THROUGH THE HEART
I laid awake with palpitations all night, unable to smooth them out. I thought of how you would hold me to you like we were at the edge of an abyss. And how it was that
before all of this I never knew your face or heard your voice. And then all at once that I needed more than anything to look at you, touch the reality of you
and hear you say my name.
Yes, in another world we were on our way, driving down the remains of Route 66. We stayed in motels with names like Candle Light Inn and Forty Winks Motel. We
had 7-11 picnics in graveyards and carved haiku in the Mojave desert. You read fairy tales to me and sang me to sleep and combed my hair with your fingers, and
wherever we went people stared at us and thought of tragic love affairs, wondering where we would end, and how.
Landing in Texas we stayed in a motel called El Patio, located near the Alamo. Mornings we’d hear tourists chattering, sipping coffee, handling pottery at the stand
across the street run by a brown woman and her young son.
We’d get rolls at the corner cafe and come back to the room, wasting the daylight with wine and kissing. And in the next room a mariachi player practiced until dusk.
A few blocks down there was a Goodwill Store where I found an elaborate wedding dress for 12 dollars. No one had bought it because there were blood stains on the
sleeve, as though the bride had taken a razor to her wrist after being left at the alter. I told myself it was from Chianti, and that every fairy tale has a little blood.
And then we left for Nevada, me wearing the stained Cinderella dress, and headed straight for Las Vegas, to one of those tacky chapels lined up like Taco Bells.The
owner’s daughter was our witness. She sneezed through the whole 8 minutes of ceremony and her father kept pausing to say “God Bless You.” Finally you pulled a
plastic ring from your pocket that you won from the bubble gum machine in Nashville, outside of Gran Ole Burgers. It has a big pink stone with tiny gold stars floating
around inside it. “The universe.” You said, putting it on my finger, smiling that red wine kind of smile. And Baby, I knew at that moment that I was so in love with
you I felt immortal, and could almost sense wings breaking through the skin on my back.
We payed the Justice $15.00 and left with the $190.00 we had between us, heading for the desert, to a town that exists just a few miles outside of all those ghost towns
haunting Arizona. Towns like Ruby and Silverbell. Paradise, Constellation, Oro Blanco and Tombstone. And finally we land in Humboldt, about 6 miles away from the
ghost town McCabe. Piles of boards, bricks, tin cans, broken glass and a dreary cemetery were the only things left of the place.
We found out later that the town was full and prospering in 1896 until a fire broke out 4 years later at Jerry’s Last Chance Saloon, spreading from there and consuming
14 buildings. Things didn’t get any better in 1901 when a smallpox epidemic broke out. “It’s like a warped Pompeii.” you said, spreading the local newspaper on your
lap, your finger moving down the FOR RENT column. “50.00 A month with farm chores.” you laughed. We’d found a home. She was a 76 year old widow who listened to
Bessie Smith and Patsy Cline, and harbored a still out back, making vodka from potatoes she grew. Her name was Lucy. The 2 rooms we had upstairs in the sun peeled
house were all we needed. Civilization seemed eons away, with the nearest store 34 miles west.
From the beginning of the exodus I was afraid it wouldn’t feel real, like the way sometimes I’m “outside” of myself in a crowd, or looking out the car window at the
scenery passing like props in a movie. I had my doubts when we sewed our plans, but it came together, not sluggish like a summery thing, but a quick split like Midwest
lightning in July.
It did feel real. Rising early and working until dusk most days, meeting survival and dancing with it by the hour. I never felt that way before. The other reality fell away,
and it was you who pulled me from there, allowing me to trust your mouth, telling me to forget forest fires and autumn stars and the black limbs of oaks in November.
The present slid in like an atom bomb, and every scene imploded with your touch. And everything, everything was pale as clouds next to your kiss.
In August, when it was hotter than hell, I give birth to twins. You cut the umbilical cord with your jackknife. The girls had your bright eyes and my wild hair, sandy like
the atmosphere we lived in. And the next year brought a son, Elijah Hart.
