Where the Road Goes

Joanne Greenberg

Henry Holt and Co.

Where the Road Goes
Dear Marz:
April 1, Fresno, California
We're on the road and beginning to move toward you. My thanks and love go ahead of me to Boulder.
We've finished dinner and cleaned up, the biggest of all big deals on an environmentally pure Environmental Walk. It's worse than the kosher demands of my great grandmother.
When we stopped for the day we did introductions: name, job, reason for being on The Walk. "Tig Warriner," I said, "part-time librarian." I couldn't give my reason(s) for being here; they're too complex, so I told them about you, that you had tried to talk me out of going, and when you realized how much I wanted to go, helped me choose a tent. There were sounds of amazement and now I have a reputation as a liberated woman. I told them we had two daughters, but I didn't give their names. One eccentricity is enough.
This tent is excellent, and I found the envelope with your note and the money when I unpacked my toilet things. Write to me. I know it's hard, but with a hundred of us on The Walk, wherever we stop, phoning will be a hassle; I'll always be calling from some campsite's public phone or at least in a wrangle of impatient callers lined up for miles,urgent as the ladies' room lines at the intermission of a play. I've asked Justice to write; I doubt she will. Maybe Solidarity will want to put in a word. Even the younger generation might. I'll keep their letters, and together with mine, they might form a document of this year for all of us. Someone's calling. More when we get organized and there's time.
Love, Tig
P.S. Poppy says hi--she has put her tent on the extras truck and come in with me. There's plenty of room and it's nice to swap foot massages and talk over the day.
Dear Marz,
April 2
We started collecting answers to our questionnaire today. We're to use our eyes, too, and keep a record of what we see on the land we pass.
Poppy imagines hundreds of houses and apartments all over the country where our itinerary is being spread out on desks or flutters from magnets on the sides of refrigerators. Yet, here we sit at our second campsite: we're arguing about the rightness of having an evening fire. A young man, Kevin (?), makes a plea for the fire as being necessary to the soul of The Walk even though it may affect the natural environment. He says we'll need to gather, for announcements and rubbing our bunions.
The purists murmur. A fire would be one of our few luxuries. The food won't be. It comes hot(ish) from the cook-wagon, and it is tasty only because we are exhausted and ravenous.
The group is diverse--singles, families, a few children, but Poppy and I seem to be the oldest here. There's some prejudice, or daintily expressed fastidiousness. "What is the policy toward Walkers unable to keep up?" a young man said, looking directly at us. This Walk isn't supposed to be a marathon. We have five trucks and five cars following us, and if people tire, they can catch rides. Grumbles. Someone behind us said, "With time off for trips to the beauty parlor." That was a shot at Poppy.
Poppy at sixty-five isn't gray; her work in Hollywood incorporates that place's fear of age, and when I asked her if she would let her hair go for the duration she looked as though I had asked her to do the walk barefoot. Her hair is even redder than when you met her, and she wears the same hard, red lipstick with eyeliner and mascara right out of a Queen of the Nile remake. Fear of surgery has kept her from having a face-lift, so, as she describes it, she is a redhead with a face that can hold a five-day rain.
Do you remember that there was, in 1969, a wanted poster on me? That's the face I remember, not the one I see in the mirror. I'm always surprised at what's actually there.
The Walk thinks of us as potential drawbacks. Poppy is a bizarre and I am a relic, a tall, stocky old lady, with a recent fling of moles and a habit of picking at them when she thinks no one is looking. Antigone. No one knows that. I whispered to Poppy that we should find out who made that beauty parlor crack and fix his sleeping bag.
The meeting goes on, mired in detail. I'm fading fast. I want to make this Walk. I hope I can ...
April 4, Sequoia, California
More arguing. We have a council and five committees. During the evening's Bunion Rub, they report. Some people want all the rules in detail, carved, etched. I dozed. Kevin: suggestion about a social meeting on Sundays. We have been walking in good mountain country, refreshed. Soon we will be going down into Death Valley, all the challenge and glory anyone could want. Thank God we don't carry our own loads; we're followed by the equipment trucks; we walk unencumbered. NO PURSES!!
I keep measuring. I'm sore, slow. I'm worried about not making it. We've been lucky so far, but our strains and sprains take longer to heal. Our bodies forget and forgive nothing. The young people dance when the day is over.
Weather: warm. Something I can't identify is in bloom, fillingthe air with a perfume that mixes with the smell of the cedar that grows here. We seem more sensitive to smell, flavor, touch, sound--not since childhood--
We meet with tourists in the campgrounds, and the residents of the towns we pass. Questionnaires: we're surprised at the eagerness everyone shows to register an opinion, to tell the story of the changes that have come. The yes-no stuff takes three minutes; it's the verbatim statement that takes the time. People's hands form a shape for their thoughts. Their faces are perplexed. They have not been able to say what they suddenly wanted to express.
Detox, May something
Hello? Are you there? I have a creepy feeling of not being able to get to you, and it reminds me of stuff I thought I had forgotten, like that time when you were camped out at nuclear sites in California, and during the Vietnam War when you were protesting, or in jail.
Are you okay? Sixty-two isn't old. In some places, it's not even old enough for senior citizen discounts, but marching across the country and camping out in the wind and rain for a year? I called Justice and she said, "It's Mother doing her thing again." I called Dad and he said he had learned years ago that if he wanted to stay married he had to take you as you came. He said this would be a hard one, though.
Remember when you dragged me to the camp-in at Rocky Flats? I was married then and had Sam. When Cary was born and Lewis and I split, you wanted me ready for life five minutes after he left. We said things and I flipped. It took a year before I felt like it was me in here, living. This morning I was thinking about that and how it has worked out. I wouldn't have gone into social work originally if not for you, and Detox is part of that.
Childhood memories: some painful, but some heroic. Remember New York--the big anti-war demonstration in 1969? We were in a park--Central Park, I guess--and you were teaching the Vietnam protesters what to wear and how to go limp and what to do to protectthemselves from blows--things you'd learned in the civil rights protests. It was the first time I thought of you as more than my mother. I was thirteen, self-conscious as hell. People were arguing tactics, you were telling them about keeping clean, wearing clothes that didn't show the dirt, simple blouses, no frills, hair short and neat, etc. You said they should try for a middle-class look, and never yell. The arguers were loud, repulsive. They were dirty and they wanted the dirt to show--they were middle-class kids trying for low-class identity. They thought their rags and stink would unite them to the poor; you said it would only make people laugh at them, the poor along with everyone else. "We want our mess in the faces of the captors!" a protester yelled--and he stuck his face into yours, messing his long greasy hair. I saw your nose wrinkle. I was furious. If I had had a gun I would have blown him away without breaking the rhythm of my Juicy Fruit. Isn't it funny what's dug up, walking through the old castle? Keep dry, Moms, keep clean. Wash your socks and underwear every night. Try to get good food and stay away from greasy snacks.
Dear Solidarity,
April 8, Paniment Springs, Cal.
