown fiasco of Dylan and Lex trying to get Nana out the door, and into the car, to go to the doctor’s to get her much needed “finger adjustment.”

I actually laid on the bed the entire time they were gone and tried to envision Dr. Yeske’s face when my mom repeated to him in her perfect comic tone. “I just feel like I need you to put your finger up my ass and adjust it.”

I couldn’t help but smile.

When they returned, Nana was upright with a frosty chocolate shake in her hand as if all was right in the world.

“You okay,” I asked though I was terribly afraid of the answer.

“Yes,” she said as she took a giant slurp off her shake. “I have a small fracture in my tailbone. I don’t need a finger adjustment. It’s just going to take a bit of time to heal.”

“Oh that’s wonderful,” I said as the kids put a pillow in the seat of her recliner and helped her to sit back.

“Yes,” she said as she took another slurp of shake. “Will you put a movie on for me?’

“Sure,” I said. Happy in the knowledge that we were moving past butt talk. “What do you want to watch?”

“Get me Bad Santa,” she said. “I just love that movie and all this ass talk reminded me of that great scene when he…”

“Don’t!” I screamed. “Don’t say it.”

She took another slurp off her shake and smiled. And though she didn’t say a word… I swear I could hear her say, That’s right, Sweetheart. I’m not out of the sarcasm game yet.

Part Two: The Olds go out for Dinner and Come Back Hungry

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old lady driving

It started out as a simple plan.

The Olds, tired of Jack-in-the-Box salads and McDonald’s apple turnovers decided they would make a night of it.

Yes… they would go to Olive Garden for the unlimited soup/salad/breadstick special and God knows what else.

The only problem?

My 85 year-old mother and her 85 year-old friend, Ernie, are in my opinion, unfit to drive.

In fact, barely a month ago, my mom hit the gas, instead of the brakes, in the fast food drive-thru line and shocked the shit out of a guy trying to grab hold of his Big Mac, while being rammed from behind by an old woman. To add insult to injury, she refused to offer him her information and instead, tried to hand him 50 bucks to cover the damage, before climbing back into her car, and leaving the scene of the crime.

And Ernie… was no better. He had just rented a car at his daughter’s house in Phoenix, drove home without our knowledge, missed the turn-off to the 91 freeway that would have brought him straight to our house and confused… had driven two more hours out of his way, ending up in Santa Monica where finally, road-weary and frustrated, he exited the off-ramp and slammed into a car that had a small child in the back seat.

No… I wasn’t really into either of them driving but unfortunately… I had no idea of their “big” plan until after they both blew the coop.

“Where’s Nana?” I asked Dylan, my son, when I saw that the blue recliner in the living room was empty, and the house was blissfully silent without Two and a Half Men, her all-time favorite show, blasting from the television.

“Her and Ernie went to Olive Garden,” he said.

I made a face… not really sure what to say…. if they were heading to Olive Garden, they were going all the way to Cerritos. Not a big jog for us… but for the Olds… that was like taking a trip to China.

I must have really grimaced, or Dylan must have sensed my discomfort with the entire situation, because he quickly added, “Yeah, they’ve been gone like a really long time. Like almost three hours. I’m getting pretty worried.”

I was a bit concerned when I heard this but not overly so.

I know how my mom eats.

She really likes to take her time and make it a full-on event and not in a fun way.

It’s painful going out to dinner or lunch with her these days.

She’s grown quite defiant in her eating: she knows you’re waiting on her and she likes it.

She can swirl a small piece of steak around on her plate a good four or five minutes and reposition it like ten times before actually even lifting it towards her mouth and don’t even get me started on the chewing.

Yeah… If they had gone to Olive Garden… and they were drinking wine and partying with the unlimited bread basket, who knew when they would be home.

I smiled at Dylan, told him not to worry, and went back to my writing until just a few minutes later, I heard a loud commotion in the kitchen.

I thought it was the kids messing around until Dylan came back into my office with his eyes big and round.

