“…There is the heat of Love,
the pulsing rush of Longing,
the lover’s whisper,
magic to make
the sanest man
- Homer - The Iliad
The Nine Week Long Goodbye
March 6, 1992 – May 2, 1992
Bare skin to bare skin.
And time slowly running out for both of us.
Nine weeks with Joy.
Nine weeks of Joy.
That's all we had there at the very end.
… wants ... desires ... needs ... and a driving, wanton instinct to satiate them, passions
fanned hotter and higher by the artificial limit of time imposed upon
us and what little time we had left together. I guess we were
both making up for lost time, for what we hadn’t had in our lives, and
trying to just lose ourselves in each other in what time we had left to
be together. We were trying to lose ourselves in each other ... we were trying hard.
Nine weeks spent with each other when we’d wasted a year and a half that we could have had
together, a year and a half that we could have shared what we had to
share, a year and a half that we could have used to build something together.
Nine weeks together when I’d wasted a year and a half
that I could have had with Joy, a year and a half that I could have shared what
I had to share. In the past few weeks that I’d spent with Joy … I’d
lived more, lost myself deeper, and felt more alive than I’d felt at
any point in the year and a half before that.
This time spent with Joy I felt like I was living, really living ...
... instead of just existing ...
… instead of babysitting.
was unbridled, unbound; she was a woman not a child. Her
experience and self-confidence in her own body were something that I’d
missed in a lover and it was something that I’d not had in a long time
… years in fact … not since all the way back to Debby Lee that first year at Hinds. Being
with Joy, in her bed, had taught me that I had been looking for the
wrong things in life, looking for the wrong things in a
relationship. Being with Joy had taught me that I’d been really
stupid the last year and a half which is easy to do when you're doing all the giving and someone else is doing all the taking.
Don't get involved with emotionally defective people.
can't save everyone ... chances are good you probably can't even save
yourself so don't waste time and effort on emotionally defective people who couldn't figure
out how to be whole on their own. Don't take on people who are
works in progress or that you think will be good personal projects ... don't think you can fix them because
they might not be broken. What you see, what you get, might be
all that you get and life is just too short to spend wasting time with
habitual losers. Katrice had taught me that ... Katrice had taught me an important
lesson in the year and a half that I’d been with her and Joy had taught
me an important lesson in these past few weeks that I’d been with her.
The funny thing is that both of those lessons were the same lesson.
Katrice left me I’d added another rule to my list of rules by which I
lived my life: it isn’t my job to carry you through life rather it’s
your job to try to keep up with me. After Katrice I was through
babysitting. I was through carrying other people's emotional
baggage like I was some kind of pack mule.
It isn’t my job to carry you through life rather it’s
your job to try to keep up with me.
carved that new rule in stone, all by itself, and set it aside from the other
set of rules that I’d picked up the broken pieces and glued back
together because that was the one rule I never, ever intended to break
ever again. If you weren’t my equal, if you couldn’t keep up with
me then I had no interest in wasting time with you. If you
couldn't stand by my side as an equal then I was going to leave you in
the dust. Life was too
short to waste time with undeserving people who made empty promises and never delivered. I’d learned that
lesson once before, way back in 1986 with Pam and then in February and
March of 1992 I’d learned that lesson again with Katrice … the hard
way. Now I’d spent the last two weeks of my life losing myself
in Joy, trying to make sense of the last year and a half of my life and
trying to get on with my life.
The dark clothes were back.
The leather jacket was back.
The Cowboy hat was back.
The harness boots were back.
The beard was back, trimmed neat and growing in nicely.
The bad habits were back and doing fine at keeping me company and well entertained.
Drinking whiskey ... Man, I'd missed the whiskey.
Fast cars ... really fast cars.
Dancing on pedals and rowing through gears.
Fast motorcycles ... really fast motorcycles.
12,500 rpm redline.
Riding fast and hard.
Staying up all night.
Going from party to class as the sun comes up.
D.A.D. singing "I'm sleeping my day away." somewhere in the background.
Classes were going well.
I was going to graduate from college in August.
After five long years I was finally going to graduate from college.
I was going to find a real job and give up all of the part-time crap jobs that I was working.
I was going to make some serious money.
I was going to do something with my life, something real, something worthwhile, something epic.
All the bullshit was about to be over.
At long last I was about to be free.
I felt good.
I felt really good.
Better than I’d felt in a year and a half.
It had taken me a week from the day Katrice walked out on me for me to find myself again.
To look at myself in the mirror.
To remember who I was before I had become someone that someone else had wanted me to be.
To play by my rules ... again.
I was back.
The real me.
I was back!
Oh, man, was I back ... and Joy
had been an important part of that. In the week following my last meeting with Katrice, Joy had ministered to my
needs, my wants, my desires. Her body had become a temple that I sojourned to and that I
a temple where I could
both lose myself and find myself ... in her ... in us. It was
primal, basic, and so hedonistic. Joy was a blazing phoenix,
cauterizing my broken heart, tempering my tired, jaded soul with the
her all-consuming passions and we threw ourselves into each other with
an abandon I’d not had ... not experienced ... in years.
It felt good, so damn good, to lose myself in someone else ... to be able to lose myself in someone else.
was two inches taller than I was. There was nothing dainty about
Joy; she was Amazon from head to toe and she was just as strong as I
was. Joy could be intimidating to other men. I never
worried about taking advantage of Joy, I worried about getting taken
advantage of by Joy. Joy was all woman and she wasn’t afraid to
show that or prove that. Joy had no fears, no reserve in asking for what she
wanted or telling me her wants, her desires or her needs. She
expected to both serve and be served, on a whim, on a wish, at her
beck and call and on demand. Joy expected the same of me and I obliged. Her bed
may have been in her bedroom but her whole house was a naked playground.
last two weeks she had wrapped me in her blazing heat, seared me, and
burned me to ash. For two weeks Joy had taken me to the edge of
my desires in her arms, with her legs wrapped around me, her body
burning hot, sweat, musk, perfume, the smell of cigarettes, the taste
of whiskey on her hot breath, her molten desire, taking me over the
edge and bringing me back through the process of white hot
creation. Each time I’d been reborn the next morning, awakening,
tired and rested, shattered and complete, with her in my arms, in her
bed, looking forward to falling back into her smoldering coals, fanning
those coals back into soaring fires again, to rising together upward to
oblivion, getting turned to ash, burned back to nothing, falling back
to the ground, to losing myself and being reborn again in her embrace.
weeks since Katrice had walked out on me ... on us ... and here, with
Joy, spending time with Joy, skin on skin, two as one, and I was
forgetting Katrice ... forgetting the time that I'd spent with her ...
bit by bit.
Katrice was becoming dust.
Day by day.
Night by night.
Nights with Joy were pure voodoo.
taboo ad hoc pagan rituals of the flesh and the soul illuminated
by flickering candlelight across a strata of incense and cigarette
smoke and the essence of handrolled.
Her sitting atop me, two as one, each of us moving to the rhythm of the other.
My fingertips on her thigh.
Hot skin on hot skin.
Our shadows dancing on the wall.
Contorted heiroglyphs in motion.
Joy taking lead.
Writhing on top of me.
Pinning me under her hips.
REO Speedwagon's "Keep on Loving You" playing in the background on the stereo.
Her head held back.
Her long hair dangling across her shoulders as she arched her back.
Breasts jutting out.
Her nipples erect.
The sounds she made.
Her breath coming hard and fast.
Her nails raking my chest.
Sometimes hard enough to hurt.
Being with Joy was voodoo.
Walking around her house naked as the day we were born.
Incense and cigarette smoke.
Hedonism and whiskey.
Colored candles lit in a dark room.
Melted wax and lingerie.
Cigarette butts and ashes.
Heavy black drapes pulled shut.
Safety pins holding them tight.
Shadows cast upon her bedroom walls.
Caricatures of us ... like moving paintings on a cave wall.
Joy loved Santana, she had his entire collection on vinyl.
Santana was music made for fucking, she whispered.
Her hot lips next to my ear.
Guitars screaming, drums pounding and candles flickering.
Her bare skin against my bare skin.
Sweat and love.
Listening to Santana’s “Abraxas” on vinyl.
“Black Magic Woman”
got a black magic woman got me so blind
I can't see that she's a black
She's tryin' to make a devil out of me."
Incense and musk.
The smell of her skin.
Perfume and sweat.
Her tongue wrapped around mine.
Her hot breath mixed with mine.
The sounds her bed made.
Brass headboard against old wood.
The drumbeat of our shared passion.
The sounds she made.
The words she cried out.
Her body shuddering under mine.
Joy, naked, straddling me.
Two still one.
Neat trick that, rolling together.
My knees brought up, bent behind her.
A back rest.
Catching our breath.
Her leaning back against my legs.
The jagged scar on her stomach.
I trace it with my fingertip.
Sweat on her skin.
A drop from her brow to my chest.
She hangs her head back, mouth open.
Candlelight on her ink.
Making colors dance.
She lowers her head.
Her eyes slowly open.
Like ancient stone doors moving aside.
Looking at me.
Candlelight in her eyes.
Flickering across her ink.
Colors moving on her arm.
Joy breathes deep.
Running her hands through her long raven hair.
her hands down her chest.
Slowly, over her breasts, her spread fingers drawing over her nipples.
Slowly down her stomach.
Her hands over her scar, over
her thighs, down onto my stomach, leaning over, putting her weight on me.
Her hands running slowly up my chest until she
was supporting herself over me, her hair draping around me, staring at
me, eye to eye, nose to nose.
A sultry smile, a quick kiss before she rose up again to sit there, on top of me.
Two still one.
handing her the bottle of Jack from the bedside stand, she taking a
swig then leaning forward again, our lips touch, part, her tongue
against mine, the taste of whiskey, my hands running across her hot,
sweaty bare skin.
Down her back.
Across her bottom.
Hot Mississippi night.
The slight breeze of the overhead fan and the cool roar of the laboring antique General Electric window unit.
Witchy eyes cut sultry at me.
She holds the bottle of Jack to her bare breasts, leans her head back and closes her eyes.
The candlelight playing over the ink on her arm.
Colors dance on her skin.
The scar that started above her pubic hair.
An imperfect rip across her perfect body.
sultry look as she hands me the bottle of Jack and I take a long
Fire rushes down my throat, burns below.
Being with Joy, like this, is like whiskey.
It's a good burn.
It will consume you.
You can get drunk on a woman like Joy.
Two as one.
She's had her moment.
I've yet to have mine.
I close my
eyes and lose myself in the moment.
So much better than ...
With someone else.
The difference between bedding a woman ...
... and bedding a girl.
“You’re not going to sleep on me, are you, Cowboy?” she whispers.
smile and slowly shake my head then put the bottle back on the bedside
stand. I roll her over under me, quick, hard, catching her by
surprise and not giving her a chance to resist. She gives out a
little cry and laughs and then my head is in the crook of her neck. My lips to her bare skin.
The Rolling Stones.
We've listened to The Rolling Stones a lot ... it's our band of choice when we're together.
"Love is Strong" plays in the background.
Your love is strong and you're so sweet
You make me hard you make me weak
I wait for you until the dawn
My mind is ripped my heart is torn
And love is strong and you're so sweet
Your love is bitter it's taken neat
I am still in need of her.
Desire is strong.
Need is strong.
Want is strong.
My arms and hands go under her, pull her
She spreads her legs under me, stretches her arms to
grab the headboard, arches her back under me.
She turns her head,
exposing her neck.
My lips to her nape.
I feel the pulse of the blood rushing through her veins.
Her breathing ... rushing to anticipation.
Bare skin to bare skin.
lips brush her neck, I kiss, I nibble, I nuzzle, I bite … softly.
She goes electric.
Her skin goes rough.
She trembles all over.
My chest hair teases her nipples as she begins
to writhe beneath me.
I move down, find her breasts, my hands, my
mouth, my tongue. Her arms come down from over her head, her
hands find my head, her fingers move through my hair, grip, pull,
direct me where she needs me to be ... to where she wants me to be.
I let her lead me, to show me what she wants, what she needs, what she desires.
pushes me down, slowly but firmly ... she has needs, wants. I move down, find her stomach,
her navel, her waist. She pushes me down, fingers in my hair,
back arched, the sounds she’s making.
She tells me what she wants.
She pushes me down … my lips find her.
The slight breeze of the overhead fan and the cool roar of the laboring antique General Electric window unit.
Candles casting shadows on the wall … contorted like tormented souls in Dante’s book but the only sounds to be heard are hers.
Hot Mississippi night.
The temperature of sex.
The whiskey is doing its magic.
I’m losing myself in her.
I can feel her buildup.
It’s in her fingertips as she grips me.
It’s in the tremors in her legs, in her tightening stomach muscles.
It's in how she moves her feet against my back.
It’s in her breath.
It’s in the way that she whispers what she wants..
It's in how she cries my name in a whisper.
It’s in the hold that her hands have.
It’s in how she pulls my hair with her fingers.
She calls out to me, pleading almost.
She calls out to God.
She’s found her release.
It builds inside her.
She makes a sound I've never heard her make before.
I hold her as she shudders and loses herself in me, her body wracked in deep tremors like a possession gone wrong.
She whispers words too low for me to understand.
hand holds my head even as her legs fold shut around me, her ankles
crossed behind me, her heels resting on my back, rubbing slowly up and down.
She moves under me, arching, twisting.
Her left hand goes up to the headboard, drops down to her head.
She's lost in her release.
I close my eyes
and try to perceive her, I reach out with my other senses to take her
in. I feel her fingers in my hair, grabbing and clutching slowly,
tightly, not letting go of her grip as her body trembles, trembles
again harder. She holds her breath but it comes out as a
suppressed moan fading to a little whine. I hold her, my arms
slid up under the bottom of her thighs and snaked around her waist, my
fingertips to her bare skin.
I hold her in an embrace but I am still.
I will take nothing away from that which is hers to experience and enjoy.
Her body calms.
Ever diminishing waves crashing against her beach.
She opens her eyes.
She says my name in a whisper akin to reverence.
legs release their lock on me and relax, I feel her legs slide down my
back, she’s still crossed at her ankles but she’s relaxed now, still in
my embrace and I in hers.
I move up slightly, get comfortable,
rest my head flat against her groin. My right cheek is flat to
her pubic hair, still holding her in my arms as she strokes my hair
with her fingers.
She whispers my name.
Seared into my life.
Each and every time.
It’s like this each and every time.
is a phoenix and her bed is her nest and for two weeks she shared her
searing flames and her hot flesh with me. For two weeks we forgot
that she was supposed to be leaving. For two weeks we pretended
that the last year and a half had never even happened.
Friday, March 27, 1992
had been two weeks since that morning after and even though Joy had
told me that she hadn’t made up her mind, we
had just agreed to put that out of our minds and have what we’d been
cheated out of for so long. For two weeks it was easy not to think about what
we really needed to talk about, not to think about what was
coming. For two weeks it was easy to pretend that nothing was
going to change, that we had all the time in the world and that what we
had was going to be that way for a long time to come.
weeks to pretend, two weeks to live a fantasy, and then we couldn’t put
it off any more. There was a question that had to be answered and
we'd put off talking about Joy's future for as long as we could.
I knew this.
She knew this.
It was time.
That Friday night I had to work at County
Market, a 4 to 10 shift, and I’d punched out and rode my Interceptor
over to Joy’s house after work. All day in class, all night at
work. I'd thought about her all day long and all night long.
All I wanted to do was to see her.
Smell her skin.
Run my fingers through her hair.