I never told you the details of how I came to be on this Walk. I guess you and your sister do think "put a cause in front of her and an invisible orchestra tunes up, banners start flying, and a scarlet cape ripples out behind her." At Thanksgiving I told how I was planning to do this Walk and how long it would take. I saw Justice's eyes shoot up--you know her ceiling-inspector-God-help-us look. You shrugged. Hope and Ben cheered. Sam and Cary cheered. My big support came from our grandchildren. Hope and Ben knew their mother thought I was being ridiculous, but they wished me well. Who else's grandmother does such exciting things? I think Ben actually said that.
I had thought to stay tucked up in my retirement. Being sixty hit me in a way that being fifty had not. One day, at a protest, I had a vision of myself as one of those gritty old parties screaming through her dentures and waving her cane in protest against everything. I decided tohang up the old cape and banner and take up what Justice calls Sensible Good Works, or grow something, or knit something.
Then, last June, I was at the mall, idling, and I stopped to watch a woman put up a notice on the outdoor board. She was my age, but one of those "protean" dames--twenty from the rear, and seventy from the front. She had flaming red hair, but when her hands went up to hold the poster, I saw the rolling veins, the arthritic thumb, the liver spots. Then, she turned to go and saw me, smiled, but instead of moving on, stood staring, and I stared back at her. This went on as we peered through the tops of our bifocals. I saw Poppy. She saw Tig.
Our senior citizen disguises blew off and we were revealed to one another as our true selves: Poppy Irwin and Antigone Klein, now Tig Warriner, from the civil rights days of the 1950s before the Civil Rights Days of the 60s. We shrieked, we chirped, we hugged--all the things I hate seeing old ladies do. Where did she get that hair?
Where did I get those boobs?
We finished doing the notices, and she came back home with me. I asked her about the posters. They showed an astronaut walking on the moon, then the earth seen from the moon. EARTHWALK, JOIN US. There was a date and a place to write for info.
What was it? It was a Walk of Inquiry. The Walk would start in Fresno, California, and end at the big environmental meeting at Woods Hole. We would look, gather impressions, and give out a questionnaire about the respondents' own environment.
The Walk would not be random. We'd be doing something like a core sample, one long probe through the middle of the country. We'd be talking to people in small- and medium-sized towns, on farms, in suburbs, but not in big cities, which other surveys cover. We'd be getting our own impressions, too. The main thing is that we'd be informing ourselves, learning how to see the environment, how to hear people talk about it.
Poppy told about meeting Patricia at an ecology seminar, where they had the idea. She reminded me about the 50s and 60s protests when we had jumped in without knowing much about life or how other people saw it. This Walk would be about learning, not teaching; about listening. We would present our paper, based on the questionnaires and what we had seen. Poppy thinks it's a chance to do one lastwonderful thing, one last crazy thing without its being politicized or parodied. They were having final planning meetings in Los Angeles. Would I go and be part of it?
I didn't go, but I stayed in touch. The group was collecting money from hundreds of donors and many businesses big and small. In August I went out and met the Californians. In October I went again, and then I helped raise some money. I talked long and hard with your father. He wasn't ecstatic about it, but he did see how eager I was to go. The Walk will be coming through Colorado, and he'll travel out to meet it here and there through the year.
Love, Moms
Dear Marz,
April 9, Lone Pine
It rained the day before yesterday and we got to test ourselves against hard weather. The rain made us all feel self-reliant, baptized. We sang, we took out our rain gear, and went our full day, and it was only waking damp and crabby yesterday morning that we learned the full story. It took us all day to dry out.
Food: We break into age and levels of elitism here. The higher the educational level, the rougher the food we demand. "I can't walk on garbage!" Herb Kvarner declares, shouting for whole grains, bean dishes, and the coarse bread the younger people have a disgusting name for. The younger ones--the teenagers--want burgers, fries, doughnuts, and corndogs. Iron-gutted youth. Coke and Pepsi. Each assumed his reasonable standard fare would be provided. Each faced a ghastly awakening. It was our first true crisis and the conflict was resolved by compromise.
There are eighty-nine of us, now. Eleven of the hundred left on the second day, realizing suddenly what a year-long Walk would mean.
This evening at Bunion Rub Kevin suggested we sing a goodnight song to end the day. "Oldest first!" Poppy yelled, and before we knew it, she was teaching everyone Brahms' Lullabye, and by the time we were done, some people were crying.
You'll understand why, if you imagine us. In almost darkness, firedying, eighty-nine people were singing that very simple song. Our mellow sound rose backed by some heretofore undiscovered deep bass voices, resonant, powerful, but soft as water. We didn't want it to end.
I was moved, too. Rituals like this will bring The Walk together and we need that, because there's so much to argue about. Kevin understands the need. He reaches instinctively for what will heal the animosities that build up--he laughed about the food crisis that might have ruined The Walk and after the compromise, made us see the joke. He's a powerful force on The Walk, a good angel.
Poppy has become less impressed with him than she was, and has pointed out the number of pairs of female eyes, their scleras white as milk in the now brown faces, all turning toward Kevin as if they were watching tennis.
It's April, I remind her: Moon of the Throbbing Gland. We passed a big ranch on the way here and the new-born colts were out with their mothers. Even as we have left the farms and vineyards of Fresno for the drier, barer, land here, there's something about the air, the wind, and the smell that tells us it's spring.
We're making a list, checking it twice. We don't want to break down in the desert. The trucks were donated and are fragile; a food and a water truck--that golden oldie kept running by Murray Siger, mechanical genius of The Walk. The bus is another invalid.
Ecological comments? Only that this country is bigger than I thought, and thank heaven we don't have to do the desert in July.
Love, Tig
Dear Tig,
April 5, The Hill
I miss you already and I am saying so in spite of not wanting to. You explained the trip; I know what it means to you, but I have had a week of returns to this empty house, a sad nudge at the end of each day.
I do understand your reasons for making the trip--that we get our ideas of America from the bad-news dispensers with a cataclysm everyday. You wanted a fresh picture. I think you really believe The Walk is your last hurrah; no jail this time, no civil disobedience, no admonitions from platforms. Most urgently, you wanted to know if you could still make such a walk.
As much as Poppy's showing up kindled all that in you, I can't help but think my sickness and long convalescence last year did its part. We're getting on. How long will the knees hold out, the eyes, the wind? You wanted one more try at something big and you saw this year stretching clear ahead of you, with a door closing slowly and inexorably, and you squeezing through one more time.
Why not? You haven't been arrested since the Rocky Flats sit-ins of 1983--thirteen long years without a single appearance before a judge. The year lay open--the girls are grown and mostly settled; our grandchildren strong and healthy; our friends beginning to fade and some of them to die; our parents gone, with no more need for sudden calls to New York or Grosse Point.
