Every beginning is like a little death I used to say. Every start is a little death. I was wrong. Sometimes you don’t see the end coming, you don’t see it rounding the horizon, riding a white horse, pale and forlorn, beckoning you, leading you on from what has been to what has to become. You look back, the ashes of the past searing the new future into place, closing doors firmly, and behind them an immolation of everything you loved, held dear and held onto. There is no going back. There is never any going back.
If you had asked me on some bright Minnesotan summers day, looking out at the pontoons and the campfires, the owls and the eagles, if you had asked me what would happen on the 27th of October 2020, not even my depraved and wild imagination could have described the sequence of events that culminated in my pulling into San Francisco in a yellow cab, after a 14 hour journey, with just my son, my suitcases and the tattered dreams of what should have been flaming behind me, up the 101 to the little strip of the west coast we had been driving up and down for years now.
I could not have told you that the world would be sick with a deadly disease that was wiping out families, wiping out life as we knew it, wiping out economies and happiness, destroying everything in its slimy wake. I could not have told you that what once was four, what became three, was now reduced to two. I could not have told you that all I felt for my soul mate, the love of my life, for the late, the great, the crazy and talented, had turned into a solid morass of contempt and hate. No, if you had asked me in August 2017, what October 2020 would be like, I could not have told you. I could not have guessed. I would not want to have known.
I would not say I was unhappy. I was furious. More incandescent at the lastest indignity. Billy, my Moriarty, my speed limit, had turned into a mean old man. The tumor, the desire to drink himself into alcoholism (again and again and again….aaaannnnd again), the stroke, the virus, the living in the camper, it had all conspired to take away the man I knew and replace him with a small minded goblin. This is not how I want you to remember him. Its not how I want posterity to think of him. Its not even how I want to think of him. Yet I am not spared this. Not I. So when that cop car pulled us over, my stomach lurching, my fear rising in my throat, a ball I could not swallow, when the new gestapo decided to make our day, I still did not quite expect the result we got. B was sitting in his usual back seat of our dilapidated old class c motor home, our home as it had been for the last 5 years, for a good chunk of this 13 year old life. He sat there quiet and resolved, as he usually was nowadays. He had become steely since it had been just the three of us. The cop asking for proof of ownership title, insurance. Now I had fixed the tags, fixed the insurance, fixed the tires, fixed the solenoid. I had fixed and fixed and fixed, with little recognition that Billy was not capable of fixing anything anymore. Not that he had ever been particularly capable in the first place.
I guess its here that I had better introduce you to Billy. As pathetic as it is to admit I needed a rescuer, a partner in my endeavor to escape, if not quite a knight in tin foil armor, Billy made leaving possible. I feel kinda bad you getting to know him at this point, not Before. Before age, a brain tumor, a stroke and cancer had got hold of him. Billy should have been a superstar, he should have been up on a stage, his fender in hand, making like Keith Moon back stage with his bottle of Jack and his sly small drunk smile. Billy should have been a junkie, but Billy preferred to drink. He would tell you that himself. That’s not to say that he hadn’t had his years long brushes with speed, lsd, mushrooms. Whatever it took to change the channel, to tune the hum and clang in his head to a smoother note. He was not adverse to drawing up whatever there was around, and putting it into his arm in years gone by. I had first met Billy years before in New York. When he reappeared in my life he was a tamer soberer, more stable creature. He was not drinking, he was not addicted to anything, meth had long since been kicked to the kerb. He was a different person, yet utterly the same. We both were. See, now I’m making him sound cartoonish. Its quite the task to immemorialize someone you loved, someone who failed to cope with life, and so declined to have a normal one. We are not like them. No, Billy. We are not. For all his failings he was the singularly most interesting man I had ever met. He didn’t talk like other people, didn’t think like other people, and he could write a damn fine song. Actually he would take that as a memorial. He could sure write a song. He could make a damn fine sound with that guitar of his. Billy lived for music. He lived for writing. Unfortunately he was handcuffed by the fact that drinking made him so unstable he could not go into a city without ending up for long stretches in jail. Drinking destroyed his life. Vietnam destroyed Billy. He should have played baseball. He should have played the guitar. He should have led the world on a merry dance and died feted as one of the greats. Instead he became the most desperate alcoholic for so much of his life. The sad thing was for years at a time he could go without drinking. But once that genie was out of the bottle, once that bottle that he romanticized and loved so well called out to him, it was game over. He told me back in ’13 that he didn’t have any more tickets to that particular carnival. He was wrong. He was strong. He had a few tickets left, but they would cost him everything. His health, his dignity. Me.
