I’ve been keeping the curtains closed. There is not much out there that I want to see right now. Grey skies. Crowds of people looking miserable as they dodge the trash on the sidewalk, and each other as if anyone they do not know or wish to know was somewhere below the turds and discarded fast food wrappers. Suns come up. Moons go down. The stars hide in floodlit skies.
If I close my eyes I can see another moon, disappearing in the horizon as we drive south through Redding, California, to a chorus from the driver’s seat of “Fuck California! Fuck California! Californians can’t drive! Motherfuuuuuuckers! I am in a 26 foot tank! I WILL steamroller you! Gitouttadaway”. I sat there feeling crushed and terrorized as he bitched all the way south past the little Oregonian border towns, gunning it through Pistol River and Brookings like a man possessed. If we were going to California, we were going to do it fast, and in a state of high irritation, apparently. The 101 south heading towards that Californian coastal border is treacherous, a crumbling, not fit for use two lanes, one of which hugs the overhang of the cliff face, and the other is a sheer drop to the ocean, with barely a few inches of land between the traffic and a drop into the pacific. I spent many hours driving up and down the 101 between Los Angeles and Washington State. I know intimately each badly angled section of road that feels as if it will tip you off the edge of a cliff, each awning shredding cliff face that could do with a touch more carving out. I know how the scenery changes from dunes, to swamps, to vast bay inlets and bridges. From stunted myrtle trees to lush green forests that spring up from the fertile land and wet skies of Washington. From the old rusty bridges near Big Sur, and the crumbling roads that lead north to south and south to north, the ocean sparkling to the left and the stone to the right and back again, I love it all. I love each and every memory of every hand held, each and every rest stop cheese sandwich and gas station ice cream and sprite. I treasure each time I sat in my navigator’s seat, the lumpy foam and threadbare fabric cradling me as I leaned my face towards the window and drank in all the beauty. The late afternoon sun that blinds, in some horrifically dangerous roadplanning slip up. The sparkle of raindrops on the windshield. The burning of the sun through glass. The heat of his hand. The tenderness with which he patted my arm, and the kindness of his smile. The scent of sleeping children. The chatter from the backseat cabin which turned to a shocked lonely silence. The diners and the over-priced grocery stores, tumble past in my minds eye, out of time and out of place. The cheap liquor store on the border that proclaims to have some of the cheapest prices in the USA, sat there like a booby trap, trying to entice the resident troublesome alcoholic to a bottle of something or other as a ‘treat’, while I held on for dear life beg beg begging him to fucking stop trying to die with me around.
You see, not only do I not hate California, I love it here. I hope to live and eventually die in this state of mind. I suppose my co pilot had a deep seated hatred for the state after a violent run in with some Californian motorcycle pigs back in the ’70s who smashed his head open, gave him a kicking, locked him up with a large flap of skin falling over his left eye, blood pouring out of the head wound and no access to medical care. I don’t blame him. It colored the way he thought about the entire state. To be fair he was pissing out of the window of a speeding car being driven by his drunk friends, which he then proceeded to fall out of. Pissing into the wind takes on a whole new meaning when the stream hits a ‘cycle pig full in the kisser.
Then amid the fighting and bickering and chanting about hating the state I considered home, the safest place for me to exist, my shiny, glittering, creative, diverse beautiful California, amongst the apologetics for Oregon which tried to kill me, and took so much from me, and all the crazy fast drives south when we were found by the Pig, or forced out through some danger or other, and the resentments which grew too large to ignore, there they were! The Redwoods. Avenues of the Giants. The ancient trees that stood there before. That stand there now, and will be there after, at least until the fires get ’em. We would pull into Jedidiah Smith Campground, pick out a spot as far away as possible from everyone else as possible. We needed our privacy. The other campers huddled together in groups. Driving around to try and place ourselves as comfortably as possible if the campground was empty, or darting into the last spot left if it was summer and the tourists were taking all the spaces up on vacation while people who needed to live, struggled to find anywhere to stop and spend the night, or even just use a shower, was a sometimes daily trial. More often than not we had neither money, nor camping, nor access to a shower.
We would ‘steal’ showers at state campgrounds and run without paying, one person standing guard with an empty envelope looking as if we were getting ready to pay, while the others showered. No hot water. Filthy showers that tourists would leave stinking shits in when they visited in the summer, right in the shower cubicles, not in the toilets. This fecal terrorism was bizarre to me. What did they get out of leaving shits in the showers? Was it shock? Some deep seated obsession with defecation? I never saw my fellow homeless friends poop where they lived. Even one very disheveled friend of mine would always take a shovel and bury her poop when there was nowhere for her to go. People don’t want to be dirty, when dirt is not a choice. Everyone just wants some dignity. Everyone just needs a little privacy.
I got inured to lack of privacy. Showering in open blocks in campgrounds. Walking across the forest in my nightclothes to use a bathroom. Family arguments in full view of the tourists, who got to be voyeurs into my paltry life whether I liked it or not. Not. All of it dehumanizes. All of it destroys. Eventually I learned to tune out the maddening crowds. They didn’t exist. If they got an eyeful of my tits in the shower, or my ass crack as my pj’s slipped on the way to the bathroom, it didn’t matter much to me. If they saw me getting ready for bed, sitting outside in my slippers and my dressing gown by the fire, with a joint between my fingers and a drink in my hands, guitar by my feet, it didn’t matter much to me….most of the time.
I can’t look back at these slithers of moonlight, seated on my little red campchair, Billy picking the notes to Girl From the North Country, singing about seeing the hair flow down my breasts, and hoping I always had a coat so warm, without my eyes filling with tears. Those moments right there were probably the happiest of his life. Those last seven years were his last, and I spent most of them with him, all apart those last ten months after the debacle of the cops and the drinking and the meth and the crack. I still spoke to him everyday. I still miss him every day. I can’t look back at those campfire nights where the children made smores and pretended we were tourists like the people who had a home to go back to. I can’t look at the days we spent throwing a baseball around, or taking long walks together. I can’t let the words run through my head. Love you, ma! Love ya, Detroit. Love ya, Billy, love ya kids…loved ya all. And now I am left here with a broken heart.
It is dark outside now. I drew the curtains. I can’t see the moon, it is hiding in the fog. Just as well. I wonder if the trees remember me?