Specialization

I spent a lot of time and money making this way of life a reality. I relinquished my apartment, sold my car, and gave most of my belongings to Goodwill. I left friends and family behind.

Ostensibly, the trip was designed to give me the time and motivation to develop myself as a musician and a performer. Alone on the road, with no distractions and no income save what my music could bring in, I imagined a musical life, interrupted only by new friends and walks with my dog.

So far, I have become an expert in stealthy overnight parking. I can walk in anywhere and use the bathroom without buying anything. I can go a week and a half without a shower and not look or smell homeless. I know the difference between regular and premium in my gas mileage. The stress on my system has wreaked havoc on my intestines, so I now have a wealth of knowledge about every OTC drug for vomiting, gas, bloating, cramps, constipation, diarrhea, and nausea.

Is this the learning curve? Am I simply acclimating to a radical lifestyle change? My sickness so far has surely interfered with my music. I’ve lost days at a time, huddled under covers watching a world walk by my window. Pedestrians and traffic both blissfully ignorant of two tiny eyes watching from behind translucent curtains.

This is not the life I envisioned. I knew it wouldn’t be glamorous, but I was hoping for a bit more romance than this. At least a Polaroid has some aesthetic to it; this is more like a still shot from a grainy security camera. Do I need to reconsider? Is my plan a failure?

Certainly, I’m not learning all that I planned to learn. In a way, I have gained specialized knowledge I could never have anticipated. Yes, I’m feeling a bit adrift. I hold out hope that all this will gel into something cohesive in the future. For now, look for me washing out my underwear in a rest stop and nursing cups of coffee for hours at a time in Starbucks. Life on the road!

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Taken In

My grandfather got taken in by a confidence man, late in his life. The saga was impossible to watch without your jaw dropping.

Dad, we’re buying you a flight to the wedding,” my father said to Grampa.

No, no: not necessary,” his father replied. “Charlie’s flying me down there. He’s got his own plane.

Charlie was flying him somewhere, alright.When Charlie failed to come through, time and time again, you had to wonder why Grampa kept believing. At some point, you grow skeptical. At some point, you must lose hope.

Asheville, NC.

Asheville has a mansion and Asheville has a college. Asheville has rivers and mountains and sand. Asheville has music and Asheville has hippies. Asheville has buskers with good spots to stand. Except for Jeremiah, I really enjoyed Asheville. I met good folks at an open mic night at Tall Gary’s Cantina (Hi, Mike! Hi, Stray Dog!), and played to wild acclaim. For Halloween, I went out as the constellation Cassiopeia. A man at the bar bought my costume (really, just a string of twinkly lights) at the end of the night. A wildly sweet lady bought me noodle soup for dinner (Hi, Linden!). A British couple told me the story of their 7 weeks in America and theme wedding in Vegas. I met kids who walked from New York.Old punks stopped me on the street to tell me how to sing sweeter folk songs. Quixo (my dog) got more attention than he knew what to do with. Overall, it was a fantastic time, except for Jeremiah.

Jeremiah walked up to me second thing in the morning. I was standing outside my van, smoking a cigarette. His curly hair was mostly salt-and-pepper gray. He had a wholesome, L.L. Bean-looking green cotton sweater. His khakis were stained with blood.

“I see that you’re from New Hampshire. I’m with the Bread and Puppets Theater – they’re from Vermont! We played a show last night at the college, and I fell off my stilts. That’s how I got this black eye. Can I tell you three jokes?”

Any sane person would say no.

“Sure!”

He told me three jokes. I guessed the punchline to one of them. He offered to reward me with a joint (no, thank you). He said his friends needed bus fare back to the college. Did I have three dollars? I had one (my last, at the time), but he was welcome to it. He told me he could read auras. He read mine. He told me he wasn’t hitting on me, he had a girlfriend. He smoked the end of my cigarette. He told me he was a member of the Grateful Dead Family. He called me Sister Bear. He said he knew a place to take a free shower (no Planet Fitness in Asheville). He could show me where it was, but he couldn’t give me directions. Could I give him a ride?

