It was a two-parter. I don’t remember much about the first part. Except I was single, hankering for an adventure and the gas was paid for. So I went up to Charlevoix one late summer weekend in said 1992 Ford F150 long-box 4x4 and picked up a bunch of antique furniture from my brother-in-law’s brother. I brought it down to my parents’ garage. The following weekend, I hauled it down to Williamsburg, VA where my sister Cara and her husband Walt were living at the time.
Now only those present at the time of my departure from Chelsea (parents, brothers, embarrassed sister-in-laws far more possessed of propriety than I) can attest to the utter ridiculousness of the load I hauled. Thankfully no photos were taken! The only thing that could have made me look more like Elly May Clampett driving that thing would have been some pig tails, a chicken in my lap, a pair of Daisy Dukes and a push-up bra. There were more blue tarps and bungee cords on that thing than on a shotgun shack after hurricane. It was tall too. That truck sat high to begin with. Then the furniture must’ve been over the cab by at least 3 feet. I just shake my head and cringe at the thought of actually showing my face, cigarette hanging out of the side of my mouth, driving that thing down the road. Shaking my head as I type. Face BURNING red. Holy shit.
But I thought, who gave a damn if it looked bad on the outside. What was inside was so precious.
That furniture had been passed down to Walt and his remaining 2 brothers when their parents died tragically in 1989. I loved their parents so dearly. It was nice to be chosen to carry the load a piece. It made me feel like I got to spend some time with Bob and Maxine again. And Jeff, too. Not my Jeff. Their brother Jeff who died in 1986. He was another person who was very dear to me. His passing, coupled with the loss of Bob and Maxine, basically broke my will to live for a while. By the point in the story when it was time to haul this load to Virginia, I was beginning to emerge from the deep after almost 8 years of struggle. I cannot fathom what Walt and his brothers were going through. If what I felt was one millionth what they felt, then I don’t know how they survived.
My survival looked a lot like that pick-up truck. Jacked up, patched up, smoke and blond hair rolling out the window, black sunglasses and White Lightening blaring from the speakers. I probably had loaded my finger with extra birds, before leaving, too. I’m certain that I wished a nice gun rack and a 12-guage would have been legal. That woulda topped it off.
The spiritual metaphor was clear. I was to carry a heavy load of memories to their rightful places. Rarely in life to do I get spiritual exercises that are this incredibly literal. That’s another big reason I jumped at the chance. To let go.
So my girlfriend Josie was in Cleveland that day for an insurance conference. I was going to pick her up from out front of the conference center and she was going to keep me company through the perilous journey on the PA Turnpike.
Can you imagine this scene unfolding? She is a very proper lady. She is an INSURANCE person. She is very detail-oriented, precise, urban and sophisticated and the daughter of Italian immigrants. She always tolerated my redneckness as a cute novelty. She laughed at metaphors and similes such as ‘about as useful as hog-shit on a hay-wagon’. She sat glassy-eyed through bluegrass concerts. She was a sport about my own pick-up, which was much cuter than the one I’d arrived in. She hung tough until that day.
She was MORTIFIED. Absolutely MORTIFIED. I think she saw me coming and realized how incredibly embarrassing it would be for her to jump in the cab and drive off with me. Her basic fear in hanging out with me these past 20 years is that she’d be mistaken for a lesbian because I always looked so butch. Can I say that without offending my gay and lesbian friends? I’m butch. I don’t care. I’m not gay. But I am pretty tomboyish.
So I think that she actually was hiding inside as I sat out in the valet circle drive of the really nice Cleveland Conference Center--honking. Yes, I was honking. In my pick-up filled to the top with furniture. No air conditioning. 5-speed transmission. Blue tarps everywhere. Honking. So, she must have ducked inside and tried to formulate a plan to get out of driving with me. I was innocent to this embarrassment at this point. So I parked illegally to run in and find her—which I did. She was lurking near a payphone. This is before every single human being alive carried a phone.
I don’t remember the actual exchange that day or how I finally got her outside and in the truck. But I can tell you that Cleveland is a longish way from the Pennsylvania border. We were just outside of Pittsburgh at a Denny’s before she uttered her first words to me.
(To be continued--I'm going to see if I can scare up a photo, too)