I pulled my Interceptor into the carport around back of her house and parked it next to her Toyota Supra I
let myself in with the spare key she had given me. Joy was sitting there in the middle of the living room
floor ... black bikini panties and a kimono, her hair pulled back into a pony tail
with a piece of leather cord to tie it off. I guess her father
had called her during the day and by the looks of it she had told him
She didn't look happy. Seeing her sitting there, looking up at me, her eyes red from
crying, I thought to myself "this is it.". I put my helmet and
backpack down on the sofa because I guess we both knew it was time
The lights were off.
The candles were lit.
Incense in the air.
A half empty bottle of Jack Daniels on the coffee table.
One already being used.
Joy, sitting on the floor.
A long day at work for her.
She stands and walks up to me.
A long hug.
A deep kiss.
Then I just held her because sometimes you can tell when a woman just needs to be held.
More small talk.
More small talk.
We drank some more.
And then Joy got serious …
About the future.
hours we talked, argued and fought. We wrestled with our
future, with her future, with my future and we’d found that no matter
how we looked at it the outcome was inevitable …
Joy had to leave.
That was what was best for Joy.
talked it out, we drew it out, we discussed it until we had turned it,
turned us, every single way and still there was only one answer that we
could come up with.
Joy had to leave.
there, holding her in my arms, I realized that Joy
had been ready to go home ... to go back home ...
before she ran back into me that night. Cody told me that she had
already made up her
mind, that she was really happy about a chance to go back home and be
with her family once again but now she was having second
thoughts and the reason she was having second thoughts was ... me.
I was the wrench in the gears; seeing me in the Mahogany Bar that
night ... I'd thrown Joy and all of her plans for a loop and she'd
taken two steps back. I didn't know it then but that night, when
she saw me, she'd changed her
plans ... or at least put them on hold until she could figure things
She'd put off something that, before seeing me, had been more
than a sure thing. She had put on hold her pending move just
to see if there was finally a
chance for us.
If there was finally us.
If there could finally be us.
I asked her why she was upset, why she had been crying ... she told me
that she’d talked to her father … that he had
called earlier today and wanted to know if he could drive up with her
sister and her brother-in-law and take Joy
back to Florida and that he had wanted to do that tomorrow. Her
dad was pushing her, she said. Still the same old man, she said.
When he had asked her what had changed to make her need another
month to make up her mind she had told him that something had come up
that she needed to work through ... to figure out. He
wasn't happy with that but Joy told me that she wanted to think about
me, about us, but
she didn’t tell her father that. She just asked him for more time
make up her mind.
Give her a month.
Joy was stalling.
Joy's indecision had got us four more weeks together ... a month left to figure out what we had and where
it was going. What we had was what we had, nothing more. It
was here and now. It was a dream, something we should have acted
on long ago and hadn’t. Now Joy had a chance, a real opportunity
… a second chance at a life that she had missed out on. Who ever gets a second chance in life?
Who ever really gets a second chance?
wasn’t me and if someone had to get that second chance then I couldn’t
think of someone more deserving of it than Joy. Standing
there, holding her, I realized that Joy was holding onto a dream
... one that was already starting to fade and I realized that maybe I
was holding onto that same dream as well. What we had ... it was
too little too late.
“Go home, Joy.” I’d told her as she cried and I held her.
“I want to stay with you. I want this … I want what we have. What we finally have.”
“This ... all of this isn't real, doll. It's just wishful thinking."
She looked up at me, wet eyes.
"How is it just wishful thinking, Cowboy?"
it's a pipe dream and you know it. You’ve got a family, again. You've got second chance and
that's something that very few people ever get a second chance at."
Joy nodded, crying into my shoulder as I held her.
"Don’t you dare throw something like that away
for someone like me. I’m not worth it.”
“Oh, you’re worth it, Cowboy. You’re worth it to me.” she said, tears rolling down her cheeks, her lip trembling.
“You can do better than me, Joy, and you know it.”
“What if I don’t want to do better than you?” she whispered as she cried.
“Don’t settle, Joy. Don’t ever settle. Isn’t that what you’ve been trying to teach me the past few weeks?”
"I'm not settling goddamnit!" Joy teared up and hit me, hard, with both of her fists, twice in my chest. I let her.
"I'm not settling." she cried as she hit me again, hard enough to hurt.
I let her then pulled her tight and held her.
"Yeah, well ... if you stay here you're just going to be settling."
She cried. Huge deep breathing sobs wracking her body as I held her.
"You don't know that." she cried.
Yeah I do. I know that. You know that. What
we have is just a dream, just a moment in time, Joy. What we’re
sharing right now can’t last forever so let’s enjoy it while we have it and when
the time comes … you do what you have to … and you don’t look back.
You're going to have to do that. Deep down inside, you know
She started crying harder then.
"You don't know what I want." she said, soaking my shirt with her tears.
Suddenly I pulled her to me as tight as I could.
Joy, but I know what you need and right now you don't need me.
After all that you've been through I'm hardly first prize."
I held her as she cried, my hands running up and down her back, slowly.
"It's not fair."
"I know. Story of my life."
"To get everything that I ever wanted ... and then you just come walking back into my life and now I have to choose."
"You don't have to choose because we
both know that you've already made up your mind, Joy. There's not
even a decision to be made here. You're just stalling."
“I'm not stalling." she said.
don't think she convinced even herself on that part. I sighed and
just held her, slowly twisting in place, rubbing her, kissing her on
top of her head. Letting go was so hard ... it was going to be so
hard ... this was going to hurt so goddamn much. Somewhere in the
background soundtrack of my life Nazareth's "Love Hurts" was playing softly ... somewhere.
already made up your mind before we ever ran into each other that
night. Me. This. Now. This is just stalling.
All we're doing is playing a game of what-if ..." I said.
"I know.” She whispered, still crying, her fists clenching up fistfuls of my shirt.
Her body was wracked with sobs ... deep sobs.
"Why do you always have to be so fucking right all the goddamn time?" she asked in a croaked whisper.
"Because I'm a realist, Joy. Go
home, be part of your family again and do something good for yourself. Make something of
yourself and forget all about me."
And that's when she really started to cry.
held her as she cried.
had cried, a lot that night, but after
that I think that even she could see the truth of the situation and
that’s when I think she accepted not only what we had for what we had
but what she had for what it could be. That night something in
Joy changed … she had already made up her mind and me coming back into
her life had thrown her for a loop. Now she had made up her mind
again. Deep down inside, Joy had
finally made up her mind. She had a future, a second chance at a
future and I wasn't part of
I had missed the train for that ride.
We had missed the train for that ride.
Deep down inside I knew that.
Deep down inside Joy knew that.
Didn't stop the truth from hurting either of us any less.
March 28, 1992
I held her, the two of us lying on the couch together.
Silence in the dark.
Lit by flickering candles.
A car passed on the road in front of the house.
Headlights through the blinds, light crawling across the wall.
Loud music rising and fading.
Music was really starting to turn to crap on the radio.
The old house let in a lot of sounds from outside.
reached for my glass of Jack, drank the last, feeling the warm burn and
then set the empty tumbler back on the end table. Next to the
tumbler was a tall glass of iced sweet tea, condensation dripping down
the side, puddling at the base. Joy rolled in my arms, her head
flat to my chest, her hands on my bare chest, rubbing me softly.
“I want to say goodbye to you.” She whispered.
“Huh the hell what?” I asked her.
looked up at me, raising her head off of my chest, putting both arms
under her chin there on my chest, propping herself up to look at me.
“I called my father this morning."
"While I was still asleep?" I asked.
"I got up early. Went outside, had a smoke and called him."
"You gave him an answer?" I asked, knowing that she had.
"I told him I’m ready to move back, to come home.”
been ready to hear that from her, I'd steeled myself for that but now,
finally hearing that hurt more than I thought it would but I nodded.
"When?" I asked, not sure how much longer we had.
“Four weeks. I told him I’d be packed and ready to go in four weeks …”
I tried to look at my mental calendar.
“End of April?” I asked.
“Yeah. More like the first weekend in May.”
“Then you decided. You decided for sure.” I said, knowing that she had.
It took me longer than I liked to admit to come to grips with that and be able to say something positive.
“You’re going to be happier.” I told her after a long silence.
was about to say something more, maybe even something stupid when Joy
reached up and put a finger on my lips, pressing down to quiet me.
“I can't stay, I realize that, now, after we talked last night ..."
"Did we talk last night?" I asked.
"You know we did." she whispered.
"Felt more like you used me for a punching bag and tried to drown me in your tears."
She smiled and sighed.
"Be serious." she said. "I don’t want to leave you, not like she did.” She whispered.
“You’re not like her. At all.” I said, biting at Joy’s finger as she yanked it away just in time.
I’m not like her. At all. But … If I’m going to go back to
"You are going back to Florida." I said.
"When I go back to Florida then I think that you and I both know that's more than likely the end of what you and I have."
Yeah, I'd already come to that conclusion as well.
Deep down it hurts.
"If we're ... "
Even she couldn't bring herself to say it.
I knew I couldn't ... at least not yet.
"If we're ... then I want to say goodbye to you.”
“We’ll say goodbye when that day comes.” I whispered.
Joy shook her head.
That’s not how this ends … that’s not how we end, that's not how I want
it all to end."
"No. Not like that, Cowboy. It’s got to be
different. This has to end better and it has to mean something
for what we had. What we had ... we've got to have one hell of a goodbye.”
I didn’t really understand her.
“One hell of a goodbye? Joy … look …”
got a really serious look on her face then, a look I'd seen on only a
few occasions in my life. I shut up because that look was her “shut up and don’t fuck with
me” look so I shut up and had no intention whatsoever of fucking with
her while she was trying to tell me whatever it was that she was trying
to tell me. Joy sighed and sat up there on the couch, one of my
legs behind her back and the other across the top of her legs there as
she sat. She lowered her head, collected her thoughts, ran a hand
through her hair and then threw her head back and turned to look at me.
“If we’re going to say goodbye then I want this to be a long goodbye.” She said.
I looked at her, candlelight dancing in her eyes.
“A long goodbye?”
got four weeks before my father comes to help me move back home.
four weeks and I want to spend that time with you. Just
you. Every bit of time that I can, I want to spend with you.
We both know how this ends, how it has to end, so there's no
sudden drop off at the end. When the end of that day comes, in
four weeks, when I drive
away from here I want it to be … not like it could be. Am I
making sense to you?”
I slowly shook my head.
She really wasn't making sense to me.
we say goodbye, Cowboy, it’s not going to be sudden and
not going to be some … underhanded murder … of our relationship.
going to be something that’s hurtful and unhappy and makes each of us
hate the other for the rest of our life. This goodbye is going to
be … it’s got to be … something that’s … I don’t know …”
She put her head back and closed her eyes.
got to be a long, slow dance." she said, eyes closed.
"Long slow dance?" I whispered.
"Yeah. A fading celebration of what we
share ... of what we have shared all these years together. Each
day is a little bit less of what we have and hopefully a little bit
less hurt when the music stops.”
She opened her eyes and turned to stare at me.
this goodbye to be as long and slow as we can make
it. I don’t want this to end like these things usually do.
I've done that. You've done that. I want to do something
different. I want to waltz with you …
until I can’t waltz with you anymore. I want to dance with you
until the dance is over and we can’t dance anymore. Does that
make sense, now?"
“Sort of …” I said mainly because it kind of did make sense and it kind of didn’t make sense.
this is goodbye, for you, for me, ... for us ... then I want that goodbye to last
for a long time. As long as we can make it last.” She said.
“So … no surprise long distance phone call telling me it’s over then hanging up?” I asked, half kidding.
Joy harumphed and snuggled back down on me.
was a really shitty thing to do to you, Cowboy, especially after what
you put yourself through for her but then shitty person, shitty thing,
you know. Kind of goes hand in hand with who she was." she
whispered, shaking her head slowly.
"Yeah. I guess you never really know someone until right there at the very end of what you share."
"Exactly." she whispered, nuzzling against me.
I nodded as I ran my hands through her hair and thought about all that she was saying.
“So ... What
you’re saying is that this is … what we have … what we're about to go through ... is going to be
different. We both know how this ends, how it has to end, so
you’re saying let’s get as much out of it as we can while we have the
“Exactly. A long goodbye.”
“A four week long goodbye.” I said.
four week long goodbye. We dance real close, real slow until the dance is over and then
we say thanks for the dance, see ya later, Cowboy and go our different ways.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a relationship end like that before.” I mused, thinking things over.
either. I got the idea this morning after I got through talking to my dad and the more I thought
about it the more I liked it. Maybe this will be different.
Maybe we can … do this … say goodbye … and it won’t hurt as much this
“Well, I’m all for not getting my heart ripped out … again
… which I think is what is going to happen anyway when you leave ... no matter how we say goodbye.” I
"Let's do it my way ... for once?" she asked.
"I thought we did it your way last night?"
Joy pinched me.
"Be serious. This is serious."
I held her tight to me.
I whispered as I reached down and stroked a lock of her hair out of her
face then put my hand to her cheek and rubbed her gently.
I’ve got to say goodbye to you it’s going to be a long goodbye,
Cowboy. One you’ll never forget. One I'll never forget.”
Joy lowered her head and closed her eyes.
"I hate her." Joy said.
"Who?" I asked.
"Her." she said.
"She came between us. She robbed me of what I wanted."
hate her." I said. "She didn't make me spend all of that time
with her. I'm just as much to blame. I thought I'd lost you to Cody and then I tried to replace you
"Yeah? How did that work out for you?" she asked, still laughing.
"Not like I thought."
"You think?" she asked, laughing.
"Well, being with her all that time made me realize I'm an idiot."
Joy nodded, smiling.
"Keep talking." she said.
fucked up. That night I saw you and Cody ... together at his
place. When I saw the two of you kiss ... I should have busted in there and told you how I felt and
let you know that I wanted you."
"Yeah, you should have." She nodded, looking up at me.
I should have found you and told you how I felt about you when you
stopped coming around. I was so scared that you had stopped
coming around because I'd tried to get close ... that we'd gotten
a regret I'm going to carry with me a long time." she said.
"I'll carry the regret of not being with you for the rest of my life, Joy."
Joy snuggled up close to me, pulling herself in tight against me there on the couch.
"Remember last night when I told you that I hate it when you're right?"
"Well, I like it when you admit that you're wrong."
"I don't like being wrong." I said.
not wrong, often, but you are wrong, from time to time. Only
makes you human." she cooed, nuzzling closer and kissing me on the
cheek. "Only makes you one of us, Cowboy."
pushed herself off of me, stood up then and held out her hand.
Her look told me everything I needed to know about what she wanted
right then. I stood up and took her hand
and she led me back to her bed and what we did then didn’t require a
whole lot of talking or a whole lot of thinking on either of our part.
We had four more weeks to spend together.
We had just four weeks left to spend together.
After last night I guess we had both come to realize the situation that we
shared for what it was and for what we had. After last night we
truly began to lose ourselves in each other, spending every moment that
we could with each other that weekend and in the four weeks that
followed; me with my classes and my two part-time jobs, her with her
full time job and both of us staying at her place, me spending the night as often as I could,
helping her pack for the day
that she would move. We packed a little bit every night, stacking
the boxes neatly as best as we could in the living room and on both
sides of the hallway. Each day her house seemed to get
smaller ... and emptier. Stuff was taken down and put into
boxes. Boxes were
taped up, written on, the contents described, and the boxes stacked in
the hallway, in the living room, in the bedroom and in the kitchen.
life ... all the stuff that she owned ... all of that was slowly being
taken down and put away. She and I were boxing her life up, one
thing at a time.
