I have plants in my garden that I don’t have names for. I saw a stalk that might be a Yucca this morning. It was leaning in the direction of the wild roses, almost hidden by the brambles next to the butterfly bush. Eden was wild. My dogs are wild. If I’d had children, they would have been wild – like I was. Wild and free, but also frightened and ashamed. I was all those things, but I never realized I was good. I tried to tame my wild hair. Tame my dreams. Tame my desires. When I couldn’t do that, I just ran. I let my hair grown long and curly. I stopped looking into mirrors. I stopped looking back. Home disappeared. I disappeared. I was only a memory and my friends and family remembered a very different person than the one I became when I let myself be wild. Fear was replaced by resignation and shame by autonomy that times became apathy. I became as invisible to the people around me as the wind. I became as transparent as water. One day flowed into the next. I drifted further and further away from what was safe and sane. I was truly wild and I could lie spread eagle in the rocks next to the Rio Grande and disappear.
I put on two pair of socks and three pair of sweat pants and took Arlo for his pre-dawn walk. It was 3 degrees. Arlo is built for that kind of weather. My lips froze. When we got back I filled my backpack with the things I thought I would need at the dog show and dressed like the handlers I had seen on TV – dark colors to show off the white dog, sensible shoes, hair tied back so it didn’t fly around and distract the judges or the dog. I loaded the jeep with dog, crate and backpack and headed to Point of Rocks.
When I arrived there were dogs everywhere. All of the handlers looked the same. They had big hair – like my Aunt Gladys – they wore spandex pants and pullovers with pictures of Samoyeds embroidered on them. They were all named Carol or Judy. With the help of two volunteers I managed to get Arlo registered for the show. They gave me an armband with a number 12 on it.
“Put this around your left arm. You can take your dog into the judging area so he can get used to it. Have fun!”
For the next two hours Arlo and I walked, trotted, and stacked our little hearts out. Once I tried to leave the ring and Marge (Arlo’s breeder) screamed at me “Get back in there. You can’t leave until you are dismissed.” I obeyed. Marge is quite a commanding presence. That day she was wearing white, fluffy earmuffs that looked like they had been made from a badly behaved Samoyed.
Marge had thirty minutes to puff and fluff Arlo before the judging began – combing and brushing – talking a mile a minute. Arlo took it all much better than I did.
“Number 12 to the ring. Number 12 to the ring.”
“Oh my God. We’re number 12, Arlo.”
Marge lifted Arlo from the table and I made my way awkwardly to the ring, fumbling to secure my armband with a rubber band while guiding Arlo through an obstacle course of dogs and bitches.
“Here we go, Arlo. Just do whatever that dog in front of you does.”
We lived at 425 Sharp Street in a development called Eastern Park. My life was within “walking distance”. That meant the Laundromat and Food Town on Virginia Beach Boulevard. That meant Princess Ann Plaza, Plaza Lanes Bowling Alley and Kings Department Store about a mile east – also on Virginia Beach Boulevard.
Everything with a mile
Placed within walking distance
Close to home
Calling me with bargains and fast food
Braving the traffic on the feeder road
Walking where there were no sidewalks
Buying things I could not afford
To adorn a life that was too poor too young
No churches on the highway
Just the fast moving traffic
Whizzing past the walking girls
It was on one of those many angry long walks around Washngton DC that he first talked about The Iracibles. According to him, the eighteen abstract artists hatched their plan to reject the Museum of Modern Art exhibition American Painting Today-1950 while walking together around Manhattan. I’ve no doubt he believed he was following in their footsteps as he led me on those forced marches from DuPont Circle to Tenleytown and from the Mall to the Palisades. He walked fast. His motorcycle books made clicking sounds on the sidewalks.
He was the embodiment of the word irascible. He wore one expression – a scowl.
In the decades since those aimless walks I’ve wondered many times why I followed. I suppose it was a loneliness that made even an angry companion better than no companion at all.
I’m grateful he eventually walked out of my life leaving me to find my own path.
I have been lost many times but the most memorable and humbling was the time I led my husband John and two good friends on a forced march in the wrong direction across an island in the Strait of Georgia between Vancouver Island and mainland British Columbia.
The day had begun splendidly. We departed downtown Vancouver on our private charter looking forward to a full day of salmon fishing followed by a peaceful night in our private seaside cabin on Gabriola Island. Sadly the day went down hill from there. The fishing was poor, the boat was cramped and the lunch was unappetizing. By the time we docked at Gabriola we were all in foul moods.
The captain pointed out our accommodations and gave us directions to a spot on the other side of the island where we could get supper. I listened carefully – or I thought I did. I started off on an unmarked trail across the rocky terrain. An hour later it was obvious to everyone but me I’d gotten the directions wrong but I insisted I was right and kept walking. The others followed. We walked for another hour and finally – by luck not by my navigational skills – happened upon our destination.
It was a sullen dinner followed by a silent walk back to our cabin with me bringing up the rear.
