Shaking Hands With Demons

– RIP Slim –

‘Man … braces himself against the great and ever greater pressure of what is past: it pushes him down or bends him sideways’; ‘it was’ is ‘that password which gives conflict, suffering and satiety access to man so as to remind him what his existence fundamentally is—an imperfect tense that can never become a perfect one’        (Nietzsche, UM II).

Shaking Hands With Demons

            Time makes liars of us all. What distinguishes humans from animals is that we remember the past. We scramble for meaning; for honor; for triumph; love; success; understanding. The world spins; the seasons change; relationships bloom and they decompose: All the while we grapple fervidly for meaning, towards a dream, to achieve something (anything!) before death takes us.

            Many describe Sam Shepard as “The greatest living American playwright”, a “modern teller of myths”, ultimately, a “myth-maker”. He borrows an eclectically wide range of characters and images from all expressions of popular culture to sculpt a poignant contemporary man. He deconstructs a culture that is ultimately disintegrating. He fashions worlds littered with artifacts and icons, creating a landscape of oppressive nostalgia. His canon of work spans four decades, myriad mediums, numerous awards, and most importantly, a constellation of relationships, which navigate the journey of his work. How do these relationships affect his writing over the course of time? Is there still a part of him in the Chelsea Hotel in 1971? Travelling the road with Bob Dylan and the Rolling Thunder Revue in 1975? On the set of the film Frances, falling in love with Jessica Lange in 1982? How does all of this History fit into the Present Sam Shepard?

            This I contemplate in a small, yet welcoming, bar close to my home in Harlem. No. Next to my apartment. Home is something I haven’t found yet. Like Sam Shepard, I wander.

Restless.

He drove to New York City in 1963 at the age of 19. Fuelled with an aspiration to get as far away from his family in California as possible, Shepard joined a touring troupe named The Bishop’s Players. Upon reaching New York City, he abandoned them, taking a job as a busboy at The Village Gate nightclub in Greenwich Village. That’s where he met Ralph Cook, and consequently Michael Allen and Theatre Genesis. Through Cook’s encouragement, Shepard’s notebook scribbling evolved into The Rock Garden and Cowboys, Genesis’ second production.

So.

The bar.

I came here with the intent to drink coffee and tea. To avoid the vice of alcohol (for better or worse). I came here to outline my paper on Sam Shepard. I came intending to commiserate with Patti Smith and Jessica Lang. I came to work. I came to illuminate themes and influences of family, identity, masculinity, and romantic relationships through the evolution of a voice over time.

Time.

There is a poetic justice in the passing of it, in our fraught belief in it.

I’ve never met Sam Shepard, but he has carried me through my life, through my discoveries of literature, in theatre, and my indulgence of creation in art and destruction in family.

I’m watching a video of Sam Shepard. Just after a reading from Cruising Paradise (1996), he looks at the camera and says (to me, of course) “It is ridiculous to think you were born out of thin air. There are ancestors, and if you don’t honor your ancestors, in a real sense, you’re committing a kind of suicide.”

Here I hang by a thread. I order a whiskey rocks.

I come from the desert. My homeland is barren and dry. It’s there, perhaps near the edge of the Mojave, the setting for Fool For Love (Shepard, 1983), where I imagine we sit. The Myths and Fantasies of a promise land satiate the air, haunting us like so many failed dreams. Failed American Dreams. We’re there, staring out at the vastness of the West.

“My one regret”, Sam says, “is that I never met Samuel Beckett.” I turn to look at his life-worn face, his out-of-doors attire. The desert blusters the smell of History through his thick cowboy hair, settling like dust mites on his beat up jeans and his worn leather boots. “My one regret”, I say, “Is I may never meet you”. He sighs. “It’s that time of year”, I say, unable to negotiate this conversation with the eloquence I had dreamed of as a younger, more hopeful artist. “Yeah, it’s that time of year alright,” he responds, “That must be it. Maybe we could change it.” (Shepard/Smith, 1971) I sit silent. Vladimir and Estragon come to mind. The bleak and barren landscapes, characters adrift and alone in an unapologetic world, the lack of conclusive rationalization; all illuminate Shepard’s acknowledged appreciation for Waiting For Godot’s pen master.

Similar to Beckett, Shepard’s characters are trapped in some Place temporally and spatially, occupying themselves by filling the void of life with games, confrontations, and linguistic arias. Compared to Beckett’s sparse and calculated economy, Shepard’s figures are beyond violently thirsty. His plays very distinctly brash and American. They yearn for freedom, for wild release: thrashing about in the cage of an unfulfilled promise.