Cody and Stacy came over
several nights and helped. We’d get pizza from Papa's Pizza,
Pizza Hut and Domino's. I’d make my infamous kidney destroying
sweet tea, we’d
drink whiskey and wine coolers and beer. We would sit around
flickering candles, burning incense, listening to classic rock music
and we'd talk and remember. Years of memories,
stories told and retold. Things we'd all done together ... things
I'd missed out on when I was with someone else somewhere else.
Sometimes Flynn would stop by, Flynn
usually had really good handrolled … that’s what Cody and Joy
said. Stacy smoked handrolled with Cody, Flynn and Joy but I
Never was my thing.
Never would be.
Just one of the rules I lived my life by.
Didn’t care if others did it as long as I didn’t do it.
me whiskey would do just fine and when everyone else was hitting the
handrolled I’d just pour coal to the Old Number 7 whiskey express and keep pace with
the others for feeling good, pouring on down the tracks.
I was swimming in a brown liquor
river. Maybe it made things easier during that time, the whiskey
dulled what I knew was coming, made the time spent with Joy that much
sharper, let me get lost in a whiskey fugue.
We packed … sometimes that didn’t last long.
We played around while packing.
Teased each other.
her around her house, her in nothing but her panties and a T-shirt, me
in nothing but my jeans. Bare feet on wooden floors, her
squealing and running as fast as she could, me working her up to
hysterics then letting her run blind before I doubled back, crossed
over in the hallway and caught her as she came around the living room,
sweeping her screaming and giggling in my arms before forcing her to
the couch, pushing her down and starting to tickle her. Joy was
ticklish from top to bottom but especially her feet. I could
tickle her until she started crying, begging me to stop because she was
about to wet herself. Her laughter and cries echoing through the old
walking around wearing nothing but her jeans and her Bananna Republic
photojournalist vest, itself full of support gear for her hobby.
The vest covering her breasts but leaving so much to the imagination.
Hair pulled back with a bandanna.
Camera in hand.
Joy taking pictures with her camera while I worked.
Always taking pictures.
The sound of her camera.
Photographs like shots in a firefight.
A single shot here.
A burst of shots there.
A long stream of shots laid down every now and then.
The lightning snap of her flash.
Each snapshot another collected memory.
An instant frozen in time.
How her life was.
How she could one day look back and see how her life had been.
swapping out exposed rolls for unexposed rolls with all the expertise
of a veteran swapping out a spent thirty round M-16 magazine with a
fully loaded magazine. Joy bent over, leaning up against a wall
in the hallway, swapping rolls from her vest, dropping the old roll
into a film canister and popping the top on. Seeing her take a
Sharpie out of her vest, bite the cap, yank the marker free and then
write a date on the gray lid before shoving the cannister into the big
pocket on the back of her vest. Cap back on the Sharpie, Sharpie
back in the elastic tab of her vest, fresh film roll out.
Back in action.
walls of this old house were soaking up the memories that we were
making. One day soon this house would be empty again and then
someone else would rent it and live here and the walls would once again
be witness to someone else's life. If these old walls could talk
then Joy and I were giving them a hell of a story to tell. What
we shared was a chapter in the history of this life, a bunch of pages
written in a book that no one would ever read but written all the same.
Music playing in the background on her stereo.
Creedence Clearwater Revival.
The Rolling Stones.
Rolling Stones ... that was our band. The Rolling Stones did the
soundtrack to what Joy and I had, to what we had always had. I
found comfort in listening to The Rolling Stones ... so much that they
sang could be applied to what Joy and I shared, to what we had and what
we were going through and to what we had yet to go through ... the
Love is strong.
You can't always get what you want.
Not fade away
It's all over now.
Let's spend the night together
Far away eyes
That was a song that reminded me of Joy ... everytime that I heard it.
The girl with the far away eyes.
if you're down on your luck and you can't harmonize, find a girl with
far away eyes and
if you're downright disgusted and life ain't worth a
dime get a girl with far away eyes …”
... The Eagles were another good band, another contributor to the
soundtrack of our life and what we shared. Songs that echoed
through the house told our story in music and lyrics.
Take It Easy
Peaceful Easy Feeling
The Best of My Love
Life in the Fast Lane
Victim of Love
I Can't Tell You Why
The Long Run
we'd grown up listening to now eeriely prescient to our own unique situation.
we shared, what we were going through ... it had a soundtrack and we
listened to that soundtrack all day, all night. The music never
ended when we were together. Joy's 5 CD changer and her component
stereo system just kept the classic rock playing.
packed … from time to time and sometimes we played even though we both
knew that there was work to be done, even though we'd set goals for
that day so that stuff would get done, the sooner the better, and we'd
have time to share that night. Working to the soundtrack of our
situation, her component stereo
blaring one of our favorite songs from all of the speakers that she had
run throughout the house ... speaker cable through the ceiling, dropped
out of tiny drilled holes and sealed with clay then repainted the color
of the ceiling. Joy had done a lot of work to this house ... she
liked her music and the way she had her entertainment system hardwired
she had her music in any room of the house ... trip room and darkroom
While we worked we came together and danced, from
time to time, just her and me, there in her living room, in the hallway, in the kitchen, in her bedroom ... Sometimes
when the song was
over we'd just keep dancing even to no music if the vinyl had played
out. Sometimes when the song
was over we'd just slowly let go of each other, sometimes I'd take
her hand and give her a slow twirl before going back to packing.
Joy had accumulated quite
a bit of
stuff in the year and a half since I’d been with her. It took a
to get her stuff organized and packed up.
Everyone helped, even
That rumbling '69 GTO pulling up at the curb out front.
Flynn bearing gifts of whiskey and smokes and handrolled.
and I were sharing a long goodbye, but she had included the others as
well ... Joy had been a part of our group since 1988 and now that group
was ... breaking.
A little bit at a time.
One person at a time.
I didn't know it then but Joy was the first to go.
She wouldn't be the last.
Stacy, Cody and Flynn helped.
This night and that.
Sometimes they came over when I was working at County Market.
Sometimes they came over when I had a free night off.
worked, everyone passed the handrolled and took a hit, everyone except
me. We drank tea and Coke and Pepsi and Barqs and whatever else
we could get our hands on in two liter form. We drank whiskey;
sometimes out of glasses
and sometimes out of Styrofoam cups or plastic colored Solo cups.
Joy and Cody and Stacy drank wine coolers.
Flynn and I stuck to our whiskey.
"Hey, Flynn! Catch!" Cody shouted, getting ready to throw Flynn a Bartles and Jaymes wine cooler.
"Keep it. That's girl cola." Flynn said.
"You think?" Cody said, twisting the cap off and taking a long drink.
You keep drinking those girl colas and one morning you'll wake up
and find out that you've grown a pussy." Flynn told Cody.
"I think it's too late for that." I muttered.
Flynn laughed so hard he spewed whiskey out his nose.
Cody's only retort was to sneer and flip me off.
of plates and when we packed those up we ate off of cheap paper plates
we bought at Delchamps over on Broadway Drive. We ordered pizza
from Domino's, the one that Ingo used to work at over on Broadway Drive
and we got Little Caesar's pizza as well ... Pan Pan and Crazy Bread
with Crazy Sauce. Chinese. Subway. Taco Bell.
It was fast food buffet most of the time and if we weren't going
out to pick it up someone was bringing it to us.
smoked on the front porch, the three of us sitting there winding down,
just relaxing. I lit their cigarettes with my Zippo
and sat with them. Sometimes just sitting and not saying anything
was better than talking and remembering. Sometimes just being
with each other and not saying a word was the greatest feeling in the
world because at that moment in time you knew, you really knew, who
your friends were and what you had and when a moment like that came you
didn't need words.
Words always had a habit of getting in the way of what was really important, of the basics.
Silence really was golden.
Cody and Stacy stayed inside, snuggled up on Joy’s big
couch ... making out. One time we heard them in the bathroom doing more than just making out but
we pretended to ignore them. I sat on the porch, my feet
dangling, and Joy sat beside me, her head on my shoulder.
“I think those two are going to make it. Long run.” Joy said.
“Yeah, I think Cody’s finally found his match.”
Flynn laughed, finishing his cigarette and flicking it out into the yard.
“Like it or not she's roped him. He's as good as hitched. He just doesn't know it yet.” Flynn added.
least someone made it." I thought to myself. "At least one of us
got something out of all of this ... something more than scars and
memories and stories to tell one day."
got up and started to walk into the house. Cody and Stacy were
still at it and going strong from what we could hear echoing through
"I think I'm going to go beat on the bathroom door and tell them to hurry up because I've really got to take a shit." he said.
Joy's expression was priceless, her mouth going open to a perfect "O".
"Don't you dare! Let them have this!" she said, shocked.
smiled and waved his hands that he was joking and Joy and I laughed.
worry. I'll just tip-toe around inside." he said as he went on in
the house searching for whiskey, probably to top off
and I sat there on the porch, her head on my shoulder, holding hands.
Just ... holding hands and being with each other.
Time was running out.
It was the long goodbye.
For all of us.
all said goodbye to each other, slowly, a little bit each night that we
were together and after Flynn and Cody and Stacy left, Joy and I would
be alone. We’d watch them leave, standing there on the front
porch, waving goodbye and sometimes I’d hold her for a while, just
standing there, swaying slightly in place, in the hot, humid air of the
Mississippi spring night, there on the porch of that old house. I
could almost close my eyes and imagine that this moment, holding her
like this, would … could … last forever, that this moment could last
for the rest of our lives. I’d like to think that Joy shared that
dream, at least it felt like she shared it when we were there on the
front porch of her house just holding each other close, neither
saying anything and yet everything that needed to be said was being
said just by being this close to each other.
It could have been like this.
It really might have, could have, been like this.
If decisions had been made differently.
If I hadn't been stupid.
Joy wanted to take some of the blame but it wasn't her fault.
I was stupid.
I'd tried to replace Joy and Joy had no replacement ... certaintly not with what I tried to replace her with.
everyone had left I’d help clean up the mess from our stint of
hospitality and then we’d spend our own time together. Work was
done and it was time for play. Serious play, serious playtime,
like moving up to her, my hands moving over her body, my lips to her
Taking her pants off.
Pulling her panties down to her ankles.
Just taking what I wanted.
What she wanted.
What I needed.
What she needed.
it was sudden and fast, in the kitchen, in a kitchen table chair, on
the kitchen table, on the
big couch in the living room, on the chair and a half with the ottoman,
on the rug in the living room, on a runner in the hallway floor, in the
bathroom in front of the big
mirror bending her over the sink counter while she pushed back against
me, me watching her facial expressions, she watching mine.
In her bed.
Headboard against the wooden wall.
Rhythm of our passion.
Speed metal ecstasy.
Sometimes it was casual and slow.
Holding her close to me.
The smell of her hair.
The smell of her skin.
My lips to her neck.
My hands slowly roaming over her body.
Taking a shower
Candles lit in her bedroom afterwards.
Me gripping her brass headboard.
Joy straddling me, bare skin to bare skin.
Moving in slow motion.
Writhing like a snake.
Driving me under her.
Driving her on top of me.
I had a black magic woman.
Being with Joy was voodoo.
Black Sabbath's "Mob Rules" record playing in the background.
Fade into shadow, you'll burn
Your fortune is free, I can see it's no good
Never look back, never turn
It's a question of time 'till your mine and you learn
So if a stranger sees you
Don't look in his eyes
'Cause he's Voodoo!
up to see her back arched, her breasts jutting out, her long hair
flowing from under her party hat, her smile as she bucked up and down,
one hand on my chest, fingers spread, the other hand holding her hat in
The next morning her party hat on the floor, upside down, brim up, with her black bikini panties hanging over the side.
walking naked through her house wearing nothing but her Cowboy boots
and western hat ... teasing me with flashes of her witchy eyes, her
beckoning finger telling me to come get what we both wanted, chasing
her, hearing her heavy boot steps on the
wooden floor, her laughing as I chased her … catching her and claiming
my prize before she had to get dressed and go to work.
It could have been like that ... all the time ... for the last year and a half ... if I hadn't been stupid.
If I hadn't tried to replace Joy with something that didn't even come close.
This semester and the short summer semester.
Graduation in August.
All day spent thinking about her.
Thoughts of her driving me crazy.
Getting out of class in the afternoon.
Going to her place.
Letting myself in.
Losing myself in memories walking in her house.
She's still at work.
Waiting on her to get home.
Classic music playing throughout the house.
The Rolling Stones.
Losing myself in my work.
Thinking about her.
She's off work.
I wait for her.
Shot of whiskey.
Glass of sweet tea.
She comes home.
I hand her the whiskey.
I hand her the glass of sweet tea.
Take her hand, lead her to the couch, let her sit down.
I take her sandals off, start to massage her feet, working her heel, arch and toes.
She closes her eyes.
It could have been like this ...
all the time ...
for the last year and a half ...
if I hadn't been stupid.
If I hadn't tried to replace Joy with something that didn't even come close.
Riding around Hattiesburg on my '84 Honda VF500F Interceptor.
Joy behind me, her arms around me holding me tight.
Helmet to helmet.
She's telling me about work.
A funny story.
The hum of the liquid cooled V4 between our legs.
Dinner at Conestoga.
Candlelight and steak.
Ice cream afterwards at Baskin Robbins.
Heading over to Nick's Ice House to hang out for a while.
Ice cold beer ... chunks of ice sliding slowly down the side of the bottle.
Lighting her Winston with my Zippo.
Riding around Hattiesburg on my '84 Honda VF500F Interceptor.
Candles lit late at night.
Melted wax and warm whiskey in tumblers by the bed.
Classic rock playing throughout the house.
Echoing down the long hallway.
The soundtrack to our night.
Incense and cigarette smoke.
Joy naked, sitting beside me in the bed, smoking her last handrolled.
Me wearing nothing but my jeans ... there on the bed next to her.
Doing some last minute assigned reading for my class tomorrow.
Sipping whiskey from my tumbler.
"You know that's something you'll have to give up when you go back home ... especially if you get a real job."
She sighed and nodded, looking at the roach clip in her hand and shaking her head.
"Last one." she said.
Regret in her voice.
"Promise?" I asked, still reading my textbook there beside her.
"Promise." she said. "It really is my last one."
"The tabs, too."
Joy cut her sultry eyes at me, sultry to hard piercing.
"I'm serious." I said.
Those even more so." she agreed. "Call the last time the
last for that as well. Those were my last tabs."
"Which ones? The last ones you dropped?"
"So ... you were weaning yourself off of the good stuff ... for how long now?"
"Since December. I've
been cutting way back since I started talking to my dad. I had to
because I knew that's something he wouldn't ever tolerate, not in his
family, damn well not in his house. All of this ... it has to end
here before I ever go back home. I knew that ... I've known that
ever since dad first called. It was only a matter of time.
Guess that's another choice that I made and just didn't all the
Joy looked at the handrolled and took another puff, holding it then slowly letting her smoke out, letting it rise up.
"You want to hear something crazy?" she asked, her voice a whisper.
I put my textbook down and turned my head to look at her.
night we ran into each other at the Mahogany Bar ... that really
was my last set of tabs. That was the last time. I was
going to drop a few weeks before but stuff just kept coming up.
Things looked like they were finally working out because the way
I was feeling, damn, I really needed to drop and just space for a while,
maybe sort through all the heavy stuff in my life, you know."
"Yeah ... and it
was just ... crazy ... how that night went. Carrie and I were
going to just go back to her place and drop together and then
everything went all to hell ..."