“There’s been an incident,” he said in a hushed voice.

“Is everyone okay?” I asked. “What kind of incident?”

Dylan went on to explain that apparently his “Nana” and Ernie had gotten lost on the way to Olive Garden and instead of coming home, drove around for over two-and-a-half hours looking for it.

“Yeah,” Dylan said. “And I guess Nana had to go to the bathroom the entire time and Ernie yelled at her, and now they are fighting in the kitchen.”

Oh God, I thought to myself, Please don’t make me go out there and for once… he seemed to answer my prayers because that’s when Stephen rolled through the front door.

Stephen.

My dude and all around good guy.

Everyone loves Stephen.

He is the anchor… the cool one…. he always brings the action down and thank God, that was when he walked in.

He corralled Ernie and put him out on the front swing, where I heard them speaking in hushed voices.

I took the opportunity to act casual, and head out to the kitchen for a glass of water so that I could check on my mom.

She was stomping about near the bathroom, her cane thump reminiscent of Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart and for a moment, I almost turned and ran away to leave Stephen and Dylan to deal with the mess but I waited and played dumb.

“Hey mom,” I said calmly as I pretended to rinse off a plate in the sink. “How was Olive Garden?”

She thumped closer.

“We didn’t make it there,” she said. “We couldn’t find it.”

I heard silence from the front porch and saw Ernie and Stephen nestled together… listening to her response through the kitchen window, fearful of another angry tangent.

“Well, let’s just get you some food here,” I said.

“No,” she snapped. “I want to go to Hof’s Hut.”

I looked at the clock.

It was almost 9 pm.

“It’s a bit late,” I said. “How about…”

“Well that doesn’t mean I’m not hungry!” she yelled.

I heard Ernie and Stephen scurry away from the window, and their voices dropped to excited hushed whispers again.

Jesus.

I turned around to face my mom and smiled sweetly, “Well that’s why I was going to make you some…”

“NO!” she said firmly. “We’re going to Hof’s Hut.”

I was about to concede, figuring Hof’s was close, an easy drive for my mom from our house, and that if I just gave in… we could all go to bed at a decent time, when she said, “Where is Hof’s Hut? I can’t remember? Can you tell me how to get there?”

This is the moment I realized that my mom might be actually losing it and so I asked her to hang on a minute as I opened the front door and walked out to see Ernie and Stephen.

Ernie, a tall thin man with large eyes, looked like one of those sad-eyed Mexican children in those black velvet 70’s paintings I still loved. He was leaning into Stephen’s crook, as if he was seeking protection.

“She wouldn’t let me get her home,” he said sadly. “I finally had to yell at her.”

I thought he was going to cry.

He put his hands together and continued, “She won’t turn right I tell you. She wouldn’t turn right. Maybe I should just buy my plane ticket back to New Zealand now and go home.”

He put his head down and looked at his feet. I watched as he wiggled his toes as if acting “natural” about the whole thing would make it go away.

I felt a profound sadness in the moment.

I didn’t want Ernie to go home.

The Olds were a pain in the ass.

The Olds really knew how to fuck up a good time.

The Olds were 99% of each day out of their God damn minds.

But they were my Olds… and this might be the last time I would ever see Ernie.

He had already spent most of his trip telling everyone, “I just came to say goodbye before I head back to New Zealand to die.” and that…. was a bit too much for me.

I looked at Stephen and sighed.

Stephen patted Ernie’s shoulder, assured him that everything would be fine, as I walked back into the house to get this thing figured out.

“I do love that woman,” I heard Ernie say as I shut the front door.

And I knew it was true.

My mom and Ernie had been friends for many years, since my father’s death, and I knew that what seemed like a “dinner incident” to us was much more to them in the grand scheme of their relationship.

I knew what I was going to have to do and I had to do it quickly and panic set in at the idea of it…

If I couldn’t negotiate a deal with Dylan to drive the Olds to dinner and act as a mediator throughout the entire event… I was going to have to do it myself.