I awoke on this first day of the New Year thinking of all the places I’ve walked. I’ve left my footprints on islands and mountains and beaches and back roads. I’ve taken some walks alone, some with loved ones and others with strangers who became friends. I’ve been lost many times but seldom admitted it.
Today I’ll walk on the National Mall with my three Samoyeds (two freshly bathed and one woefully in need of grooming) my husband who is slowly recovering from a ruptured disk (though he’s too superstitious to admit it) and dozens of friends with their four legged friends. It’s a tradition and traditions keep us moving forward.
It’s a day for resolutions – another tradition – and I resolve to return to the blank page and fill it with stories about the walks I’ve taken. I invite you to come along with me as I retrace the steps and memories of a lifetime.
I have left the comfort of a full time job and entered the land of the self-employed or retired or unemployed – depending upon my attitude at the moment. I changed the status on my FaceBook page from Executive Vice President to “Serial Memoirist, Poet and Novelist” and it felt wonderful.
When I asked a writer I respect immensely for some encouraging words as I embark on this new adventure this is what she told me:
Use the best part of every day (whatever that is for you) to write. Inviolate time. No excuses. Do this M-F. And get in a good writing group and meet those deadlines! XXOO.
First priority: I need a good writing group in the DC area. I welcome all advice. This is uncharterd territory for me.
In this dry place
where cow skulls grin from restaurant walls
skeletons dance in the gift shop of the Chimayo Sanctuario
and lovers leap from the Gorge Bridge
Death feels close and friendly
In this dry place
where Duende hides among red and green chilies
and the devil dances with sequin skirted Marias
I fear living more than dying
In this dry place
I sleep too deeply
and awake from dreams of rivers and wombs
of waterfalls and falls from grace
I dream of walls without gates
and small dogs thrown from high porches.
In this dry place
that summons chaos and phantoms
that hides beauty behind a garish mask
and puts miles and miles between here and yonder
only death is nearby
And she asks again
Which breath were you born on?
Which breath will you die on?
It was a place of barefooted children with empty bellies and mongrel dogs that snarled.
It was a place of water moccasins that hid under mimosa trees and crabs that clung to the wooden handled dip net that left splinters in my palms.
It was a place where the sun heated the clods of earth pushed aside by the road scraper. Where the names on the stones in the Foreman graveyard where worn away beyond reading so Addie and I were left to re-christen our ancestors who had been dead for a long time. Caleb. Minnie. Grover
It was a place where our refreshment came in cold glass bottles from the ice bin in the store at the end of the road. Nehi. Orange Crush. Dr. Pepper.
It was a place where grandmama spit into a Luzianne coffee can and granddaddy dozed over his latest issue of The Grit while the wisteria choked the trees in the side yard.
It was a place where the carpets were worn out, the people were worn
out and the piano was out of tune.
Daddy rolled the old Ford – three times – on the curvy road between Belhaven and Pantego. He walked away without a scratch, Harold Ray escaped with just a broken arm, but the Ford was history. Daddy lost his driver’s license – again – and he had to bum rides to work with Uncle Roswell. He dropped Daddy off at the REA before driving on to Ambrose Barber Shop. Uncle Roswell was Belhaven’s only barber. He was also the mayor, a deacon at Bethel Methodist Church and a successful tobacco farmer. He thought Daddy was lazy and told him so at every opportunity. How Daddy must have suffered – his 6’ 4” frame folded into the cramped passenger seat of Uncle Roswell’s Renault for the 7 mile ride from Pungo Creek to Belhaven. I can hear the silence. Daddy tolerated the ride in because he didn’t have a choice but he refused to ride home with Uncle Roswell. First he couldn’t stand the smell of the hair oil and cologne that clung to Uncle Roswell after a day in the barbershop. Second (and most important) Daddy wanted to stop off at the pool hall for a drink before heading home and Uncle Roswell – a teetotaler – wouldn’t have it. Daddy – always resourceful when it came drinking –found a solution. He enlisted Will Davis – the owner of Belhaven’s one and only taxicab – to pick him up at the pool hall and drive him home every night. Some nights Will would honk the horn and Daddy would call for us to come out. Addie, Willis and I would run out barefooted and crawl into the taxi. Then we would go for a ride. My sister and I in the backseat – my baby brother up front between Daddy and Will. We’d leave Mama on the backporch with her hands on her hips, shaking her head and yelling that our dinner getting cold. Off we would go – over the bridge, to Letha’s Log Cabin where Daddy would get beers for himself and Will. Next stop Sidney Cross Roads where Addie and I would run inside to get ice cream. Chocolate for Addie, Strawberry for Willis and Vanilla for me. Will would ride us around – up and down the dark, dusty roads that snaked through our part of Beaufort County. Daddy and Will would drink their beers and laugh and talk together. Will was black and Daddy was a cracker for sure – but on those long nocturnal ramblings they were as close as brothers. After a while, Addie and I would curl up in Will’s backseat and fall asleep to the comfortable sound of their laughter and the smell of their cigarettes.