Joy closed her eyes and looked at the ceiling.
"Carrie. Her creepy boyfriend. His even creepier "friends" which weren't really his friends ..."
"That wasn't going to be a good night." I said.
Joy looked at me, smiling.
"It turned out pretty well. I ran back into you ..."
"Literally." I said, remembering how Joy had almost made me wear my whiskey.
"And ... you pulled cowboy for me and ... here we are."
"Was that a good drop?" I asked her.
never asked her about her drops or her trips before ... I just felt it
was something personal and she would share it if she wanted to which
she never did. She nodded but didn't offer anything else in
return. I played back the last few weeks in my mind, not sure
where she was going with all of her musings. Maybe my expression gave me away because she looked at me, smiled and nodded.
guess what I'm trying to say is that was the last time that I dropped
... the last time that I was going to drop ... and you were there for
me ... just like old times. All the things that ... those were my
last tabs and I spent them with ... you. It's just ... really
neat how things
worked out that night for me, for us."
I hadn't thought about it
that way but now I could see it from her point of view. Joy
looked at what was left of her handrolled then put her cheek in her
hand and looked over at me.
"So much to ... give up ... just like I'm having to be a new me." she whispered.
be worth it. You've got a second chance, doll. All of this
... everything here is just spinning your wheels." I said.
nodded, taking another puff from her handrolled as I went back to reading my textbook.
so you know ... if there was going to be something between us ...
something long lasting ... I'd make you give up the handrolled and the
tabs as well."
"Puritan." she chided.
"Just saying ... no
place in my life for that kind of ride. I let a lot of stuff
slide in the name of friendship that I'd never let slide in ..."
"Never let slide in ....?" she asked.
I sighed deep.
"Marriage." I said. "Especially if I get where I want to go, get to be what I want to be."
Joy looked at me.
"Marriage?" she whispered.
while from now. A few years. Maybe never. I'm
probably not the easiest man to live with let alone make a lot of
"No. You're not easy, that's for sure." she laughed.
"Complicated." I said.
Another memory from my past ... a ghost resurrected that only I could see.
"You are that ... but it would be worth it." she whispered.
"That's what you think." I answered, laughing softly as I turned the page of my textbook.
She humphed and I went back to my school work.
"You know ... There's
something I learned from my mother a long time ago ... there are
different ways to tell someone that you love them." she said.
I stopped reading and looked at her.
"Yeah?" I asked.
"Yeah. You know, stuff like "brush your teeth" and "sweet dreams" and "buckle up" .... and "be careful on your bike" ... and ..." Joy said, lapsing into silence.
"And ...?" I asked.
"And ... I think you just told me one." she whispered, smiling at me then slowly turning away.
"When?" I asked, not really understanding.
"When you said that I'd have to give up ... this." she said, holding her roach clip then taking another hit off of it.
thought about that but she
didn't say anything else, just stared off into space, lost again as I
thought about what she had said. Time passed as Joy and I went
about our own machinations, each lost in our own dedication to what we
were doing. My reading was pretty dry and I tried to pick
out topics that my professor might quiz me on but after a while it all
just ran together. I caught myself reading less and less and
giving Joy more and more sideways glances. Finally I just put my
book down and watched her as she finished her handrolled.
She was so beautiful.
Lost in herself.
Lost in her own little world.
Her smoke rose up forever.
"Well ... that's that." she whispered, finishing the handrolled and putting the remains in the stone
ashtray on the night stand beside of the bed.
Joy sighed heavily, pulled her knees up to her
chest and put her chin on her knees, wrapping her arms around her legs and
closing her eyes, sinking into self-contemplation and introspection there beside me. The Rolling Stones "Some Girls" album played on the record player ... Side A ... "Just my Imagination (running away with me)" playing in the background ... old Temptations song from the '60's ... covered by the Stones way back in '78, a year after I'd been introduced to "Star Wars."
It was just my imagination
Running away with me
Every night I hope and pray
"Dear lord, hear my plea
Don't ever let another take her love from me
Or I will surely die
I mouthed the words silently to myself as I went back to reading my textbook.
A pang of loss.
I stopped reading and looked over.
Joy was still lost in herself.
Leaning over her tucked up knees, chin on her knees, arms wrapped around her legs, eyes closed.
I reached for her.
Fingertips on her hot skin.
Tracing the ink on her right arm.
Just running my finger over her ink.
She opened her witchy eyes.
Watching me touch her.
Watching me trace her.
No words spoken.
Side A of "Some Girls" ended.
Needle on vinyl.
Hiss and scratch.
slowly climbed got out of bed and walked over to the record player.
Lift the record off the turntable, flip it, put the needle to
Side B of "Some Girls"
Hiss of silence.
The music starts.
Joy sitting up on the bed.
Head cocked to the side.
Hair falling across her shoulder and her right breast.
She lifts a hand.
A finger beckons me.
I walk back over to the bed.
I stand beside her.
She reaches up, rubs her hand over my chest as the music plays.
"Far Away Eyes"
So if you're down on your luck
and you can't harmonize
Find a girl with far away eyes
And if you're downright disgusted
and life ain't worth a dime
Get a girl with far away eyes.
Her hand on my chest.
Fingers spread though my chest hair ...
She takes my hand.
Pulls me to her.
I step onto the bed, fall down beside her.
Then she's on top of me.
Her hot lips to mine.
Her hot breath to mine.
My hands running slowly up and down her sides and back.
My hands running across her bare bottom.
Her hand to my groin.
She lowering her head to mine.
Our tongues finding each other.
Joy rising to all fours.
"What are you doing?" I asked.
"Something I've thought about doing all day." she said.
Her hands undoing my jeans.
Pulling my jeans off of me with a driven desire.
Moving down my body.
Dragging her hair as she went.
The sensation of that on my skin.
Her hair dragging softly across my stomach.
Her hair dragging softly across my groin.
Joy throwing her hair back with a shake of her head.
Holding it back with one hand.
Her other hand on me.
Joy shutting her eyes.
Against her pursed lips.
Against her cheek.
Her lips closed.
Using her hand to mop her hair slowly across me.
Her eyes open.
Her mouth open.
The look she had.
"There are different ways to tell someone that you love them. This is one of them." she whispered.
"Yeah." she whispered.
Joy taking me.
Watching me as I watched her.
"Yeah." I whispered.
I reached back and adjusted the pillow then grabbed the headboard.
Closing my eyes.
Losing myself in what she was doing.
Joy taking her time with me.
Her eyes closed again.
Losing herself in what she was doing.
Tongue across my skin.
Rising and falling.
Totally lost in what she was doing.
My hands in her hair.
Holding her hair out of her way.
Whispering her name.
Telling her what I wanted from her ... what I needed.
She took her time.
She took a long time.
Side two of the "Some Girls" album, vinyl, hiss, needle tracking each groove ... "Beast of Burden"
So let's go home and draw the curtains
Music on the radio
Come on baby make sweet love to me
Am I hard enough
Am I rough enough
Am I rich enough
I'm not too blind to see
Oh little sister
Pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty, girl
Watching her take her time.
Watching her lose herself in worshipping me.
She devoted herself to me.
Body and soul.
The Rolling Stones on vinyl.
Last track on side two ... "Shattered."
Love and hope and sex and dreams
Are still surviving on the street
Look at me, I'm in tatters!
I'm a shattered
Won't finish the song.
She's making sure of that now.
Fight it down.
She won't let me.
So good it hurts.
Calling her name.
The song ended.
The needle retracted.
I melted into the bed.
Joy’s warm naked body beside me on her bed, sleeping.
Darkness and silence.
Blue digital numbers on a clock tell me its early morning.
Me staring at the ceiling fan going slowly around.
The hum of the window unit working hard to keep us cool.
Hot Mississippi night.
Sleeping outside the covers.
Rumpled up sheets.
Too hot to do much of anything except fuck and drink and sweat and sleep.
Taking the last drink from the bottle of Jack, putting the bottle on the floor beside the bed and closing my eyes.
My eyes hurt.
Like whiskey on a dry throat.
Trying to fall asleep next to her.
Thinking too hard to ever accomplish that.
She said that we’d have four weeks together.
She was stalling.
She wanted to stay.
She wanted to give up the second chance that she’d been given ...
She wanted to give up everything that she had ...
... just to be with me.
She was fooling herself.
I wanted to ask her to stay.
I wanted to be selfish.
I wanted to keep Joy here, with me, for my own selfish reasons.
I was fooling myself.
time I touched her bare skin with my fingertips, every time I touched
her bare skin with my bare skin, every time that we finished and fell
into each other catching our breaths I wanted to ask her to stay … but
I couldn’t. Every time I smelled her perfume, every time I tasted
whiskey on her lips I wanted her to stay but I wanted her to stay for
all the wrong reasons and none of the right ones. Joy had a
second chance and I wasn’t worth wasting that chance on. Joy had
a good thing waiting on her … what did she have with me? What the
hell could I offer her? I couldn’t promise her anything, not
anything of any real value other than maybe love and devotion and
really, what good were those two things in the world that we lived in?
Desperate promises that couldn't be kept.
What did I have to offer her?
What could I offer her?
I was going to graduate from USM in August.
had a part-time job at a grocery store and a part-time job at the
university library. I was going to quit County Market at the end
of May and I had to give up the job at the library at the end of June
so by the first of July I’d be … unemployed. I didn’t even know
what I wanted to do with my life. I’d have a BS in Business
Administration and I could basically do anything that I wanted to do,
anything from being a manager at McDonald’s to running a million dollar
corporation but what did I want to do?
I was 23 years old and I still didn't know what I wanted to do with my life.
Didn't have a fucking clue.
because I was pretty much a jack of all trades didn't mean that I'd
found the career in life that I'd like to do for the rest of my working
In four months I’d have a four year college degree and no job to show for it.
thought about federal law enforcement, thought about that a lot which
was a big change coming from the fact that when I’d started at USM in
the spring of 1990 I’d wanted to be a photojournalist, traveling the
world one someone else’s dime and taking pictures that mattered.
Once I realized just how liberal and screwed up journalists were, how
hypocritical they were, I’d swung my moral compass the other direction
towards law enforcement, federal law enforcement to be exact.
Federal law enforcement.
The office of the United States Marshal Service.
taken the entrance exam and passed now it was just a waiting
game. I didn’t want to be a local cop, there was no money, no
future in that … living paycheck to paycheck, dealing with idiots,
moving from department to department, agency to agency, just for a
little bit more on my check come payday.
A desk job, maybe.
Lots of coffee.
Eating meals out of a vending machine.
Four kids by two different women.
All in my future if I chose that route.
was doing that … he was going law enforcement, going native with
Forrest County. I didn’t see a future in it, not for me, at least
not on a local level.
August was coming and it would be here
before I knew it and what was I going to do with my life? Katrice
had gotten a bit of luck, there at the end of what we had shared.
She actually had her career, in her major, and she had gotten it before
she even graduated. If only I could be that lucky … I couldn’t
imagine what it would be like to graduate and have a job, a good job, a
decent job, waiting on me after I walked across that stage.
if the government called?
What would that be like?
would it be like if Uncle Sam called and told me he wanted me to be a
United States Marshall? I’d have to go off to training for
several months then they would ship me a thousand miles away and it
would take forever to get back here, if I even wanted to come back here
and right now I wasn’t sure that I did.
What did I have here?
How deep were my roots?
I had wanderlust, bad, and I wanted to pack up and find somewhere else after graduation but where did that leave Joy?
if she gave up her second chance, what if she threw away everything
that she was being offered just to stay with me? How would her
father take that? What would I do with Joy? Take her to
Quantico while I did my training? Would she stay here while I was
up in Virginia? After training what would I do with her?
Take her with me to …
I yank her up and drag her with me then settle down and hoped that she
adjusted, hoped that she liked it, hoped that her … love … for me was
strong enough to endure the hardships that we would face? Could I
support the two of us on just a US Marshal’s paycheck? Could I
support us until she found something to do that she liked? What
kind of job could she get without a college degree? Not any kind
of decent job that I could think of.
What kind of life was I
getting myself into … and what kind of life was that to drag someone
like Joy off into, to force on her just so I could have someone at my
side to share my bed, to share my life, and to keep me from being
lonely. If I asked Joy to stay, if I gave her everything that I
had left and if I really tried to make it work between us then what was
I really offering her?
If I was wearing a badge then I was
offering to make her a target and while I was sure that Joy could take
care of herself it didn’t help that I’d be forcing that on her.
What if that’s what she wanted?
Was I really doing what was best for Joy or was I doing what was best for me?
Was I really doing what was best for us?
that we had together would be rough, especially starting out. It
might even be rougher than anything that she had been through in the
last ten years. Who was I to ask her to put herself through that
kind of situation? Joy had a second chance, a better chance than
I could offer her and I wasn’t going to blow that for her.
Man, it was easier to say than do.
A lot easier.
wanted in Joy’s pants since I first met her and now that I had her, now
that I had all of her I was going to lose her. I was going to
lose her if she was ever going to have the life that I wanted her to
have. Maybe if we’d had what we had now year and a half ago … maybe if
we had a two year running head start we could have worked together, we
could have planned our future together, we could have made something
for ourselves, found our jobs, readied ourselves for the worst of what
might come our way. Maybe I could have gotten something solid,
something that I could use to support us both and when things settled
down I could have paid to send Joy to college, let her get her degree
and get a good job and then we’d have had it made.
The American dream.
Little white house with a picket fence.
Two point three kids and a dog.
Thirty year mortgage.
Her station wagon.
There was no guarantee on that.
It was all a big chance with me.
Maybe that was what Katrice had seen as well.
that’s why Katrice had left like she did.
Katrice had been
looking for a sure thing and she had made promises she couldn’t
keep. She had been fishing, hoping, throwing herself out on
credit when she had nothing to back what she was offering other than empty words and desperate promises. She
was hoping that someone would have enough to take care of her and if
she could wing it, if she could just get herself into a situation where
she was with someone who would take care of her for the rest of her
life then she had it made. Love would come second, if it even
came at all. She had bet against a fairy tale and when her
life had settled down, when she had a job and a career suddenly the
fairy tale wasn’t good enough for her. She had wanted a sure
thing and right then I couldn’t offer her that … all I could do was
offer her my love and devotion and ask her to take a leap of faith with
me, ask her to trust me that everything would turn out okay for us.
That had been asking too much of Katrice.
Way too much.
hindsight, Katrice wasn't looking for love or devotion ... she was
looking for security and someone to take care of her. I was good
to hold onto but when something better came along she had stepped off
and got on with the rest of her life. Could I expect anything
different from Joy? Was I right to expect anything
different? Joy had a sure thing with her family; a chance to go
to college, a dad to reconcile things with, a sister to catch up with,
a brother in law to get to know, a chance for a state job with good
benefits and a future.
The opportunity to make good on ten years gone bad.
She had maybe a chance with me.
Maybe a chance.
Odds were on the offer her dad had given her, hands down. I couldn’t compete with something like that.
What we had was too little, too late.
Joy deserved better than me.
Yeah, no matter how you looked at it Joy had to leave.
I talked myself out of being selfish.
I talked myself out of asking Joy to stay for all the wrong reasons.
again I put someone else’s needs, their wants, their desires before my
needs, before my wants, and before my desires. I kept telling
myself that made me a good guy, that doing that was some kind of noble
thing to do but part of me said I was just being stupid again.
I wondered if Joy tore herself up inside with questions like I did?