Oh God, I prayed, I’ll give him anything… anything… if he just takes them.

I grabbed the cell and called Dylan who was upstairs.

“Yeah?” he said, obviously preoccupied with something.

“I need you to take the Olds to Hof’s Hut.”

“NOOOOOOOOOO!” He whined.

“You’re the baby,” I said. “They love you. You have to take them.”

“Make them eat here,” he said defiantly.

“They won’t,” I said. “You have to take them. You have to save their relationship.”

There was a long pause before Dylan quietly gave in and said, “Okay.”

Just a few minutes later, Dylan was acting as mediator to the Olds… escorting Nana to the car, her arm linked to his… Ernie… a few steps behind… fearful… but like a scared animal… trusting in Dylan’s calm presence.

I watched as they made it into the car, pulled out of the drive, and headed off to the restaurant.

Stephen stood next to me and said, “I can’t end up like that…” he turned and looked at me, “I just can’t do it.”

This statement I’m sure has been said by many caretakers but coming from someone always so sound and calm was disturbing.

I gave Stephen a big hug before he headed home to walk the dogs.

Fifteen minutes later, I was back to writing when a text message came through from Dylan: This… is getting pretty intense.

I could only imagine the scene:

Dylan, my big curly haired, bearded bear… smiling between the two Olds as Mom tried to bash Ernie’s brains in with her cane and Ernie, tired of her bullshit, holding a plate full of Snicker’s cheesecake, her favorite, in his hand…refusing to give it to her… laughing and brandishing his fork with glee each time he gulped down another big bite at the distress to my mother while he shouted, “Are you gonna turn right next time Old Woman? Are you gonna turn right?”

Of course, the true dinner scene was nothing of the sort… Dylan told me later it was eaten in almost total silence as he made small talk and wiggled uncomfortably.

I gave him a big hug, when he returned and held him tight.

“Will you take me and Stephen out when we are Old?” I asked… referring to the fact that both of us preferred a date with death in Oregon, where it was legal, over a painful meal at Hof’s Hut.

“As long as we don’t have to go to Hof’s Hut,” he said, oblivious to my dark humor.

I paused for a minute and beamed at him.

“What?” He asked a small quizzical smile on his face.

“Nothing,” I said. “Doesn’t matter.”

And then I went back to my writing, Dylan went back upstairs, and I spent the last few minutes before bed listening to the soothing bickering of the Olds in the living room…. everyone back on task.

Joe and Jack Watch the Baby

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Many years ago when my youngest child was barely two, I left the baby to be watched by his favorite people: His father, Joe, and his uncle, Jack, and went off to my work day teaching the youth of America.

Now Joe and Jack, are both punk rock legends and therefore considered symbols of “wild, reckless abandon” and RARELY tagged as “responsible, mature adults.”

Why?

Because let’s face it: in the punk rock world, sex, drugs, violence and three chord repetitive anthems sell. The only thing the title of “responsible, mature adult” might sell in that world, would be Activia yogurt and Depends adult briefs and I don’t know any hardcore punks looking for those products right at the moment.

Now, one of these men, in my opinion, looks like the devil and… the other one… I believe… IS the devil. But… I well never tell you which one is which… feel free to debate the topic among your companions and friends.

And you may be thinking right now, What type of woman leaves a baby with Lucifer and El Diablo?  Why would she do that?

And my response would be: despite public belief and my personal quarrels with each… they both loved and very competently protected and cared for the baby until one day… things went terribly awry.

Dylan, aka, “the baby” was toddling around the house, as usual, in a diaper, pudgy little feet and hands naked and free, big over-sized baby belly protruding over his diaper, long silky locks of lovely curls bouncing upon his shoulders: cherubic little man.

He was known for getting into trouble but doing it in complete silence. Yes… the baby rarely talked.