We sit in silence. Awkward silence. A song hangs on the wind: the unmistakable sultry call of a voice transcending the decades, reaching across the black prairie to us from 1978.

With love we sleep
With doubt the vicious circle
Turns and burns
Without you I cannot live
Forgive, the yearning burning
I believe it’s time, too real to feel…

(Smith/Springsteen)

It was Shepard who encouraged Patti Smith to become a performer. He recalls, “She already had this incantatory, lyrical, chanting way of talking, all she needed was a little shove. She was inhibited by not knowing guitar. I said: ‘Guitar is just a back up for your voice. You’re not going to be Jeff Beck, don’t worry about it. Just learn these chords and you’ll be able to back yourself up.’ And then it turned out she has this extraordinary voice too.” (Cadwalladr, The Observer)

Looking at a picture of Sam Shepard and Patti Smith on a balcony in New York City, circa 1971. Her hair looks like mine did the year my dad died. The day I took a pair of scissors and began to cut chunks off at random lengths all over my head. Miraculously, that worked out well. I fixed my dad’s broken car and started driving East, landing in New York City.

I start to imagine I am a manifestation of Sam and Patti’s affair; that I was born of them somehow. I’m going through these pictures. Patti and Sam making out in public. Patti and Mapplethorpe. Patti and Sam at the 92nd Street Y. Patti holding a chunk of hair in the air with a pair of scissors. This is getting intense.

I order another whiskey.

Neat.

We’re at The Chelsea Hotel. I’m “…Raymond, a dead crow, on the floor. Scattered all around on the floor is miscellaneous debris: hubcaps, an old tire, raggedy costumes, a boxful of ribbons, lots of letters…Seedy wallpaper with pictures of cowboys. Photographs of Hank Williams and Jimmie Rodgers. Stuffed dolls, crucifixes. License plates from southern states nailed to the wall. Travel poster of Panama. A funky set of drums to one side of the stage. An electric guitar and amplifier on the other side. Rum, beer, white lightening. Sears catalogue.” (Shepard/Smith, 1971) There’s a “fucked up bed” in the middle of the room. Patti and Sam pass a typewriter back and forth.

“We writ a play together called “Cowboy Mouth.” We writ it together on the same typewriter, you know, like a battle. We were having’ this affair. He was a married man, and it was a real heavy passionate kind of thing. We writ this play and took it right on the stage”. (Baker, 1974)

The air is thick with the smell of cigarettes, booze, sex, and electricity. The typewriter goes back and forth, two artists pounding out their frustration in the keys. It’s a fever. It’s an avalanche. A tornado. I pick up one of the pages:

SLIM: Your Raymond! My wife! My kid! Kidnapped in the twentieth century! Kidnapped off the street! Hot off the press! Don’t make no  sense! I ain’t no star! Not me! Not me, boy! Not me! Not yer old dad! Not yer old scalawag! This is me! Fucked! Fucked up! What a ratpile heap a dogshit situation!

CAVALE: Shit, man . . . Raymond, come on baby, where are you? Come on, honey, is your beak hurt? Raymond? Raymond, don’t be scared, honey, come on, he’s just an old snake, a water moccasin, a buffalo, an old crow . . .No, I’m jes’ fooling. Raymond! Fuck them, fuck you.

The characters of the play and the reality of the hotel room Smith and Shepard occupy blur. It’s an exploitation of autobiography. They drench themselves in fantasies, trying to manufacture some sense of a self-sustained myth for their generation. Note all of the exclamations in Shepard’s character Slim. Slim, the most prolific self made version of the playwright himself, appears in name in more than one of Shepard’s early plays (see Back Bog Beast Bait, 1971). Patti and Sam latch onto the affair of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, Cavale and Slim role-play shoe shopping, walking through the room “as if it were the streets of the city”, growl like animals, play dead. It is role-playing within role-playing, they “enact roles within roles, overlay masks with masks in their compulsion to perform” (Blackburn, 1996).

As my own fantasy plays out, Patti Smith is on the edge of the bed. “I started makin’ my move when all the rock stars died. Jimi and Janis and Jim Morrison. It just blew my mind, because I’m so hero-oriented. I just felt total loss. And then I realized it was time for me.” (Baker, 1974) She wanted to make Shepard a rock star. She felt she couldn’t play guitar herself, as her hands were too small. In Cowboy Mouth, her desire to make Sam (who introduced himself to her initially as Slim) a real rock and roll superman manifests as a literal kidnapping, Cavale with a .45 keeping Slim hostage in this space that he thrashes desperately against. Although Cavale is more or less in control in Cowboy Mouth, both characters revolt violently against the oppression of the hotel room, which echoes the persecuting expectations of celebrity, history, and promise.