I lay there next to her, bare skin to bare skin, holding her while she
slept, I wondered if when I fell asleep that she sometimes woke up,
sometimes just looked at me, and if her mind turned itself over and
over with unanswered questions, with all the what-ifs? Long
nights spent with Joy, early mornings waking up next to her. I
knew, deep down inside, I knew that I could do that for the rest of my
life and I knew that if I did we’d never make it. I knew that if
I asked her to stay that I’d be cheating her of everything that she had
worked so hard for, of everything that she deserved.
about her during the day, during my classes, during my work shifts at
County Market and at the university library made me spin my mind with
the same questions over and over again. Sometimes she would drop
by to see me at one job or the other. Her western hat, her boots,
her tight jeans, her big leather purse. One time she showed up in
a T-shirt, shorts, sneakers and her hair done up in a bandanna.
She still turned heads.
If she dressed like that the rest of her life I’d still have wanted her for the rest of my life.
said she was bumming while she worked around her house and that she had
needed a break so she came to County Market to get some cleaning
She looked stunning.
You’re letting that get away, a little voice inside me said. You’re a damn fool if you let that get away.
I let that get away a long time ago, I’d tell the little voice in my head. I let that get away because I was stupid.
You can still keep her.
Just ask her to stay.
She doesn’t have to go away.
You don’t have to let that get away.
I’ve got to let that get away.
Because I love her, that’s why I’ve got to let her go.
can’t ever tell her that I love her because she’d stay … she’d throw
away everything for one single damn word from me, for just one stupid four letter
word that had no substance, no worth, no security, and I just couldn’t
Not to her.
Nazareth once sang about love
hurting and Blue Oyster Cult once sang about all the scars being on the
inside. Right then I knew exactly what those two songs meant.
talked for a while, her standing there as I stacked product into the
Front Wall display. We’d made plans for the evening. She
shopped and I helped her, it was a short list. I walked her out
to her Toyota Supra. A quick kiss or two, maybe a slow kiss or
two, there in the parking lot, hints of what was to come later.
Me holding the door of her Supra for her, long legs that could dance on
pedals, an Amazon in a sports car. Me watching her drive off out
of the parking lot.
What we had was a little too little too
late. We’d missed our opportunity and I think we both knew it,
deep down, we both knew it. We were just going through the
motions, playing house, living out a fantasy with what time that we had
left. We were dreaming while we were waiting on reality to
We weren't building a future together ... no, we were saying a long goodbye.
Mississippi nights spent with Joy, early mornings waking up next to
her. Her early morning cigarette, my glass of sweet tea, her cup
of coffee with lots of cream and sugar. Me showering while she
put on her makeup. Me off to class, her off to her job, seeing
the Supra disappear in the rearview mirror of my Honda Interceptor.
We were both using Cody’s hand-me-downs to get where we were going.
It was something that bonded us and we laughed about it.
that had once mattered a great deal to Cody he had eventually had to
give up in order to be happier. I think we were doing the same
with our own lives.
We headed off in opposite directions.
One day soon we’d do it one last time for the very last time.
time or two I took her Supra to work and let her take my
Corvette. Joy could drive a stick, man, she could drive a stick …
on the street or in her bed, that woman could drive.
We were saying a long goodbye.
A nine week long goodbye.
She had made up her mind.
father, her sister, and her sister’s husband would drive up to help her
move back to Florida. A date had been set, Saturday, May 2.
Her father and her brother in law were bringing their two diesel pickup
trucks, each with a dual axle box trailer. Her dad told her to
pack and be ready. He was going to make one trip; high speed, low
Joy was leaving.
Candles flickering in her bedroom.
Hot Mississippi night.
The ceiling fan slowly rotating above us.
straddling me, her back arched, her breasts jutting forward, my hands
in hers, her grip … painful, her head thrown back, her breath coming
quick and shallow, her chest rising and falling, her body quivering,
the sounds she made as she took what she needed and gave what I wanted.
My hands in her hands.
She called out my name and slowly fell down on top of me.
Her hot breath I could feel.
I held her.
Tomorrow was Saturday, May 2, 1992.
Joy was leaving.
It was for the best … it was what was best for her ... at least that’s what I kept telling myself over and over again.
Didn't make me feel any better.
"I see your face in every flame.
With no answers
I have only myself to blame.
Of all the women I have known
- they're not you.
I'd rather be alone."
- Type O Negative - "Blood and Fire"
May 2, 1992
eight weeks together, from the night I'd run back into her at the
Mahogany Bar to right here, right now, the day was finally here … We’d
had a long
goodbye, slowly losing each other, desensitizing ourselves to the fact
of what we had and what we’d never have and we were okay with that, as
okay with that as you could be. It was Joy’s time to leave, she
was going home and I was preparing myself to say goodbye to her for the
last time and to meet her father for the first time; Major Byron H.
Curtis, retired, USAF. I was a little nervous since I had just
spent the last two months of my life, last night included, having the
kind of sex with his oldest daughter that’s usually reserved for poorly
written letters sent in to raunchy men’s magazines.
The last six weeks
with Joy, losing ourselves in each other, trying to slow or stop time
but always knowing that the day was coming when I was going to have to
to Joy for the last time.
Eight weeks with Joy from start to finish, eight weeks and it had all come down to this one, last day.
Each day had been magic.
Each night had been voodoo.
I had a black magic woman.
Joy was leaving.
had told me a lot about her father but her memories were tainted by ten
years of separation. Still, her father wasn’t someone that I
really wanted to be face to face with if he ever discovered what his
daughter and I had been doing for the last six weeks. The fact
that she had often herself been the instigator of those savage passion
filled bouts of animalistic coupling probably wouldn’t enter into any
argument of that fact that might start between the Major and I so I
thought it best if we just left some things better not said.
Call it a basic survival instinct.
what Joy had told me about her father he just seemed to be the kind of
man that you never wanted to see his bad side, let alone get on
it. From how she had described him I fully expected Major Byron
H. Curtis, USAF, retired, to spit 20mm cannon rounds, piss napalm, crap laser
guided smart bombs and fart afterburner enhanced sonic booms.
Memories … not all of them good but memories nonetheless.
My life was nothing but a collection of memories now.
Memories and dust.
and I had gotten up early, showered, taken the sheets off of her bed
before folding and packing them up and taking the mattresses off
leaving nothing but the frame and rails. Then we had gone around
her house packing up the last few little things with a kind of solemn
duty. The little things that were always the last things you
packed when you moved away.
There were still a few loose things
to pack up but Cody, Joy, Flynn and I had worked hard the past week,
every night, to get most of her stuff ready to go. The hard part
was the furniture, some of it quite old, solid and heavy and of
actually loading all of the boxes on the cargo trailers that Joy said
her father and brother in law were bringing with them. So, today,
I was not only meeting Joy’s father but her sister and her sister’s
husband as well.
It would be the first time that Joy had met her brother in law as well.
hadn’t even known that her sister had been married until year and a half
after … she had missed her sister’s wedding. Ten years; there was
so much that Joy had missed and who was I to stand between her and a
second chance at making things right in her life, with her, with her
Yeah, today was going to be a long day of firsts and lasts … not all of them good but all of them memories.
and I had opened up the windows to her house to let the fresh, cool
morning breeze blow through. Cody had shown up about thirty
minutes ago, at seven o’clock, bringing breakfast from McDonald’s for
the three of us and we had sat together on the front porch, eating
mostly in silence because I think that short of a few last minutes
together when we were finished that everything that needed to be said
or that could be said had been said.
This was here.
The day had arrived.
Joy was leaving.
was here to help with the moving chores and to provide emotional
support for me, or so he said. Cody wasn’t here for me, Cody was
here for himself … and for Joy. I knew he wouldn’t have been able
to stay away. Joy was the girl that had gotten away, the one girl
that Cody’s Lone Star Gigolo Charm didn’t work on, the girl that had
nearly torn Cody and my friendship apart, she was the girl that had set
our hearts blazing and she was the girl who had brought us back
together. Joy was something that Cody and I shared in common, for
better or worse and that made this as personal to him as it was to me
because he was saying his goodbyes with just as much emotion … and
regret … as I was.
Joy was ours, she was one of the misfits and
outcasts that we called friends and she had been part of my life … of
our lives … for almost four years now. It was almost four years
ago, back in June of 1988, when I had first met Joy, she had been
walking down the middle of that dark, county two lane late at night,
and now here we were, May of 1992 and I was telling her goodbye …
Flynn had said his goodbye last night … he
said that he didn’t get along well with the straight edge, steel cut
military types who often didn’t like the long hair independent, free
thinkers like Flynn. Those had been his words but what I really
think is that Flynn just didn’t like goodbyes.
He’d seen too many of them himself.
our quick breakfast we cleaned up, putting our empty biscuit wrappers
back in the McDonald’s bag and Joy took that inside to throw it away in
an almost full black garbage bag that I’d need to take to the curb
after all was said and done.
After she was gone.
“Today’s the day.” Cody muttered. “What a day.”
Not a cloud in the sky.
I said. “Can’t say that I really saw this day coming … four years
ago when I first met her. Don’t know what I expected … just not …
“Just kind of … you know, thought she would be here, in Hattiesburg, here around, forever.”
looked in through the open windows at all the boxes stacked throughout
the house. In a perfect world it would be a different kind of
moving day. In a perfect world that would be Joy and my stuff,
this would be the house we were moving into and we’d be laughing at a
new life started together, laughing at all of the crap we had to unbox
and put up and … but it wasn’t a perfect world and that was never going
to happen for us.
Joy was leaving.
I heard the clattering
sound of a diesel engine off in the near distance and saw a silver
Dodge pickup pulling a box trailer behind it turn onto Joy’s
street. A second later, it was followed by a large black Ford
crewcab dually pulling an even larger box trailer behind it.
Diesel engines clattered louder as they approached and my heart sank
just a tiny bit.
This was it.
This was finally it.
Joy was leaving.
felt right then that I knew what it must feel like when a condemned man
sees the warden, the priest and the guards coming for him to take the
“I guess that’s them, isn’t it? Impressive little convoy there. Diesel rigs and trailers …” Cody asked.
“Show time.” I said, the words suddenly really hard to say.
I got up and dusted the back of my jeans off from where I’d been sitting on the porch.
“Joy! They’re here!” I shouted, knowing that she could hear me through the open front window.
“Remember what I said about talking to the Major!” Joy shouted back from somewhere inside the house.
“Got it.” I muttered.
“What did she say about talking to the Major?” Cody asked.
said pretend that I’m in the Air Force and that he outranks the hell
out of me and that if I did that the Major and I would get along.”
“You going to give it a try?” Cody asked.
I get the chance. Other than that, I’m just going to play it by
ear and hope to get out of this able to still walk and eat solid food,
at least in the long run, maybe after a few years of physical therapy
and rehabilitation. That’s my goal for the day.”
luck on that. I’m thinking you’ll be lucky to get through the day
without having to apply for disability compensation.” Cody said.
was standing next to me on the porch when her father stepped out of his
’85 silver Dodge half ton pickup with a fifteen foot dual axle box
trailer hooked behind it. Behind him had pulled in Joy’s sister
Mary and her husband, Jack, in Jack’s three quarter ton ’88 black and
silver Ford crew cab diesel powered dually with a twenty foot box
cargo, dual axle trailer behind it. Major Byron H. Curtis had
come in force; he meant to take his long lost daughter and all her
belongings back to Pensacola with him, he meant to do it in one trip
and he evidently meant to do it with a kind of precision and efficiency
that rivaled any military operation.
He also expected little or
no resistance to his plans and I began to feel like I really was part
of a military operation only I was more of an awestruck bystander about
to get in the military’s way, much to the chagrin of the operation’s
From the instant that he stepped out of his
Dodge truck, it was plain to see that the Major ran no slack and cut
none either. His gait was measured and confident, his clothes
pressed, his cologne measured, fresh shaved, skin tight and a buzz cut
where each individual gray hair seemed to be standing at perfect
attention. I imagined that he could have been a pretty scary
father figure indeed to a pair of daughters; imposing, stern and hard
as a granite pillow.
As soon as he pulled up he had started
barking short, sharp orders. Simple words that were instantly
obeyed by Joy’s brother in law, Jack, and his wife, Joy’s younger
sister, Mary. The whole arrival came off not as a family working
together but more of a military unit setting up for an operation; it
was almost like watching a recreation of when General Douglas Macarthur
had landed again in the Philippines. Joy walked out, hesitantly
at first and then with a quicker pace to her stride. She ran the
last few steps to her father and he swept her up in his arms.
They were soon joined by her sister and brother in law and the process
“Now that’s a Kodak moment if I ever saw one.” Cody whispered.
“Shhhhh.” I said. “Don’t ruin it. Ten years in the making.”
“And long overdue.” Cody whispered, adding.
“Yeah. Long overdue.” I whispered back.
seemed really, really happy and right then I was happy for her.
Suddenly the sorrow that I thought that I was going to feel just wasn’t
there. The useless self-pity was gone.
This was right.
This was what was needed.
an imbalance was being righted, a correction was being made and a life
was getting back on an even course and I was part of that. In
some way, some small way, I was part of that and that fact alone made
me feel just a little warm down in my jaded soul. Yeah, I thought
to myself as I leaned up against the concrete column out front, sipping
from my 52 ounce Mega Mug full of sweet tea and watching the long
overdue family reunion … who the hell was I to want to stand in the way
of something good like that, something long overdue like that.
looked back at me, just a quick glance and a happy smile, her hand
through her long hair, and I knew right then that today was going to be
a hell of an interesting day full of memories; some good, some bad but
memories nonetheless and all of them definitely keepers.
an hour had passed and short of initial introductions and hydraulic
press-like handshakes, the Major had said very little to me or anyone
else but when he barked everyone else, including Cody and me, obeyed
without hesitation. At the top of the hour, the Major had called
for a ten minute break and everyone took it without question. I
stood on the front porch, trying to get a size for how much we’d done
in that non-stop hour and I had to say that we were close to being
finished, maybe another thirty minutes.
My muscles were sore.
hadn’t worked this hard, this steady, in a while now. We had
emptied the house in less than an hour and we’d done it like ants in a
line. Weight on the old wood beneath me, a difference in air
pressure behind me, the Major, the wooden boards of the old porch
creaking under his presence. He came and stood there, three feet
from me to my left. We looked each other over and he turned to
stare back out into the neighborhood.
“Son, I thought it was about time you and I had a little pow-wow.” He said, still staring off into the surrounding neighborhood.
“I’ve been hoping that we would get the chance, sir.” I replied.
Major kept staring off into the distance but when he spoke you felt the
inherent urge to stand up as straight as you could and not move a
“I’ll be up front and straight with you, son.
You’re not what I expected to find my daughter running with.” Major
Byron H. Curtis said as he joined me there on the front porch and
looking out over the neighborhood, like he was scanning for enemy
activity, scanning for anything that would upset the precision of his
“I’m not sure how to take that, sir.” I said and I honestly didn’t.
Byron H. Curtis huffed something and turned to face me, looking me up
and down again, like he was trying to make sure of something. I
stood my ground, toe to toe with him, in case this was about to be the
showdown that I had feared might be coming sooner or later today.
might be the closest thing you get from me that resembles a
compliment. I’d take it at that, son, and be happy that you got
it. Trust me, they’re few and far between, you have to earn them
before you get them and they’re not easy to earn, not with me.”
“Yes, sir.” I said, feeling that short answers might be the better part of a basic expectancy of survival.
someone like Major Byron H. Curtis, thinking twice and speaking once
might just be a really good idea so I chose my words carefully … at
“No, sir. You’re sure not like that smoke skulled punk that she left home with a decade ago.”