I used to look at him, with his goatie beard and his one smashed cheekbone, with his piercing small blue eyes and strong idle hands that he held before him in the most unique way. I could tell Billy just from the way he was holding his hands in front of him, loose but strong, like they were missing a gun or a syringe, defused yet waiting to be reloaded.
Billy belonged to that curious subset of hillbillies that like to read. You can hear them quote Plato at you whilst dragging out their sofa to the lawn, or discuss the dictatorship over the proletariat whilst skinning road kill to throw to the dogs. All of whom, solid, mean eyed and sinuous watch over the backyard for intruders to their kingdom (and sometime tormentors) domain. These are the more dangerous kind. The kind that don’t trust the government, that abide by the laws of the mountain, the farm, the boys on the backroads and their iron fist in the gardening gloves of their beloved mawmaw. The kind that play an endless game of cat and rat with the police, most of whom they went to school with and they really don’t give a shit about upsetting, or nuthin’. This is the irredeemably ungovernable backbone of rural America. Now, I’m not saying they are right, they are regularly and casually racist to the man woman and child, without owning that racism for the most part, just sticking to it like a pig to shit. They are isolationist, set in their ways, and see no wrong in their lack of manners, decency or ability to get along with others. In short, I am not fond of your general American redneck. They are also loyal, stoically able to withstand the sticks and stones of hard living in their caravans of trailers, Rvs, shacks, mountainsides and ditches. They are the kind of people to offer slops to feed your animals, a pair of socks when they open a new pack from Wallyworld, they eat icecream with forks, and cut bread with spoons. These are the people that saw a savior, saw a success, saw recognition of all they are good at, all they stand for, and all they aspire to, in the great Orange Clown, that almost took us all down, and lost 470,000 American souls on his watch. These are the enemy.
If you wondered who I am, I was almost hoping you would get to know me, before you all hitch up your best judging pants and hoike your bosoms in outrage. Im Illegal. I was a dumb young woman who married in Asia to a man outside of my culture, and proceeded to get beaten up for years and years. I had to run, but you cant run because the country you are in wont let you leave with your precious children who are not safe with their father, and besides you are their mother and love them. Billy offered me the chance to get out of Asia, away from being beaten to death in increments, and try and escape my fate at the hands of unfair laws. Im white, university educated, classically musically trained, and a total fuck up. Im not your general ally of the great American redneck. No siree. I have an accent which I cannot escape, not ever. As much as it has modulated to a vague new world drawl, with fuzzy r’s and bitten off t’s, as much as a trolley is a cart and Im able to be understood by automated services, I will never pass. My manners are too European, my idiom too alien, my accent too far removed to not be hassled within an inch of my sanity by said rednecks.
So, when events conspired to lead me to San Francisco, I felt a huge sense of relief that I was to be in a large urban great liberal society. I’ve guarded my privacy for years, I’ve guarded my safety. Now I’m too tired of not talking, of hiding, of failing. Along side the relief, there is a sense of desperation, of danger, of fear. I do not think that I will make it much further. It feels like the end of the road. The end of the game. I’ve a vague sense of wanting to document my collapse. Im safe enough, I guess, as safe as I ever am. I’m inside. I’m not hungry. I’m warm. The shelter is liveable for the most part. But the past is catching up to me in ever increasing increments of danger.
And when in this long game of cat and mouse comes to an end, all I be left with is the memories of times when I was happier. I did have happiness, especially in the long roads and byways of rural America, with my family. So forgive me if I retreat back there for a while. Back to the start of the happy times. Back to Los Angeles.