He loved to terrify us by striping stark naked, hiding in the neighbor’s bush next door, and watching quietly from the shadows, as we would run up and down the street screaming for him, horrified that we may have actually lost him.

This daily routine left each of us distraught and shaken but, every time we thought he was truly gone, he would somehow magically appear out of nowhere and stand in the middle of the grass staring at us until we noticed him.

It actually took us over six months to find his hiding place: Bad baby.

On this day though, Dylan wasn’t trying to terrorize his parents or his uncle for that matter. He was just running about, playing with his toys when he approached Joe, his father, and said, “Ow.”

According to Joe, his expression was deadpan. He wasn’t crying. His face in no way conveyed pain.

He just kept taking his tiny little dough ball of a finger, touching it gently to the side of his nose, and repeating the word, “Ow.”

At this point in time, Dylan’s uncle, Jack, came into the room to see what was wrong.

For awhile, both Joe and Jack stared at the baby, unsure of what to do until one of them, or both of them, got the bright idea to look up the baby’s nose and that is when all hell broke loose.

The baby had a large yellow, glossy wet, massive orb stuck up inside of his nasal canal.

They didn’t stop to ask questions.

They freaked out and called me.

I was in the middle of my teaching day when the office rang through to my room and said, “D.D. your husband needs to talk with you. He says it’s an emergency.”

I waited for Joe to break through the line and before he had a chance to speak said, “Is everyone alive?”

“Yes,” he answered and was immediately overpowered by the booming voice of my brother in the background shouting, “I’m sure it’s his brain!”

I tried to remain calm as Joe explained the situation.

The baby.

The pointing finger.

The repeated use of the word “Ow.”

And the protruding, glossy-wet mass of whatever was stuck up my baby’s nose.

“I think Jack’s right,” Joe whispered, as if the baby could understand him and he didn’t want to cause him concern. “I think it’s his brain.”

“BRAIN!” Jack shouted from the background, our family legendary in our ability to intensify any given situation by a magnitude of a hundred.

“It’s not his brain,” I said. “Jesus. You two.”

Joe yelled to Jack, “She doesn’t think it’s his brain.”

And for a moment… there was a peaceful silence on the line.

“Put the baby on the phone,” I demanded.

“She wants to talk to the baby,” Joe whispered to Jack.

“She wants to talk to the baby?” Jack repeated.

“Put the fucking baby on the phone,” I said, annoyed at the Heckle and Jeckle shenanigans I was trying to deal with.

I heard Jack pick up the baby, bring him to the phone, where Dylan’s soft gurgly baby breathing, his tiny little coo sounds, let me know that he was present and listening.

“Dylan,” I said. “Tell mommy what’s wrong.”

“Ow,” the baby whispered. “Ow.”

And I could picture his little finger pointing to his tiny baby nose.

Jack carried Dylan away and I waited for Joe to come back on the line.

“It’s not his brain,” I said. “He’s obviously stuck something up his nose and you two are going to have to pull it out.”

“Pull it out?” Joe sounded as if I asked him to diaper an old man’s ass. “How do you want us to pull it out?”

“Get some tweezers,” I said. “Have Jack hold the baby down, while you pull whatever it is out of his nose.”

Joe laid down the phone and I heard a ruckus in the background as he spoke to Jack.

“She wants us to do what?”

“Pull it out,” Joe said.

“Are you sure it’s not his brain?”

“I don’t think so.” Joe said, trying to remain calm.

A few moments later I heard the baby being held down: whiny, squirmy protests… a few baby sobs… then…

“Oh my God! Look at it!” Jack said followed by…

“Dude it’s a grape. Look it’s a fucking grape.” from Joe before I heard the baby cry with annoyance struggling to be let go.

There was another brief silence before I heard Dylan’s fat little baby feet toddling quickly away from the scene.

Joe returned to the phone out of breath, “It was a grape.”

“I heard,” I said as I hung up the phone, apologized to my students for interrupting their class time and my inappropriate use of the “F” word, and then finished out my work day.