Ely was wild and four times he went on a walkabout before the age of 12, always returning on his own. ‘Them babies”, said Lucy, ‘They ll be gone soon enough. Hold ‘em
while you can.” We ate dinner with Lucy every night, becoming her replacement family. She was tired of living alone after so many years.
“How did you meet Daddy?” the girls asked me one day, after listening to Lucy’s vintage love stories.
“Good timing.” I say. ‘Lucy says Daddy’s a looker. What does that mean?” “It means he can do and say things other people can t.” I saw how Ely was a small version of
you. Passion was branded into him, he could barely sit still. If he wasn’t learning he was miserable. In almost every way we had reached the end of the world. That
forgotten farm was where we were meant to be.
America was crumbling by the foot daily, but we’d found our place. One day the stranger comes, needs a place to stay ‘just for one night.” He practically begs. Lucy’s too
old to argue the point, and as I stood behind the screen door with the girls wrapping their arms around my waist, you reluctantly agreed. “If you don t mind the barn.”
He nods gratefully. He was handsome and shadowy and charming, but I knew he wanted more. I knew he was the kind that’d been moving too fast to come into that
slow motion world of ours.
He spends one night, and another and another. He immediately made himself useful. Lucy was becoming weaker by the day, and he started helping with the chores so I
could tend to her, bedridden and pale. I’d bring her oatmeal and mashed potatoes, but she’d push the food away as if it were poison. She’d accept a little brandy now
and then, reminisce about the days before her son was thrown from a horse and killed, and Bobby, her husband, died of heart failure. And all the while the new
farmhand got closer and closer. Sometimes when he sat at the dinner table he’d touch my leg. Every hour I was anxious for him to leave, make his exit to Los Angeles l
ike all his grand stories told us he would do. But only his stories progressed. He’d come at night to drink with us. Johnny. He didn’t have a last name.
And Johnny would come into our room when you were in the fields, tell me I’m beautiful and “I want to touch you. You want me to touch you, don’t you?” I’d push his
dirty hands away, and walk out, but all the time I’d feel him watching me. He was getting into everything, into places that were only ours.
“‘Tell him to leave.” I finally said to you one night. Tomorrow.” But it never happened. In the morning when I bring Lucy a glass of juice she’s already heaven-bound.
You and Johnny dig a space for Lucy out back and everything was silence but the shovel hitting dirt over and over. One foot down, and 4 more until you were sure it was
deep enough to go undisturbed. We turned away when Lucy’s body was brought out. All that night the girls wept, and their crying to me was the mourning of something
more than Lucy dying. Our simple, dusty world was also dying. Civilization had crept in.
I remember the last day like a loop that plays over and over, a skip on the phonograph. Johnny was finally leaving. You offered to bring him to the station so that he
would have no excuse to stay one more day. It was a bright morning, Elijah and the girls waving at me with white smiles and tawny faces from the back of the truck, and
you kissing my forehead and promising that you’d be back for dinner. And where did it end, Sweetheart? I am always still, every minute of each night, turning over and
over with a full moon inside me, unable to ignore desire. Strange bird, you know I was born the minute you first looked at me, and you were drawn, colored like a
cartoon, into my world. I was your Psyche, soul and butterfly, the humble servant girl who washed your feet with willow branches and summer ram. It is 17 years since
those 4 rooms and wild children and sepia roads, and I am still turning toward the mystery of you.
Our girls, and Elijah will stay true as children, their small quick steps unsure but driven. It was a terrible magic that ripped them from my arms. I ask God each day
why the stranger had to come, but there is only the silence of unknowing.
Surely you know that we became the citizens of Silverbell and Ruby and Oro Blanco. We found our gold, our freedom. We found our new world, but that Shangri-La
turned turned us transparent, existing solely of pure spirit.
This is my Paradise.
I refuse to leave these warped structures, these dried weeds. This dandelion sunshine. And dark it goes, legs pumping past remembrance, past birds and blindness and
open mouths. I do not want tomorrow, or these wolves in the snow full of promise. I do not want to be Red Riding Hood without you.
Until you come again there is no shepherd with a flock of purity, with moonstone eyes and honey tongue. There is no shepherd raising wisdom in the meadows. There is
no blue-eyed shepherd, Dearest, coming to embrace me into a higher world.