At the start of the second week of April of 1978 she called her sister in Denver to come and get her. She and Emmie were flying out to California, to her folks place in Milpitas. She told me when I woke up / came to one morning shortly after her sister had already left her place in north central Denver for Deermont.
Time stood still. I had no idea how long it would be before Frannie made it up there, how long I would have to talk Liz out of it, how much longer I would have to try even harder to talk her out of it a second time.
And as time stood still the minutes passed by more quickly than I could have ever imagined. I just remained emotionally paralyzed.
I wanted to hold Emmie as close as I could once I realized that I wasn’t sure when I’d be able to do it again.
And “when” could easily and conceivably have turned into “if”.
I just assumed (or maybe had self-servingly decided) that it was just going to be temporary. Maybe after a couple of weeks or so Liz would decide that I was right, that everything would work out, that I loved her and Emmie, that we were a family, yada yada yada, and every other manner of begging known to mankind.
Try as I might, I can’t recall if Liz wanted me to hold Emmie even when it was time to kiss her …
Was that what I was going to be doing?
All I could think was it was going to be that final and all I could believe was that it couldn’t be.
I asked Liz how long she was going for, and the “I don’t know” answer sounded more like “I haven’t decided” but felt more like she had.
I felt like there was a decision made she didn’t want to tell me and I wouldn’t want to hear and she knew it.
If she would have seemed at the very least pissed, that might have made it easier.
But it was like she felt nothing, or even worse, felt determined. Like she felt stronger than even she knew she could be.
I was too numb to feel how cold our home had gotten.
Too numb to let it all sink in.
My wife and my daughter were leaving me.
I told Liz that I could fly out to California in a month.
She said that “we’d see”.
Or maybe it was that she would see.
It was not my decision to either make or help her reach.
It had been my decisions bringing us to that morning.
I had given up my right to make any of the decisions from that point on.
I gave Emmie a kiss when they left, tried to give one to Liz.
Told her I loved her. Loved her and Emmie and that I’d come out in a month.
Liz didn’t respond.
She just said bye.
And they were gone.
I have never – before or since that moment – heard such a deafening silence.
There was always the canyon breeze to be heard through the conifers.
There was always the dreamy wisps of a classic late ’60s album floating on that breeze.
There was always the bark of a dog welcoming or chasing away a deer.
A Jeep trying to works its way over the boulders heading up a trail behind a neighbor’s home.
A motorcycle heading down the canyon, a school bus heading up.
On the right day, I could swear I heard the clouds floating by slowly, barely noticeably, wanting to make conversation with me.
On the worst of them, there was only the pounding of my heart.
Right then, there was nothing.
I don’t know how long it took me to have my first actual, complete thought.
That wasn’t like me at all. My mind never stops throwing out something to bounce around inside my head. Even though I can only say one thing at a time, there’s always a dozen or so other things fighting for their place in line to follow.
Always have been like that. Still am.
But I don’t know that I could even think at the time. And I couldn’t feel.
And that sounds like a living death to me.
If I felt anything at the time, that was probably it.
’cause that’s all that I heard.
Not even the screaming of my heart.
I started thinking about Bryan and a unexpected visit he made to our house early one morning a month or so before. He was in a perfectly natural stupor: not hung over, not crashing or strung out, not half asleep. Mindfucked.
The night before (or much earlier that morning) Bill had driven up to Bryan and Debbie’s house, where Bill and Debbie were crashing until they could get the money together to get their own place. And buy their own food. And gas. Cigarettes. Beer. Pads. Dog food. All the necessities and then some.
Trying to back his truck up the driveway, Bill missed it entirely and ended up with his rear wheels buried in the mud of the culvert that ran along the road, the front end of his truck sticking out a good ten feet into the middle of a dirt road at least twenty-five miles from the nearest street lamp, a few hundred yards from any neighbor’s porch light, right at the end of the curve leading to Bryan’s one-bedroom home.
It was 3AM and Bill decided he needed Bryan to use his 4WD 1947 Jeep Willys to pull the truck out of the ditch. Right then. Before anyone hit it, like anybody who hadn’t just closed down a bar would be out there at three o’clock in the fucking morning.
Bryan told him to wait until morning. He was asleep, had been asleep, was enjoying his sleep and planned on going back to sleep and staying asleep until he didn’t feel like it any more.
Bill went through the same story about the truck, Bryan told him to get the fuck out of his and Debbie’s room and not to make any noise.
Bill went out into the living room, reached under the mattress his wife Debbie had earlier spread out on the floor and retrieved the Ruger Blackhawk Single Action .357 Magnum that I had loaned him.
He fired off a shot into a massive log that Bryan and Debbie used as a TV stand.
Instantaneous lucidity led Bryan to grabbing his shotgun, figuring Bill was beyond the point of discussing things rationally. Hell, he had been beyond that point before he ditched his truck. He was likely beyond the point of even reasonable discussion.
Bryan feared the worst, and he fully expected that things were just going down hill from there.