“No, sir, I’m not.”
The Major’s mouth creased just a little, almost barely imperceptibly.
“So, tell me, son. How long have you two been shacked up now?”
the eyes were indeed windows to the soul then Major Byron H. Curtis’s
eyes were gun slits with heavy crew served weapons waiting behind them
and his soul was a reinforced concrete bunker. I revised my first
strategy and went with a new one.
“Permission to speak freely, sir.”
Major Byron H. Curtis looked me over as a small curl of a smile appeared, just for a second, at the corner of his mouth.
and protocol. My, you are full of surprises. Go ahead,
son. I’ll hold my opinion of you until after you’ve said your
piece.” He said.
I took a deep breath and chose my words very, very carefully.
I’ve known your daughter for two months shy of four years now and in
that time she has never had a roommate let alone a man live with
her. She has survived on her own, with a little help from her
friends from time to time, but she is strong and determined.
She’s got a spirit I can’t begin to tell you how much I admire. I
gather she got those traits from you.”
“Don’t try to blow candy flavored smoke up my ass, boy.” Major Byron H. Curtis harrumphed softly.
my intention, sir. I do not live with your daughter. My
parents wouldn’t stand for something like that without a proper
ceremony taking place and I’m kind of partial to keeping in the good
graces of my parents. They’re decent folks, they’ve never done me
wrong and I don’t see a need to break their hearts or bring any shame
on their household. To put it bluntly, sir, I’m pretty much shit scared of my
parents particularly my dad but I’m especially shit scared of you.”
The Major gave a short chuckle, almost unheard.
well you should be, son. Now, if you’re not living with my
daughter do you live with that other guy?” Major Byron H. Curtis asked.
“Cody? No, sir. We’re just friends. Good friends.”
a bit of a loose screw, isn’t he? Kind of a shifty, dodgy candy
ass from what I can tell.” Major Byron H. Curtis asked.
his moments, sir. I can’t say that he’s got his shit wrapped as
tight as I’d like to think mine is but he’s a good friend and I’m
partial to him being so. I make no apologies for his behavior or
appearance; those are solely his responsibility and his blame.
I’d like to think that you’d judge me on my own merits and not by the
company that I keep.”
“You’ve been friends with him long, son?”
“Yes, sir. Practically since our first day of college together.”
“Oh. A pair of college boys? You do go to college, right, son? You are still in college, am I correct?”
sir. We both go to college. USM, the university down the
road there. I’ll graduate in August with a BS degree in business
“Four year degree. Got plans for after you graduate?” the Major asked.
sir. I in the process of applying for a position with the United
States Marshalls and after a few years I hope to use my experience
there to move on to the FBI.”
Major Byron H. Curtis seemed to
have to digest that for a few seconds. Clearly it was probably
the last thing he expected me to say. I would have smiled, just a
little, if I didn’t think that smiling might be a death sentence around
“Manners, protocol, a college education, high
ambitions and a career in Federal law enforcement ... Holy
crap! My little girl was really shooting for the stars with you,
wasn’t she? Why, hell, son, with all that going for you, you must
think that you’re just my kind of candidate to be my next son in law
now don’t you?”
It took me a second to recover from that jab.
“I make no assumptions there, sir. I’d believe that Joy would have far more say in that matter than I would.”
Major Byron H. Curtis smiled and shook his head in a disbelieving manner.
“Jesus H. Christ. Joy seems to have changed her tastes in friends and the kinds
of people that she hangs out with.” He said flatly. “Hell.
I’m almost impressed. There might be hope for her yet.
Maybe I can make something respectable out of her after all.”
I think you’ll find out that a lot has changed about your daughter.
If I'm not what you expected to find her hanging around with I
can tell you that she's not what you've expected to find when you drove
up here. Talking
on the phone long distance is one thing … being here, face to face with
her, that’s another.”
Major Byron H. Curtis reached into his
pocket and pulled out a pack of Winstons, tapped one out and started
looking for his lighter. I reached into my pocket, pulled out my
beat up old Zippo and offered it to him. He nodded curtly, lit up
and passed the lighter back to me.
“You smoke?” he asked, exhaling.
He pointed with his cigarette towards the lighter that I held.
“Zippo like that is a serious piece of support hardware for a bad habit that you claim isn’t yours.”
prefer to service bad habits that aren’t mine rather than take them on
as my own. It gives you a certain perspective on the habit that
others might not have.”
“Smart man full of good words.
Hmmm.” Major Byron H. Curtis said, tapping his forehead with the
cigarette he held in his fingers.
“Do you do drugs?”
“Nothing other than caffeine which I admit I believe I’m addicted to and in large quantities.”
“Tea, sir. Sweet and iced. Gallons and gallons of it. I could probably drain a bathtub with a straw.”
much of a tea man, myself but coffee never killed anyone. So,
nothing serious? Heroin? LSD? A little wacky weed
every now and then?”
sir. That’s not my thing. I’ve seen too much of it in my
life so far to know that it’s not what I want for me. It might
also interfere with the plans I have made for my future. What I
want is too important to blow on a failed drug test. I’ve got too
much riding on my future to do something stupid like that.”
“What’s your strongest vice, son?”
“Sir?” I asked him.
have you picked up that you can’t put down because it’s got its claws
sunk so deep into you that it’s become a part of who and what you
are? What have you got that you live for, that you can’t live
without? Can you tell me that?”
My first thought was to
tell Major Byron H. Curtis that my strongest vice was his daughter Joy,
her naked body wrapped around mine, but I had a profound desire to live
to see the sunrise tomorrow morning and I felt that if this man wanted
to he could break me like a dry twig.
“Yes, sir. I take it neat. A lot of what it has to offer gets lost when its tossed on the rocks.”
“Whiskey neat. Not those fancy wine coolers or all those light beers that seem popular with people your age?”
I shook my head.
“Whiskey, huh? That’s an interesting choice for someone your age. Speaking of that, just how old are you, son?”
“I’ll be twenty three next month, sir.”
The Major seemed a bit put back by my answer.
God almighty! Are you even potty trained? Seems my little
Joy’s robbing the goddamn cradle with a baby like you, isn’t she?”
is five years older than I am, sir. I hardly consider that
robbing the cradle on her part. Age isn’t necessarily a measure
of maturity. It’s just a number, tells you how long you’ve lived;
it doesn’t tell you what you’ve done with your life, how much you’ve
lived and it’s certainly not a good measure to judge someone by as to
their overall or actual worth.”
Marie had said that to me one
day, on a beach down on the Gulf Coast, and I’d always remembered
it. Never thought I’d get a chance to use that line of reasoning,
let alone with someone as gruff as the Major here and even though I
paraphrased the hell out of what she had once told me I think I made my
point. Major Byron H. Curtis said nothing but took a long, deep
breath. Maybe that had been a little too far so I changed
“Sir. You don’t know me and I don’t know what Joy has told you about me, if she’s told you anything at all …”
stopped, trying to figure out how I was going to say what I had to say
to this man. The Major was about to say something but I cut him
off, realizing that might not be the best idea in the world but I was
going to say what I thought I had to say.
know how to say this any other way than to just come out and say it and
I’m going to say it because it needs to be said. Joy left home a
long time ago, someone took her from her home, someone that she loved
or thought that she loved, someone filled her head with ideas and
dreams that they couldn't make good on ... someone that you didn’t like
didn’t approve of. I’m not that man. I’m a man who doesn’t
believe in second chances. Life doesn’t give them to me and I
don’t give them to anyone else but somehow, whatever happened between
you and her, that was a long time ago. A damn long time and now
you’ve got a second chance to make it right.”
“Your point, son? You’re getting a bit long wordy.”
ex-military. You know the saying that you can win the battle but lose
the war? Well, you lost a battle with your daughter all those
years ago when she left home. That battle is over, don’t keep
fighting it over and over again because if you do the outcome is just
going to be the same. You’re going to lose the war with your
daughter. My advice is don’t lose the war with your daughter
because you can’t stop fighting an old battle and don’t get too tied up
in the battles that you’re about to face with her. She’s your
daughter, she’s been gone a long time and she wants to come home.
The little girl you knew, the little girl that left … that’s not her
inside that house there. Your little girl grew up, she made
something out of herself, best as she could, and she did it all by
herself. That’s someone I don’t think that you’ve ever met before
and it would really be worth your time and effort to meet her, to
understand who she is, who she has become, and what a … really … great
… woman … she is.”
Major Byron H. Curtis looked at me long and hard.
“Is all that from personal experience, son?”
“Every bit of it, sir. Six weeks shy of four years’ worth.”
“And what is your relation to my daughter? You’re exact relation, son?”
I thought about that long and hard.
really good friend, sir. There could have been more, at one time,
but I missed out on my chance for it to be anything other than what it
was and that’s a regret that I’ll have to live with for the rest of my
life I guess and I will count that regret among my biggest, that I
promise you. If you’re looking for another son in law, I’m not
him. I missed that chance and I was stupid for doing so.”
Major Byron H. Curtis took almost as long as I had taken to answer to chew on my answer.
“So … What aren’t you telling me, son?”
that I think should be her place to tell you first. I’m just
saying … I had a chance with your daughter, a chance to get close to
her, a chance for something good to come out of it and I blew it.
That was my fault and I was stupid for doing it but our signals got
crossed, we went our separate ways and now we’re out of time.
That’s life. The last two months that I’ve been back with her, I
thought that what Joy and I have shared … I thought that was a new
beginning, I thought that was my second chance to make things right
with her but I was wrong; it was just wishful thinking on my
part ... on her part as well. I don’t get second chances, that’s just my life … but Joy
isn’t like me. Joy’s gotten a second chance. Joy has a
second chance, for her, for you, with you.”
The Major looked at his Winston and made a slight face.
“Still being wordy. Better get to the point soon, son. I’m about to run out of smoke.”
you’ve got something that I don’t have … a second chance with someone
that really matters to you. If I were you, I’d use that second
chance for all it was worth and I’d make it work this time, somehow,
some way, hell, any way I could make it work I would. That’s what
I would do, if I was standing where you’re standing now, if I had the
opportunity that you had right now.”
“You would, would you, son?”
“Yes, sir. Without hesitation or question.”
Byron H. Curtis finished his cigarette, looked at the butt like it was
a spent shell casing that had somehow fulfilled its assigned duty
flawlessly then dropped it to the porch and crushed it out under his
boot. He turned to look at me and spoke and when he did I felt
mountains shudder off in the distance.
“That was a mighty fine bit of speaking. How much of that did you honestly mean there, son?”
“All of it, sir. Every last bit.”
Major Byron H. Curtis put his face an inch from my face and spoke in a voice that sounded like an avalanche in slow motion.
that you’ve said your piece, I’ll say mine and you’ll stand there and
hear me out. Joy did talk about you, son, the past few times that
I’ve called her. She said she hoped that you and I would get to
meet one day. Well, I’m here to tell you that day is here, that
day is now and we are having our little chit-chat. She said that
you were different and that I shouldn’t expect anything out of you that
I would have expected out of the kinds of punks that she used to call
“friends” when she lived at home. She called you special, her
term for you, and talking to you, now, I see what she means by that.”
He moved to walk past me, almost brushing his shoulder against mine.
hope that by special she doesn’t think that I’m special in the same way
that education can be thought of as being special.” I said, turning to
Major Byron H. Curtis stopped, laughed a dark laugh then turned and looked at me hard. I matched him eye to eye.
sense of humor. I like that, son. Hell, I like that a
lot. Now listen to me and listen good because I’m only going to
say this once. You’re different than what she’s used to, you’re
different than what she’s had before and you’re different than what I
was expecting her to be with. All of that is a good thing, for
you, standing where you’re standing. She knows that and I know
that. She tells me that you’ve helped her, that you’ve been there
for her when she needed someone and that you’ve been mighty supportive
of my little girl. I appreciate that, hell, I can even respect
that. It’s only because you’re not like what I expected to find
her with, it’s only because you’re who and what you are, it’s only
because you’ve helped my daughter when she had no one else to turn to
that I’m not stomping you into the ground right now and taking a great
big shit on what’s left. Are we clear on that?”
“Yes, sir.” I said, staring him eye to eye.
Now, I appreciate your candor and your honesty. Hell, you’ve got
some set of balls to stand there and try to tell me how to live my life
or how to treat my own daughter. I respect that too and I’ll take
what you’ve said into consideration once I get back home and see what
I’ve got to work with and how much work I’ve got cut out for me.
You don’t have to tell me that what Joy and I have coming isn’t going
to be easy but I appreciate the fact that there’s someone else out
there besides me and her that can understand what I’m about to go
through in order to try and make up for one hell of a big ass mistake
that I made all those years ago.”
“Good. Now is there anything else you wanted to discuss?
“No, sir.” I said. “That about covers it all.”
we are done here, son. You are dismissed and I thank you for the
light.” Major Byron H. Curtis said as he walked on by me.
He stopped three steps away and half turned to face me again.
and you can tell your eavesdropping candy ass friend there standing
just around the corner that he can get back to work now. Your and
my little drama on the center stage here is over. I’ve got a
schedule to keep and I intend to keep it. The pleasure’s been
mine, son. It’s been chuckles, I assure you of that.”
Byron H. Curtis stepped on back into the house as Cody cautiously
leaned around the corner of the front porch. I looked from where
the Major had entered the house and back to where Cody was peeking out
“Goddamn! Give the creepy old geezer with the
buzzcut there an Uzi and tell Sarah Connor to run for her life because
that hard ass son of a bitch is the goddamn motherfucking Terminator!”
I went over and squatted down on my bootheels at the edge of the porch.
you there, listening, for the whole time?” I asked, somewhat annoyed at
Cody’s eavesdropping on what I considered one of the more important
talks I had ever had with anyone else in my life.
“Kinda.” Cody said sheepishly.
“Kinda?” I asked.
“Sorta.” He said, same tone of voice.
I heard it all. Look. I took some stuff out the back to
Joy’s car and she said that you were on the front porch taking a
break. I was coming around the side here to ask you if you’d had
had the chance to talk to Robopop yet and then he stepped out onto the
porch and you two started jacking your gums off at each other and
spraying the porch here with spent brass and testosterone so I figured
“You figured that you had a pretty good seat to see me get my ass whipped if the Major was in the right mind to do it.”
“I’d have been there for you, man.”
“Yeah. You’d have been there for me, taking bets and laughing your ass off.”
“Hey! What are friends for?” he asked innocently, spreading his hands in a goodwill gesture.
“That’s my line.” I said, turning around and walking back towards the front door.
Cody hopped up on the front porch and was right behind me.
“Odds were easy in his favor but I’d cut you in for part of the take. Call it a hard luck draw.” Cody said.
“You really would have stood there and watched me get my ass whipped by the Major? After all we’ve been through?”
Cody shrugged his shoulders and I took that for what it was.
What the hell was that loose screw bullshit about? Candy
ass? Dodgy and shifty? And what about that part where you
said that I didn’t have my shit wrapped as tight as you do? I
heard that, you know?”
I stopped in place.
“You heard all of that?” I asked.
“Yeah. Yeah, I did.”
“Good.” I said, starting to walk again.
“Bastard. You probably knew I was there all the time, didn’t you?”
“I saw your reflection in the driver’s side window on the Vette.”
Cody looked back at my Vette, parked there in the driveway.
“Damn. That was kind of a give-away.” He said, realizing that the Major must have seen him as well in the reflection.
walked inside and had to quickly move out of the way as Major Byron H.
Curtis walked past us carrying a box that Cody and I had helped pack
together two nights ago. I was sure that it would have taken two
people to move that box but there the Major was, carrying it like it
was nothing at all.