If I were watching it unfold on T.V., I would be shouting at the screen. I would be cursing the writers for making the woman a victim again. I’d be thinking, “Oh God. I can’t watch.Continue reading

The Daily Phone Drama

Phone, I need to get to Charlotte.
I am dying.
I just charged you this morning! It took two hours, but you got to 100%, and you’ve been in airplane mode most of the day!
I am dying.
Ok, how long have you got?
26% charged.
Well, just plot the route to Charlotte and I can take a picture of the directions.
Route plotted. Battery now at 15%.
… Dafuq?
Battery at 4%.
No! No! Scrap Charlotte. Get me to the nearest Starbucks so I can charge you in the morning.
Did you mean any of the Starbucks in the last five states you’ve visited?
No, find me, find the Starbucks near me!
Did you mean Star Buckers 24-hr Porn Emporium in Duluth?
I hate you.
Powering down.
Wait, what town am I in? Tell me where I am!

I never know where I wake up.

Burying The Past

I am standing halfway between two opposing forces, on a field of blood and loss. On the surface, all is calm, although the horizon is dotted with monuments to the past battle. The war is both distant and immediate, overgrown but impossible to forget. Four score and seven years ago: I have come to Gettysburg to bury the past.

My parents were married for 16 years before their divorce. I think they were only together for about five of those years, two of which included me.

Like all adults, their reasons were complicated, and I’m sure they were both doing their best.

Meeting my father’s girlfriends, making room for them in my young heart, and losing them over and over – all without any explanation of the real nature of their relationship with my father – took a toll on me. Worse, though, was the echo of my mother’s devotion on my heart.

Mom told me recently that two days after they married, they arrived in their new house to find a letter from his high school sweetheart, professing love, a sense of missed destiny, and regret. “I think that I never really felt close to him, after that,” she mused. She earned a gold medal of devotion, though. My mother: ever optimistic, ever hopeful, ever faithful and patient. She waited for him to come home and be her husband.

I have done the same. A life spent waiting for men to come to their senses and realize that I’m what they want. I didn’t know anything else. I recreated my parents’ marriage, aware that I was doing so but unable to break the pattern.

My mother gave me her wedding ring when she remarried. My father’s ring is buried somewhere in the concrete of a nuclear power plant, not far from his home. An accident. An early loss. A portent.

My mother and father came here with me when I was a baby. It was one of their last family trips. There is a picture somewhere of my father with sunglasses and feathered seventies hair, my mother looking like Joan Baez. There I was, too, a tiny human strapped to her, tied to her fate.

From the Union line, the Virginia monument to her fallen sons seems miles away. Thistle and milkweed crackle and hiss in the wind as I trudge across this impossible distance, a house divided, a nation at war.

The North’s side is peppered with small obelisks and monuments along the Angle and the Copse of Trees, honoring each battalion. In contrast, at the tree line where Lee stood and directed his men to slaughter, the Virginia monument is a lone monolith. An appropriate metaphor.

I walk back to the halfway mark. Despite being clenched in my fist for the whole two hours I’ve been here, the ring is still cool to the touch. Impassive, striped in bands of multi-hued golds. The sun is close to setting, but has taken on none of the colors of sunset. The light is gray. The wind whips by.

I ask forgiveness for the sins we commit in pursuit of living our lives. I ask for understanding from both sides of this old war. I ask for freedom from old patterns, and I ask for a new way in the future.

Is this the right way? Will anything change? Have I lost my mind? I think of that sunny 1980s day, of the three of us on our separate trajectories but aligned for that moment in time. I think of the blood of the soldiers, how this placid earth holds the memory of so much pain and I know, Yes. This is how it must be done. Such a small thing, with such a heavy burden. A small tomb will suffice, a place from which to watch the world grow old, to weather seasons. An inverted monument to my past. Ghosts will keep company in kind. A new soul leaves this place, quick to the world like the sharp wind through the weeds, like grey sun on granite.

My mother’s wedding ring is buried at Gettysburg.

“But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”