Late one evening, I was in the midst of doing nothing–well, perhaps I was brooding at a small round table with two chairs in room 325 at the pet friendly (We love dogs! Woof Woof) Green Tree Suites in Eagle, Colorado. Jack (with the glowing eyes of Kerouac) had just turned three months and was chewing, gnawing, and wrestling with a beat-up pair of Durango boots scratched by the Rockies and he sounded like a baby chimp on crack. I sat there silently loving him but also pissed at how he had teethed his way through a television cord, a cable connector, an extra computer cord dangling from a laundry basket, and an iPhone charger while I was busy hanging out with my invisible friends, characters in a story which may or may not be true. That handsome pup is such a sneaky, destructive little pal and I am a lousy parent.
Minutes later I was pushing Jack in a grocery cart through the City Market grocery store only 0.2 miles away. A cinnamon colored Belgian Malinois with a storm gray face and chocolate dipped paws, rolling down the frozen meat aisle, sniffing the cold air, as alert and regal as George Washington when he crossed the Delaware River on a frigid Christmas night (“Shift that fat ass, Harry, but slowly, or you’ll swamp the damned boat”). Fellow shoppers were ooohing and awwwing and it took over a half hour to purchase a bag of frozen soup bones. Next stop, Sweet Water Liquors where I purchased a four pack of Salzburger Stiegl (“Steeped in tradition, Stiegl beer has outlasted crisis and wars, shaping Salzburg’s gastronomic culture for every social class throughout time” since 1492). Back to Green Tree 325 where I sat once more across from the empty chair and resumed doing nothing. While Jack was contentedly scraping his teeth on a bone, I cracked a can or two and sipped on Austrian lager, stared at a computer screen while my tongue played with the damaged metal tooth filling that was painfully scraping it, and doubted my ability to finish the story. A long while later, my doubts were confirmed. I closed the laptop and prepared for bed.
I was naked on my back, staring at the ceiling and fingering the orange sacral stone on a seven chakra pendant (it’s the sexual energy center and my favorite, of course, and possibly a Freudian explanation for my attraction to orange M&M’s) when I heard a sharp Tinkerbell ding on my phone. Wine was on her breath (I can always tell) and in the deeper darkness of her advanced night (two hours ahead of mountain time), she texted, “I love you.” A rush of warm happy relief came over me. She had been in the active silent phase of trying to forget about me. She was “moving on” from my harmful drinking and unwritten dreams and all of the question marks of life on the road as well as my avoidance of the status quo and a penchant for trouble. She needed stability and a better man.
I couldn’t argue the point. She was right.
Another ding. IMG_6344.JPG (122KB). The photo above this piece. She was particularly fond of that moment in time because, in her words, “I can see the love in your eyes as you look at me.”
Again, she was right.
We were staying at the Saluda Mountain Lodge in North Carolina, a 24 room motel where less than all of the rooms are used. At the time, the proprietors were a sweet elderly married couple, Rob and Brenda, and they lived in a suite that horseshoed the front office and the room right next to theirs was sealed off due to a bloody murder a few years ago, a crime of passion. Love is a trigger-pulling bitch sometimes. I had requested to stay in the room but they turned me down. “Is it haunted?” I asked. “We are Christians” Brenda answered, “and we don’t believe in such nonsense.” Then she smiled at me and said that I reminded her of cousin Jimmy. I still don’t know whether that’s good or bad.
We stayed there for two days. The final day was on a Sunday and checkout was at 11 a.m. I was reluctant to return our keys to a homey metal can sitting on the sidewalk outside a locked office door. A handwritten sign read: “Office closed. Gone to church.” I smiled. Only in the south.
But I smiled for another reason, too, a licentious one. I felt that some unseen writer was writing our story and was often fairytale kind to us. We were the only two human beings on the entire property.
A field of grass and wild flowers slopes down in front of the lodge which sits high above an unseen highway and is almost completely hidden behind a thick strip of trees. We named it “Make out field” because we spread a blanket, sipped some wine, and made out like teenagers. We also read a few chapters from ”The Catcher in the Rye” aloud because we enjoyed Holden Caulfield’s cussing immensely. We also laughed at the memory of the previous evening. We’d been hanging out back behind the motel where there’s a fire pit and lounge chairs overlooking a sharp ravine. Rob, a harmless white bearded fellow, was either drawn to us or very lonely. He was full of stories. I think the magnetic element was Katarina’s blue eyes and her musical laugher, always a glass of wine in her hand, waving it like a conductor’s baton to the rise and fall and varying moods of our long conversation. Rob and his wife were not drinkers but I’m sure that he was intoxicated not only with Kat’s unique beauty but also with the vineyard aroma of a popped cork and, brother, let me tell you, we popped more than one.
We stared over a cliff that “needed some tending” as it might be next in a line of recent mudslides. Rob told us of a husband and wife, married for over fifty years, who lived just around the bend in the very hollow below our feet (into which we ourselves were protected from falling by a sturdy chain-link fence). A while back, there was another Carolina flashflood, nothing unusual, but too close to that couple’s home. The husband, in an effort to protect the only love of his life, moved her to safety inside of a cinderblock garage, up the hill, behind the house, far enough away from the rising, rushing, overflowing creek with the power to carry cars and houses. The rain fell hard, loosening the soil behind the garage. When the husband returned for his wife he discovered with screaming sorrow that his precious darling had been buried alive in an avalanche. He had thought, mistakenly, that the danger was in front of his bride while it was sneaking up behind her all along.
