Saturday, March 27, 2010

That's Gonna Leave A Mark

“Farm Help wanted. Family farm located North West of Goodland, Kansas. Dryland & Irrigation. Housing provided. Salary negotiable. Call for more details. Evenings only and ask for Ed.” ad on Craigslist

That doesn’t sound like a bad gig, it’s a little windy out there but it’s quiet, not a lot going on. Pretty easy to get away from the brouhaha of the new health bill. Along the old highway west of Goodland is an old native stone fence and years ago you could find arrow heads and fossils in the ditches. I wonder if anyone would notice if I just disappeared and sent money in from the farm? I also have a romantic image of the “housing”, I’m picturing a cute little frame farm house with a big Cottonwood tree in the front. The light golden in the evening and blue in the morning as it ricochets off the white washed walls and golden wood floors. Realistically, it’s probably a 1970’s single wide trailer with dirty lime green shag carpeting. I also have a romantic notion of the person who will ultimately get the job. I’m picturing someone like Beau Bridges in Crazy Heart or any of David Straithairn characters in his Sayles films during the 90’s. Maybe a woman like Cher'scharacter in Silkwood. This is the perfect job for a contemplative person with a past who is interested in working their body so hard their mind can’t remind them of what is broken in their spirit. I could dig that. Especially since the salary is negotiable and I could only work on a farm, outside in the elements rain, cold or shine for about eleventy million dollars. However, wasn’t it Thomas Wolfe in Look Homeward Angel who said something to the effect of no matter where you go, there you are? So yeah, day in and day out you fuss over the irrigation system, repair fences, spread manure and work until your body aches. But you still have that time just after dark when it’s too early for bed and too late for work that your mind reminds you of what you are running away from and even the stars in that big dark sky aren‘t a comfort or a congenial companion. Actually, someone like me, a semi suburban, semi housewife running away from her children and working on a farm would make for an interesting novel. Because sweaty, dirty work is a hell of a lot easier than raising teenagers.

Wally killed an important member of the family Friday. Mitzy. He hit a patch of ice and lost control of the old Mitz, slamming into the back of another SUV. Airbags deployed, front end destroyed. Car gone. After I discovered no one was hurt and all the paperwork had been taken care of, he was safe and the ticket was simple I hung up the phone and very professionally burst into tears at the nurses station. One. More. Thing. I. Get. To. Deal. With. Visions of hanging out at a café in Goodland were looking pretty good.

Poor Mitzy, this wasn’t her first rodeo, either. I tried to destroy her in 2003. It was at the bottom of my life just before I crawled out of a hole and away from a desperate situation. The only reason we were able to fix Mitzy was because while the radiator was almost in my lap, the airbags stayed securely in the dash and steering wheel. I still dream about those seconds when I realized I was going to hit the tiny car in front of me, praying out loud I wouldn’t kill or maim the driver. My prayer was answered and the car I hit slid up and under my front end. One of the first things I said to the nice young man in the car was: “I can’t imagine how frightening it was to see me barreling towards you.” He gave me a stunned nod.

Wally was able to calmly relay to me what had happened but then he paused and said: “I know how much you loved your truck.“ His biggest fear then spilled forth: I would kick him out of the house for wrecking Mitzy. Well, yeah, if he was using it as a rolling meth lab at the time. Poor kid, he is convinced he is the biggest fuck up on the planet because he is having a time of it finding a job and now he wrecked a car. He’s a little mystified why I’m being so nice to him but I figure there isn’t enough room for me to kick him in the ass because he is doing a great job of it all on his own. The absolute irony of this is he was on his way home from a successful job interview. We will find a way and make a way to get him to and from work. Wally also thinks he is the only member of the family who has wrecked a car. He momentarily forgot how I wrecked the car, how his granddad rolled a car in 1971, and tried to take out a sign in 2007. He probably doesn’t’ realize his cousin wrecked a car when he was in high school. Accidents happen. Some are worse than others. This one could have been bad, too. I am just thankful it wasn’t. And God is really good at putting people in your life when you need them, too. The tow truck driver happened to be in the office when we arrived this morning to settle up on the bill. He was jovial and tried to joke with Wally, asking him if this was the first car he killed and telling us about the trouble he got into as a teenager. The manager was empathetic and extended his condolences for the loss of the old truck and was genuinely relieved to see Wally wasn’t hurt. It was one of those moments which restore my faith in humans as being ultimately kind and benevolent creatures.

The weather was sort of nasty today, hard cold wind under gray skies that threatened snow over the west side of town. Perfect day for a funeral, all we needed was some rain. Poor old girl, the right side looked untouched (Wally had just given her a shampoo and a spit shine, she was looking hawt) but the front end was mashed and the grill was gone, you could see the radiator and her left “eye” was dangling from the socket. The windshield had a shattered spot as if something had been hurled into it. From the inside. I felt my heart leap into my throat.

“What hit the windshield?“

I knew the answer wasn’t “head” because Wally always wears his seat belt and won’t start the car until everyone is buckled in. (hmmm how would I know this?)

“Oh just my hand” was his flippant reply.

I started to blubber, the small burn on the left side of his face was scary enough but the idea he might have broken his right hand was too much too bear. It didn’t get any easier when I opened the drivers side door. Opening the door was sobering. Like a Jack-in-the-Box, the steering wheel had popped open and the air bag was out. The dashboard reminded me of a cardboard cake made specifically for a girl to jump out and sing a randy song or “Happy Birthday”. There were papers and things tossed all over the front seat and floorboards. I was reaching around looking through the documents to make sure there wasn’t anything I needed or wanted when I came across a pristine piece of yellow paper folded around several old photographs. The photos and letter looked as if it had just been taken from the envelope and the letter was in my mother’s handwriting. I groaned, this was all too much and now this artifact. I wanted to run off to the farm. I glanced over the letter and scanned the pictures. I didn’t immediately grasp when it had been written but it was a long time ago. I showed it to Wally and he didn’t remember ever seeing it. After we finished our sad errand and I was at home I put pieces together and figured out it was written in about 1997. Three years before I even bought the car. The letter ends with: “Kiss Evan for me and hug and kiss yourself, too.” The idea of Wally reaching over and kissing his brother made me laugh. Mother wanted us to know she was watching over Wally. Mom died in our house, actually in what is now Wally’s room; me and The Girl hear her voice every once in a while and I have lucid dreams about her. What a comfort it is to know my mother is looking after us. I had suspected as much but now I know it for sure.

I must confess that I am grieving the loss of this vehicle. Not so much because the next few months could be really interesting in a hellish way: sharing a car or chauffeuring him around while I save enough for a beater mobile. It’s because of what Mitzy symbolized for me. She was my emancipation. Mitzy was the first car I bought all by myself and at the ripe old age of 39, too. No father or husband offering input, down payments or anything. I did it all on my own. She really was my first car. And we saw a lot of the country together; hauled a lot of antiques, groceries, dirt and kids. She served us well for one hundred and nine thousand miles. Rest in peace, Mitzy.

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