This play (Cowboy Mouth), created with Smith, would explode in its one performance starring the creators as their characters/themselves on April 29th, 1971. It would be the only time Sam Shepard plays one of his own characters on a stage (see Paris, Texas), and truly send him into an astonishing habitation of privacy.    That night, Cowboy Mouth was a double bill with Shepard’s Back Bog Beast Bait, starring Shepard’s wife O-Lan, in a role some say is based on Patti Smith. The ménage a trois proved too much for Shepard, and he left after the opening, moving to London with O-Lan and his son Jesse. Not surprising, as escape is a recurrent theme in both Shepard’s work and his life. Whether it is this escape to London, Slim’s need to escape the claustrophobia of CM, attempts to escape the past in Buried Child, or the flight from place in Curse Of The Starving Class.

The affair at The Chelsea Hotel and the process and necessity of creating Cowboy Mouth irrevocably propelled Shepard into a new way of self-mythology. He struggled with identity and whipped about inventing and reinventing himself. This affair, this exercise in creation, this performance of Cowboy Mouth, and the vulnerability of autobiographical myth-making served as a sling-shot, catapulting Shepard into a lifelong career.

Time is an arrow.

Reluctant celebrity that he is, I wonder if his private nature is not a direct reaction to that April evening in ’71. Perhaps Smith is our greatest key into The Great American Playwright, as she was there for the alchemic conception of the man.         She’s part of that secret.

Returning to my fantasy. I’m no longer Raymond The Crow. I’ve taken my own form. I’m hungry for a taste of what that relationship was, for the electrifying creative energy exploding out of these artists.

But Sam Shepard is gone.

It’s just me and Patti now.

I realize it isn’t a secret for me to behold. It belongs to them. Patti looks at the lightening bolt tattoo on her hand, the one she got while she was with Sam. She grabs a pen and paper, lights a cigarette, and begins to write:

            …when he was grown
had hubcaps of his own
on a Hudson Hornet car
and rolled the pretty ladies
and often went too far

            “I imagined myself as Frida to Diego,” she says, “both muse and maker. I dreamed of meeting an artist to love and support and work with side by side.” (Just Kids, Smith) Me too, Patti. Me too.

Shepard picks up his wife and son Jesse and moves to London in 1971, but he doesn’t leave America behind him. While in London, he writes Tooth of Crime, a rock and roll fantasia showdown between an aging rock-god Hoss and his challenger, a young punk named Crow. It’s interesting to note the recurring use of the crow as symbolism in Shepard’s work here. In Cowboy Mouth, it was Patti Smith who first brought up the crow in her desperate cries for Raymond and her relationship to mortality through her treatment of the dead bird: “he sleeps on my belly cuz that’s the future”. (Shepard/Smith) Crow returns to us in Tooth of Crime as a charismatic young rocker built of fragments of appropriated styles. Crow is an important symbol to Shepard, who has continued to return to Native American symbols and ideals in his life and work. Crow is an idealist, a diplomat. In Native American Mythology, he is Highly enthusiastic, and a natural entrepreneur, the Crow is quite a charmer. But he/she doesn’t have to work at being charming; it comes easily. At the same time, crows themselves are scavengers and curious almost to a fault. Moreover, they can often be seen picking at the mangled remains of fallen warriors on the battlefield. In Tooth of Crime we find a most explicit theme of the battle with fame and its cancerous nature. Less a passing of the torch and more a seizure of power, Crow triumphs in the end, but does he glimpse himself in the hollowed eyes of his defeated opponent? It is an ominous ending, signifying that Fate has the same demise in store for Crow in his future. “The most authentic endings”, says Shepard, “are the ones already revolving toward a beginning”. Thus Crow sings, from the flowing river of Hoss’ self inflicted death wound:

            . . .Clock is stopped

            Stare into the skull

            Into the face

            Invisible

            Hold me close

            Sweet actual

            Come and drape across my knee

            Rain through my street

            Come and blow this candle out

            Incomplete

I would proffer that Hoss’ suicide is a sacrifice to American Gods, a sacrifice that in vain. In the decline of culture and the oppression of progressive technology, and the struggles of the ever impending next generation, a sacrifice does little to relieve us of our despair. The rise of advertising and a consumer culture (as is revisited in Curse Of The Starving Class) is a disease that will devour the America we glorify in our dreams and our nostalgia. In our ambition we are destroying our past in the name of a future uncertain.

Time is a spiral. We’re going in circles, repeating the mistakes of our predecessors, but do we continue to amplify the ignorance in our decisions and our actions?