I am reconciled, but I won't always be, I know. I will be lonely and angry sometimes. I will try to build ways of overcoming the empty feelings. I will learn to use my advantage as father and grandfather and see the girls more often. I might, for example, get roaring drunk and wind up at the detox so Solidarity can take care of me; or babysit her boys; or get Justice to send me some of those savory senior-shut-in-meals-on-wheels she administrates. Then there are Justice's children: Hope might need a chaperone and Ben a mentor. I think I'll get him to go skiing with me before the season ends. Jason skis too fast for me.
Here's something else: some of the library people and the women at my job think you have done me wrong. I can get signed up for at least a dozen pity dinners a month.
Love, Marz
Dear Gram,
April 8, Grant Street
I know Mom and Aunt Sol will be writing to you about me, about what they think is my big mistake, but it isn't a mistake, it's the most wonderful thing of all. I'm in love, yes, really in love, and he's shy and proud and because of that he didn't want to admit he loved me back, but last night we went to a school basketball game together. He's not on the team so we sat together and later he told me he liked being with me, close to me. I felt my insides melt with joy and love for him. We've known each other for two years, and I've been in love with him for one whole year before he started arranging to be where I was, or sit next to me, and then it was a while after that that we started to talk. That's been for six months, but last night was the first time we kissed.
If I can't keep seeing him, I'll die.
There's a bad part, though, and that's American racism. Larry is Native American and people are against him because of that. I can't exactly explain, so I'll give you an example: Larry likes to wear the Feather. It doesn't stick up on top of his head like they show it in books, which is just racist, too, because they make it look funny, and a feather is really a symbol of manhood. Larry had to buy his feather because the government won't let people kill the special birds you need, and forbids the tests of bravery Indians are supposed to do. He wears two and they're on his neck near his hair and here's more of the racist part because the boys laugh at him and call him Tonto and Chief.
He's so wonderful. He's very spiritual and when he's sure you aren't laughing at him, he shares his thoughts which few boys do, and which are not about how good he is in sports or how he's going to compete for some award.
Remember how I said if I can't keep seeing Larry, I'll die? That's because he's thinking of dropping out of school and because Mom and Dad are down on him. Mom and Dad are good people, but they are part of a racist society and they can't help themselves. Ben and Jason are against Larry, too, saying they're afraid of him. Jason saw him fighting on a school visit once. Ben heard it from Jason. They don't even know how he is at school, because both of them are still in junior high.
I love Larry and I want to show him that love is stronger than bad things, stronger than everything. Please be on my side. No one else is.
Love, Hope
Dear Hope,
April 12, On the Road
I remember the lunch out we had before I left for The Walk. You told me I should write to you when the going got tough. It's been tough for reasons I didn't expect.
I wondered if I could walk the distance, if heat, cold, rain, or weakness would stop me. I'm older than all but one of the other Walkers who's a lifetime hiker.
But this isn't a hike over bad terrain, carrying forty pounds of gear; it's a Walk along secondary but reasonably good roads, two breaks for water, breaks for lunch and the johns, and the possibility of hitching a ride with the scouting car or gear vans, if necessary.
We write short reports, give out questionnaires, and every now and then pick up the trash we find. There isn't time to do it all and we have to fight a drift into species-self-hate when we see spontaneous garbage dumps and evidence of stupidity, greed, and neglect. It's difficult then not to become angry and bitter at the thoughtlessness of it all. Pessimism can settle like a second hat. Yet, looking up, there are horizon-shattering spaces in this country.
The spaces shimmer, and at dawn and twilight go iridescent as though they owned the light of the sun. Light is the preeminent feature here, and every hour its changes pick out or retire the shapes it chooses, this heave or stone, that line of cliffs; now the soil is duncolored, now honey-golden, now silver-black. The rocks come forward and retreat like dancers against a sky someone on The Walk described as "drop-dead blue."
In these light-intoxicated spaces, the wrecked car rusting, the laceless leather boot, the festoon of beer cans intrude in a way they never would in a lusher place. This isn't land where the garbage gets vinegrown in a day and disappears in a forgiving, green tangle.
You probably don't remember, but I met your young man, Larry. Itwas last spring at your school picnic. We only said hello, but he made enough of an impression on me that I remember him. Please tell me how things go between you. You and I go back quite a while as friends, and friends really talk to one another and aren't defensive or afraid of being harshly judged.
I wasn't always wrinkled and gray. Remember that.
Love, Gram
April 12, looking down on Death Valley
After Bunion Rub this evening, we were sitting around. Kevin started talking. America's government and administration are too big, he said. All the systems that heal, police, educate, and feed us need to be scaled down to tribal size; we should be preaching that. Poppy reminded him that the purpose of The Walk was to learn. I said we needed to encounter life directly, the land and the people. He stared at me, his face shadowed as he stood in front of the fire, and said he was looking ahead of The Walk. The moment passed. The night song was "Bridge over Troubled Water" and I had a hard pang of nostalgia because Justice and Solidarity used to sing that song around the house years ago. The group broke up, Poppy and I went to our tent. We have an illegal cooker--a Sterno set--just enough for evening cocoa. She's troubled that Kevin wants to change The Walk, to make it political, that we're going to have to fight him before long. She thinks people like him too much.
I think he is idealistic and that the by-laws will rule.
"Kevin wants power," she says.
There are fewer sounds here than anywhere I have ever been--the whrrs, ticks, hums of domestic machinery, the background wall of noise is gone. There is no scratch of dry leaves underfoot, either, no sound of wind in leaves. What sound there is, is a wind-up insect chuttering its mechanical love call To Whom It May Concern. Here and there, the call is answered.
Then, from far away, seas readied themselves and a wave began.I could have sworn it was water, in some vast form, all along the line of the distant mountains. It was wind. It was on us suddenly in a roar, fingering its way into the tents. I thought: what isn't well-staked will blow away. We heard shouts. "The campfire!" I crawled out. Our tent was flapping and yawning dangerously, a fearful billow. I was thinking of the embers of the fire I had insisted on, how they would wake in the wind and swarm to light on the treated and coated synthetics of our tents. The wind had taken the side panels of tents and made sails of them, pulling the tent pegs up and setting all the loose items inside to flight. I caught clothing and bedding in midair and had to let them go again. I fought the wind, pushing in slow motion to the circle where the fire had been. The earth there was warm but not hot; embers and ashes had been borne away in the mix of clothing, toys, pebbles, shoes, sand, and loose weeds.
The wind increased. I couldn't walk in it so I crawled, and then lay flat on the ground, wishing I could interpret the sounds around me. A flying tent-stay hit me. There was no escape from what was breaking and coming apart around us. I was in the open, prone and trying to guard my head, deafened, and blinded, and at last losing my sense of direction when I got up again and tried to move toward our tent.
Then, like a fast curtain down at the end of a play, it all stopped. Most of the camp was gone--tents and their contents, blankets, sleeping bags. The trucks and cars had been banked with blown sand. People called to one another, flashlights bloomed. When we were sure no one had been hurt, we decided to save the picking up for daylight. I found a blanket--tripping over it, shook the sand out of it, made a bed. I never expected to sleep.
