Years ago, a lovely friend of mine who later married my best buddy Joey, and is sadly no longer with us, dropped me off after a cute date holding hands in a dark Audubon park, and promptly got herself horribly lost on the non-street lights, narrow, labyrinthine country roads of Greene, Rhode Island. Today problem solved with online GPS, or even a quick call to her friends. But in those days the lovely damsel was utterly frustrated with a dwindling supply of fuel and no clue as to which direction to take as she meandered around pitch-black, forested scenery, littered with deer. What was not lost on her was her affection for this scene in virtually every horror film, and she was becoming more and more certain that she was about to be captured and fed to a Cthulhu-inspired creature deep in the forest, her spiky punk hairdo, her pixie boots and all—gulp! She escaped such fate and as luck would have it got back on course by herself, what remarkable self-reliance! I’m not sure we enough celebrated her happy capabilities of grit and determination in the face of such overwhelmingly unlikely odds. Though Rhode Island is a rather small state, you’d be surprised by the long stretches of uninhabited midnight wilderness.
I made her tell me that story a few times, and laughed a lot, which angered her not a little bit, but not as much as when I doubted her story about some friend of a friend who got a spider in her ear. That one really pissed her off. Ellen, as this was her name, was dearly terrified of spiders–like many folks–and they were something of a devoted focus of her existence. I enjoyed her stories of lacing up combat boots and outfitting in ski pants just to venture into her basement in case of some flimsy spiders which she imagined rubbing their little tarsi in anticipation of jumping on her. Of course, as a goofball young man, I took great amusement in buying little plastic toy spiders and decorating her place with them.
In those days I was desperately trying to get my paws on her, and while she never directly turned me down and enjoyed basking in my affection for her, it never culminated in anything resembling actual sexy girl and boy play. Still the hopes I had always kept me coming back as she fueled a lot of fantasies, with her beauty, she had nearly golden eyes, and enthusiasm for much of the same entertainment I enjoyed, including Clive Barker stories, and Evil Dead and Hellraiser films.
In stories I wrote for her, she was sometimes heroine but more often damsel-in-distress. She’d sometimes give me a call after receiving a new installment to chat with me about various details, clarifications, and sometimes, I think, just to get me to say certain things I’d written.
As chances would have it, she died before all of us louts. It still shocks me to think about it, as I’d been talking with her on my crappy phone. She was a night person, and I am often sound asleep by nine, and at some point I didn’t pick up the phone. We always think there will be more opportunities. We can’t fix it. Her health was deteriorating rapidly and she wasn’t helping it with her general recreational habits. Her favorite was Robert Smith of The Cure, and I spun some old Cure for her in memoriam recently. Whenever I see Bruce Campbell doing his Ash character in newly created Evil Dead spin offs I think of Ellen.
I was chatting with my Dad recently and he told me a story about having dinner with some old friends, one of them a fellow he had not seen in thirty years. Those sorts of numbers used to seem so weird, but now that I’m in my fifties thirty years can float off your shoulders like brushed snow. Granted that was a lifetime ago, and I would barely recognize that version of myself, and would probably never be able to befriend him, but the point is if I get to live as long as my Old Man, maybe I’ll think the same of myself now. His old friend Rick had sad news for my Pop in that his darling of a wife called Sue had passed away a few years ago. My memories of her were vague but delightful. She was very pretty, and very funny, full of smiles and freckles and sweetness that my family generally never expressed.
Sue had, however, orchestrated a girlfriend for me when I was just fifteen and incapable of much in the realm of social behaviors. I was as polite as I could be with the lass, of whom, I was uninterested in. I was surrounded by fifteen year olds at school all day, and so I longed for anything but. Her name is long gone as well as her face, but I do remember she was remarkably tireless and tried very hard to befriend me. I left the house.
I went wandering on those dark twisty country roads that would so unnerve Ellen years later, but provided me my relief and calm. Sometimes on such walks you could see massive owls perched in old oaks overhead. You could also see possums and skunks and foxes and deer, of course. Houses were spread out in those days, things have changed some in my folks neighborhood in that development generally always follows, chopping into the land (all of it formerly farmland anyway, even areas now nature preserves). In this area, there are also endless family graveyards with state plaques on them designating their historicity. I still have dreams sometimes about these places, firmed up with huge retaining stones, but eventually those slipping out of place and the graves unkempt and worn away. More fodder for imaginations as good as Ellen’s and mine. I walked and walked and had nothing but time to kill. A tiny brook meanders through the forest in back of the properties, and under the road and then up into the Audubon lands across from the Gowdy residence. Back then old Hank was still active, he’d have his dojo in his basement and he was famously teaching jiu-jitsu to a cadre of weird folks who found him. I also did jiu-jitsu, but closer to town, and my teacher and old Hank did not see eye to eye. One time a pair of friends of mine got into a tussle. It was a moving dirge of a fight, things were thrown, bodies were hit and kicked and bled and sweat on, but we kept walking. The two young men never ceased beating on one another and it never came to a point where one would capitulate. My brother and I, also capable of such fights, though I was much bigger, watched the boys, thoroughly entertained by them. Hank Gowdy drove up and rolling down his window he flashed a badge at us. He sternly told us if we were interested in fighting we should come to his school. I was bewildered but knew who he was and called him sensei, the now very well known Japanese term for teacher. At the time though it was like secret code. Gowdy’s heavyset face seemed jarred. He was a massive fellow, and had fought in WWII. It was the only time I’d ever have contact with him. Somehow my calling him sensei eased his mind, and he may have said a few more things, but he drove off in an El Camino. I passed his old place a house I wish I had now. I think we had misunderstood his approach, I think he honestly wanted us to be his students. He wanted to teach us the arts. But we already had contact with his contemporaries who had directed us away from him. I wish I’d have gone to his place now. I always wonder about these biases we get from people we eventually find are based on personal chafing. My teacher in town eventually would disappoint me as well. He would insult my father, who basically built the damned dojo we used with his own hands and money.
And it becomes important. People quickly forget the passionate gifts, the devotion and help. They like to think they did everything by themselves. It’s even in the Tao Te Ching that you’re supposed to let people imagine they did things themselves. Lao Tzu saw that as the greatest of leaders. I’m still struggling with that totality. There comes a time, in my experience, when people, much like children, need to be reminded that they are not as clever nor as self-reliant as they imagine.
After a long uneventful walk I came home to find that the party was still going (my folks so rarely entertained that I didn’t really know what to do) so I crept into a car and fell asleep. I heard later that I’d really disappointed, not the young lady who had been brought to become my friend, but Sue. Sorry Sue. I was a dope. Sorry to everyone, I’m often still a dope. Sorry for not picking up the phone. Sorry for not visiting with Hank. You see we close these doors ourselves too. We build our own fences and walls and then we cry about not being able to escape them. And time is running out.