Perhaps.

Sam Shepard quit drinking a year ago. Before that, all of his fixation with and determination not to turn into his father caused him to practice the same means of self-medication. In the 1980’s, Shepard’s younger sister told People magazine:

“There was always this kind of facing off between them [Shepard and his      father], and it was Sam who got the bad end of that. Dad was a tricky character because he was a charismatic guy when he wanted to be. And at the other side he was like a snapping turtle. With him and Sam it was that male thing. You put two virile men in a room and they’re going to test each other.”

(Cadwalladr, The Observer)

It’s this relationship that acts as a unifying through line in what have become known as what some critics refer to as Shepard’s Family Trilogy, which is made up of Curse Of The Starving Class (1976), Buried Child (1978), and True West (1980). I am one to side with the school that marries these plays with Fool For Love (1983) and A Lie Of The Mind (1985) as a quintet.

Fantasy takes over again. I’m on the road with the The Rolling Thunder Revue. We are sitting on the grave of Jack Kerouak, Sam and I alongside Allen Ginsberg and Bob Dylan. I snap a photo of the three of them. The shutter snaps, and I start to make associations. Much of the language in Curse is pure prose. Curse switches back and forth between pseudo realism and a fantastical absurdist aesthetic. Again, we find ourselves in the middle of a barren expansive desert. However, the characters in this piece choose to live in a claustrophobic container smack in the middle of that expanse. Most of the characters in the show dream of “getting out”; the mother figure, Ella, hopes to go to Europe (her concept of which is comically elementary), her alcoholic husband Weston dreams of going to Mexico to start anew, and their daughter, Emma, of going anywhere else. The only character in the family who feels a continued kinship to the land and the home is Wesley, who struggles with inheriting his father’s flaws (a very Greek notion). It is in Wesley’s first speech that we witness the most apparent influence Rolling Thunder Revue had on Shepard’s development as a writer:

WESLEY: . . . Feet coming. Feet walking toward the door. Feet stopping. Heart           pounding. Sound of door not opening. Foot kicking door. Man’s voice. Dad’s voice. Dad calling Mom. No answer. Foot kicking. Foot kicking harder. Wood splitting. Man’s voice. In the night. Foot kicking hard through door. One foot right through door. Bottle crashing. Glass breaking. Fist through door. Man cursing. Man going insane. Feet and       hands tearing. Head smashing.

For an artist who shares the obsession with Mythology of Self and the idea of a self-made man with Bob Dylan, it makes sense that after touring the country with his troupe, he would experiment again with reinvention. He still grapples with the demons of the past, but in a more cohesive, albeit still disjointed and all over the gamut, manner. Wesley’s monologue turned beatnik ode in Act One of Curse almost surely paints memories of the playwright’s own childhood growing up in California. Curse, much like Tooth of Crime, ends in a sacrifice. This time, however, it is the youngest character in the story. Emma, incredibly close to escape (and the only one clever enough to get away with it), ends up assumedly destroyed in a car explosion intended for her father. Is it a form of punishment? For being heiress to her history? For the attempt of breaking free?

I’m the carcass of the lamb Wesley killed, another sacrifice for naught. I hear Wesley’s voice:

WESLEY: How come I’m going backwards?

EMMA: Because you don’t look ahead. That’s why. You don’t see the writing               on the wall. You gotta learn how to read these things, Wes. It’s deadly otherwise. You can’t believe people when they look you in the eyes. You can’t look behind them. See what they’re standing in front of. What they’re hiding, Wes. Everybody. Nobody looks like what they  are.

WESLEY: What are you?

EMMA: I’m gone. I’m gone! Never to return.

            ELLA: EMMA!!!

EMMA: Adios!

ELLA: Weston! Was that Emma!

WESLEY: It’s me, Mom.

Emma certainly is right. She never will return. Weston is shackled into his nightmare of becoming his father in this case of mistaken identity. His mother seals the contract of his Fate. Curse has the most immediate sense of shifting forms and rhythms in Shepard’s early work. In an interview in the 1997 Paris Review, Shepard is noted as saying “Shifts are something Joe Chaikin taught me. He had a knack for marking the spot where something shifted. An actor would be going along, full of focus and concern, and then Joe would say, No! Shift! Different! Not the same. Sun, moon—different!” There’s a sense in gaining momentum in Shepard’s work. Most notably his Family Trilogy. There also exists an amalgamation of vernacular, rhythm, and form. In his Pulitzer Prize winning Buried Child, Shepard reimagines the patterns of everyday speech in Middle America. He pulls them apart, restructures them, and gives them an independent life evolved from their origins. The family achieves ecstatic peaks of mutual bewilderment and indulgence while maintaining a grasp of quotidian repartee.

