Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wholesome Land

"We get free parking at the hotel. We just need to tip the valet." Jesse reminded me.
Tip? Somehow the word triggered a wild thought, "Are they wearing G-strings?"
"Absolutely not!" Jesse used the tone that left me no wiggle room, but I couldn't stop. I went on, "Where am I going to stuff all those dollar bills then?"
"Do not talk like that when we're there. I will be so embarrassed." She rolled her eyes and shook her head at the same time. Since when she's the good girl?
"And no F word, no goddammit, no cussing while down there. Remember: we are going to the Bible Belt." She added.

I'm already not liking this pending trip much--not that I cuss often. I just don't want to walk on ice all the time while there. Sometimes my mouth has its own idea of what to blurt out aloud. Plus, it's 95 degrees there with 69% humidity, and this is only the beginning of June.

She also suggested a show we should see with the word "shepherd" in the title. I told her I wasn't going to travel two thousand miles to see a show of gospel music. The phrase "wholesome fun" sounds alarmingly unfun to me.

I gave another serious consideration to the dress I'm going to wear for the event: collarless, sleeveless summer dress with big flower-and-leaf design all over, and a neckline that doesn't really say "I'm a nice Catholic girl" either. I don't want to cause any heart attacks with it--one memorial is already too much. I could hear them whisper to each other now: Look at that woman from California! And look they all will, because I will have to sit up front to "man" the laptop and TV for the video showing.

Let them gasp, I decided. I'm doing this for Jesse, who told everyone to dress colorfully for the occasion since Wes, Missouri born and raised, loved color. The idea didn't go well with folks back in his hometown, who had a hard time understanding the concept of "celebration of life" in Jesse's email. They solemnly reminded her that this was a memorial, not a celebration.

We were going home when the G-string conversation occurred, after spending an afternoon at Monterey, where Wes' ashes were scattered. She took a panorama view with her video camera of the bench on which they often used to sit, the ocean waves crashing on the rocks, and the golf course; but the sun wasn't cooperating and not a single ray was beaming down when we got there. It was normal for Monterey, where it's always grey, cold and overcast, but we were hoping Wes would pull some strings up there and perform a small miracle.

To my relief, and sadness that followed, I didn't see any ashes among the ice plants by the bench. I always hear stories of wandering spirits that couldn't rest until their earthly remains are properly buried. What about spirits of cremated remains that are scattered about? How are they going to find peace? Do we imagine the unsettling souls because our own spirits need to be comforted after a loved one departed? I will make this the number one question to ask of the good folks at the Bible Belt.

Better get ready, Branson--California girls coming your way in two weeks. It's hard to predict which party will be more surprised.

                                                       *     *     *

You know you're not in California anymore when you see this sign at the entrance of the lady's room at Denver airport:
I shall hate to imagine what will be flying about in the event of a tornado attack.

But I do like the Gulliver's Travels inspired, cereal-bowl-and-donut shaped, mysterious airport construction:

Our hotel room overlooks the river that meanders around the city:
And I would enjoy the serene view even more if it wasn't 95 to 100 degrees outside everyday.

This bridge hides a dark history: Two black families moved into the city in the 50s. One of the men of the families was found hanging from the bridge one day. The other family moved out soon after. It hurts me in the chest every time I think about it. I'd like to think we have progressed admirably, if not quickly, since that time.

BBQ in Missouri style: Five different types of sauce and a whole roll of paper towels:

If a gun hanging in a holster won't make you work your hardest in the office, I don't know what will:
It was actually in someone's office.

Shoji Tabuchi's theater looks great at night outside:

But it's practically shabby comparing to it's restrooms inside:
You can literally entertain your most distinguished guests here.

Baldnobbers was the first show in Branson and the hillbillies were truly hilarious:
But if you ask anybody in Branson you will be told that they are Arkansans.

I found out later Wes's brothers were planning on putting on bucktooth and overalls to welcome us at the airport, simply because I had asked Jesse "Are they all hillbillies in Branson?" Too bad they didn't go with the plan, but the visual stayed.

In my opinion, this is Branson's most beautiful attraction--rocky landscape:
It's everywhere and it's free, thanks to the Ozark Mountains.

