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Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Black Back

number twenty-two

After leaving Greensboro, we enjoyed a short stopover in eastern Kentucky. At least I mostly enjoyed it--I did rough myself up a little. 1,322 words.

[AT LARGE]—We got to the farm in Kentucky at about ten after ten in the pouring morning rain. It had let up a little through the worst of the twisty mountain roads, but was back to pounding us again as we tried to get out of the car. Even the dogs weren’t having any, and where they usually ran at the intruders, barking, this time they just yawned at us dolefully as we rushed the porch they were cozily defending.

Sunshine’s parents were up and about and we spent a little time drinking coffee, and chatting on the porch before it became totally apparent to me that I was going to try to stay awake all day. We’d driven away from Greensboro directly after last call—and after a few packing details—and had been on the road all night. Between my cold making me cough and the tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike, I hadn’t gotten much more than an hour’s sleep, and that was gonna have to do me. But the farm is beautiful and diverting: there are flowers and bottles and dolls, skulls and very green lushes, the friendly company of Sunshine’s parents Bet and Cecil, and two newly apathetic dogs. There were even kittens. Plus, my surprise on this trip was that Sunshine’s Uncle Bill had flown in from Juneau, Alaska to visit Bet for her birthday (which was Friday), and I was finally getting to meet him.

So after drinking cups of coffee, and showing mom around the farm some, the rain had backed off a little and Bet decided that if she was going to take her traditional birthday hike—already abbreviated, I believe, because we had piled into town—she was going to have to get to it. The first two times I had been asked if I wanted to tag along, I had refused, but at the last minute I decided that I wasn’t going to have much luck staying awake alone in the house, and opted to join them. Mom was opting to crash.

Also, they promised that it would be an easy “walk” instead of a real hike. Because of all the rain, Bet was afraid that the slope to the nearby waterfall, Big Falls, was going to be impossibly muddy. She said that we would better be able to take a less vertical “road” to the runoff creek down from the falls, and then walk along it observing nature. So we headed off thataway. Of course, the easy road was covered over by fallen trees, drug across the path to discourage people on four wheel drive quad-runners from killing themselves off by screeching into the gorge. Fine, I can climb over a bunch of fallen trees. Still, as someone who doesn’t often hike, really, and who had really gotten no sleep, and who, by god, was wearing untested boots (purchased twenty-four hours before, and not taken off since), I am pretty sure I should have been more careful. See, a benign foot-high tree that can be stepped over on one side of a descending forty-five degree path is, like, five feet in the air on the other side, right? And all the trees were pretty slick after the rain. Hopping foolishly from one branch to another, so as to clear the whole mess before coming down on the other side, my boot slipped away form me and I rolled a little and snapped down hard on the right side of my back. I had the unique sensation of knocking the air out of only one lung, huff, then rolled violently out of the fork that had clubbed me, fell to my feet and kept trudging, nonchalantly. But it felt like I might have really damaged myself.

Frankly, it was painful. The fall had scraped me up, and the broken feeling in my back was growing, too. I could move all around, and stretch sideways, and breathe deeply and move my arms around without making it hurt any worse, but I could tell that the pain was gaining on me. I was able to enjoy the rest of the hike, but within the hour, I was already asking to stop, and I think that, yet again, the hike was curtailed because of me (even though I would have been fine with sitting it out and being picked up later when the others returned). Bill showed me a little about the deer tracks he found, and we saw four turtles (you know: or tortoises), and two orange lizards that I can not for the life of me remember what Cecil later told us they were called. It was nice, but again, the, you know, agony.

By the time I had huffed and puffed back up the damn slope road, and over the death tree, my body was really beginning to stiffen-up some, and I couldn’t get over the sensation, somehow bigger than the pain, that something was sorely amiss back there. Returning to the farm, I took a bunch of Bet’s Tylenol, and I started drinking all of Cecil’s beer. Also, I kept trying to get out and walk around stretching it, assuming that it would stiffen less if the muscles were tired. It worked pretty well. I mean, it still hurt, but not enough to keep me in bed or anything.

