We zig zagged our way up the I5 from northern California. This was a task because Billy refused to drive through Klamath falls, instead heading out for the coast, driving a circle around it and his various family members within it. We crossed the California Oregon border on Highway 101, hurtling past giant redwoods, hokey tourist traps promising enchanted tree experiences, trees of Mystery and Confusion Hills. I wanted to stop and at least stretch our legs, but Billy was adamant. There would be no tourist trap fun trips, and besides there was no money for that. The kids peered out of the window as childish excitements passed them by. We were not on vacation, not that they had ever had a vacation they remembered. Mr. Charming had once taken us to Kyoto when they were babies, but they didn’t remember that at all, and besides it was a rather grown up trip with visits to Shrines and temples, tea houses and shopping districts. The hollowed out stumps of trees bigger than I could ever have imagined a tree to grow to passed us by, buildings that looked like giant fish, trees turned into houses and structures, hills that promised gravity does not work on them and balls roll up hill. It was a sugar mountain strangeness. An America long since passed by, one of carnival hawkers, and colored balloons, a candy floss colored heaven where Chuck Berry played in joints that sold malts and sodas from shiny fountains. It was the America of my European movie night dreams. The faces that passed by us seemed strange and out of place. The occasional hobo, winding his way up the road with a backpack and a dog, lost girls missing their shoes and fighting with their boyfriends, bearded motorcyclists in cuts both recreational and gang related, cyclists in indecent lycra playing chicken on the 101, never quite keeping over enough to safely navigate the road. But I had yet to see a racoon. Not even a dead one. We had seen deer and elk, rabbits and opossum, coyotes and tracks of huge feline paws of cats that are big enough to kill a man, but no racoon. I started to wonder if they existed at all, or were instead, some kind of American joke upon unsuspecting people from less wild and improbable places, where the weather and the wildlife do not try and kill you.
The trees crowd the road, thick sinuous roots bubbling up from the blacktop, branches whipping into the sides of the truck. We felt too big to even attempt such a road. We probably were. There is little light, due to the cover of the redwoods, and what is there is diffused and dappled. It is really quite beautiful and strange and old.
The road opened out abruptly to a place that described itself as having the cheapest booze in the state. Legendary. Huge selection. I had to persuade Billy not to stop. Selfish bastard.
We did not drive in further to the forest, or go exploring in the area this time, though later we did head down there, when it was just the three of us, and spent some time. This first time we headed up the road. Billy wanted to drive into Medford. He kept telling me that he was going to find a church, a hotel, somewhere to leave us, that having promised me I would not have to try and do this alone, after promising me that he would be there for me and the children, after luring me away with promises of steadfast support, after all of this, he decided that he was not able to do this after all. He could not, he did not want to help. This was a bleak time. After the rush of getting away, of being freed, the pleasure of spending time with my dearest old friend, my children feeling safe, Billy had decided that he was, in fact, incapable, and having drawn me away, my life now saved, he was free to dump us on the side of the road.
The plan had been to persuade Charming to divorce me, and then me and Billy marry, my visa safely transferred to Billy, and me and the children and my new husband to be live happily ever after. That had been the plan and the promise. In reality my husband refused to divorce me, Japan refused to issue the divorce as Charming refused to sign, and Billy was struggling with being a responsible human being. Foiled again. Still we struggled on. Billy was sweet and affectionate, the children loved him, we were close and at this point still in love, as much as that pains me to say now. Billy is the only man I have ever felt that rush of love for. He started to say that we couldn’t be together because we would end up doing drugs together again. I pointed out to him, that he only took tramadol for the pain in his head caused by the tumor, and that was prescribed by doctors, and that he hadn’t had a drink for over fifteen years, and that I was absolutely clean and sober, didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, and had not touched anything else since I got clean from the legally prescribed benzodiazepines the doctors had me on for years, medicating the anxiety caused by being beaten up on a daily basis. We were in no danger of falling into some pit of irresponsibility. It was all just an excuse. He was nervous, he has never liked being responsible, and still could not watch me, on the other end of skype calls, black eyes and cuts and bruises, shaking in fear. So we carried on. We carried on into Medford….and out of it, the ugly, hot, redneck town that it is, and up to Emigrant Lake where we camped contentedly for a few days.
