Then, midway through 1977 and recently married, Liz and I bought a place up in South Deer Creek Canyon and moved in right after our honeymoon to Milpitas, California to visit her folks.
The Canyon started in the lower right-hand corner, heading south.
At about the middle of the picture, you headed left from Deermont further up the canyon. If you went straight, it took you up an old, twisting one-and-a-half-lane converted mine road to the two paved lanes at the top of the canyon, leading to Conifer, and if you went five inches off the side of the dirt portion of the road, you went a few hundred feet off the side of the road.
It was a couple of miles up the canyon from where Billy and I had the cabin, where Liz and I first really started visiting with each other, talking (me more than her) and getting some sort of feelings crossing between us. Just … feelings. I thought she was pretty cool, and she (much later admitted to me) had started to really like me.
Billy and Debby Mason had gotten married earlier in the year and had moved to Deermont. Not the town, the house. Deermont basically was the house. Used to be an old Pony Express stop, and that was it. Kind of like Phillipsburg, the town at the opening to the canyon: a solitary closed and boarded up old filling station. Probably didn’t even call them gas stations back then. Some old guy lived there with his daughter, he died, the town moved – the town being his daughter. If you mentioned either Deermont or Phillipsburg to the locals, they knew what section of the canyon you were in, but the names were essentially no longer in use officially.
You might see them on maps, but only in the sense of historical significance.
Then it gets interesting: our mailing address was in Arapahoe County (Littleton, actually) while our fire number (how the Fire Department located you) was in Jefferson County, and we also had some connection to Douglas County somehow or other. The mailing address told the Fire Department nothing about where we lived, the fire number wouldn’t place us on the map or tell them where to deliver the mail, and Douglas County? Beats the shit out of me what they had to do with it.
We just said we lived in Deermont. I even have it as my “Hometown” in Facebook.
The place needed some work and we needed some help. Our friend Ron Pittman stayed up there for a while helping me hang drywall and pull up some old carpet, and Denny Johnson re-did our kitchen floor: shored up the joists, laid down some tongue-in-groove sub-floor.
A little bit of electrical work to surround the place with floodlights and some painting of the trim outside, and we were pretty set.
We were on five acres, but the folks alongside of us had two-hundred-fifty, on the other alongside they had four-hundred ninety-five. Those floodlights were on dimmer switches just to make it easier to find our way around outside the house or to check on any “what-the-hell-was-that?” noises in the middle of the very dark nights. The trees behind the house pretty much blocked our lights and usually a full moon, so if I wanted to head up there at night it was mostly by memory and by feel …
… and there were lots of trees. Pretty solid with trees. Not many open spaces at all except for where Pine Beetle trees had to be cut down into logs, soaked with kerosene and covered with plastic. It was either that or lose all the trees entirely.
Back then I think you could have walked straight out our back door (which was on the second floor and led about fifteen feet up the hill across a narrow, uncovered stairway) and ended up at Pike’s Peak crossing only a couple of dirt County roads and one paved four-lane on the way. Not that I ever tried.
Wintertime found our yard speckled with deer and elk tracks in the snow, trails leading down from where friends of ours came up from Denver or Morrison to cut down a Christmas tree and drag it down to their cars, and we had snow drifts behind our house through May. Hell, we were facing north in a canyon with a massive hill behind us and got no sun to speak of. Liz used to love laying in the sun and reading, and when she wanted to she’d have to cross the dirt road we lived on to part of our parcel over there.
But it was a good time to be moving in and nesting: the weather was warm, there was always a nice breeze, and Liz wasn’t that pregnant that she couldn’t do her share of the work. Somewhere or other I have a picture of her at eight months, standing on the roof of our front porch scraping paint off our bedroom windows. That‘s what she considered to be her share of the work, bless her gloriously enormous belly.
And come September, on Labor Day, we had our daughter.
The night before Emmie showed up, Bryan and his wife Debbie took us to see The Firesign Theatre and John Klemmer up in Boulder, and the usherette asked Liz when she was due.
That went over really well.
I always liked to think it was Firesign Theatre that actually induced labor: the world is indeed a crazy place to hang out on, and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense till you soak all of it in. Liz thought it was the upright sex we had in the shower the night before. We never asked the Ob/Gyn what it could have been.