“Did you see that?!” Cody whispered.
I said, not really believing what I was seeing. “You and I packed
that box the other night, even reinforced it with packing tape so it
wouldn’t bust and it must be like a hundred pounds easy.”
told you, bro! He’s the motherfucking Terminator. He’s not a man, he’s a
machine; a cybernetic organism. Microprocessor controlled
hyperalloy combat chassis under living tissue. Very tough.
Very hard to kill.” Cody whispered.
heaaaaar you and when the Major hears you …” I whispered back, mocking
Cody as I watched the Major carry the heavy box across the yard to the
trailer behind his truck.
Cody did an overly exaggerated comical gulp.
“Major Byron H. Curtis will make Cody Miller squeal like a pig.” He whispered.
had to stop and laugh at Cody, shushing him and urging him to be
quiet. Joy walked up to us, carrying a taped closed box in her
“Thanks for trying to put in a good word for me with the Major.” She said, leaning over and kissing me on the cheek.
I just stared at Cody and Joy.
“Did everyone hear my conversation with the Major on the front porch?” I asked out loud.
“Yes.” Joy’s sister Mary said as she briefly leaned out of the bathroom where she was packing up some of the smaller stuff.
Joy laughed and Jack walked down the hall carrying another box that was taped closed and marked “bedroom.”
toe to toe with the Major isn’t easy.” Jack said. “Hell!
I’m married to his youngest daughter and I don’t think that I’ve ever
talked to him like that. I don’t think that anyone has ever
talked like that to him … and lived … or been happy that they lived.”
“Jack!” Mary chided from the bathroom.
“You’re a dead man.” Cody said, drawing a finger across his throat for emphasis.
worry.” Jack said. “When the Major finishes with you they’ll
probably donate your balls to the Smithsonian in some kind of display
on courage and bravery in the face of certain death.”
“That’s a hell of a consolation.” Cody said.
“Jack!” Joy’s sister said louder, chastising him again playfully from the bathroom.
smiled, shrugged his shoulders, adjusted how he was carrying his box
and walked on out to load it in one of the trailers. I looked
over at Joy who was smiling at me.
“Relax.” She said. “If
the Major didn’t like you, he wouldn’t have talked to you that long, or
let you talk to him like that. I think you made an
impression. Maybe even a good one.”
Joy walked on out with the box that she was carrying.
“Better you make a good impression with him than he makes a good impression with you … in the ground.” Cody mused.
That’s kind of what I was thinking.” I said, grabbing the nearest taped
up box and carrying it out to be loaded in one of the trailers.
Back to work.
then it was three in the afternoon and we were done. Everything
was packed, loaded, the house was empty, it had been double checked and
all that was left was to say our goodbyes.
The Major, Jack, Cody
and I were standing around on the front porch while Joy and Mary did a
last walk through of the old house. Joy loaded a few loose items
into the back of her (used to be Cody’s) ’85 red Toyota Supra, shutting
the rear hatch with a solid thump then the two of them joined the rest
of us again on the front porch. Jack and Mary shook Cody and my
hands, said their closing pleasantries and then headed for their truck;
the Major did the same when it came his turn, saying little more than a
basic thanks for our labor, giving another solid handshake then headed
to his truck as well.
That left Cody, Joy and I to say our goodbyes.
all said a mutual goodbye together and then I stepped away to give Cody
and Joy some privacy and some time together. Their goodbye lasted
several minutes and included him holding her hand and finally her
giving him a kiss on the cheek. Cody nodded to me and then walked
on back into the house, giving Joy and me our last time together.
This was it.
The last few minutes that we’d be together, just the two of us.
weeks shy of four years and it came down to this moment in time.
Almost four years ago I’d almost run her over late at night with my TA
and now here I was saying goodbye to her for the last time. At
first, we didn’t say anything … I don’t think that we could so we just
held hands and stood there, looking at each other, eye to eye.
She started to say something, stopped, and chewed her lower lip.
One of us was going to have to do it so I went ahead and spoke.
home, doll.” I said. “It’s been too long. Go home. Do
something with your life. Do something good for yourself.”
“I won’t forget you, Christopher Todd Shields.” She whispered in a cracked voice.
“Yeah, well, the sooner you forget me the better your life will be.” I told her.
“I don’t believe that … and neither do you.” She said.
“Doesn’t matter what I believe. It’s true.” I said.
She shook her head, tears starting to well up in her eyes.
want you to promise me something. I want you to promise that
you’ll do something with your life, Christopher. You’re always
doing something for other people, do something for yourself. You
do something good with your life, you do something good for yourself.”
me that. You find your equal, you walk with her side by side, and
don’t you ever settle for less than what you want. Don’t you ever
take less than you deserve from anyone.”
She leaned forward and I did as well, we put our foreheads together, our noses rubbing softly.
fuck's sake, Cowboy ... stop giving yourself to everybody so
freely. The next time you find somebody ... make sure she's got
something to give back to you before you give her everything you have
to offer. Promise me that, Cowboy.”
“I promise.” I told her softly and she nodded.
when someone finds you … because that’s how your life works ... when
someone else finds you … when someone who will be good to you finds you, who
will be good for you finds you I don’t want you to make the same
mistake that we did. When she finds you, you grab onto her with
both hands and you never let her go. Ever.”
I nodded because right then my throat was too tight to talk.
“I left something for you, inside, a package in the living room with your name on it.” She whispered.
looked into her witchy eyes and ran my hand across her cheek, she
closed her eyes and turned into my hand. God, I thought. If
I could just have year and a half of my life back, if I could just go back in
time to year and a half ago so much I’d change, so much would be
different. I wouldn’t fuck things up, I wouldn’t hurt Joy like I
had … and we might not even be here, right here, right now, saying
goodbye like this.
There might actually be a chance that we’d be
together now, making a life for ourselves, walking side by side, me
sharing my life with her and her sharing her life with me.
If I could have just one wish come true just once in my life … If I
could go back in time, year and a half, just year and a half … I’d do things
differently. I promise. Just year and a half head start and it
might have all worked out.
But that was asking the
impossible. What was done was done and nothing left to do but go
through the motions, accept the consequences and get on with our lives.
pulled my hand away, unbuttoned the top two buttons of my shirt,
reached back behind my neck and unclasped my Saint Christopher
medal. I stepped behind her, put the chain around her neck and
fastened it even as the look of total surprise was registering on her
“Wait! What are you … No, Cowboy. You can’t …” she said.
I finished putting the Saint Christopher medal on her then stood in front of her as she looked at it.
“You … can’t give me … this.” She whispered, her voice broken.
gave me something … I want you to take this with you when you go.
It’s been good for me so far, maybe it’s still got some magic left in
“Goddamn it, Christopher! I can’t take this and you
know it!” she whispered, turning towards me and looking down at the
Saint Christopher medal hanging now around her neck.
this back! You take this … medal … back right now!” she
stammered, in as loud of a whisper as she could muster, as she reached
behind her and tried to unclasp the chain.
“Don’t.” I said, reaching up and stopping her. “Please, don’t. Just take it. Just wear it. For me.”
“I can’t take your Saint Christopher medal.” She whispered in a broken voice.
“You can and you’re going to.”
“Why?” she asked, a tear running down her cheek.
“Because you need it more than I do.” I said.
gold! This is real gold! I mean, this is yours!
You’ve had it since you were a child!” she stammered, holding the Saint
Christopher medal in her trembling fingers.
“And it’s worked its magic for me for a long time now so maybe it will work some magic for you as well.”
“Why?” she whispered, again, her eyes watering up.
you’re going on a journey and I can’t even begin to imagine what that
journey will be like. You’re going to need all the help you can
get, Joy. Look, doll, for what it’s worth I’ve tried the patience
and understanding of that poor old saint for years now but he’s always
looked after me and seen me through no matter what I got myself into or
how stupid I was.”
Joy looked at the Saint Christopher medal held in her fingers.
… Now, maybe he’ll look after you, too. Protect you and
keep you safe, see that’s what it says on the front there around his
picture. Saint Christopher, protect us and keep us safe.
That’s his job. That’s what he does.” I said.
Our eyes met.
bit her lip, her jaw trembled and then she started sobbing then, tears
rolling down her cheeks and she took me in her arms. Our lips
brushed, touched, and then parted as we kissed and kissed deeply for
probably the last time in our lives. The Major watched us, took a
last drag on his cigarette, casually tossed it into the gutter and then
looked away, starting his diesel powered Dodge with the clatter of the
engine and the belch of black smoke from the exhaust. The look on
his face was … softer than I remembered, but when he started that truck
the message was clear.
This operation is concluded.
Say your goodbye.
Make it quick.
Time to go.
eyes hurt, my throat hurt, my heart was just a lump of stone in my
chest and there was a roaring in my ears but I let her go because I had
to. I took her hand and led her back to where her Supra was
parked under the simple open carport. I opened the door for her,
helped her in, shut it after she got in, waited for her to belt herself
in and crank the Toyota. She let the Toyota idle for a few
minutes during which time we held hands.
“You’re going to be okay, Cowboy.” she asked.
I shook my head.
I’m not going to be okay, TJ … but I know where that is and one day
I’ll eventually get back to that place but it’s going to be a long
time.” I said.
“Going to be a hell of a long time.” I whispered because my voice was cracking.
Joy squeezed my hand, tight.
too, Cowboy. When you get there, if you don’t find me there
already waiting on you then you wait for me. I’ll be there one
day, too. Deal?”
“Deal.” I whispered.
I felt her
hand slowly slip from mine and there was nothing that I could do to
stop it, like a person drowning that I couldn’t save slipping away
beneath the dark waters, and then I watched her back the Toyota out of
her drive way.
A lot of memories were leaving now; Joy and the
Supra. It was almost like they were made for each other.
Both of them had been through some tough times and both of them had
been part of Cody’s life and mine. I’d first met the Supra at a
junior college in Raymond when Cody owned it way back in the fall of
1987. A year later I’d met Joy on a dark road late at
night. Now the Supra was taking Joy back home, to Florida, to
where she belonged, to be with her family and she was wearing my Saint
Christopher medal when she left.
Joy was leaving and she was taking a part of Cody and me with her when she left.
Nothing else had to be said.
Nothing else could be said.
waved one last time as she wiped the tears from her face, put on a pair
of sunglasses, put the Toyota into first gear, let her foot off the
clutch and slowly drove away. A car that had been bought in Texas
as a coming of age gift for Cody getting his driver’s license was now
going to Florida to help Joy start over, to carry her to her second
chance in life and to a starting over with her sister and father. I watched from the front yard until the small convoy had
all vanished from sight around the corner and then I waited a while
longer … for what I didn’t really know.
Was I expecting Joy to
change her mind, to come driving back around the corner, hop out of her
Supra, run up to me, throw her arms around me as we fell to the ground
and she’d tell me that she had decided to stay?
that was exactly what I was waiting to happen and when enough time
passed that I knew that it wasn’t going to happen I turned and walked
back into the old, empty house.
Someone I cared about was gone.
Slipped away through my fingertips forever and there was nothing I could do about it.
I let the memories build as we walked back into Joy's house.
weeks ago I'd taken my first steps into this house ... now I was taking
my very last. Eight weeks that had seemed to last forever and had been over in an instant.
I stood there in the hallway.
The pictures were gone.
The furniture was gone.
The house was empty.
Joy was gone.
The ceiling fans were turned off.
The window units had been unplugged and removed.
The central system was off.
Nothing moved in the old house.
Not even the air.
Empty and … still.
that was left was a whole lot of sorrow and a whole lot of regret and a
whole lot of what-ifs. Joy had been wrong, we had made promises
to each other … we just hadn’t said them out loud to each other.
I leaned up against the frame of the bedroom door. Her
bedroom looked so small ... how did she fit that huge bed in here with
her night stands and her chest of drawers?
Incense and musk.
The smell of her skin.
Perfume and sweat.
The sounds her bed made.
Brass headboard against old wood.
The drumbeat of our shared passion.
I walked over to where
her headboard had been ... the marks against the wall where the
headboard had banged into the paint there ... memories. I stood
up, ran my hand along the wall then walked back out into the hallway
... past the bathroom where she and I had gotten ready for class and
work so many mornings ... where we'd showered together late at night.
I walked to the door to the trip room and stood there. Cody
came around from the kitchen area, walked up and stood next to me.
"Looks totally different now." he whispered.
"She really had this room set up." I said. "Put a lot of work into it."
"Yeah. She did it all herself ... little bit at a time."
walked into the trip room and looked around. The wires and sheets
were gone. The pillows and blankets and cushions were gone.
The walls had been repainted ... all of Joy's clouds and art were
gone, buried under fresh colors. The room smelled antiseptic now
... clean, fresh paint. The holes in the walls where the
hooks had been now puttied and sanded smooth. Everywhere I looked
had to look hard to find a trace of Joy. I walked past Cody
and stood there, in the hallway, looking into the living
closed my eyes and lost myself so deep I barely heard Cody walk up and
lean up against the threshold beside me.
“You know, I keep thinking about that time we
all went out on Charles' boat. We had fun that night.” Cody said
as I opened my eyes and the memories faded.
“That’s one of the
best steaks that I’d ever had.” I admitted. “They had a live
band, some Cajun group out of Metairie … you remember, the one that had
that bearded guy who could play that fiddle like it was speed metal.”
You remember that Two Step number that they played. That was
catchy. I think Joy recognized it because when they started
playing it her eyes sure lit up and she pulled you out onto the floor
in front of the stage and you two started dancing.”
dance.” I mused, remembering.
was so jealous of you that night. You with her ... getting to
dance with her. She only had eyes for you that night." Cody
“And then when they played that
slow, sad song … I don’t even think I understood half of the words that
they guy was singing all I know is that Joy and I danced real slow that
night and I held her tight.”
“I’m not sure that you were supposed to dance to that tune.” Cody mused. “Let alone slow dance.”
matter. We did and that was one of the best feelings in the world
because she let me hold her tight and I’d never held her tight like
that. Just holding her in my arms and dancing slow with her head
in the crook of my neck … I swore then that I would always remember
that feeling and I will. I always will.”
“You and she spent a lot of time together that night …” Cody said.
slow danced again real close when the band did that cover of The
Rolling Stones’ "Angie" and we walked barefoot on the beach in the
moonlight … she wasn’t herself that night. She was different.” I
“More open, not so reserved.
She laughed and smiled a lot and we even held hands when we walked on
the beach. That was nice.”
The sound of the surf late at night.
The breeze in her hair.
Joy stopping then, pulling me close to her, giving me all the permission I needed.
Moving in close ... so close ... putting my forehead to hers, leaning in, the tip of my nose to hers.
Her arms going around my neck, crossing behind my back.
Me pulling her closer to me.
Our lips touching.
Her breath hot and fast on my cheek as my tongue found hers.
The sound she made when my hands pulled her to me.
And like that my life was perfect.
“That was probably when she first started coming around to you … and her.”
I sighed. “Yeah. If I had to try to pinpoint when we began
to be more than just friends then … yeah, I’d say it was that boat trip
that day. That's the day I think she decided to start trying to
get closer to me.”
“If I could
just go back in time, to one day in my life it would be that day and
I’d tell her how I felt and I wouldn’t be afraid, you know. I’d
go back in time and tell her how I felt and things would be
different. There never would be any Katrice … just Joy ... and
I'd probably still have her today ... probably still have her thirty years from now."
Cody leaned up against the wall.