There were lighter conversational pieces Saturday night. Kat was telling of how much she enjoyed the closed-in breezeway, the “family recreational area” with its popcorn maker, air hockey, chess board, and her favorite: the Pop-A-Shot Home Dual Shot Basketball Arcade Game.
I said, “Yeah, well, all I know, Kat, is that you popped a shot of ass and then abandoned me to take the blame.”
“What?” Rob asked.
“Don’t tell him!” Kat pleaded.
Me, relaxed and too unfiltered by alcohol, proceeded to tell the true account of how my Kat girl had farted a skunky one directly behind me and exited just as a lady was entering the breezeway. The woman stared hard and mean at me for being so foul, waving her hand in front of her face (“Phewww! Nasty!”) and left the recreational area mumbling under her breath. That wasn’t the first time Katarina had done this to me—or the last—but it was certainly one of the best. I was proud of her.
Kat laughed so hard that she snorted. Rob didn’t know what to say, Christian gentleman and family oriented business owner that he was. He cleared his throat. “Well, it’s gitt’n late,” he said, “I better be turn’n in. My wife just peeked through them blinds at me. That’s my sign.”
As Rob was walking away, Kat, more than a wee bit drunk, was meaning to tell the kind old man goodnight. Instead, she said, “I love you, Rob.”
Rob, suddenly very flustered and flattered (his snowy beard extra white against a red face) disappeared in sentence fragments.
Kat put her hand over her mouth, “Oh noooo!” she panicked in a whispery squeal, ”I didn’t mean to say that!”
I looked over at her beautiful face, which was Jack-O-Lanterned by the night fire, and said, “There’s nothing I can do to rescue you from that one, Lady Jane.”
We sat silent for a moment, sipping the dregs of our last Merlot under the stars, wind moaning in tall ancient trees and lifting Kat’s blonde hair. I spoke the final closing words of the night and she snorted again with laughter. “Well, things are going to be a little awkward in the morning.”
That was the evening before the photo. We never saw Rob and Brenda or anybody on Sunday. Just a sign posted to the office window indicating a church service (which Rob admitted was sometimes longwinded and followed by a delicious homecooked fellowship dinner). I couldn’t wait to tell Kat the good news: we weren’t leaving anytime soon.
I remember that morning. It was supposed to rain. The sky was marbled and gray over the blue mountains. I made a pot of coffee and brought a steaming cup to my blue eyed girl who was quietly nursing a morning hangover and reading a Wayne Dyer book next to an extinguished firepit. The door behind me was propped open with a white trashcan because the key didn’t fit that particular lock and I would have to go all the way around to the front to reenter if I let it close.
Kat wanted a fire. There were no more bundles of wood in the bin. So I set about to foraging in a wooded lot that descended into what I now thought of as death valley. I hopped the chain-link fence, risking the ravine for my woman, and gathered enough wood to build a thoroughgoing fire.
“It’s gonna rain,” Kat said.
“I don’t care. I’m going to build a fire that rises to the sky like the Shekina Glory. Everyone will see the fire of our love and be glad!” That’s exactly what was transpiring as I was advancing in the photo. I was looking directly at her, defiant against any stormy weather, and loving her with all of my damn heart.
Sticks can only burn so long but I kept them coming. I spent more time collecting brambles than sitting next to Kat but I smiled at the thought of her all toasty warm with some private time to herself.
As I gathered bundles of branches, I thought of our relationship. I also thought of a strange novel, “The Hair of Harold Roux” which I had just finished reading. Thomas Williams, thinking the thoughts of his main character, a middle-aged budding novelist, Allard Benson, “He has always thought of a novel, before it has taken on its first, tentative structure, as a scene on this dark plain, the characters standing around a small fire which warmly etches the edges of their faces. It is that small fire he must constantly re-create or these last warm lives will cease to live, will never have lived even to fear the immensities of coldness and indifference around them. Absolute Zero is waiting, always. In Paradoxology that is perhaps the name of God.”
I kept the flame alive until a dampening morning dissolved into a soggy afternoon. Not quite sure of when our friends would return, we packed the car and prepared to leave around two. I threw the keys into the can (marked with a sign, “Thank you for coming!”) and started toward the car when suddenly I was filled with a raging horniness. My own stick had become a raging fire. It was the unintended sexual message of the sign. It was Katarina’s sultry smile behind the passenger seat window. It was everything. I rushed back to the can, blindly swept the spidery bottom, fished for the key, found it, and Kat knew right away. We reentered our room, undressing as we went. We loosened the bedframe with a rolling, rocking, clutching passion, unafraid to make some noise–after all–were the only two people in the world. Everyone else was at church.
She showered afterward. I didn’t. I wanted to keep her scent on me for as long as possible.
And that was that.
All of those memories and more are in the eyes of the stick gatherer. Look at me, dear reader. Stare into my eyes and know it.
Keep your fires burning.
* * *
Kat, if you’re reading this personal post, allow me to throw one more stick into what I think is a deceptively failing fire. No rain is strong enough to put us out. I can’t help but keep you warm in my mind. You will never die on the dark plains of cold indifference.
I damn love you, sweet magnolia child. We should have gone to church. We should have married. You will always be my story.