Randly pulled on the brim of his pale green cadet cap. The hat made him feel less a revolutionary and more like a shameless conformist. His brother would approve of his fashion choices, but they rarely spoke. He could fix that with one text, one phone call. Instead, he took out another American Spirit, and lit the tip. One deep inhale and he felt better. Randly hated being addicted to anything, but everyone was allowed a vice or two, even one that was potentially fatal. It could be worse. As an exercise in being grateful, his father would often say, someone always has it worse than you, then go on to list starving children, the homeless, and an unfortunate neighbor who had to wear Toughskins jeans, giant X’s on his pockets, rather than the more hip Levi’s. Randly applied that same gratitude system to vices. Meth was worse, as was heroin, crack cocaine.
He returned the lighter to his pocket, remembering the etching of the World Trade Centers that donned the front of it. His wife bought it for him back in 2008, when she visited Manhattan on business. There was something ironic, he thought, or maybe just unexpected in finding anything advertising the WTC post 2001 that didn’t also contain some patriotic and cliched saying.
He decided to brush up on his definition of irony.
From his vantage point on the steps of the Union building, he surveyed his surroundings down towards the library on the south end of campus. Trees blocked his view to the east, but in front of him and to the west, he watched young students, most of them female, wander between benches, along sidewalks that often went nowhere fast (a hold over from the 1960’s, when administrators didn’t want direct access to any one building in case a protest turned ugly).
He picked Grace out of the crowd without much effort. She sat cross legged between two elm trees on a slightly diagonal mound of earth, her text book resting on her thighs. The noises around him muted, replaced by a self imposed silence that emptied his heart of any other affections, shrank his universe down to this moment, this place, leaving only the desire for her.
She looked up in his direction, then waved him over. He glanced at his wedding band, silver and tarnished. The bustling noise of campus life pushed through, and he felt a tiny poke, a painful prick of remembrance in his brain. On reflex he reached up and dabbed his temple with his index finger, a bit surprised there wasn’t blood.
“During the quiet moments, I forget that I’m not supposed to want you this much,” he said a bit too loudly, and a girl walking by gave him a puzzled look.
He laughed, then stepping in her direction, waved back at Grace.
I’ve been thirteen for four months. Mom says this makes me responsible now. I like to think I have always been so. You need to be when you have a little sister as spirited as Clara.
Clara turned six the day before yesterday. The day after tomorrow, which is Saturday, Mom and I are hosting a party for her. She hasn’t a clue. Mom told her it was too cold, too wintery, too much January for us to expect tiny children and their overburdened mothers to wade out through the snow, even if it was just down the street. We would have a celebration for her in the springtime, Mom said, after the leaves began peaking from the buds, but before the muddy month of May, when the streets would be red and gray clay colored from runoff.
Clara will be so surprised when the doorbell rings and in trudge six, six year old girls with their smiling mothers in tow. There will be cake with raspberry filling and a heavy cream frosting. I would have preferred chocolate.
If Dad were here, he would spoil everything. He was atrocious at secret keeping. The aquamarine blue glint in his left eye gave everything away. You could tickle a secret out of him, or sad eye one if he was particularly vulnerable. Sometimes, he’d just tell you because keeping something so happy locked inside of him was counter to his nature. He loved sharing.
We don’t talk about Dad much anymore. It’s bad luck to mention the dead.
Clara plays with her birthday doll in the living room. I helped pick it out from among seven other worthy (and three not so) candidates. The winner had eyes that opened and closed (even winked if you held her at the right angle), and a dress that felt like it was made from the same material as grandmother’s doilies. She named her Lydia, after me.
Social media fascinates me. I remember signing up for Friendster at the request of a good work friend, Hena Gomez. I think my entire friend list at that site was made up of people I worked with. It was a laugh, something silly. We wrote outlandish recommendations, reviews about each other and posted them to our profiles. Of course, when Myspace became the cat’s meow, we all migrated that direction. I took Myspace more seriously than I should have. I tried to meet people with similar interests, and though the internet was evolving, people were still mostly private, choosing to hide their identity behind screen names. It is hard to remember that sort of mentality, now that most of us use Facebook and Twitter with our real names and faces out there for everyone to see.