He walked into the living room and was greeted by Bill’s shit-eating grin and eight-sheets-to-the-wind cackle:
“I knew that would wake you up! Got your attention now, didn’t I?”
And he just kept laughing.
“Come on, let’s get my fucking truck out of the ditch before someone wrecks it,” ignoring the thought that he had already done that himself.
And let’s back up a bit here:
remember the part about Bill and Debbie crashing up at Bryan and Debbie’s one bedroom home until they could get the money together to get their own place, and buy their own food, and gas, and cigarettes and beer?
In discussing the matter, Bryan and I agreed that the sad thing about it all, and in a sense the most infuriating, was that after all Bryan and his wife had done for Bill and his wife – asking for nothing in return (which was Bryan’s style) – that the only way Bill figured he could get Bryan to even listen to him was to let loose with a hand-held cannon in the fucking house at three o’clock in the morning.
And it wasn’t even his revolver or his bullet.
Bill actually thought to do that, figured it made perfectly good sense, and then laughed about it.
And then figured Bryan would put on some clothes and grab the chains.
Whatever was still working between Bill’s ears was wildly out of both touch and control.
I don’t think I ever would have even conceived of the possibility of those kind of actions crossing my mind, but when I had a good buzz going and a bad mood rolling, I had a temper. Pretty bad at times. And it felt good to vent, so I often didn’t try to contain that temper until it had served its sickening purpose.
Of course, it was never directed at the actual cause of the anger. Whenever is it from a drunk twenty-six year old husband.
But there were too many times when it wasn’t related to or directed at anyone in particular.
Or anyone at all.
It was just there from way back when, that time somebody did something or… whatever.
More liberating than comforting, seeing as how whatever would set it off to begin with never left the theater once the curtain went down and the houselights up. It just hung around waiting for the evening show.
And I started to understand why Liz had left.
It was simply a matter of time before she or Emmie stepped in the middle of the crossfire between my laid-back persona and my simmering suffering.
She knew better than even I did how much I was drinking and how much anger I had buried over the years deep down there with the hurt, with the loneliness, with the fear, with the turmoil. Even with a few feet of barley malt and hops insulation filling that hole and the love I had for her and Emmie topping it off like a bed of lilies and lilacs, there was still trouble brewing from way down inside there.
God created volcanoes with the sole purpose of having them erupt at one point or another. They’d rumble, they’d belch a few times, and then they would rearrange the landscape. Just releasing some pressure, actually.
Liz had seen beyond and through the worst of my demons and found someone to love. And she had done it with all her heart.
But Liz and I had become Emmie and us.
And all the protective strength she had below her quiet, gentle, almost fragile surface had, for lack of a better word, erupted.
Bill and Debbie were out of Bryan and Debbie’s house the day after the gunshot.
Liz and Emmie were out of our house after one too many late nights waiting for me to stumble in the doorway.
And I started to fully realize just how wildly out of control and touch I too had become.
I wasn’t Bill, but I wasn’t myself and hadn’t been for years.
It was during the first week after Liz and Em had left when I made some of the most important phone calls my young old life.
The first was to a Family / General Practice doctor over in Evergreen, who I could still swear was named Steve Martin. I had seen that Steve Martin a few years earlier at Red Rocks as the emcee for an evening Mason Williams (“Classical Gas”, head writer for The Smother Brothers) had put together with John Hartford, Doug Kershaw, The Dillards, Mason and Sante Fe Revival… and the Denver Symphony Orchestra.
Well let me tell you, you’ve never lived till you’ve heard live, at the first gently majestic rise of the Rockies, under a starlit sky a performance by John and Doug and the Dillards and Bill Cunningham from Mason’s band trading solos on “Orange Blossom Special” backed by the Denver Symphony Orchestra.
Well, between the acts, Steve Martin would come out and do what was likely the first incarnation of his nationally renowned routines: the fake arrow through his head, the “Wild and Crazy Guy” routine, and balloon animals… and I just thought he was pretty much an asshole and not that funny. I just didn’t get him at the time. And I was waiting for Mason.
But I had called Dr. Steve to make an appointment to discuss going on Antabuse. To stop drinking. So he had the blood and urine tests done to check the good, the bad and the actively revolutionary levels of whatever was in my system, and called me to tell I was cleared for a prescription for Antabuse. If I drank any alcohol, it would make me through up…
… which had never come close to stopping me before. Hell, it was part of the ritual. Beyond having it down to a science, I had transcended the ghastly process into an art form. I could grab a shot of Southern Comfort to bring with me, make it to the crapper in one piece, fold up some towels to sit on, situate myself comfortably with my hair tied back, toss back that shot of Southern Comfort and toss it all back out again seemingly on my own terms.
“Paging the Irishman” Bryan and I used to call it. Calling upon the Guardian Angel of the Holy Porcelain bowl, the beloved St. O’rrrrooooooooouuuuuuurrrrke!!!! so that whole Antabuse strategy probably wasn’t going to cut it so I made the second call.
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