We took today out to recover ourselves and find our camp. First time luck: the water and food trucks had been pulled over to the side of the road, one on each side; the cars had pulled over at an angle to the camp. Clothing, blankets, bottles, boxes, toothbrushes, hairbrushes, laxative bottles, and sunglasses had all been swept into piles at the lea sides of both trucks. The cars had been sandblasted and pitted with wind-flung pebbles. Ifound this notebook with its rubber band and pen in the pile by the food truck. Other possessions, which we spent the day recovering and returning to their owners, were not so easily restored. Clothing had to be shaken and the three Porta Pottis had been overturned and were a hideous mess. We thought we would have to take precious water to hose them out, until John Duda, our "Dr. D.," thought to use recovered wash water. We had tents to sew and patch.
Some items were not recovered and people kept digging in the blown sand all day for this or that lost thing. Sometimes they opened sand-hills only to find the blown bones of small animals, sand-cleaned.
It's tonight that we won't sleep. We'll lie wide awake in our repaired, dust-smelling tents, alert as foxes for the horn sound of the wind.
Dear Tig,
April 10, The Hill, Boulder
It's been five days, and I've written five mental letters to you. This morning I realized that I'll have to schedule regular times to write. If I wait to gather interesting things, the daily this and that will have faded like old newspapers in an attic.
We had a big, wet April snow. Instead of handling it manfully, I burrowed up with some books and canned beans, called in with an eye complaint ("I can't see working"), and took two days off. I have material at home and have been able to put some necessary work on the computer. Wave of the future? With the snow banking the walk, it seems like a retreat into the past.
I'll meet The Walk at Pueblo, where I will see you blooming in situ and hear your war stories from your own cracked and desert-parched lips.
The office has become an encounter group. "How can you let her go?" Bayler demands. I remind him that you are a person as well as a wife--a person first; I tell him that had I been the woman and you the man, your year away would have seemed much more normal. Wars,jobs, sabbaticals at the Sorbonne are all perfectly acceptable reasons for men to spend a year away. Had I believed in the cause with the enthusiasm you have for it, I would have gone with you. Mitzi, the secretary, weighs in. She forgets that if I took a year's leave of absence I would lose my seniority. She's worried about the sexual possibilities now available to both of us; Carson says things about love between husband and wife. I hold to my point, and reduce him to muttering, "Well, I wouldn't let my wife do that."
And it's all true, and yet I spend (waste) some time each day missing you and resenting our separation, going over your reasons and punishing you by eating tuna fish out of the can.
(I'll tell the woman I don't miss her. I'll tell the woman I'm doing splendidly without her.)
I don't miss you. I am doing splendidly without you. A year is a long time, but I held you back once before on work you felt you were called to do, and lived to regret it, deeply, deeply to regret it. Things are fine here at home. The damage from the fire hardly shows. I buried the two intruders I shot, in the backyard. The smell has gotten pretty bad, but if the police come, I'll just act confused.
Love, Marz
April 16, Death Valley
Descended, graceful as night falling? No. The dull ground has salt on its lips.
Eyes are on us. Burrowing animals live here and the nakedness of the ground allows us to see an underlife of mice, skinks, and tiny lizards. Evidence of sidewinders. The snakes eat the mice. What do the mice eat?
The Walk starts out singing, but the immensity of this place stifles cheeriness. We put up the snake guards on our tents and the next day see sand-signs of struggles we cannot read.
Even Poppy has to admit that Kevin is vital to The Walk. He goes up and down the line like a friend, capable but not obtrusive. The children get whiny in the heat. With them he ismiraculous. They live on his smile and pattern themselves on his walk, his way of stretching to ease a stiff shoulder. They do impersonations: "O--Kay" the way he says it. The four adolescents try not to be unworthy of his magic smile.
He has made a family out of us, or a tribe, reconciling the stubbornness of the Dudas ("Let's push on") with the dreaminess of the Dorns ("Let's wait and see ..."), the pleasure-loving singles with the peace-and-quiet marrieds.
I started badly, after a bad night. Poppy, too, and we gritted our teeth when the starting signal was given. It was Kevin who came to the back of the line where we were wading through glue. "You are the only ones on this Walk who haven't spent time in the follow-up car."
We don't need his permission. The rule is that no one asks and no one apologizes, but the way he said it took the worry from us, worry we haven't vanquished about our being equal to this Walk. We looked at one another and then, Poppy and I, without another word, stopped and let the first of the follow-up vehicles pick us up.
Dear Marz,
April 16, on the road, to be mailed in Las Vegas
It was wonderful to hear your voice in the treasured five minutes while the line stamped and sighed behind me. Even though we can't say much, it's the voice, the very "hello," that works the miracle. The weather has been "good"--90° and upwards, and the road is good.
Sometimes we talk. Someone starts a song, and clumps of Walkers answer with another, or with punning and joking up and down the line. People walk in small, habitual groups. These are:
1. Young, single men and women up front, usually, with lots of place-changing. There's an inner flow, like the liquid in an amoeba, a moving and jockeying for place beside this girl or that young man, and, of course, near Kevin, who's often in the lead. He's the only one who, after starting out in front, will fade back and spend time walking the long snake-line of us.
2. The Middle-aged, using The Walk as a combination ecology statement and proof of undiminished vigor.
3. Marrieds and families with kids, and they are in the middle to make sure that the kids--the youngest are seven or eight--don't get left behind.
4. The Aged and the Misfits (Poppy and my group), the out-of-condition, the social failures from group 1, the bad day people from group 2, the loners, and the boring ideologues. Attempts to "distribute us" more homogeneously start well and an hour later we are back to our natural groupings.
Yesterday I learned that Poppy has been sharing the choicer parts of my bio, the facts of which have been percolating through The Walk, and I've been met by people at the water truck or the johns with questions: Did I really go down south before the civil rights protests and Freedom Summer? Was it true that I had been in the original Vietnam protest group and knew the SDS people and the Chicago Seven? Did I know all of them?
I've achieved a dippy fame. I am quaint. Now, as moss-grown as the Civil Rights Movement itself, as venerable and nonthreatening as the old wars, I bring a brittle-bone presence, like a relic skeleton, to this enterprise. How long ago were those ancient days? they ask me. I'm sixty-two, not one hundred sixty-two.
Poppy says it does the kids good to know that the back of The Walk has its distinctions. Maybe we'll need our reputation for feistiness later.
I didn't follow up on that part. I was too busy wondering why I felt so dislocated by what she had revealed about me.
My life is being handed back to me in cartoon form by youngsters who see those days as "simpler." And those people as "simpler," too.
She has also blabbed that my name is really Antigone, and then I am obliged to tell them that my parents were idealists, also. She's holding out about Justice and Solidarity. She says that's to use later.
Funny? I don't know. We don't share a lot about our non-Walk lives. Lesson: Never lend money to friends. Don't travel with them, either.
Love, T.