When I arrived home that evening the boys were very excited to show me the grape which, I realized immediately, was not a grape, but one of the yellow, golden raisins I had given Dylan two days ago which he had obviously stuck up his nose.

“That’s disgusting,” Jack said. “So that thing was up there for like two days just juicing up.”

Joe looked at me as if I had been the one to cause all of this trouble.

“What?” I said, before grabbing the baby up, kicking open the front door, and sitting down on the swing.

I listened as Jack and Joe squabbled over the size of the object they had pulled from the baby’s nose, while I gently pushed the swing back and forth with one foot… Dylan cuddled close to me… his little head nuzzled upon my shoulder.

I wondered if he would grow up to be like his Father or his Uncle Jack?

“Bad baby.” I whispered, “Very bad baby.” before I kissed him on his forehead and waited for him to fall off to sleep.

Getting in a Fight with Stephen, Somewhere in Kansas in Front of a Kentucky Fried Chicken, While on a Cross-Country Road Trip

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me and stephen 64

I had been married to my X for almost twenty years and NEVER took him on a road trip.

Never.

The idea of bringing a man on a road trip seemed absolutely ridiculous to me.

My road trips were private matters.

I wanted to be completely alone.

If I wanted to listen to music… I did.

If I wanted it completely silent in the car for hours on end… it was.

This was my NO MAN’s land.

My best story ideas, song ideas, and big thoughts on life and spiritual matters came to me on my road trips.

Highway 10 from Long Beach to Santa Fe New Mexico… alone… silent… could solve a host of problems that couldn’t be solved by thinking about them at home.

And so… it was with great reluctance that I allowed Stephen to join me.

Stephen… summer of 2007… one year into our friendship.

And how… you must be wondering… did I allow myself to cave?

Well…he said, “I’ve never been on a road trip before.”

“Never?” I said. “Not even with your guy friends?”

“Nope,” and then his shoulders slumped and he made a little sad face. “Never.”

And since I cared for Stephen… and knew the value of a good road trip in a person’s life… my heart felt for him and so I invited  him to come along.

Of course, once I invited him… I immediately started saying things to get him to back out. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to let someone in… be close… give up my private experience.

“You know…” I told him. “I do what I want on the road. I don’t set a destination. I don’t go to any specific location. I drive as long as I want… I sleep in small motels in off beat towns. And I’ve NEVER taken a man with me before,” I paused here for emphasis. “Do you understand what I’m saying?”

He nodded his head… excited to be invited on a road trip and I knew this would be a turning point in our friendship… we would either survive this road trip together and be bonded for life, or we would burn out somewhere close to Albuquerque with Stephen shouting at me to “STOP THE CAR” before kicking the door shut, flipping me off, and hitching a ride to the closest airport where he would fly home, never to be seen again… Maybe even silently “wishing me the best” (the ultimate fuck you really) before boarding a plane and drinking as many cocktails allowed on the two and a half hour flight home to Los Angeles while praying that I would die in a fiery car crash somewhere outside of Nashville.

I sighed.

Weeks went by and Stephen excitedly planned for his big adventure. I saw him programming a GPS and I actually started to sweat. I NEVER used a GPS… that was cheating… I felt anxious… but I sucked it up each time I saw him pore over a map… his reading glasses high on his face… his eyes looming large… magnified through the glass as he fantasized about all of his future destinations and scribbled furiously… little notes and words in his mini notebook.

“What’s that?” I asked one day.

“I’m preparing,” he said with pure glee.

I looked at him as if he were a bad student in my class. “Don’t,” I said sternly, my face stone. “Just stop.”

He looked at me as if I was speaking some foreign language it almost seemed he was ignoring me…. before he went back to poring over his maps and scribbling furiously.

This is a mistake I thought. We’re going to be in a fight before we even get out of L.A. county.

But I held my tongue, shocking I know, but I did and when the day arrived for us to leave, Stephen was prepared.