TILDEN: You don’t wanna die, do you?

DODGE: No, I don’t wanna die either.

TILDEN: Well, you gotta talk or you’ll die.

DODGE: Who told you that?

TILDEN: That’s what I know. I found that out in New Mexico. I thought I was           dying but I just lost my voice.

Again we come face to face with our mortality. Seeping into this exchange with Tilden and his father, we may have a glimpse into the playwright’s own fear of becoming obsolete, of losing his ability to express himself, of Death itself. “I thought I was dying but I just lost my voice.” The battle with fame and expression exploited.

In that same Paris Review from 1997, Shepard tells a story of his father going to see a production of Buried Child in New Mexico, completely blitzed. The playwright himself wasn’t there, but according to his account of the events, “in the middle of the play he began to identify with some character, though I’m not sure which one, since all those characters are kind of loosely structured around his family. In the second act he stood up and started to carry on with the actors, and then yelled, “What a bunch of shit this is!” The ushers tried to throw him out. He resisted, and in the end they allowed him to stay because he was the father of the playwright.” (Paris Review, 1997)

In Fool For Love, Shepard draws from a more pleasant experience, falling in love. Specifically, falling in love with Jessica Lang. Of course, Shepard’s understanding of love is much more tumultuous (and dare I say honest) than popular romantic notions. Romance is present, don’t get me wrong, but it’s raw, frantic, hungry, haunted. While he set out to write a story about falling in love, The Old Man found his way into the story somehow. “I was desperately looking for an ending when he came into the story.” (Paris Review, 1997) The intense conflict between May and Eddie is absolutely captivating. “But it couldn’t go one forever”, Sam says in the interview. Indeed, he may be right. Unwittingly, in this interview he foreshadows his separation with Lange, which was finalized in February of 2013.

In 2005, I was cast as May in a production I fought tooth and nail through auditions to be a part of. My father was still alive then. He came to see Fool For Love on the opening night. I had been so excited by the process in rehearsal. At the time I was really getting into literary criticism and found a rabbit hole in dissecting the unstructured relationships in multi-speaker frames (Ramanathan, Issues in Applied Linguistics, 1991) and the shifts in placating and quarrelling that made up the fated love of the couple/sibling. Furthermore, I was fascinated with the metaphor of a shared history manifesting as a shared lineage through The Old Man. I had invited my father to see the performance because I was proud, because I had tapped into something I had yet to comprehend, something that excited me. It wasn’t until after my father’s death and a continued study of Shepard’s other work (for I only touched on Fool For Love initially) that I came to realize the intricate parallels in our histories.

After the performance, my father approached me:

DAD: Dee Dee, that guys in the corner? The one you were drinking with? The                                 one with the hat?

ME: The Old Man?

DAD: Not your boyfriend/brother/guy.

ME: Yeah, The Old Man.

DAD: (Pause) Yeah. The Old Man. He’s so familiar.

Neither of us needed to say it, but he was my father’s father. And qualities he possessed had seeped into my father as well. And we were both fighting distractedly to succeed (and by succeed, perhaps, I mean exist) in a culture clinging to its perceived vision of forefathers it has no hope of understanding on more than a mythical level. Looking back on that night from my fantasized perch with Shepard, on a rocky quarry, at the edge of The Mojave Desert, I realize:

Time is a web.

The walls of the bar are closing in on me. The conversations are incoherent, they slide in and out of comprehensive dialectic. I order a coffee. Black. Time to sober up, wrap up this story. I pay my tab. Someone turns up the T.V. above me. That’s my cue: when the trappings of modern American culture begin to pollute my thoughts with babble. And in the act of rebellion, or perhaps, conclusion, I find I am opening the gates to something careening towards a new beginning. I’m pulling this amalgamation of influence with me. I pay the tab. I remember I am living off borrowed money, borrowed time. There’s a sense of hopelessness. I find it encouraging. I hear Shepard’s voice. It follows me out of the bar and into the New York Night:

“We think we know ourselves, when we really know only this little bitty part. We have this social person that we present to each other. We have all these galaxies inside of us. And if we don’t enter those in art of one kind or another, whether it’s playwrighting, or painting, or music, or whatever, then I don’t understand the point in doing anything. It’s the reason I write. I try to go into parts of myself that are unknown… I’m not doing this in order to vent demons. I want to shake hands with them.”

Amen.