April 12, Niwot
Thanks for your letter about the why of The Walk, Poppy, etc. Dad read his to me over the phone. I was antsy about you and Dad breaking up again. Surprise--it brought out a lot of old feelings. You were heroic back then. You were selfish, too. I was proud of your going this time, but I started going funny and depressed. Dad must have sensed that, because he called and then he came over and we talked. I know you hate to be explained and excused, but there it is.
I'm okay. Ever since the divorce, I've been worried about Sam and Cary, who are still small and vulnerable. Lewis never calls or visits. His new wife and family take up his time. Child support has leaked to a stop. The boys can't understand why he isn't here anymore. I worried about having to move to a smaller place away from friends, theirs and mine, but with the new job, and living like mice, we may squeak by (joke).
But ten months ago, a gay couple moved in next door. Blake and Anton and Blake's two little boys have become our friends. At first it was good enough that the two of them enjoyed Sam and Cary and we all pulled up in a bigger, happier family. Now I see that when Lewis took off, something about trust in men went with him for the boys and for me.
Blake and Anton needed reassurance, too. One evening we were sitting in Blake's kitchen, talking, and I asked Blake if he thought either of his boys was gay. He said they didn't think so. I wanted to ask how he knew, what word, look, gesture, preference would tell him. I asked what it was like to raise a child who was in some ways a stranger.
Blake said it had happened in his own raising, but at least the secret-keeping wouldn't be there.
My niece is in love, glowing like a two-dollar sparkler. Justice rants and raves. She's frightened of the precocious sex, and she can't accept the "love" Hope talks about for what it is, a mile wide and an inch deep, and an issue that may have disappeared in two months. Hope comes over to tell me all about Larry. Jussy probably won't write much because she's not a letter writer. Today she was up at the junior high where Jason and Ben go, protesting the use to which the school is putting its bond money. She won't win this one.
April 21, Pahrump
No sense of forward movement. Valley has yielded to up and down. The land lies watering away in false mirages. The Walk defends itself. Knock Knock jokes. Knock Knock. Who's there? Effervescent. Effervescent who? Effervescent for this Walk, I'd be in Hawaii. Next day--Tom Swifties, the next, What Did The jokes. These idiotic word plays are funnier than they were when we were six. We laugh uproariously and from the substrates of her memory, Poppy draws up amazing numbers of them. She pulled a tendon and limps. She cut my hair--a feather cut--all the charm of wet feathers.
Next big stop--Las Vegas. Kevin's lip curls when he says the name. Such places are excrescences that should be wiped off the face of the earth. The Puritan in him shines forth in its blunderbuss fustiness. "Get him," Poppy smiles at me in the shimmering twilight. Have I noticed the night arrangements around here? If we stayed in one place, there'd be a path worn eight inches deep leading to Kevin's tent.
I was ashamed to admit I hadn't noticed. I looked. At first, I thought it was the girls preening before him. Poppy said I should watch him move through The Walk, combing it, grooming it.
So what? He makes us feel merry, courageous, necessary. The Walk, his moves say, is important. You and you and you are vital parts. Had we heard what the Park Ranger said about us and our questionnaire? The best group he'd had all season; an excellent focus on environmental issues. I found myself smiling up at him. I looked over at Poppy, whose face was gleeful and smug.
Yes, I saw him, combing and grooming, as she said. He put his gaze on two of the girls, just for a second. It's normal enough. The Walk must have elements of a year-long lark, if you're young. Kevin is attractive--I, too, feel the warmth of his approving smile and am cheered on by his approving word.
April 14, Niwot
I got a raise! A grateful community has decided that what I do is valuable. On it, I met Jussy for lunch. She's still frantic over Hope's relationship with Larry Walks Away. I asked her if it was because he's Native American.
Native American is an idea, not a people, she says. She's against the relationship. She told me how he summons Hope and she goes like a wind-up doll. When he comes to the house it's to lie around on Sunday afternoons, delivering Holy Writ and being waited on hand and foot, ordering Hope here and there. Twice, she thinks, he was a little drunk. You know how Jussy idealizes work. She told Hope to find something to do. "I have something to do," Hope told her, "it's Larry."
Then Jussy said, "Hope wants to marry him." She went on to describe Hope looking up at her with that inherited Here I Stand look and saying, with the inherited Here I Stand tone, "The age of consent in this state is fifteen. The state wouldn't have set it so young if it didn't think fifteen-year-old women are mature enough." Jussy flipped and called Hope an idiot and reminded her that that law was the state's torn umbrella over the swollen bellies of pregnant fifteen-year-olds with strap-wielding fathers. Hope stared at her, Jussy said, her gentle stare, her little smile. "I love him." When Jussy told me that, she pounded the table. "She loves him, and disapproval is racism. Case closed."
Has Jussy forgotten what we loved first time around? I remember, among others, a drugged-out jazz musician, a forty-five-year-old history prof, a feckless flunk-out with bedroom eyes and no visible means. She shouldn't yell at Hope, no matter what.
Or will I yell when Sam brings Bobbie Bimbo home and says, "I love her," with stars in his eyes? Hope says her only ally at home is Ben, "and he's still a kid so nobody takes him seriously."
Dear Grandma,
April 16, Grant Street
Mom said to write but it's okay because she said I could tell you anything I wanted to. I want to tell you this because I don't want to talk to Mom and Dad about it yet.
I've been skiing a lot with the guys in class this season and I'm pretty good. Everybody, Jason included, wants me to go out for ski team next winter, but I don't know if I want to. Last night I made a list, and here it is:
I know this makes me look like a wimp-out, especially number 3, but I've talked to guys on the team and they're always pushing about competition. It's not only in skiing, either. If they find out you like dogs, they think you should join some group that races or shows them, or if you like to run they want you to be on some team. Mom and Dad don't push or anything, but I get a feeling they would be proud of me if I was on a team. Can't a kid have a hobby--just something he likes to do without other people making a big deal out of it?
I thought I could say it was the money, that I couldn't afford it, but then I found out Chad Backstrand's dad works for a company that gives ski team scholarships to kids who can't afford to go. How can I tell kids I don't want to do what they say I should want to do? In the summer the ski kids have a hiking club and it's the same thing, there.
Love, Ben
P.S. Life around here is not so peaceful. Hope is in love with a scary Indian.
Even the kids in high school are afraid of him. She says he's deep, he's sweet, blah, blah, and Mom tries to argue her out of it. Jason stands around and laughs and soon Dad gets pulled into the scene. The thing is, he--Larry--has been around here a couple of times and none of us can figure out why Hope likes him.
Dear Ben,
April 22, a dusty road 1 day out of Las Vegas
In regard to your skiing, I must tell you that I think it would be irresponsible for you to join the ski team that would take up all your spare time when your grandfather needs so much help around the house, especially with me away. In winter, there's all that snow to be shoveled and window screens to be taken care of and many other home chores. In summer there will be yard work and painting to do. This is not to say that you will have no opportunity for skiing in the time you have left, or hiking now and then during the summer with your friends, but I do think family responsibilities have a call on some of your leisure time. I think you should tell your friends this. Right now, I'm sorry to say that a commitment to a team would be letting me and your grandfather down and I know he will feel the same when you tell him.