It looked like I had the ultimate Boy Scout ready to set off with me… wait, strike that, let’s make him an Eagle Scout.

I have never seen anyone so organized for a trip. He even had his passport in case we decided to cross a border.

Jesus.

We left Long Beach at 4 am, stopped at a drive-thru Starbucks for coffee and were on the road and on our way to Maine.

California to Maine…. one of the best drives ever…

There is nothing like watching the sun come up from the highway. It is one of my all time favorite moments in life.

Me.

The car.

The road.

Complete silence as the skyline goes from jet black to a purple opaque with a hint of orange, before the sun bursts into bright yellow streaks and illuminates the blue sky.

Only… that’s not what happened.

What happened was TOOL was blasting from the speakers as Stephen bobbed his head to the music, tapped his foot against the dash, drank his coffee with gusto and I sat in silence, big headed baby, pouting… as I drove the car.

I was miffed. Distraught. But Stephen was so pleased to be on a road trip… I kept quiet.

I headed for highway 70… it is a beautiful path… not stark beauty like the 10… which is actually quite a lonely road… the 70 is America in all of it’s patch work glory.

Coming over the pass into Colorado… the river running along side it… boxed in by mountains… until you rise again and see the Great Plains laid out before you… it is a drive that makes the traveler a hopeless romantic.

And Stephen said, “I thought you were taking the 10?”

I tried not to make a face.

“I’ve programmed my GPS for the 10,” he said in a pitiful whine of a voice.

“Well,” I said. “Unprogram.”

I could see that he was bent.

Perturbed.

Annoyed.

And I thought… don’t you dare… don’t you dare…. who are you to be any of those things on my road trip?

We drove all the way to Vegas without a word… Stephen heavy metal thumping while I looked out the window and prayed for the audio system to fail.

By the time we hit the plateau above Grand Valley, Colorado… I wasn’t sure if we would make it through the next two weeks but then the road opened up, the view down was amazing, and Stephen turned off the music which left Colorado ahead of us, and a quiet car to take in the beauty.

The rest of the day was really uneventful… as was the next…. we discovered a common love of SIRIUS’s stand up comedy channel and laughed all the way to Kansas where things then took a turn for the worse.

We were tired from driving… hours and hours of travel… when we finally started looking for a hotel room around 10 o’clock at night.

This is when we heard two words that I never imagined could be so dreaded:

State Fair.

“What?” I asked.

Then there were three dreaded words:

Kansas State Fair.

Shit.

Every hotel within 100 miles of the Kansas State Fair was booked solid and Stephen and I were beyond exhausted.

It was the first time ever I felt myself falling asleep at the wheel. In fact, Stephen had already flopped over into the back seat and passed out. I was glad that he was quiet and resting but still totally annoyed that he was at that moment… no help.

I prayed that I would make it to a hotel before I nodded off and lost control of the car and thankfully, around mile 83, there was one room left available at a Best Western.

We pulled in, checked in, and passed out in a matter of minutes.

The next morning, I was “hungover” from such a long day of driving the day before, that I didn’t want to get up… but… Stephen wanted to get moving.

“Get up,” he said. “Come on get up.”

I was tired, angry that he was bossing me about, and pouting because I knew that if HE hadn’t been in the car with me… I would have found a hotel easily, I wouldn’t be getting up early right now, I would be following my OWN time frame and completely ALONE. I climbed out of the bed in a big baby fit threw on my clothes and shoes and reached to grab the keys and stomp to the car when Stephen reached out and grabbed them.

“I’m driving,” he said.

I gave him a look…. ready to kill him, but he just turned and walked out of the room and headed to the car… unwilling to give me my way.

I climbed into the passenger seat, slammed the door and sulked. We weren’t even out of the parking lot when I said, “Go through the KFC so at least we can get something to eat.”

Stephen rounded the corner for the drive-thru and thought for some reason that the lane he was in was not for the drive-up window.

