For Barbara Moore, her healing story as promised.
Tanij and Santos’ generous offer of a place to stay a while warms Meaghan’s heart, though her restlessness drives her outside, with intimations of her journey remaining. She stops at a strip mall for a bite; it would give them some space, and, she reasons, the urge to take over the kitchen is great.
Would she take Roderick up on his request to share a place here, as his plans in Texas meant nothing without her? Her restlessness and his grew with unanswered dreams, and when Collin finally spoke up about his attraction, she felt refreshed to consider a world of new possibilities, travel, more energetic plans---and once again, romance, of the sort that seemed to fade every couple of years. A friend, still, fun sometimes...but such sense of destiny: overwhelming. Meaghan feels sometimes as though she is sinking in people she loves.
She calls Daniela, an old carpentry friend she ran into upon visiting her old haunt, the theater; how pleasant, to meet for tea or a curry...to re-visit a time of increasing, steady optimism, maybe bring it again to life. She sees a lingering piece of decoration from the holidays, and thinks of the pig-tailed girl in pink lemonade overalls she saw, excited to go see Santa Claus.
She watches a beige clad woman, almost her mother’s age, keeping a patient pace with a man who almost certainly had to be her father, conversing just out of the range of clarity, moving by like another dream. She thinks of her aunt Willow, accompanying her grandfather Huff to the cemeteries and jotting down notes for the family tree project. “She shared my birthday,” she thinks with a sigh. “She was slaving away without vacation at Mr. Jurley’s, and she breathed her last in the middle of a nap. “For years, she keeps the elderly company...but no old age for her. She never should have listened to that stupid neighbor telling her she’d just gain the diet weight back...never a man, never a family...church three times a week...the most awful singer in the choir, oh, God, haha!”
For all this, the two bring to mind her father, holistic remedies and advice pouring from her over the phone while he spent half his days on oxygen, a word he always pronounced his own way...as he did “optimism.” “Opkimistic...I think that was it.”
The house where he died seemed the worst place to decorate for a holiday that left her bereft, in a town where she could hardly muster energy to care about a job serving sniping, repressed people, where one’s kids and gossip constituted the haunted husk of conversation.
What she’d looked for in her sister was the approach like a therapist: listen, help her through, as Molly had so many times before. This time, her own irritability and frustration seemed to only push Molly’s buttons; was she trying to say this was Meaghan’s fault?
Though she clearly enjoyed his wife Kaya, she had never been too close to her ambitious but amiable brother; Molly had been like a second Mom once, tending her lovingly. Molly had praised Collin to the stars; birthdays and travel plans seemed ready to align, and sure enough her exotic time with him.
A visit to Hallman’s bookstore turns up a happy surprise: her old friend Debra, cheerfully loading up on second hand fantasy novels. She overhears her sing a Native American church song she’d learned in their happier times together. The church had fallen into many troubles with those who refused to understand the sacredness of its medicine. Debra seems like a photograph that lets you time travel, unforgotten overnight teepee sweats. She offers her take on sharing a house with six people, paying to couch surf, and so much, always more to say, taken with life, smitten with three hundred years of books to read. "Here, doll," Debra offers, "I had an extra fortune cookie from lunch. Don't forget to add "in bed" to the end when you read it!"
Debra reminds Meaghan of their trips to the desert, wishes she could join her, tells her of a lead cooking Mediterranean cuisine, gushes over her chihuahua’s impending litter, promises to take her to a movie, hugs her, and barrels away in a battered Buick, all in a whirlwind of life that takes her friend's breath.
How Meaghan longs to dive into activity, without needing to understand. “Think so much of what could happen,” she muses hazily, “what should happen.”
So long as she can afford gas, she commits herself to her surest therapy: she drives. Perhaps the desert can afford her the emptiness she needs to mirror herself, her spiritual wars and searchings laid bare by perspective.
When they began to talk, Meaghan discovered she and Collin both had experienced having to fight for the right to be ourselves, growing up, clicked on so many levels. It seemed an answer for everyone, a romance that drew together so many mutual friends with its sweetness.
That ending seemed so abrupt; awful as it was not to have another chance to
discuss it, the fall-out was worse, as though Molly blamed her. She knew they’d talked it over,
but always, this trapped feeling, languidness, and Molly’s insistence that seemed to discard
Meaghan’s own experience with pulling herself together. Each strike of retaliation seemed to
rip a coat of warm intentions, stitched too small. Ingratitude, self-centeredness---muscles
knot from the flailing of arms. Every time it seemed resolved, blam! Aiee. Temples throbbed
with unholy terror; personal space suffered intrusion, like a capsizing boat; the more she
fought to right it, the colder and wetter the result. Enough.
The need for someone to listen---maybe back her up, too--- made her miss Dad more. He never went far in school, but he’d paid attention in the class of Hard Knocks. Dad eased his wild spirit eventually as she’d first come of age. He was no licensed therapist, but he would listen, and give the most practical advice possible, no matter the hour of night. Strange how much she’d resented them butting in when she lived nearby, stir-crazy visits without warning to the house they’d financed to help her buy when she came to town and found a really good job. Yet whenever her wanderings took her to lost places, Dad would never judge.
She missed his various concocted plans, always to try and go into business for himself again. He always reached for life’s steering wheel, and Mom, ever his partner, seemed kind of rudderless boat without him. How she wished her remedies and advice could’ve spared him his painful ending; his breathless days, his yearning so great he’d take oxygen with him just to escape sitting at home, haunt her as often as his attacks haunted him.
That was the nice thing about being a guest with Ned’s aunt and family over Christmas, work up fresh people skills, give her time to recover self---just not able to be there and play family, while her life continues on hold.
Mother would sit right there and then respond like she hadn’t heard a word, with something she’s repeated twenty times about someone or ask about something she’d just explained an hour before. Mom meant well, but, knowing her family, she never seemed empowered to express herself.
Beneath the crisp California sun, Sarah misses the whale expedition; Molly had waited in the wrong line, holding their place while Sarah got the tickets. Sarah knew she should’ve spoken up, said what she’d been told, but Molly had asked around, and...it would have to wait. They could take the ferry to the island, walk the beach, maybe shop. Compared to the struggle of getting here...! At least Meaghan returns her call.
She’s just turned down Roderick’s suggestion they could find a place together, perhaps with his father. This poor man---who for all their many friendly exchanges had been an s.o.b. to her, knowing he shouldn’t drink--- embodied everything Meaghan felt was out of control in her own life. He’d come back from war with post traumatic stress disorder long before such things were diagnosed. Too scared to kill himself, too scared to live. Perhaps if she had all the best of her serenity of old, she would tap the energy to aid in restoring him. Where had this gone?
This was the liberation of the road, the way from the security she should take towards the uncertain road she wants. She can’t continue, saddened by lack of control using her intelligence and memories to create a kind of quicksand for her spirits.
"Sometimes," Meaghan decides, "going up again is a matter of knowing where the bottom is. From this point in my evolution, I can never go down some of the lost paths again, with sadly addicted people for my company." She turns up the radio for the smooth, driving thrum of a Spoon song; Brett Daniel cooly declares, "I've got nothin' to lose...but darkness and shadow." She likes the serendipity of this soundtrack to her resolve. Far south of the winter storms rocking the American Southwest, a traveler heads back to the library to prepare her resume, with every intention of returning to this desert tomorrow, to surrender to nature and quietude so long as her journey takes. This vision will be her friend as she drifts into the night's sleep.