Billy always made a big show about allowing me to choose the camping site we pulled into. Round and round we would drive, four, five, six times, making like Goldilocks: this one too small, that one too dark, this one has not enough foliage, and that one has someone else camped too close by. Finally we would decide, the fake out allegedly choice being all mine, we would be in accord that this spot was private enough, had shade or sun, and was, more importantly, far far away from other campers and their bag toss games and late night drinking. We would be left alone to live in peace. Billy was still not used to driving the RV. He had not driven for twenty years, when one day, he decided that the best way for me to escape would be to come and live with him in a camper. Beastie, my beloved Beastie. Beastie was 26 foot of class C steel. Overhead bunks, functional and clean, she was a beauty. Not the modern beauty of one of those tan and chocolate brown new RV’s with their automatic levelling and slides and pull outs, but the perfectly livable, sensible beauty of a well cared for, twenty year old camper, with six tires that needed changing even then, right at the start of the trip, and missing her back plates. Her swooshes were faded, her bumper slightly pushed in. The chrome was not polished, but her stereo worked just fine. Television boomed out of the speakers, “…and I fell into the arms of the Venus De Milo…” as we shuddered our way down rough roads into remote campgrounds. Solid engine, windows all worked, the tanks held water and waste without leakage, and at the start even her roof was watertight. I loved that camper. I loved the way she swayed in the wind at night, like a giant hammock. I loved pulling down the back shades, and hanging blankets over the windscreen to create our tiny little cabin. I loved the way her table and benches broke down into a bed. I loved my co-pilots chair in the cockpit, and how evenings would be small and intimate and full of music and laughter.
I remember the space we pulled into on Emigrant Lake. We had to back into it, me jumping out to help him navigate, telling him about branches and tree trunks, and how much more he had to go, in order to plug her in, or run a water hose. It was high up, in a corner, a neat clean picnic table that was immediately claimed by the children, enough of a “yard” for them to play and hang out, a fire pit to make a decent sized campfire, and a dangerous jump from step to floor, because the edge of the pad had been cut off too abruptly. Walking down to the lake to watch the boats and the paddlers, the swimmers and the kayakers and the birds swooping in the hot Oregon summer sky, watching the children pick up sticks and run ahead laughing and joking and stumbling as they went, I remember a feeling of immense peace. Billy threaded his arm through mine, and pulled me close. Kissing the top of my head and squeezing me tightly, he whispered in my ear…”I love you.” What meant so much then, just makes me angry now. What use is love if love lets you down? What use is a love that does nothing, that lets another person fall, that demands they get off their floor then whines crying about it when they do? What use is love at all? People die, some before their time, people leave, people fall by the wayside and end up stranded somewhere far far away, unreachable, untouchable.
I used to laugh at Paul Simon and that sophomoric song about how he was a rock and and island with his poetry books to protect him! I used to laugh and think how immature, how wide eyed, how deliberately naïve. Of course I loved it in my teens. I felt it spoke to me. A rock, Paul told me, feels no pain, and an island never cries. How deep. How tortured. How poetic. I cast off that song like clothes that become too small as a child grows. Now in some full circle, deeply hurt and deeply empty, I once again find myself singing that same tune. If I never loved, Paul, you are right, I never would have cried, and I don’t know if I have any more tears left in me. In the end, the loss is so much bigger than a lover. I lost almost everything, and to be frank if I cannot solve my problems, legal and housing, I will end up losing what little I have left to love and nurture. I wish I could go back to that point in time, back to the lake and both my children, and walk back to my camper, open the door, and pull my old Martin out from beside my bed, and pick a few notes out about love and time and moonshiners in hollows, but all that is gone, and it is gone never to return. Too many pieces of that puzzle are missing into the place that lost things go. Maybe one day I can meet them there. I will need that old leatherman knife back, though. Thief.
I suppose, right then at that point in time, I thought there was a use to love. I thought love was a thing within itself that held value and beauty, and maybe it did. As the sun went down over the water, shimmering gaudily in the half light, I might have felt something like hope. I am not fond of hope. Hope lets you down hard. Hope is merciless in its fifty/fifty ability to gamble, win or lose, to hope is to bet on things being good. I rarely win.