By the time we got back from eating that night, I was sure that half of my back was a jet black bruise, and was nonplussed to discover one little welt and two tiny scratches. After sleeping out in the Ison family smokehouse, the following morning it still was only scraped, and the teeny welt had gone away, even. Throughout the evening the pain had intensified somewhat, but handfuls of aspirin and a long hot shower worked a little medicine. By later in the day, I had become convinced that I had not actually broken a rib (yet, what was that snapping sound when I landed?), but that I was bruised through my lung to my soul; and still no black back. I didn’t know how bad the pain was going to get, though, and I was sure that I was having a better time of it at the farm that I would be having folded into the rental car, jostling down the freeway. We opted to deviate from our plan, and stay another night.

By the time I headed to bed on Saturday, my beer and aspirin regimen was keeping the advancing stiffness at bay, and the pain had leveled off to where it continues to be. I was a little stunned to see it was snowing outside and when we checked the thermometer, Bill discovered that it had been stuck at 52 degrees: it fell sharply to the lower thirties when he tapped it. I was a little concerned because the smokehouse has no heat, so I slept in my leather jacket and boots. I promised myself that I wasn’t too proud to retreat inside if the cold played hell with my back, but it wasn’t so bad as all that. Next morning, when I woke up, I was happy and only a little stiff, the pain was still evened off, and it was still snowing like hell.

After breakfast, we decided it was time to head off. I figured that I was good to travel so we did. Leaving the farm always sucks, and it continued to snow on us as we made our way through the twisty mountain roads to the highway. My black back handled the riding pretty well, I was not all that uncomfortable because the only motion that seems to hurt, really, even now, is when I cough. Then I feel like I am going to faint from sheer excruciating pain. But, I think I should be able to stay out of the hospital.

At least until after I have gotten to Mexico.

Snow on the Ridge, six days till May. Photo by Author

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Sunday, April 24, 2005

Going to the Waterfall

number twenty-one

I have decided to change everything and move away from my city, my friends, and my family. I am in the middle of thinking about that now. 921 words.

[KY]—There’s a story that goes here. About ten years ago—it would have been late November or early December, 1995, when I was first in Mexico—I traveled to a little place called Palenque. I had already seen a lot of Mexico’s Pacific seaboard, and I was moving on to the basin of the Yucatán Peninsula, which is mostly filled with the rain forests the Maya used to inhabit. The name Palenque identifies a little town in northern Chiapas State, as well as the dramatic site of a ruined Mayan city, smaller than the famous ones at Chichén Itzá and Teotihuacán, but more romantic than any (save maybe Tikál, in Guatemala) for its dense jungle location and its perpetual state of mid-discovery. Here there were places where it was possible for me to feel like I was finding things that had actually lain dormant for a thousand years.

I liked the little town of Palenque, too. It was a muddy, butt ugly enclave that looked much the way I imagine a gold rush town to look. Lonely Planet calls it “scruffy”. Shockingly temporary-looking corrugated buildings and stone piles, which had obviously been in use for decades, served as little restaurants and post offices and the like. There seemed to be some trouble with the addresses, as nothing much seemed like it mirrored what the travel guide said it would be like, and I got the impression early on that maybe this town re-arranged itself frequently like maybe a bazaar or a flea market.

The bus station was located on a wide, almost modern-looking avenue off the highway, which served the town as a shopping center, as well as a sort-of utilitarian zócalo, or public social park. From there one walked into the town, which was filled with trees headlining daily fights between birds and bats at dusk, lots of swampy, jungle flora, and, again, mud. I had a good time there. I had an excellent time at the ruins.

On the way out of town, I discovered that my information regarding the bus schedule was a little off, leaving me with all of my baggage in my hands, and several hours to kill with the youth of Palenque on what is rationally to be considered the Palenque mall: this area around the bus station. This is an area that I had not really explored, so I was game about looking around in shops and things until the bus arrived, but didn’t want to get too distracted and chance having to rent a room for another night.

After a while, my bag was getting heavy, and the Yucatán can be a sweltering place where the shade has been cleared away to make room for things like avenues, shops and bus stations, so I sought out a dark restaurant, and I settled in to write some postcards and wait it out. Near me two young women wearing bikini tops sat drinking Cokes. Soon enough they began to ask me what I was doing, and where I was from. One of them was from San Antonio, and the other from someplace in Mexico, and they were here visiting extended family. They seemed to know their way around pretty well. After their drinks, they said, they were going to drive down to the ruins—which were closed on Sunday—to a spot they knew where you could get under the fence. From there, a short trek would take them to a waterfall not far away. The said that the waterfall was beautiful and tall, shady and cool, and was the best place in the world. They asked me if I wanted to come.