"God. If I only knew then what I know right now … If I hadn’t been so stupid year and a half ago.”
of our lives, bro.” Cody agreed. “What’s life if you know what’s
going to happen? That takes the mystery and all the fun out of
“And it takes a lot of the hurt out as well.” I said.
“Yeah, well … There’s that, too, I guess.” Cody said, turning from the window and looking down at me.
"I could do with a lot less of that in my life. I really fucking could, you know."
The house was so empty now.
remembered the rug that Joy had sat on that Saturday morning, eight
weeks ago now. There she had sat, a naked Amazon, in the morning
rays of light, smoking her handrolled, post-trip, lost in personal
introspection. One leg crossed under her, one leg raised, bent at
the knee in front of her, her arms wrapped around her raised leg,
handrolled in her fingers, burning slowly … dust particles slowly
drifting in the rays of light, the sun dancing on her hair, across her
took a hit, held it, tilted her head back and slowly exhaled towards
the ceiling, like it was the most natural thing ever. She had been lost
in thought, lost in personal introspection, wreathed in smoke that
danced and wafted around her in the early morning stillness of the
house, smoke that hovered in a thin veil near the ceiling like some
collection of apparitions slowly circling her, her thoughts and dreams
turned manifest in form and wispy nature.
“Her smoke rose up forever.” I whispered.
“What?” Cody asked and I gave an involuntary flinch because I hadn’t heard him walk up and stand behind me.
My thoughts had been elsewhere and I’d been lost deep within them.
“Her smoke rose up forever.” I said.
“Yeah. I thought that’s what you said. What does that mean? Where does that come from?”
the name of an old story I once read when I was a kid. It was a
tough read and I always told myself I’d go back to it when I got older,
give it a … second chance. From what I remember it was about the
end of everything, bringing something back, memories out of ashes.”
“Never read it. Who wrote it?”
“Guy named Tiptree was the author only he was a she. Fooled the entire science fiction writers’ community.”
“He was a she? You mean he was a tranny?”
He was actually a woman writing under the name of a man. They
found her out in 1977, I think that was the year that I read that story
because it was somewhat of a big deal there for a little while … just
when I had started to read science fiction novels, about the time I
first saw "Star Wars" in the theater and then that happened.”
“So, who was he … or she?”
I sighed, trying to remember.
… somebody. I didn’t get into the whole argument too deep, I just
remember that it was a guy named Tiptree who wrote that story that I
liked and then Tiptree turned out to be named Alice and he was actually
a woman instead of a man and everybody was shocked.”
“The ivory tower was rocked.” Cody mused.
like that … A woman in the men’s locker room. I remember
her name was Alice ... because that's when I heard Jefferson Airplane's
"White Rabbit" for the first
time on the radio and I kept thinking of the lyrics ... "Go ask Alice."
Go ask Alice why she wrote with a man's name.”
“Her smoke rose up forever. Cool name for a story.” Cody said, looking into the living room.
I doubt he saw what I saw.
had something in his hand. He saw me looking and he held it up to
show me. A piece of paper, triple folded, with his name written
on the front in her handwriting.
“She left me something … told
me it was in the kitchen. A letter.” Cody said as he folded the
paper and put it in his pocket.
I nodded. If Cody wanted to share what she had written him then he would. Otherwise it wasn’t any of my business.
Cody motioned with his head towards the living room.
“She left something for you, too, bro … there, in the middle of the floor.” He said.
had told me that she had left something but I hadn’t really thought
about it until now. I looked into the living room and when I saw
it I didn’t understand how I could have missed it the first time that
I’d looked into the empty room. I had been there the whole time
but seeing it now it seemed like it had just materialized, as if by
magic, out of thin air. Joy's hat sitting on top of a big flat
hand wrapped package.
Joy’s garish black top hat.
Joy’s favorite hat.
Her party hat.
had this trick she did at parties where she wore this outrageous black
top hat that was a cross between an old time mortician’s hat, a
magician’s hat and kind of like something out of a bizarre fusion of
Dr. Seuss and Lewis Carol. It had a red band around it with a
pair of white and black feathers stuck in it and a pair of thick red
ribbons flowing off the back. She had found it at a consignment
shop on the coast one weekend when we were down there and she had
instantly fallen in love with it because it was so garish. She
had added an Ace of Spades playing card and a Joker playing card to the
band, gluing them there and that had somehow completed the look of the
It was Joy’s party hat and it fit her, especially when she loosened up at parties.
could take the hat off of her head, flip it in the air in front of her,
duck and bob and then catch the hat on her head again without using her
hands at all. She had this coy little look to her when she did it
and it was always a neat trick to see her do, especially if you were
drunk, you were bored, it was only the two of you and she knew you that
were watching her do it.
Joy could be a show-off … sometimes
just as bad as Cody but a show-off just the same and she knew lots of
little parlor tricks to keep you entertained or amused, like when she
would walk a quarter along her knuckles just by flexing her fingers or
tie a cherry stem in a knot using her tongue.
“Hey!” Cody said.
Joy straddling me, bare skin to bare skin.
Moving in slow motion.
Writhing like a snake.
I had a black magic woman.
Being with Joy was voodoo.
up to see her back arched, her breasts jutting out, her long hair
flowing from under her party hat, her smile as she bucked up and down,
one hand on my chest, fingers spread, the other hand holding her hat in
Ride 'em, Cowboy.
The next morning her party hat on the floor, upside down, brim up, with her panties hanging over the side of the rim of the hat.
I came back to the here and now, turned and looked at him.
“Where’d you go, bro?”
“Just … remembering.” I said.
went deep. Left me there for a second or two … I mean you were
fucking completely phased out of this space time continuum.”
I guess I did. Might be doing that a lot, more often than not, in
the next few days. Chances are good on that.”
“Yeah. I understand.” Cody whispered. “Might be doing a bit of that myself.”
“Pretty sure you will.” I said softly.
sighed and walked into the living room and stood there, looking down
Joy’s hat. Cody walked in and stood across from me. I
almost didn’t want to touch it, to disturb what she had left
behind. It almost felt like a memorial; a cairn built without
rocks. It didn’t feel like I was standing at the edge of a fresh
closed grave, no, I felt more like the children did at the end of that
childhood story “Frosty the Snowman” when he melted. I squatted
down on my heels next to the hat. I picked up the hat, gently,
and held it in front of me.
“Oh, there must have been some magic
in that old black hat she found for when she placed it on her head she
began to dance around.” I sang softly.
Cody looked at me, confused.
“Frosty the Snowman?” he asked not sure of himself.
laughed and sat down on the floor, crossed my legs, folded my arms on
my lap and just leaned over, staring at Joy’s hat. Cody sat down
across from me, looking from the hat to me and back again. I
held the hat up to look at it and there, under the hat ... the other
thing that she had left behind for me to remember her by. As soon
as I saw it my mind flashed back … weeks ago.
Her voice was a
loud whisper and I nodded as she raised her head, put her hands on my
shoulders, her lips to my forehead and kissed me lightly there.
“Thank you.” She said, smiling.
being you. For … just being you. For always being you.” She
said, reaching into her kimono pocket and handing me a small decorative
“Here. You remember this and what it’s for, don’t you?”
“The Little Case … just in case.” I said, remembering the small decorative match tin and what it contained.
“If you can’t help me that will.”
opened the lid and stared at the pills inside, arranged neatly around a
well rolled joint and a handful of strike anywhere matches. It
was Joy’s first aid kit in case of a bad trip; bennies for the
rescue. The joint was for later, afterwards, because weed went
great with just about everything but especially with acid or so I’d
been told by her and a few others that had experimented with acid and
pot on a more than occasional basis. She reached out and ran her
finger over the joint.
“Hey! You still …?”
I solemnly shook my head and she nodded in quiet understanding, withdrawing her finger.
“Of course not. You know, you’re right. Some things never do change.”
“That won’t. Ever. Sorry.” I said.
old silly Cowboy. You’ll flood your temple waist deep in hard liquor
but you won’t fill it with holy smoke.” She whispered reaching over and
closing the lid.
Cody was staring at the decorative match tin
again, running his finger over the designs and I could almost hear her
words echo away into silence in the empty house.
“The Little Case. Her first aid kit for bad trips. Did she leave anything in it?” Cody asked.
opened the case. Inside was a small folded piece of paper and
nothing else. I took the piece of paper out and unfolded it,
reading her words.
“I won’t need these anymore. Remember
me and all our times together. Don’t ever forget me because l
promise that I’ll never forget you, Cowboy.” – T.J.
I folded the note and put it in my pocket then I picked up Joy's hat and held it out in front of me.
“This. This right here reminds me of Frosty the Snowman.” I said pointing at Joy’s hat.
Cody looked from me to Joy’s hat and back to me again. His expression said he didn’t understand.
came out of nowhere. He laughed and danced and played and he made
the kids happy and then when he left all that he left behind was a
goodbye, a hat and a promise to come back again one day.”
Cody nodded and reached gently for Joy’s hat. I gave it to him and he held it with a look of understanding in his yes.
“For Joy had to hurry on her way but she waved goodbye saying don’t you cry I’ll be back again someday.” I whispered softly.
“Damn.” Cody muttered. “It is kind of like that old kids story.”
leaned back, supporting myself on my arms, leaning my head back and
staring at the ceiling. I closed my eyes and they burned … burned
like there was smoke in them.
“And her smoke rose up forever.” I whispered again.
“You know, time like this, someone once told me something deep and wise that I’ve always remembered.” Cody said.
I didn’t say anything.
come and people go, Cody. It’s what you get from being with them
while you’re with them that’s important. That’s what you carry
with you through the rest of your life, that’s what makes you decide to
remember them or forget them.”
I leaned my head forward and opened my eyes.
“Who the hell said that?” I asked.
“You did.” Cody said, trying not to smile … and failing.
“I said that?” I asked, trying to remember having ever said something deep like that.
“You know, I don’t remember saying that.”
“Really?” he asked.
“You said it. It was deep, that’s why I remember it.” Cody said.
“When did I tell you that?” I asked, curious.
Cody sighed at the memory.
told me those exact wrods in the parking lot of Sack and Save when I
came up there to see you for the last time, when you were heading back
to Hattiesburg for good. You were picking up your last paycheck
and you’d just read a three page letter from Debby Lee. You told
me those exact words and I thought it was one of the greatest things
that anyone had ever told me so when I got in my car I wrote it down on
a napkin, word for word and I memorized it.”
“I don’t think it was that important.”
made a lot of sense to me, bro. Then and now. Still
does. Words I live by. Your words. People come and
go, it’s not the fact that they come and go because people are always
going to come and go, it’s what we do with those people while they’re
in our lives that’s important. Joy was important and because of
that, I don’t think we’re going to ever forget her … and I don’t think
that she’s ever going to forget us.”
“Joy won’t be able to
forget us … all the things that we did … not without some really
expensive therapy.” I said, laughing a hollow laugh.
Cody laughed as well, reached in his pocket and took out a pack of gum, Trident. He offered me a piece and I took it.
I reached for Joy’s hat and took it from Cody when he offered it to me.
I held Joy’s hat.
I smelled it.
It smelled of Joy.
Her natural scent.
Her flowery perfume.
It smelled like good times.
It smelled like memories.
It smelled like someone I’d never forget as long as I lived.
Cody picked up the package that Joy had left me, turned it around in his hands and held it up, shaking it.
“Feels … solid.”
“You’re worse than a kid at Christmas. Here. Take this and give me that.” I said.
handed the hat back to Cody and he handed me the package that she had
left me. He held the hat expectantly, looking at the package in
my hands, like a brother I never had on a Christmas morning we never
shared. I pulled out my Boy Scout pocket knife and flicked out
the long blade … I turned the package that she had left me around,
found where she had taped it, and sliced it open carefully. Joy
was gone now, these were relics of her, artifacts worth handling
carefully, worth preserving. I carefully peeled the brown packing
paper off of what she had wrapped and left for me. Inside were
all of Joy’s old Tangerine Dream albums and a single folded hand
written note on top with my name on it.
took the albums out one by one and set them out in front of me in a fan
shape with some of the album covers overlapping.
Ambient music; the kind of music you listened to when you were riding the rides of Albert Hofmann's amusement park.
The six week long goodbye was over.
The house was empty.
Joy was gone.
Her trip music.
Her little case.
sat there, in silence, for how long I don't know, just each lost to his
own thoughts. Finally Cody got up and stretched.
"Well ... I guess I'm going to cut out of here." Cody said.
"Meeting Stacy?" I asked.
"Yeah." Cody said.
"Go on and spend some time with her. I'll lock up when I leave."
Cody got up and started walking towards the front door. He paused and looked over his right shoulder at me.
"You going to be okay, bro?" he asked.
"Always am, Cody. Always am." I said.
"Yeah. This isn't your first time is it?"
"No. No it isn't." I said as I laughed.
He stood there ... waiting.
“Yeah. Just ... want a few minutes here, alone. You go on. I'll lock up when I leave.” I said.
"Call me tomorrow? We'll do something."
"Count on it."
started to say something then didn't; he just turned and left, closing the front door
softly behind him. A few minutes later I heard him crank his
convertible Corvette and listened as it drove slowly
away and like that I was alone with all my thoughts, all my memories and all
of my regrets. The
woman that Joy had been renting from was going to come by tomorrow to
do a walk-through and if the house looked okay and was clean Joy was
going to get her security deposit back, mailed to her by check. I
got up and walked around the empty house one last time, checking the
back door to make sure it was locked then walking through the kitchen,
the hallway and the rooms. Everything looked good ... we'd really
cleaned up the house in the last week, as much as you could clean up an
old house like this.
Now the house was empty ... it felt empty.
Everything that had made it special and different and unique was gone now.
It was just another house.
Just ... another ... boring ... house.
stood at the front door, looked down the hallway towards the bedroom
one last time then went out and pulled the door behind me, making sure
it was locked. I walked out into the front yard and looked up at
the late afternoon sky. I felt ... good. I felt ... better
than I thought I would. I was alone, again. Someone else
had left me, someone that I had really cared about.
More than I should have.
I watched the clouds move across the sky for a few minutes.
"So ... Who's next? Can you tell me that?" I asked out loud.
If God had an answer He didn't share it with me.
Didn't really expect Him to, either.
Yeah, I was feeling good.
Better than I should, all things considered.
I had graduation coming.
I was going to do something with
Joy was on her way home.
A house in Pensacola, Florida.
A family she'd left ten years ago.
She'd be home by morning, especially with the Major leading the caravan.
Joy was going to do something with her life.
Tuesday Joy Curtis.
"TJ" to her friends.
been one of her friends and for a little while, for nine weeks, I'd
been a lot more than just a friend. Yeah, I'd remember Joy for a
long time to come, probably forever ... and everytime I thought of her
I'd kick myself for being stupid. I'd been stupid the last two years of my life ... so damn stupid.
I locked the house behind me, walked out to the front of the house and took one last look at what might have been.
tossed my keys in the air, got in my '88 Corvette and drove away,
turning onto Broadway Drive and headed back to my parents' house.
The sun was dropping low in the west, blinding me near the
of Broadway Drive and Highway 49 and it was then that I realized the
song that was playing down low on the Delco Bose radio in the
background ... Lynyrd Skynyrd ... "Tuesday's Gone" and I laughed a
good long laugh as I turned the stereo up loud and began singing with the song on the radio.
Tuesday, you see, she had to be free
But somehow I've got to carry on.
Tuesday's gone with the wind.
Tuesday's gone with the wind.
Tuesday's gone with the wind.
My baby's gone with the wind.
Yeah, Tuesday Joy was gone with the wind.
My baby was gone with the wind.