I'm glad you're thinking, feeling, and learning what you want to do. That learning will give you confidence and that confidence will make you respected in a way no phony enthusiasm ever would. The phony thing gives itself away. I was twenty-four or twenty-five before I learned that and you have an extra ten years to discover, investigate, and enjoy what you really want to do. I hope it's not something too difficult for you to explain to me.
Love, Grandma
P.S. Have you tried to talk to Hope's boyfriend, alone?
Dear Gram,
April 17, Grant Street, Boulder
I want to tell you about Larry. Nobody around here likes him or cares about why he is the way he is, why he wants to drop out of school, and why he doesn't have a job. I used to watch him when I was in class with him. They wanted him to be like everyone else. They picked on him because of the feathers and his long hair. In the end they let him keep it long, but you could see the teachers looking down on him and some of them made comments.
His father was half Navajo and half white. His mother is half Sioux and half white, but she never lived on the reservation and she doesn't speak Sioux. She used to live in Denver but Larry doesn't know where she is now. His father was never around. The way Larry describes him, I think he was an alcoholic. Mom's down on Larry because he's not a real Indian, but whose fault is that? He was raised in Denver, mostly among Chicanos, and even there he didn't fit in.
He is hanging out with a bad crowd. I never admitted that to Mom and Dad because they'd go ballistic if they knew. All the kids in that crowd are putting themselves outside ordinary life and they think that anything is okay to do or say. Even they use Larry in a way, and I think he knows it, but he also knows that at least he could get some strokes from them.
Larry's at a group home here, and they sent him to Boulder to get him away from the crowd he was with when he was at the Lookout Mountain School for Boys. It was a pretty dumb move because Boulder schools are full of kids like me whose families are professionals and who are book-smart and know all about intellectual things. In downtown Denver Larry might be just another kid. At our school he sticks out like Dad would at a rock concert.
The two of us started hanging out and you should have heard everyone scream. My own friends--even Denise, my best friend, is down on me for being with Larry.
He wants to be an Indian, but he doesn't know how. He can't really study it because all the books are written by white people. Once he did go to a ceremonial, but he said it made him feel imprisoned because although there were Indians there, he couldn't get over the fact that they were captives. He said they were like lions and tigers in cages. He hateswhite culture but he can't live on the Navajo reservation or be Sioux either. It's not his culture anymore.
I want to marry him. He sometimes goes to an Indian group in Denver, and he's going to find out if we can have an Indian wedding.
Larry feels free with me. When we're alone together, he laughs and talks about what he wants to do. In the Indian world, everyone respects everyone else and they respect nature and the earth. I feel all those things and I know I could be Sioux and if we lived as Sioux he would feel that respect. His real problem isn't his drinking because he only drinks when he's low. When we're together he doesn't drink at all. When we get married, we'll be together and he won't have to drink.
White people will never make it up to Native Americans for taking their land, but one white person can come together with one Indian and help rebuild what was here before and what was taken away.
Love, Hope
Dear Gram,
Sunday night, Grant Street
I'm writing to you before everyone else gets their two cents in about what happened today. It's late and no one is talking to anyone else.
There was a big snow on Friday. Grandpa invited everyone over today to go sliding on that hill near your house.
We came with sleds, inner tubes, and even cardboard packing boxes. Aunt Sol's kids and their friends had those plastic slides. It's a great hill for sliding, fast enough for fun, but the snow was really soft so no matter how fast anyone went, if a sled tipped over he couldn't get hurt. Aunt Sol came in that weird coat of hers that makes her look like a show poodle. (Don't tell her I said this.) She brought a guy she works with at the detox center.
Mom and Dad came and Jason and Ben with one of Jason's friends and Grandpa asked me to come specially and bring Larry, so there were sixteen people.
I knew it would be a bummer from the start, for Larry and me, anyway. Larry hates crowds and useless activity, parties and stuff, and I had to beg him to come. I knew when we got there that it was a mistake.
Jason and Ben knew Larry from when he was a junior at school and was hanging out at the 7-Eleven parking lot. They were afraid of him then, and when he comes to the house they are uncomfortable with him. It makes him defensive and angry even though they're only kids.
We had all decided to treat the littlest kids, just for fun. We'd haul them up the hill instead of making them walk, and give them pushes and cheer when they did anything. Everybody went down the hill a couple of times, even my stodgy old Dad and Grandpa, but one or two runs were enough for them and they went into the house. That left Ben and Jason, Aunt Sol, and Larry and me with the little kids. Aunt Sol was asking Larry questions and telling him about life in the county detox unit and I guess it was all meant to get him to know her, but I could see he was pulling back from her.
By that time the snow on the run had packed down and the ride was faster. The kids started to goof around, bumping into one another, and we were all getting cold and tired, but we thought we would tell them, okay, three more runs.
Larry said he was going in. I was kind of nervous because if I was out on the hill, what would happen if he got angry in the house when I wasn't there? But if I went in with him, maybe he would think I was following him, crowding in on him, which he sometimes says I do. I said I would go down at least one more time. Larry said he would go down with one kid.
They got on the plastic slide and Larry pushed off. There was an icy patch about halfway down and they hit that and went over. Larry was wearing one of those slippery shell-jackets so he just kept sliding and couldn't get up.
Everyone had dumped at least once during the day. The kids were doing it on purpose, so when Larry did it, Sam and Cary and their friends began to laugh and that made Larry so mad the day was ruined for him. He wanted to go right then. We should have, but I knew that Grandpa wanted him to meet the family, so I talked him into going in the house.
He was cold and wet. When people saw he had only that light shell over a T-shirt, they gawked at him and Jason asked why he didn't have more on. Larry said that not everyone has fancy down jackets andexpensive winter clothes. That shut them up. The secret is that Larry does have a heavy jacket but he didn't wear it. I don't know why.
Things got worse after that. He started fighting with Grandpa about old people--you know how sensitive Grandpa is about being old. Larry said a lot of the things about politics that Aunt Sol would say, but no one liked hearing them from him. By the time we left, he had argued with everybody and no one felt like answering him when he said things. It made him mad because he said people were treating him like he wasn't there.
So we left early and then he was so sweet. We walked almost to the highway and he said he wanted to be himself but he didn't know who that was, and that he had never had a family to fit into, a family with aunts and uncles and cousins like I did. We went to a place we know and made love. He says that the body doesn't lie the way words do. Too many teachers and cops and social workers have told him things that were lies, he said, but body to body, giving everything, people can't lie.
Don't tell Mom and Dad. They wouldn't understand. I love Larry and I want to make up to him for all the heartache he has had. If I did tell them about making love they would ask me about the pill or about Larry's using a condom and he can't stand insincerity like those things. I have to be there totally for him and Mom and Dad wouldn't understand that, either. I feel all right letting you know this because you promised not to tell. Indians value loyalty above everything and they need to find it in an angry world.