I was forty-five minutes away from getting on a bus, and I had everything that I owned in the world clutched beside the table and weighing a lot. I didn’t know these women, and I was a little wary about the possibility of nefarious intent. I apologized and told them that I couldn’t go. They looked disappointed, but said okay, and then continued chatting for a little while longer as they finished their Cokes. Then, waving farewell, they made their was out of the restaurant and down the avenue, out of sight.

I waited for my bus, it arrived after a while, and then it took me to San Cristóbal de las Casas, or somewhere. I continued to think about the women and their waterfall throughout the day, through out all of Mexico, I guess. I’ve returned to it, this decision that I made, a thousand times in my mind. Somewhere along the way, I began to use the story of the waterfall as a fable of star-crossed grand chance, where the road that wasn’t taken might have lead to something really worth getting to. I began to use the phrase “going to the waterfall” as shorthand for dodging a missed opportunity. I dimly remember several drunken early mornings, standing in the wind shouting a promise to the sky that I would never, ever miss out on the best place in the world again.

Last night, I spent my last night as a regular at Café Europa. I saw many of my friends, and had a wonderful time, spent doing my usual kind of socializing with my favorite people. When it was almost over, it got really difficult to carry through, and then I had to get in the car and leave my home.I just wanted to find the words to somehow explain how it is I could possibly do that.

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Friday, April 22, 2005


number twenty

In the process of moving out and saying goodbye. 543 words.

[NC]—Oh man, I hurt. It’s that kind of thing where the outside hurt and the inside hurt sort of hold hands and complete some existential circuit of full ache. I finished moving most of my house yesterday. I mean, with the exception of the things in the fridge, a plant, and a whole lot of garbage, everything has been loaded up into mom’s car and sent off to storage at her house. Everything else is slowly getting rammed into a menagerie of luggage to be hauled along with us on our long trek to the Mexican border. What is laying around me now are just the odds and ends: pillows and blankets, some pens, a toolbox, and other stuff that might or might not make it into the final cut.

Already, I am giving away things that I saved because I wanted to have them, not eventually, but right now. Things like my desk lamp, my clothes hangers, and this giant box of discontinued Kinko’s paper are all going to the first person who will take them, or the garbage, and any inner protest regarding the loss of things I love just gets swept up in that full ache.

It is hard to leave; again, in the inner and the outer sense. Tom showed up yesterday to help move what felt like two tons of cinder blocks and a desk to the back of, luckily, a two-ton truck. Nix was here the whole time taking pictures of the art that we have been drawing on the wall for years now. On the outside, I scraped and pounded myself (and Tom), heaving solid mass down the stairs and out the door, baked in the sunny day; and us both just already tired from a world of work this month. On the inside, Nix clicked away at an unfinished—but striking, still—art project that I thought I was going to get to enjoy for years; working with the certain knowledge that it would be painted over by the landlord once I’d vacated the premises. This inside feeling compounds in proportion to the things I take outside. I look around and every moment my home of the last, what, eight years or more, is wasting away to an unlived-in and vacant husk.

It’s hard, I see. I reassure myself that I take all of the great times and things with me in my little menagerie of mental luggage as memories, but the whole world of breaking down and shipping out is hammered home in this one moment when my pains align. While I have all along realized that it was gonna be tough and emotional to leave behind all of my friends, I forgot to prepare for seeing my home empty, undone, waiting for the last few blows to render it some landscape alien from the setting of all those things that happened here.

So, on the outside, I can put on a band-aid, and start hauling pretty good things to the side of the road. Phil, who buys me dinner and distracts me, helps me with this stuff that remains. Inside, Anne is sweeping up the last things before I leave, and I feel very little besides this even kind of hurt.

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It's that time again. Beginner headquarters is picking-up house and relocating back to the United States on July twenty-fifth, 2009, to enjoy a month at home with family and friends. By the end of August we'll have set-up a semi-permanent household in Washington, DC, near the Cleveland Park metro stop on the red line. [DC metro map] Then, sometime after Labor Day, our boxes and boxes of stuff should catch up with us. After that it'll be smooth sailing till sometime in July 2010, when we will be moving abroad again, this time to Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina for a little real winter.

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