 

ENDNOTE: This is a very personal academic paper I wrote in grad school at Columbia University in March of 2013. It seems appropriate to post it now, as I’m struggling to find words for the passing of Sam Shepard. As I scroll through social media, receive texts from friends, family and colleagues, and reflect on my life in the American Theatre today, I know one truth: Sam Shepard has been a thread through it all. I feel a spiritual connection to his work, his demons, his inspiration, and his outlook on the world. Fuck. Fuckin fuck. Funny, the last and only posts on this blog are from when my father died.

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Bibliography

Untimely Meditations, Friedrich Nietzsche, Cambridge University Press, 1997

The Theatre of Sam Shepard: States of Crisis, Stephen J. Bottoms, Cambridge    University Press, 1998

Fool For Love and Other Plays, Sam Shepard, The Dial Press, 1984

The Unseen Hand and Other Plays, Sam Shepard, Reprint of the 1972 ed. Published    by Bobs-Merrill, Indianapolis

Just Kids, Patti Smith, Harper-Collins Ebook Publications

Curse of The Starving Class, Sam Shepard, Revised Edition, Dramatists Play Service,    2009

Buried Child, Seduced, Suicide in Bb, Sam Shepard with an Introduction by Jack             Richardson, Urizen Books, Inc. 1979 ed.

Sam Shepard Opens Up, Cadale Cadwalladr, The Observer

The Cambridge Companion to Sam Shepard, Matthew Raoudane, Cambridge     University Press, 2002

Off Off and Away, Robb Baker, After Dark, September 1974

Portrait of the Artist: Sam Shepard and the Anxiety of Identity, Blackburn 1996

Sam Shepard, The Art of Theater No. 12, Interviewed by Benjamin Ryder Howe,           Jeanne McCulloch, Mona Simpson, Paris Review, Issue #142, 1997

Frames and Coherence in Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love, Ramanathan, Vaidehi, Issues            in Applied Linguistics, 2(1), 1991

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A letter to What May Have

“We’re driving off into the sunset Marli. Like a couple of cowgirls…”

“Yeah!” She fist pumps enthusiastically.

My niece and I are on our way back to Grand Junction from a weekend in Glenwood Springs and Aspen. We have the top down on the Mazda Miata I inherited from my father’s estate.* Cruising down 82, warm mountain wind whipping my hair, the aspen leaves kissing the sky…it is overwhelming. I am falling in love with Colorado again. In my rear-view mirror, on his motorcycle, is another love from another lifetime.

The trip to Glenwood was his idea.

He invited Marli and me.

We went for it.

Marli and I packed our swim suits and drove up in the Miata, which has had a few little minor mishaps these past few weeks. Okay, it has been leaking coolant like crazy. I got the leaky hose replaced today, but before that I was going through about two gallons of coolant a week. Expensive. I wasn’t nervous about the jaunt to Glenwood Springs though, we would be fine. I even had the wherewithal to put oil in the car before we left. Hot springs, here we come!

About three quarters of the way through Debeque Canyon, something brown and greasy began to splash onto the windshield. Perfect.

“Dee Dee, is the car going to explode?”

“No, Marli.”

“Break down then?”

“I don’t know.”

“Hmmmmm….”

We stopped outside of the canyon at a Kum and Go to check the engine. Sure enough, I had forgotten to replace the cap on the tank. Oil was everywhere. I was mildly embarrassed (Marli still won’t let me hear the end of it). Easy fix though, we bought some more oil and were back on the road in no time.

(Marli would like me to mention here that I almost left the cap off the tank a second time. I will neither confirm or deny.)

The Glenwood Hot Springs were just as wonderful as I remember. Pulling in front of the Hotel Colorado, Marli screamed that high pitch, sonar scream only adolescent girls can conjure…this was her first time at the springs. Oh. Boy.

At the springs, we met a lovely woman from Russia named Tamara who lives in Aspen. She stayed the night with us in Glenwood and invited us up to Aspen the following day.

“Marli, you want to go to Aspen? Tamara has invited us up to ride the Gondola.”

“I wanna go today, NOT tomorrow!”

“No, Marli…I…Okay, we can go today”.

Marli eventually figured out Tamara’s name, and we did end up going.  I am glad we went. There is nothing like Aspen in the fall…now that is what my spirituality begins with. That.

And now we are flying through the mountains in tandem.
I have been trying to find a way of describing, placing, shaping, and embracing the act of reconnecting with an the old love. Reconnecting, mind you…not necessarily rekindling. You have to understand though (as do i), at one point in my life, that man was my world. Well, him and theatre. I eventually chose theatre. And leaving. But it was a difficult battle. He got married and had a son. I got married to the theatre and had play-babies. But there has always been a place in my heart for him.Earlier this summer we got together and had a beer, after having not spoken in ten years. I remember leaving my dad’s house on my last night in town that visit:”Dee Dee, where you going?”