I'm glad to have a chance to meet Wes' family and friends, all cordial, funny and nice people. This is the house in which the brothers grew up:

Every one felt as if he/she knew Wes much better after the stories being told at the memorial. I will never forget the tales of his tenacity and excellence for sports, his rowdy teenage years (repeatedly wrecking his father's car, beer cans falling out of the car every time he opened the car door, etc.) his deep belly laughs, his Vietnam War enlistment, his love for animals (my dog would jump onto his lap from my arms if he was near) We all laughed and cried. Jesse said Wes was there with us, and I believed her. 
We squeezed four shows, a boat ride, and an amusement park outing in addition to the preparation leading up to the memorial in the six-day travel. Jesse handled the grieving widow role fairly well despite breaking down during her turn of the speech.

  Aside from a few stares, most people looked at me as if I were a normal human being. They are doing the best they can to be a diverse community and here's a great example:
You can get your Hispanic and Asian fix in one sitting.

The hotel valet asked me if he could go to California with me, not that I had some secret rendezvous with him (or anybody), but he couldn't stand the heat. He had my sympathy; and in case you're wondering--no, I didn't take him with me. It would've been scandalous for them.

After enduring Jesse's neurotic breakdowns, over-packed luggage, losing and finding stuff all over the place all of the time, irritability and constant threats to cry over the minutest affairs, I think we'll stick to short day-trip for now until I'm recovered from this one.

You will be proud to know that not once did I say the F or G or S word while in Branson. Not when anybody could hear me anyway.

(RIP, Wes.) 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Remember me

He turned the engine off and exhaled quietly. The day has been painfully long. He closed his eyes but couldn't get the faces out of his mind, some of them tearful. He rubbed his temples in futile attempt to ease the tension he felt all day.

They worked there just as long as, if not longer than, he did. Some asked him, "What am I going to do? This is the only income we have, and we have a house, the kids are still in school..." He lowered his head and said he was very sorry. They understood he was only performing his duty. The company wasn't profitable and this was the necessary next step. The despair in their eyes will haunt him for a very long time. It's hard to choose which side of the desk he'd rather be sitting.

But the day wasn't finished, and he wasn't sure if he was ready to go in and face a despair of his own.

He heard music, not the sound of TV, when he walked into the house. Is she back in the fog land, or did she just want something different tonight? He wasn't sure. He couldn't tell after the illness--not like before.

"Hi honey." He checked her face before kissing her. Was the short hesitation a sign of the onset of regression, or was it merely his imagination?

"Hi, how was your day?" She smiled her angelic smile and asked. He wondered if she remembered what he did for a living. 

"It was unbelievably horrific. The layoff finally happened, and all day I had to tell people they didn't have a job anymore. You shoud've seen their faces." He poured a glass of Jack Daniel. Something stronger than wine was needed tonight.

"Layoff? Why?" She asked and immediately looked guilty bouncing back her glance at him. How could she recall? It has been two weeks since he told her about the state of the company and what could happen, but it might as well be a hundred years for her. It wasn't her fault, he wanted to tell her. It was the cursed bacteria that destroyed her brain a year ago. He didn't blame her, but he couldn't deal with it either. Not after a day like today. It's time.

He put the glass down and held her shoulders gently.

"Honey, I'm tired and I can't do this anymore. I tried, but I have my limits. And I hate to be the source of your unhappiness, or guilt. They eat me up inside. I think I need to spend the night at my parents'."

Her lips trembled, but not a word came out. How she begged heaven and earth to reverse the damages, but they both knew it was impossible. She couldn't blame him for leaving, and couldn't ask him if he would ever come back. She could see the weight on his back as he ascended the stairs, and feel the pain as deep as her own. The sad part is, by tomorrow, or day after that, she will be happy as can be. None of these will remain with her for long.

Her eternal bliss came with the price of his never ending Ground Hog Day.

The duffel bag sat on the bed and he next to it. He imagined this moment a few times before, when things became too happy and all so temporary, when he had to repeat things to her that he shouldn't have to--his favorite brand of cereal, TV show, or restaurant. At first it felt like a new romance that was fresh and exciting. It soon got old and tiresome. He held on for the love for her. He will forever love and remember her. He's not sure, though, how long she will remember him.

Remember him? He stood up suddenly. The doctor said she would have no short-term memory. Things and people that have been in her life for long period of time, such as since childhood, should be fine. So how could she still know who he was? Theirs was not a long-term love affair, and yet, she never forgot him, however doubtful he was at times. Did his effort finally pay off? Could it be that her love for him had found a way? He had taken it for granted that she would remember him, and she did. Maybe it's not his charm, but her love for him was stronger than he had realized.

The duffel bag went back to the closet, items emptied out. It won't be easy, he knew, but he loves her and she loves him. That's more than enough for him. If love can find its way to stay, so can he.


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