So Liz and I became Emmie and us.
I was excited to say the least. On the way back to Morrison (of course) after an evening visit to Liz and Em, I stopped for gas at four places minimum just to tell some total stranger behind the counter I just had a little girl. The episiotomy had ripped Liz a new one, but I had just had a little girl.
We hadn’t known whether we were expecting a boy or a girl, and while I was only slightly disappointed that he was, in fact, a girl I think it was better that way. Guys have this amazing tendency to try to turn their sons into them, and with a little girl the first time around it helped me come to the realization that Emmie was and would always be her own person.
She has never let me down in that respect. Or pretty much any others.
We had named her after my Mom, and it was just as my “big brother” Jimmy Henry told me: “The world could sure use another Emmie Lieberman.”
This little girl had quite a name to live up to, and she has even taken it farther than we could have hoped for.
The first day we brought her home, I bundled up Emmie and walked up the hill behind the house. It was maybe three-hundred feet worth of steps, about seventy-five feet further into the hills, about fifty feet more in altitude. Pushing past eighty-five-hundred feet.
It was the only sizable clearing till you got to the ridge of the first hill behind us. It was where I had my tree, the one that I would sit against and look out over the canyon. We sat up there for a short time, I talked to Em about what kind of animals she would grow to see up there, and how they would become her friends, and (as I had done the first time when I was holding her in the nursery at Denver General) sang “I Am a Child” to her.
“I Am a Child”, “Ripple” and “Harp Tree Lament”.
Introduce her to the Rockies and to Neil and to Jerry and the boys and to Gracie and Paul as early as possible.
But it all had me a bit scared too. Liz kind of picked up on that sooner than I did, a short time later when I went on a wild-ass bender that found me in Morrison way too many days and all too many nights, at the Tabor, and Liz up in the house with Emmie. And our cat Charity. And a nineteen-inch Sony with rabbit ears that picked up maybe four stations.
In hindsight, it was like I knew I had been to a place that I had to leave very much in the past. Over the horizon behind me.
Earlier in the year, I had gone back to Jersey for a planned couple of days that turned out to last three weeks. Liz was actually starting to fear that I would not return, but staying in Phillip Roth Suburbia was the last thing on my mind. While I was there, staying with my sister and brother-in-law and nephews, touching base with old family friends and childhood comrades, I all of a sudden knew: as much as I had been insisting that Colorado was now home for me, that last visit east confirmed it. In granite. Handed to me out of a burning bush.
That part of my life had been over for six years. I just hadn’t fully come to grips with it.
With Emmie’s arrival came the time to end the second chapter of my life, and that was going to be harder. As much as I wanted to leave Jersey, there were still so many more reasons I didn’t want to leave the Elysian fields of Anhedonia through which I had travelled, having to move back to reality as sweet as it could become.
I don’t know if there was any legal precedent to rely upon, but by that time I thought I would at least be granted every Wednesday night and alternate weekends with the Clydesdales:
I certainly wasn’t that stupid or that far gone or that delusional not to see what I had done to myself.
Shit, some of us would openly admit to it like it was a badge of honor or a testament to testosterone:
“I’m an alcoholic.”
Yeah, like it almost felt empowering to say it out loud. Like you couldn’t give a shit about it, that it didn’t phase you in the least, didn’t worry you, didn’t threaten you, couldn’t kill you.
All those twisty, curving, climbing, snow-covered roads I mentioned? I can remember all those times driving over them after the bar had closed ….
No, it’s not that I remember driving over them, but I could remember having been in the Tabor one night and waking up / coming to the next morning in my driveway with a couple of feet of snow around the car that wasn’t there the night before when I drove down to Morrison but nothing in between. The next thing I could remember after lifting my head up off the steering wheel was waking up / coming to in my bed and maybe, just maybe having taken off my coat and boots.
So I was young and invincible. If the beer and the roads hadn’t gotten to me, I must have been. In-fucking-vincible. Un-g——-d-touchable. Able to leap tall mountains in a single stumble.
I must have been alright. All right.
Liz obviously felt otherwise.
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