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Bus Rape Soliloquy, Part II: [Never Say Never]

December 29, 2009

The last time we did this, we swore to ourselves and one another we’d never do it again.

When I landed my (former) job as an instructor at Arizona State University, I traveled cross country – by bus – from Cincinnati to Phoenix. That was my first long distance bus trip – three days – of which I was hung over for the first, more or less passed out for the second, and sick the entire third day. (I woke up to discover I lost my voice… nice irony considering I was getting ready to stand in front of rows of Freshmen and lecture on the wonders of the college essay.) Like most modes of travel, traveling by bus is simply a matter of planning and temperament. I don’t mind letting someone else drive; in fact, I prefer it. I don’t mind the time it takes, because as enamored as I am by the great flying machines, I prefer to fly only when time is an immediate factor. I arrived in Phoenix and lived in a particularly seedy motel for a month before my wife joined me; it took me that long to start working and earning a paycheck and to find a decent (safe) place for us to live that was also close to the university. It also took that long for her to pack up, dispose of, or put into storage all of our acquired garbage – including a fairly respectable library that covers literature, theatrical and fine arts, mythology (including religion), social sciences, and a few arcane branches of study that have, over the years, briefly caught my fancy. The entire move – from when I stepped on the bus at midnight, completely shitfaced from my going away party Arnold’s Bar in downtown Cincinnati, to that day in early October when Melissa arrived with our little green roller skate of a car loaded down with household goods, clothes, and two very travel-weary cats, and the subsequent four years of living in Arizona – had a temporary air. We talked about it often whenever the subject of visiting family came up, or whenever we tired of the strangled palm trees and two-dimensional attitude of L.A. Lite. Melissa even pointed out that Tempe (where we lived) sounded a lot like temporary. (While it was funny at first, that joke dropped from regular conversation sometime during the second year.)

That move was particularly difficult; though not for any of the reasons I anticipated. I’d been on my own before – had been for a long time before Melissa and I got together – but I hadn’t had to really BE alone for a while. Being alone after you’ve not been alone is an altogether different thing than being alone when you’re accustomed to it. I know it was hard on Melissa, too; but she had things to keep her occupied. She was working a drudgery job in the kitchen at a downtown restaurant, and she was frantically trying to figure out what of our stuff was going, what was going into storage, and what was getting tossed to the curb. This kind of planning is one of those things that she excels at, and she did a masterful job. While I was waiting for my first check so that I could move from the seedy Super 8 on Apache Blvd. to a nicer place where she wouldn’t be battling bed bugs and the noisy hooker next door, I taught, drank, and ate Taco Bell. I stayed in my room and only left to walk to campus, pay my weekly rent, or steal coffee and muffins and fruit from the lobby. It was late August and the East Valley was having one of its hottest summers on record. Every day on my back to my room I stopped at a liquor store, then at the Taco Bell next door to the liquor store, and then trudged in my own sweat for three blocks back to the motel. I left the television and lights on all night because the semi-silence was a giant vacuum. I wrote, of course; but I doubt that any of it will come to light as my better work. I talked to Melissa everyday and tried to make Arizona sound wonderful. I thought it would be wonderful when she got there, and I think that was one of the things that helped us both through that separation. And when she (finally!!) arrived, we swore we would never separate like that again under any circumstances.

Time and repeated telling, though, has a funny way of erasing the intensity of events.

This time, we moved because she was offered what is probably as close to a dream job for her as she has yet found. She jumped at it because those kinds of jobs don’t drop into your lap very often, and we both had been looking for a way out of Arizona. We’d managed to put together some kind of life; we had good friends, a nice routine, and we knew our way around. I found a local watering hole that also had off-track betting and discovered the itinerant gambler hiding in my bones. We were doing OK. Not great. Not dream inspiring. But OK. She was working in a job that she found rewarding in a lot of ways. I was hating ASU more and more, and hating teaching – not so much because of the kids, but because of the bureaucratic and monolithic monster that higher education has become. The institution was taking more from me than it was giving, and it was after the one thing besides my marriage and the Cincinnati Bengals that I hold sacred: my writing. The institution wanted all of my energy and would not accept any détente. I was miserable. I was depressed. The only person who really understood this was Melissa, mostly because she had to live with me. No one else really understood. Family didn’t. Friends didn’t. In each of their defenses, they tried. Both of them, however, made sure to remind me that quitting my job during a recession was not the safest idea. Even some of the people I worked with – a few of them claiming to be writers (and having the grand ol’ MFA to prove it) looked at me like I was insane. Quit? Willfully exit the comfy confines of academia? And do WHAT? Sure, there’s writing; but poetry doesn’t pay and people don’t read books that don’t have wizards or all too vapid emo-pretty vampire boys in them.

But there was the job and it was too good to pass on for several reasons. The first and most important reason was the job itself. My wife is the new General Manager of Timber Lake Playhouse – a regionally well known and respected summerstock theatre that she’s been working with since the summer of 2001. She loves the theatre and she loves this particular theatre company, and the job pretty much combines everything she’s done professionally for 11 years. Second, even though TLP’s regular season happens during the summer, her job is year-round and would require us to move to Mt. Carroll, Illinois. The third reason the job was too good to pass up is something I’ve already mentioned. We were looking for a way out of Temporary Tempe. We wanted to be somewhere with four definite seasons and someplace that wasn’t L.A. Lite. We’d been considering other options for months – from just moving for the hell of it to selling our stuff, getting a small camper, and becoming gypsies. (Both of these were serious discussions that had the start of plans and planning.) Looking for another teaching job was also an option; but I dismissed that almost immediately. I needed to get out. She needed to get out. And so, when the opportunity presented itself, we got the hell out.

So we did it again. This time, though, she loaded up the car with clothes, household goods, and the cats, and headed out early one Wednesday morning in early December – leaving me behind to finish up the fall semester, pack up and mail some of our stuff, and get rid of the rest.

This is precisely the kind of planning that I DO NOT excel at. I packed up what I thought we needed, and used friends with transportation to help me mail the shit off. I was supposed to call friends of Melissa’s to come and commandeer our furniture. I was supposed to make trips to Goodwill and take advantage of Craig’s List. I did manage to get rid of a couple of things – giving the TV and microwave to our friend Scott who had neither and needed both. Mostly, I trudged through my work, avoided going home by going to the bar, and stayed more or less drunk for a period of 10 days. The last day of the semester was on a Tuesday. On Friday night I dropped the apartment keys off in the manager’s rent box. Then I attended a small and subdued party with friends. On Saturday evening, I boarded the Greyhound bus, bound for Rockford, Illinois via Dallas and Chicago, from the same station I had arrived at 4 years before.

While I’m not proud of the way I handled my end of this move, there isn’t any part of it that should surprise anybody. The fact of the matter is, I shut down without my wife. I lose what little motivation I have to be at all human and semi-domesticated. I snarl and drink so that I can pass out and avoid the inevitable insomnia that occurs from not sleeping next to my wife. I was a squatter in my own life, trying to get through the 10 days and get my ass on that bus so that I could go to the one person who understands me better than anyone I have ever known and who, in spite of understanding me, loves me anyway. It’s wretched. It’s fucking pathetic. But it is what it is, and I’m just happy I finally got here.

Next Part: III. [Just a Small Town Boy]

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