One of the things that continues to interest me is the modern “chain letter” aspect of social media. Someone posts something- A video, a list, a status update about cancer or tacos or…and then asks or tags others, inviting them to perpetuate the post. I used to be very critical of this stuff, refusing to post or play along, but my animosity towards such things has lessened. I don’t repost everything that comes my way, but certain things (ice bucket challenge, concert links, HONY photos, etc) I have no problem sharing and passing along.
Which brings me (in an oddly roundabout manner) to the point- I was tagged in a post, asking me to list 10 books that impacted me. My first thought was, only 10? Seriously, how do you pick ten from the hundreds of books, the thousands of pages you have read? My first list was over 25. But the point of this exercise, at least in my mind, was to pick the ten that pop up first. I cleared my head, trying to forget the 25 books I had already listed, and start over. Ten came pretty easy. I didn’t question them or try and rationalize others I may have left out. When I look at this list, I remember my first introduction to each of these texts. Each one shaped not only my life philosophy, but dictated what sorts of books I read later in life. These represent a road map of sorts, an introspective guide to who and what I am. Read some if you haven’t. Ask about those you have interest in. Mostly, just read.
1. Watership Down- Richard Adams
2. All Quiet on the Western Front- Erich Maria Remarque
3. Farenheit 451- Ray Bradbury
4. Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing- Hélène Cixous
5. The Trial- Franz Kafka
6. The Autobiography of Malcom X- As told to Alex Haley
7. Cloud Atlas- David Mitchell
8. All The Names- Jose Saramago
9. Discipline and Punish- Michel Foucault
10. Demian- Herman Hesse
Last week was strange and wonderful.
on Tuesday evening, I was settling in for some late night television and maybe a too large bowl of ice cream, when my mobile rang. I didn’t recognize the number and was about to ignore the call, when Sheryl informed me it was her mother calling. I answered. I can’t recall the exact words she spoke first, but in my memory, the conversation goes something like this-
“Hello, would you like to go on an adventure?”
“Mary and Jason are stranded in Roswell and need rescuing. I need a second driver. Would you be willing to come along?”
Sure. When do you want to leave?
“Oh, either tonight or early tomorrow.”
All the best adventures begin this way.
When I was younger, it wasn’t uncommon to head out someplace with very little planning. Those sorts of adventures were often a great deal shorter in distance than a drive to Roswell, but once, Sheryl and I took a day trip (on an itch I needed to scratch) to Brianhead with only some gas money and a vague idea of when we might be home. We were dating then, and the entire enterprise seemed so grown-up, a bit dangerous, certainly more adventurous than either of us had been before.
On my LDS mission, I would often go whichever way the wind (or other visiting missionaries) would take me. we traveled the spaces between townships, experiencing the entirety of New Hampshire and Maine, even taking excursions to Boston and Vermont. These are some of my happiest memories from that time, and are the main reasons I fell in love with New England. I learned to love the rolling roads, the sudden curves, canopies of trees that covered the roadways. Most of the time, these trips had a destination, but with the exception of Boston, the drives themselves, the conversations and relationships built were the point.
I experienced this type of connection again on my adventure through New Mexico.
I have known my in-laws for over 20 years and feel like they are as much my family as my own parents and siblings. More times than I can count, these wonderful people (and their children and their spouses) have come to my rescue, helped me move, fixed things around my house, attended events for my children, etc. When I first married Sheryl, we were offered the use of a 3 bedroom house in Provo, nearly free of rent. It was my introduction to the unconditional love that pours out from the Kemptons. While I knew about the compassion and charity of my mother and father in-law, I knew very little about them beyond some basic where and when sort of things.
