|random thoughts and thoroughbred selections|
|"All life is 6-5 against" - Damon Runyon|
Friday, November 10, 2006
Catching Up - Friday's NaNo So Far
I didn't feel like writing yesterday, which means that I need 3,333 words per day through the end of Sunday just to catch up. I'm kinda stuck in the hospital - in the story, not in reality - and trying to find an "out" to get to the next setting. I'm almost to the point where I can work that in. Anyway, not real thrilled with this stuff today, but 2,000 words is 2,000 words (with some pieces of the conversation written but not posted here as of yet). Hopefully I'll update later on with another 1,300 words or more.
The morphine drip was the first to go, followed by the deep tissue bruises on my thighs and the pressing thickness between my ears. Where there had been a steady and constant battle as the lumps on my skull pushed and pulled the pressure around in my head, there was now just a simple and profound feeling of emptiness. The bumps which had been rushed with blood and had discolored my head and neck into some grotesque Picasso-esque tenderized ham steak had receded some, but were still awfully tender to the touch. I poked at them gingerly, absently, the most hard-earned of my war wounds.
Doctor Walton spent as much time as he could at my bedside, encouraging me to work slowly and hopefully to find where the old me might be cowering in the dark corners of my mind. It was still wonderfully easy to simply deny him what he wanted me to find under the guise of a fruitless search. I admired the hell out of the man for his persistence and faith in the possibilities, but even more so for finding an a level of comfort taking our conversations past the disjointed small talk you'd expect to get from a man with seemingly no ability to personalize anything.
Then again, having given him the opportunity to grace me with the name of his grandfather was my way of personalizing things, giving him no reason to doubt the sincerity of my struggles. I knew that as the ultimate arbiter of my diagnosis, Doctor Walton's sympathetic treatment would give me the credibility I needed to gain the acceptance of everyone in his wake.
It worked. Doctor Walton handled me with kid gloves, encouraging my recovery physically and mentally, while never issuing the sort of doubt-filled pressure or ultimatums for which I had prepared. It was accepted that I was an amnesiac, and once Walton had issued his interpretation, it was accepted as truth and that was that. Denial was easy. I had spent enough of my life with blinders on, blithely ignoring the crumbling foundation of my marriage, the lack of progress in my career and all the casual ways in which I seemed to disappoint my mother. I pretended then like there wasn't a problem, what's the difference in denying that I had any knowledge of any problems to begin with?
I had begun this journey with a physical destination in mind, and an intangible goal to achieve. I had found myself in the early aftermath of success, a rudderless craft on a placid lake miles from shore, simply content to drift. I was able to find the sort of consternation that would accompany someone struggling to regain the grasp of what had slipped seemingly through and away by worrying maybe just a bit too much about what was going to come next. I couldn't live in the hospital, and I didn't have anywhere I was willing to claim as home.
Doctor Walton broached the subject first, asking me what I thought would happen to me from here. I told him I didn't know, and wasn't sure what happens to people like me. He looked at me strangely and said, "That's the thing Lane, there are no 'people like you.' Most of these amnesia cases are far more temporary than you've proved to be so far." For a moment I worried he might put the pieces together. I needn't have. "I want to give you a choice, and you can take as much time as you need to think about it. There's someone here in town who works with the hospital that I'd like for you to meet. She works with us from time-to-time helping people cope with grief and change, and her psychology training might be a little more helpful for this stuff up here," he rapped the side of his head with his knuckles, "than what I can do from here. So that's one option."
"There's another option?"
"Northwestern University Hospital has a small ward set up for the treatment and study of amnesia. I could make a call..."
I blanched. Chicago? Just what I wanted, work my way halfway across the country, just to be shipped back to within three hours of home. I looked for an out, and remembered what I had read about the state of the amnesiac mind. It was generally accepted that additional stress - something like change, for example - was an obstacle to recovery. It'd have to do.
"Doc, if you send me there, are they just going to put me in a room in a hospital and study me? I mean, you said no one's really sure how to fix amnesia, right?" He nodded his agreement. "Can't I just stay here then? I mean, I'd be happy to work with the shrink. I'm sure that someone's still looking for me, and I can't imagine I wandered into northern Idaho without telling anyone where I was going, right?"
Doctor Walton looked pleased. It felt comforting to see the relief in his eyes indicating he had a personal stake in helping me find my way. He didn't want me to leave either. "I can't imagine that either Lane. I'll set some time for Doctor Sadler to come up and meet you. I think you're ready to work harder on getting better, don't you?"