“I’m going to go have a drink….Dad…with Earl.” Nervous. Nervous. Nervous.

“Well, that’s the dumbest fucking idea ever.”

“Thanks Dad.”

I went anyway (obviously).

Since we let each other back into our lives, I have felt as though I have inserted something back into my soul. It is hard to describe, and confusing, and unexpected, and wonderful. I have no intention of being in a romantic relationship with him again, and yet…there is something romantic about it. Platonic romance. I have always believed that you can love more than one person, and in a way be in love with more than one person. And I will always be in love with Earl, and the person he helped me to become. Perhaps that is why a bit of my heart breaks every time we part. Or perhaps it isn’t heartbreak, but rather the gears of a section of my emotional being…growing.

I like that better.

My heart isn’t breaking, it is learning.

Wow, I can already tell this post is going to be completely scattered and choppy because I have no idea what to make of this particular slice of my pie.

For whatever reason, Earl and I just didn’t have it in the cards. A friend asked us a few weeks ago what it was like when we broke up and how it happened or why. Earl responded, “It was like the world split apart. Completely.” I had to agree. Having no way to fully comprehend the devastation left in the wake of our separation or the decisions made leading up to it, I filed it away. More like shoved it into the deepest closet of my emotional memory. Eleven years ago. We wanted different things, I thought. He wanted to get married, have children, and live in Colorado. I wanted to go somewhere, work in theatre, get my master’s, travel. Being a young idiot, I don’t think I ever asked him if he would join me. It doesn’t matter. We were young.

It is interesting to meet the man that he has become and sort of hold it up to the woman in me. I wonder, what happens to the lives that might have been? Somewhere in space and time is there a Maridee Slater who chose the other side of the coin? What has unfolded for her?

The Miata pulls up to a stop light. Marli wakes up from a brief nap in the sun. Rubbing her eyes, she looks at me and smiles. “Is Earl still behind us?”

Just then, as if on cue, the car moves like a hiccup. I look in the rear-view mirror to see Earl, who has gently run his front tire into my bumper. “He sure is Marli Moo”.

“Earl is your boyfriend.” She says, turning around to wave at him.

I laugh, “No, no, no Doll. He is definitely not my boyfriend.”

“He’s not?”

“Nah, he’s something better”, I turn around and stick my tongue out at the motorcycle, “he’s one of my soul mates.”**

“Dee Dee, you’re weird.”

Marli, Brianna, Jeremy and I were having dinner tonight and Jeremy told Marli she would have to wait until tomorrow for something or other to happen…

“No Dad”, she responded, “Tamara’s not here.”

…and I’m the weird one? 😉

***

*How to inherit a vehicle when there is no will: Go to the DMV licensing office, hand them a death certificate, and ignore any mention of official paperwork needed. I was surprised they let me get away with this without the necessary letters. More surprisingly, the Miata runs. It has to. That is how I plan on getting to New York.

**I absolutely have more than one soul mate. My dad was one of them.

***Music for video courtesy of Jose Bold. Check them out at www.josebold.com.

Miles From Nowhere

Cabin Crew 2010

My father died on August 8th, in his sleep (we presume), with a smile on his face. He was 53 years old, my hero, and one hell of a warrior.

I have been wanting to write about him and his endeavors since before he passed away, yet this is the first time I have had the chance or the motivation to do so. It has been one hell of a month. It is September 6th, and I am sitting on the porch of my sister’s apartment reflecting the past month and where I should begin in my storytelling. I think I will begin with a story from last summer.

Because, for some unknown reason, that makes the most sense.

My father was diagnosed with terminal cancer three years ago. They gave him three months to live at the time. If that isn’t testament to my father’s ability to fight, I don’t know what is. He went through countless radiation and chemo treatments (often at the same time), broke his jaw, lost multiple teeth, and still managed to take numerous trips to our family’s Cabin in Colorado,  over the past few years. Every trip, he knew, could have been his last. Now, you must understand, the outdoors (and our land and cabin specifically) was his church. My father was a spiritual man, not a religious one. He was good looking before the cancer treatments. Seriously. I had numerous high school friends with crushes, one of which showed up at our back door soliciting him one day before school. Of course, she was turned down, much to her dismay. When the treatments started to take their toll on his body, it was evident he felt it fully. That did not stop him from living life to the fullest…

I digress.