This trip changed that.
My mother in-law and I spent two days together, driving, talking, sharing. After all this time, I finally feel like I know her. Maybe it would be better to say I feel like I finally understand her. That seems more accurate. We drove without the presence of any distractions- No music, no one else in the car- for the entire drive down. We drove through beautiful and bland countryside, through towns and cities, and finally, through the flat lands near and around Roswell. We conversed until our throats were sore. We shared stories and feelings, motivations and moments that shaped our lives. There was no judgment, no uncomfortable topics. It was very much like the road trips I remembered from New England. It was equally fulfilling.
We rescued Mary and Jason, filling the van with their things and their children, then driving back to Utah with everyone safe and sound. I am forever grateful for accepting the offer to go on such a fantastic adventure, and I am equally grateful for the chance to give a little bit back to a family that has always done so much for me.
One place the wind took us was a short stop near an abandoned house/business of some kind. I am intrigued by such places, and though I rarely stop and take a look, I often imagine the sorts of lives that once filled these places. What circumstances brought them to this moment, where they sit empty by the roadside? This was the only picture I took during my two day road trip.
There were towns along this road that looked very much like this place- abandoned, boarded up buildings. Places that have stories. Most of those remain untold and are forever lost.
I don’t want the stories that affect my life to go unmarked, or have them fade into nothingness like the moments that surround this building.
Instead, I share them with you. It feels right.
Wooden stairs led up to the room where he sat alone. She knew because everyone else was downstairs in her mother’s basement, washing clothes, talking, eating warm cookies. A Saturday night ritual, performed by whichever students currently resided in the attic apartment. Usually she played along, all fifteen years of her excited at the prospect of another weekend hanging with the college boys, their conversations and movements a mystery to her, a confusion she relished.
He was different. On Saturday nights, he never came down the rickety steps her father had built the summer the family decided to take on boarders. Instead, he sat on the collapsible sofa, poorly playing guitar or reading some obscure novel. Sometimes when he played, she sneaked up to the landing, avoiding the 6th step creak, and watched him through the window. Every time, her heart melted at the sight of him. She felt slightly ashamed of her voyeurism, but the overwhelming feeling was something else. A feeling she decided to call love.
So what if he was 19. Four years was nothing in the grand scheme of life. Besides, she’d be 16 almost 8 months before he turned 20. She knew he felt a similar affection for her. She could see it in his blue eyes whenever they were near each other. Like time she walked from the backyard into the kitchen and he was seated at the table, talking with her mother, and as she passed by, he looked up at her, smiling. Or when he sometimes said hello as she arrived at the house after school, shouting down to her from the apartment, like he had been waiting for her, anticipating her.
They were never alone together, which made her sad. It was her fault, really. Nervousness overtook her. The after school conversations were always brief. Over before she reached the door to the house, and always about her day. Her replies were friendly, but short. He bewildered her, and that confusion made her silly, childish, and she wanted to be anything but a child to him. Tonight would be different.
She had put on her best shirt, blue and white horizontal stripes with a scoop neck, and her favorite pair of Guess denim. He mom said the outfit made her look years older. The perfume she’d stolen from the high priced, French bottle her mother wore had made her sneeze at first, but she was used to the scent now.
She was ready. Without hesitation, she took the first step.
Up she went, putting her full weight on each stair, especially the 6th, listening to him sloppily chord out a song she thought she recognized. When she reached the landing, she stopped in the doorway. The screen was closed, but the oak door stood wide open, revealing the slightly messed living space he inhabited with the three others. He was on the sofa, a crinkled musical score laid out on the coffee table along with a glass of what looked like cola. Again, she was startled by his beauty. Sandy brown hair, bangs in his eyes. Tall and lean in a black concert t-shirt, and a pair of 501 jeans, faded in all the right places, bare feet. She inhaled deeply, swallowing her anxiety. With as much calmness as she could muster, she simultaneously knocked on the screen door and called out his name.