So there would be just one more person from whom I would need to mine an endorsement on my "condition," but at least they weren't putting me on a bus to Chicago just to get rid of me. It worried me a little bit that I'd have to pass convincingly with a shrink. I'd done only a cursory amount of research into amnesia, and came away with the simple truth that for as much as doctors know about it, there's quite a bit more they don't. There is no typical case, and there is no reason behind why the mind knows what it knows when it knows it. Even if I found myself "slipping up," letting a detail or two escape along the way, I could always position these errors as baby step breakthroughs, the types of minor discoveries that show progress and success. Hell, I'd probably have to toss a couple of minor miracles out the doctor's way every now and again anyway. While I'm sure any doctor would tell you that the only reward is the patient's improvement and recovery, I'm also quite positive that feeding a doctor's ego is certainly as good a way as possible to turning them into an ally.
I sat waiting in the main hospital lobby, bending a cheap white business card with the name "Sarah Sadler" between my fingers. It was good to get out of the hospital room every now and again, but sitting around getting odd looks from in-the-know townspeople while wearing hospital-issue pajamas had me feeling slightly self-conscious.
Into the room came this slightly dissheveled young brunette, willowy with a deeply etched and sincere look of sympathy pouring from her eyes. She looked like someone's idea of an East Coast graduate student in an old Woody Allen movie. She was naturally attractive, but didn't carry herself with the sort of self-assuredness that would lead you to believe she had ever used what guile she could muster to her own advantages.
She was lovely, just the easiest sort of puzzle to piece together if I were to get to that point. Where Marnie wore her personality in big iron-on letters emblazoned across her chest, Sarah Sadler looked to be the type of woman whose thoughtful attention to her own detail was chronicled and logged and locked away in the diary under her mattress. I couldn't have been more intrigued.
"Lane?" She came to me and steadied me up from the chair with her hand on my arm, a sort of mindful curiousity and empathy in her eyes and in her touch.
It was a crippling blow for me. I mumbled out a hello, wondering alone if all it would take was a woman to lead my plan into corruption and failure. She couldn't have been a matronly old bag with a heart of gold. Instead, I get the idealistic and scholarly type, with the sort of mousy bookishness that I wanted to adore. At first blush, I found myself unwilling to push an instant attraction out of my mind, and idly wondered how much of this was due to the uninterrupted loneliness of my last couple of weeks. Sure, I had Walton and the nurses, but those were friendships of obligation. I wasn't expecting to drop that pretense without thought for the first pretty girl to offer me her charitable assistance.
"I have to admit that I've never worked with - or met - an amnesiac before," she said, leading me back to a small conference room that doubled as her office. "What I'm hoping we can do is help each other. I'd be interested in looking into your case, helping you work out whatever it is in your mind that's causing you to leave your identity behind. There's no accepted way to properly treat this sort of thing, or measure its impact. Maybe you and I can work that out together. You'll find what you're looking for, I'll try to find some answers that can help other people who have this problem too. Does that sound fair to you?"
I agreed. I couldn't help it. "Sure," I said. "Where should we start, Doctor Sadler?"
"I'm not a doctor," she said, as she flipped open a steno book. "Yet. Call me Sarah" She buried her head in the page briefly as she inspected her notes. It was kind of endearing to watch her face twist up and contort as she wrestled the words off the page and into her head. "I talked to your doctor, and he gave me the rundown of what you do and don't remember. Well, mainly that you just don't remember." She hit that last part like a pothole, jarring her sensibilities and rendering her immediately apologetic. "I'm sorry, I don't mean to be callous about your... situation."
I wouldn't have taken offense even if it were true. I accepted her apology and asked, "So you're not a shrink?"
"I was a social worker here at the hospital for a couple of years after my undergrad, and now I'm a thesis and my residency here from getting my doctorate in Psychology."
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
NaNo Wednesday the Eighth
A note before diving into today's stuff... I have read nothing about amnesia, and don't care at all how right or wrong I am in my assumptions. Also, whether someone could actually beat themselves silly with a bag full of rocks and have trained doctors and nurses not see the wounds as self-inflicted isn't the type of reality I'm going for. What's "research" anyway? Oh, and the naming of the old Langston at the end of this chapter is one of those too-clever-by-half anagrams. I'll give serious bonus points to anyone who can figure out what the anagram is and why I picked it. 1,852 words so far today, that's a pace of 1,505 per, putting me 4,850 short of goal at the end of the month. I'll make it up. Anyway, here you go...
"Good morning, I'm Doctor Walton and I'm glad to see you're awake. How are you feeling son?" It was the umpteenth time I had been asked, but in my first waking visit with an actual doctor I thought better of getting sarcastic with a reply. He was a short round man, doubtlessly someone's grandfather - probably lots of someones. He narrowed his gaze in a quizzical first glance in my direction, sizing me up with a skeptic's curiosity.
"Better. Still terrible. My head's still throbbing, but at least the ringing has stopped." The doctor nodded impassively, flipping pages purposefully in his charts.