Love, Hope
Dear Tig,
April 18, The Hill, Boulder
The oddest thing happened the other day. Ben came over and said you had sent him to help me around the house. I hadn't been planning to do anything and it's not quite warm enough to work outside, so I gave him my special peanut butter, banana, and coconut sandwiches and got him talking. I'm not sure I got it right but it went something like this:
1. He's not going out for any formal team or for sports this summer.
2. You told him he didn't have to.
3. In an excess of gratitude he lay himself down on the rack of filial assistance.
A couple of numbers must have slipped by me because this still isn't clear to me.
He's a nice kid, though. He's bright, well, not too bright--because he promised to come back and help me with the lawn this summer.
Oh, Marz!--
April 23, before Vegas
How daily this is. When I remember our time down south together, I remember the declarations, the strength, the high spirits. I remember you and I and all the tutors crowded into those pine-slab churches to hear black pastors urge us to give the best we had, and to raise ourselves along with our students. How it all gleams, now, without vanity or silliness. Where did all this dailiness come from, arguments over bathwater and mail and having to decide organizational questions about seven times a day, every day?
Kevin has been organizing small groups to do demonstrations in addition to our questionnaire. I'm against the idea. When we do the questionnaires, people relax with us and talk freely. We are going to lose this comfort if The Walk goes political. Our scouts travel five days ahead of us and do a little P.R. People greet The Walk with enthusiasm. We meet at churches and little stores in towns, and at campgrounds, where we go in groups of three or four. There's a personal feeling, and an ease with questionnaires.
Yesterday, I suggested to the committee that we consider neatening ourselves up a little. Since Vietnam, most marches have lost any easy, friendly quality they may have had. It was one reason we called this enterprise a Walk instead of a March. People are afraid of violence parading as civil disobedience, and when a rag-tag bunch carryingsigns and flags converges on a roadside, you can see eyes narrow and postures stiffen. The young people take pride in grungy clothes and trailing shirttails. Can I convince them?
Hope has written about Larry and it's serious, she tells me. I met him once, you know, last year. He looked aggrieved and sullen. Justice insists that Hope is too young. Of course she is, but nagging will only drive Hope to do something foolish. Justice is still the more conventional of our girls, and has always been very protective of the kids. It must have been difficult for her to grow up in a family where Mom was marching, organizing, and now and then in jail. When she was with me, the environment was overheated, too intense; then she would go to you and be de-pressurized into ordinary life. I've tried to talk to her about those days, but we always end in defensiveness on my part and anger on hers. She did grow up well, even with uncertainty and some instability. Infiltrate and let me know how things are between Hope and Justice, who needs to be careful where Larry is concerned.
Love, Tig
P.S. Take full advantage of Ben's gratitude and tell him you'll expect him to help with a paint job this fall. Don't look a gift grandson in the mouth.
Dear Hope,
April 24, Las Vegas
We are in Las Vegas, and before you begin to wave your hand around, let me tell you that there is more than one Las Vegas. One is the casino town, where we were not successful with our questionnaires on the streets, and not allowed into the hotels or casinos. The leisure of the people there has the intensity of work, of oil-well capping.
But there's a city, too, and churches and schools, very clean and somewhat defensive about being supported by the wealth coming in from those hard-working vacationers. The people of that city greeted us with marvelous hospitality, invited us in, and gave us cake and tea and the time for thoughtful responses. There are lawns here, and lawn-sprinklersuburbs pulled out of a desert that given ten years would own the city again.
For Poppy and me, Las Vegas will always evoke the memory of a couple we met at a church. They invited us to dinner, and over the questionnaire, they talked about what life is like in a tourist town.
The house was adobe, and they have let the desert come close. We sat under a brush arbor, in shade, and they talked about their lives before coming here and how they had to make a conscious decision to find the kind of life they both needed. The sun went down and we sat in the dark, our sounds only minimally louder than the insect noises.
It was an evening I want to remember. There was a quiet awareness in that couple's life that my own life seldom has. Dear girl, I know that you have gone away from a conventional path and I know that's difficult. I'm glad you and Larry talk together about things that matter. It sounds as though he's sorry he can't take advantage of the good things life has to offer, but maybe he will, some day. What does Larry like to do? What gives him pleasure? You haven't said. Your little brother is beginning to examine what he likes to do and how he likes to do it. The four-year difference between your ages still seems cavernous, but it will shrink as you both get older. I know he loves you and I think you can confide in him. Maybe Jason is a little too tied up in sports and his own friends to be the best confidant, but your little brother is a sympathetic listener.
Keep writing and tell Ben to write, too. Your letters are especially valuable because there's a sense in which The Walk touches people and places but doesn't linger and after a while the Walkers feel cut adrift even from one another. We need the lifelines of old friends and close family to remind us of deeper relations than The Walk can give.
Love, Gram
Dear Marz,
April 26, Kingman, Arizona
I just got Hope's letters, one of which described Larry being a pain in the neck at your Sunday sledding party. It was a wonderful idea, that day, and that makes its upsets even more irritating.
What were your impressions of the day?
A couple has left The Walk and two couples have joined it. They are young students who seized the chance to interrupt the grind of school for what one described as A Long Walk In The Country. In one, we have a jewel, another mechanical talent. As usual, Kevin was the catalyst and recruiter. He draws young people to him seemingly without lifting a hand. It has occurred to us with a surprise that says something about our naivete that people will be leaving as well as joining The Walk, and that by the time we come to the East Coast, we may have had considerable turnover. Patricia mentioned it at yesterday's Bunion Rub and said, " ... that wouldn't affect the Fresnos." So we charter members now have a name--we're Fresnos.
Keep writing. Tell me about what is happening to you, to Solidarity and the kids, to Justice and Frank, including Hope, Jason, and Ben, to Whom It May Concern.
Love, Tig
April 26, Kingman, Arizona
Walking in the city remembering the Berkeley protests of 1970. I never wanted this Walk to be a reprise of those days. I pick at the sore--the aggressively messy look of some Walkers. It makes the questionnaires seem political. Kevin leads the defense: "Our message goes far beyond how we look." His eyes are intense. The five or six people who have gathered around, who are always where Kevin is, nod. "How do people relate to clowns?" I ask, "How to bag ladies?"
Their faces freeze. I try to make it better. We shouldn't be preaching or teaching, anyway. We should be asking and listening. They will want to see us as worth talking to. "We want to be ourselves," sweet, blond Shari says.
They want to be they. I want to throw rocks. We are losing chances to reach people who might have much to tell us.
The same damn communal arguments draw me back to Mississippi in 1952, to Chicago, New York, on and on. The problemof who works, who loafs, who gives extra, and who not enough. It's all familiar as sweat. Yet, those times, those other times now seem bathed in light and when Solidarity evoked that Central Park protest in her letter, even the angry argument she remembered had a glow to it.