Last summer was my final (sort of) trip to The Cabin that I was to take with him. I flew in from Seattle (where I was living at the time. As it turns out, right now, I am not really living anywhere. But that is another story). My family and I prepared a week long excursion to the cabin with Dad. We prepared my sister’s boyfriend’s truck with supplies we would need for the week. While packing up the food in the back of the truck, Dad began one of his famous control sessions: He insisted that my sister’s dog Duke be tied into the back of the truck for the drive up.

“But Duke always rides in the cab with us”, my sister Brianna and her boyfriend Jeremy protested. They were no match for my father, however, and gave into his stern, scolding, demands. Despite our best judgement and many a failed “but, Dad…”‘s, Duke was harnessed into the back of the truck. We soon began our journey: My little sister Madison, little brother Willem, Jeremy, and his daughter Marley piled into the truck, with Dukey in the back. Brianna, our father, and myself jumped into her car and we were off.

Stress levels mounting, by the time we had reached Gunnison, CO, Brianna and I had already managed a screaming fight with our father. He insisted that we need to be strong and smart and know how to take care of him. We knew we were. “I’m dying!” he kept screaming and crying. “We know”, we would cry back. That was the first and only time I remember falling over in the back seat and burying my head and ears in my hands…not since our parents had fought before the divorce do I remember that sort of despair. It was also the first time I ever hyperventilated, until last weekend. Just outside of Gunnison, Brianna pulled over. “I think they just lost some luggage”, she said, pulling her car to the shoulder of the road. “Maridee, will you go check?”

My stomach sank. I jumped out of the car and made my way back up the highway towards Jeremy’s truck, which was also pulled over. I could see my little brother Willem (13) outside with Jeremy and, to what I had feared, Duke. He had jumped out of the car and was dragged along the road for who knows how long. He was still alive, and whimpering. I flung around and shouted at Brianna to stay back. “Just stay there, Bri!” I kept saying. But she understood in a heartbeat what was up, and ran to us anyway.

Willem had grabbed the fly off of a tent and a random sheet and was trying to wrap Duke in it. “Hold on, tie his mouth shut!” I screamed, fearful of anyone getting bitten. Brianna protested, understandably. In all of the craziness, she was only thinking of her poor dog. This, of course, would prove to be a problem later. Meanwhile, I was also concerned with my father, who I am sure had realized his fatal mistake. I looked up from the bandages and found him walking the side of the highway, crying. “Oh Dukey, poor Dukey. Baby, Dukey. Oh…” On and on. I lost it there for a moment. I could feel his anguish and confusion and loss, and my heart went out to him. I did manage to call an emergency vet clinic. They were closed, but had a cell number to call. The woman on the other line walked me through the necessary steps.

“Where are you?”

“I don’t know, the highway….fuck…..mile marker something or other…”

“Ok. Is his snout tied?”

“Yes.”

“What happened?”

Fuck. This is the part that gets me. I explained the whole situation. How we protested, our father’s insistence, how we know better but, well, fuck…now duke has the skin off of half of his body completely missing and all four of his legs seem to be broken.

“Ok. You are going to have to move him. Bring him in, here’s our address.”

Brianna jumped in the back of the truck and as I slammed the truck bed shut I saw her sitting there, bawling, Duke in her arms crying with her. I followed the truck in her car, listening to my poor father’s lamenting and worrying.

We were going to have to keep Duke in the hospital overnight and go from there. At the clinic, my father kept insisting that he had tied dogs into the beds of trucks his whole life. “Sir”, the veterinarian kept saying, “there are public service announcements…”. It then turned into my father explaining rather harshly that Duke is just a dog (he LOVED Duke btw) and he was right here….who was worrying about him? We were all torn. Not to mention Jeremy’s daughter Marley, who was six at the time.

“Is Duke going to be ok?”

“I don’t know sweety. We’ll see.”

So, we stayed the night in Gunnison. No one had enough money for a hotel except for me, so I paid for a hotel room for us. This shamed my father to no end. “Dee Dee, can I borrow $100? I will pay you back.” Of course he could borrow money, and no, he never paid me back. I don’t care one bit.

The next morning we went to the clinic and were advised to put Duke to rest. Brianna had to take out a credit card to pay for it. Before they put him down, Madison and Marley came in to say their goodbyes. Marley’s conversation with Duke still haunts me. She held him and he just talked to her, no whimpering. just talks and kisses. She was an angel that whole trip. Yes. We still went to the cabin. After Marley said goodbye, Brianna and I sat with Duke while they put him down. Brianna cried. I cried. For Duke. For Dad. For us all.

More on that trip later. Now it is time for bed.