“It is!” I shouted. “Trust me. Just go right there!” I pointed towards a loud speaker and watched as Stephen ignored me, passed the window and made a loop around the front of the KFC.

“No,” he said calmly. “I’m sure that was the wrong lane.”

I felt anger seething out of every pore… I set my jaw so firmly that it must have looked like it was wired shut and believe me… in just a matter of minutes… I was going to wish it had been wired shut…

Just as Stephen was making the turn to go back through the lane I originally told him to, a large white bus full of black Baptists rolled in front of us and I watched as the Minister ordered 15 buckets of chicken, obviously for his entire congregation, who I could see through the large rectangular glass bus windows… smiling and happy, seriously spiritually enlightened people, radiating  God’s joy as they waited patiently for their chicken and I actually went insane.

I don’t even remember what I said to Stephen, but it was every angry thing you say to someone when you “kick the cat”….

Why did I bring you?

What were you thinking?

Why couldn’t you listen to me?

Who the HELL do you think you are?

LOOK AT ALL OF THOSE GOD DAMN BAPTISTS EATING MY CHICKEN!

By the time we got to the window… I was spent… which often happens with us passionate HOT HEADS leaving our quiet introverted family, friends, and lovers, totally stunned by our outbursts and often feeling

MORTALLY wounded while we HOT HEADS just move on to the next big thing to be passionate and upset about…

Stephen however had, had enough.

He pulled up to the window to pay the KFC kid and wait for our chicken while I, now calm… said, “Could you please open the trunk so I can get something out of my bag?”

“Just wait,” he said… his tone one of intense loathing…

“Wait for what?” I snapped and popped out of the car and headed to the back of the trunk.

Stephen, by now, so TOTALLY pissed off at me took one look in the rear view mirror and floored the car. The wheels screeched as he took off and then laid a big skid and stopped about twenty feet from the window.

My mouth dropped open as I watched my door fly shut as he burned out… but the funniest moment was when I looked back at the drive-thru window and saw that the KFC kid had hung the food bag out for Stephen to grab right as he pulled away… so the teenager’s arm was just dangling out the window with a big bag of KFC floating in mid-air waiting for no one to take it.

I paused a moment… I really wanted to laugh but I was still just too angry.

I walked over and grabbed the bag from the kid, walked up to the car, opened the door and climbed inside where I threw the bag of chicken on the floor and shouted, “I’m not even hungry any more.”

Stephen could have given a shit. He burnt out and hit the Interstate at an alarming pace. Probably anxious to find the nearest airport and fulfill my earlier prophecy.

We both stewed in silent obstinance across the entire great state of Kansas before we finally just busted up laughing hysterically… barely able to breath… tears streaming down our faces, as we crossed the border into Ohio where I then picked up the bag, pulled a cold, hard biscuit from it, and handed it to Stephen as a peace offering.

It was the only fight we got in during the entire two weeks on the trip and I believe that it really was necessary for our bonding experience and that the event brought us closer together.

After that, we went on to see thousands of wild geese land on a secluded lake somewhere in Ohio, scare ourselves to death sleeping in Lizzie Borden’s house in Fall Rivers Massachusetts, nap on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s lawn in Salem, and drive through the Bad Lands of South Dakota on our return trip, a place Stephen had never been, and was so thankful to see… the desert at dusk, the look of the sand and the cliffs, so alien and mystical… really something everyone should experience in a lifetime.

I will never regret that fight at the KFC… or letting someone in, and sharing my road trip.

What I find as I grow older, is that staying and building relationships, even when at times you want to run away… desert all… find security and safety in yourself… believing that it will be easier… somehow protect you from hurt… or build a wall so that people can’t get in…

Only makes you the person who is UNWILLING to take the road trip… to see what lays before you… what discoveries are out there to find… what common interests, ideas, spiritual moments you can share, even if it is only a ridiculously stupid fight behind a bus load of black Baptists somewhere in Kansas….

The beauty.. is in the shared story… our shared story…