Dear Tig,
April 23, The Hill
I gather Hope wrote to you about the sledding party I had for the kids. The snow up on the hill was so perfect--it was probably the last big snow of the year, and I couldn't resist. I was remembering how the kids and I used to go sledding up there. I called around: "Come quick, the snow is perfect." To my delight, they all said yes. I went out to buy chestnuts (good God, do you know what's happened to the price of those things?), cider, cocoa, popcorn. I found your recipe for those cookies the kids used to call dog tongues, and baked them. They came out a little doughy, but still edible. I made a batch of your pepper-nuts.
Everyone came; big success, I thought. Solidarity and the kids and their friends had brought those new plastic "sleds" to try. They are lighter than sleds and seem to work as well. You sit up. We all took three or four runs on the big hill, even Frank, yes. Justice was amazed. I am imagining your surprise. Hope brought her heart-throb, Larry; Jason, one of his friends. Ben used the old sled I gave him years ago.
After a few runs I got a bit tired and one by one, the second generation followed me to the house. The women went into the kitchen and Frank and I set up the table. It wasn't really cold, but we had a fire going--I thought how good it felt, how much fun it was to have everyone here, all talking and laughing and enjoying one another. You know, as soon as anyone starts thinking that--pow!
Hope's young man--he'd be good-looking if his expression weren't a sneer or a pout--came in later, pointedly Not Enjoying Himself, and when Larry Walks Away is unhappy, EVERYONE is. I was amazed at how good he was at his misery. It was as though he had X-rayed everyone in the room, found his or her nerve of discord, and played it like Paganini. Themes were Justice's looks, Frank's politics, my age, Jason's machismo, Ben's size, Solidarity's single motherhood.
After a few more parting salvos, Hope got him to go. All of us were sad for her and that, as much as Larry's rudeness itself and the hurts he had so liberally dispensed, soured the day.
Before she left, Solidarity, whose work at detox has sensitized her to the problem, said she thought Larry might have been on something, booze or drugs that he might have been using during the afternoon from hidden stashes, though he wasn't visibly impaired. I thought it was his real dislike of us, singly and together, and of our lives. We are not Indians. We are not hunter-gatherers. He had played that motif as a theme all afternoon.
Now here's the odd part: I encountered him yesterday, by accident, on the mall. I'd come out of the hardware store and he was walking--sauntering toward me, hands in pockets. I wondered if he would greet me--our afternoon at the house had not been pleasant, but he nodded my way and so, pursuant to what I knew was Hope's deep wish, I spoke--something witty and trenchant, like, "Hello, Larry, howzit going?"
He answered, to my surprise, "Not too good. I'm looking for work and it's not easy." We began to go up the block together; he talking freely with a natural ease, and I found I was following his talk with interest. He apologized indirectly for the circumstances that had brought on the bad mood at the house. We talked about job hunting. He's still living at the group home but at eighteen, in another two months, he will be on his own. Minimum wage jobs don't pay enough to support him here, and the hours of those jobs are so long that school or training classes are almost impossible. "I'm trying to put something together," he said. I made a few suggestions, which I thought he would brush off, but he asked intelligent questions and seemed to give my ideas serious consideration. We've had people in the office who come up with elaborate reasons for why none of the ordinary answers fit their special cases, and I've become alert to that kind of brush-off. Larry offered none of those excuses.
I found we had walked all the way home together, talking. The boy has been in lots of heavy situations: children's shelter four or five times before he was in elementary school, foster homes, then the reformatory, and from there to the group home he's in now. About that, too, I expected a diatribe, or at least a bitterness, but he only said, "Theytried. They talked to me. I want to start to be a Native American but living in the Anglo world and having strengths in both cultures." I asked him about the time he was laughed at for wearing feathers in his hair. He looked at me hard. "Hope told us about it," I said. He said, "I wore them to cheer myself on, a kind of pat on the head I felt I needed. It wasn't a religious thing, although the kids thought it was." Just that.
I asked him in for coffee; he declined, with thanks. He said he had a job prospect to check out, and he turned and then turned back and gave me a wave. I felt it was sincere, good-hearted.
We wondered what Hope sees in him. I think I know, now. My only problem is how to compare that Larry Walks Away with the petulant, injustice-farming boy I met at our party. It only matters if Hope stays with him. In spite of his good meeting with me, I hope she won't. She's too young for the bronco ride that relationship would be.
Another snow nipped our lilacs in the bud and froze them all to the ground, so there may not be any blossoms this year.
Love, Marz
April 23, Niwot
While you sample the delights of Vegas, we're shoveling snow. Blake, Anton, our four kids, and I made an evening of it, snowmen, snowfights. I hate a winter that goes on into May.
After Dad's party--a good event, soured by Hope's pain-in-the-ass boyfriend--we all met to get the shoveling done.
The guys are freer with me, now. They're interested in how I look. They're into looks. Blake said to Anton, "Did you know Don has AIDS?" Anton said, "How does he look?" This was not the first question I would have asked, looks.
They talked about friends who had died, about changed notions of friendship. Blake was never into the bar and bathhouse scene. Anton was--"When I came out it seemed so sophisticated!" I laughed at them--"You should have seen me at sixteen." I told them how my girlfriends and I mimicked the street prostitutes we thought were sowith it, getting that open-mouth gum-pop. I popped the look for them. They both broke up.
Then we tried to think of all the things we had done as teenagers that we thought were sophisticated. Blue nail polish. Tattoos. Anton had an anchor, and a banner with the name of his ship. "I didn't know the tattoo would last longer than the ship," he said.
After the kids were in bed we talked about Anton's hitch in the Navy, his learning how to hide his gayness better than he had in high school. He and Blake met at the University, where he was majoring in architecture and Blake was a law student. They argued all the details, like you and Pops do. Anton saw Blake on campus. They talked. "Is he gay? Is he straight?" Anton said he was terrified of approaching Blake. Hints were dropped like Victorian ladies dropping handkerchiefs. Anton was local, Blake wasn't. Anton's hints about gay bars and meeting spots went past Blake. One day Anton bit the bullet. "Listen, I need to tell you something." Blake laughed about this. "I hope it's that you're gay, not that you've got AIDS."
It was dark by then. I hadn't put any lights on in the living room; there was only the light coming from the kitchen where the cleanup mess was.
Talking in the dark is easier. I opened up about Lewis, about how he thought experience was obvious, so why talk about it. Hell, two people in the same house would come up with the same numbers, wouldn't they; what was real and what wasn't? Disagreement was someone choosing to be a drag. I was surprised when the clock began to chime. We got up and did the dishes, and they left their kids, who were already asleep, with me.
After that I walked around grinning. Why? Good feeling. I stayed up for another hour just sitting in the dark, feeling good.
What's all this about? That I'm okay--better than just okay, and getting more out of my life than pride at being independent, which I thought was all I could hope for.
Walk well.
Copyright © 1998 by Joanne Greenberg