"I see we're having some memory problems, hmm?" I shrugged and nodded. "Trauma's an interesting animal," Dr. Walton began, letting the incomplete thought play to no one in particular. "You took a few blows to the head. There's some swelling, not severe, no cranial bleeding." That was a relief. "Let's talk about your memory issues... are you up for it?"
Now or never, I suppose. I nodded to the doctor, who gave me a reassuring smile before diving back into his notes for a moment. I had read enough about amnesia in the days leading up to jumping that box car to know that I had a few things going for me here. First, there is no "typical" case of amnesia. It's not as if Doctor Walton could ask me about the beating I took ("I can't remember") or where I'm from ("I can't remember"), but somehow trip me up into an "AHA!" moment by catching me singing along to a commercial jingle. Basically, there's no litmus test. Some stuff stays in your head, some stuff goes. There's no rulebook here. Amnesia's also generally trauma-induced, and I seemed to have that going for me in spades. There was already an assumption that I'd been beaten fairly thoroughly and mugged, and the fact that I had a little swelling going on in my head was the intentionally added bonus I was hoping for.
Most of all? Doctors still don't completely understand amnesia. They diagnose based on the symptoms, but to all tests and scans and other tools at their disposal, it is an entirely invisible condition. So long as I was careful and marginally believeable, there would be little reason to doubt that my memory loss wasn't real.
"If this gets too difficult or stressful for you, would you please let me know? With the trauma to your head, we want to make sure you take your time recovering here. I want to assure you that all your physical pain right now is superficial. You'll be up and around and feeling fine in no time. What we need to do is help you get strong enough and comfortable enough by reducing your stress and allowing your mind to recover, okay?" I nodded, and pushed the tension from my neck and shoulders out through my toes. He had a reassuring tone, and it was a positive sign for me that his early assumptions about my "condition" were headed in the right direction. "Now, do you remember your name?"
I shook my head and curled my lips into a tight frown as if troubled by this thought.
"It's alright son, it's okay. You'll remember that soon enough. Do you know where you are?"
That was a softball. "McCall, Idaho. In the hospital. Yeah, I know that."
"And do you remember how you got here?"
"I woke up here. I was told how I got here, I don't know the rest."
Doctor Walton's brow crumpled a little, his eyes a little sadder with each nebulous answer to his queries. "How many guys attacked you?" I let my eyes go wide, then emptied them, draining whatever flicker of possibility inside deep into the well of lies I had dug through my soul.
"Where are you from?" Nothing. "What do you do?" He was firing faster, trying to gently flip the switch. I just shrugged. "Were you traveling alone? Are you married?"
I let sorrow fill my face and turned away from the barrage of acknowledging my past. It wasn't as if I expected to glide effortlessly over the hurdle of becoming a falsely diagnosed amnesiac, but my nagging conscience still clung to truth as currency, and that seemed to be the last remnants of Langston that didn't get left behind that diner a couple of nights ago. My frustration with the questioning had become apparent, and was logically misread by the doctor as the growing angst over a misplaced identity. I fidgeted in bed and bit my lower lip while picking at my fingernails. All I wanted was to fall off the face of the earth, and it wasn't happening effortlessly enough for my stomach to endure.
Doctor Walton sensed my obvious discomfort and placed his hand over mine. "Son, it's okay. We have a lot to learn about the brain and how it fixes itself after trauma." He leaned back in his seat and placed the charts at the foot of my bed. "It's obvious you sustained trauma, probably as a result of whatever it was that happened to you that landed you in that bed," he said, pointing for effect. "Trauma is an interesting animal," he repeated, "in that it can be a tangible, physical thing or it can manifest itself out of the brain's attempt to avoid stress. For instance, it's not at all uncommon for victims of abuse to have something called 'dissociative amnesia,' or the ability to block certain stressful or traumatic situations. Then there's 'traumatic amnesia,' which is what most people think about when they think amnesia. If you take a couple lumps to the head, you might find some of your memory missing. That's 'traumatic amnesia.' There are a few other types of amnesia that exist, but the only other one that seems to maybe apply would be 'dissociative fugue amnesia,' which is sort of a combination of the two. It's most often induced by psychological trauma though, not physical, but it is the type of amnesia that most closely identifies with the perceived loss of identity."
"What do you mean by perceived loss of identity? I can't remember my own name or where I'm from. Isn't that an actual loss of identity?"
"Well, it's complicated. If you were to ask a medical doctor to look at this from a symptomatic perspective, then I would have to agree that your identity has been misplaced - lost - because that's what we see. If you ask a psychiatrist, they'll give you a far more complex analysis that talks about repression and how the mind - not the brain as an organ, the mind as a function - protects itself when it has to. The psychiatrist is likely to tell you that your identity loss is perceived, in that your identity is still very much in place, it's just lurking somewhere waiting for an appropriate time to re-emerge. And it will." He caught himself and added, "It should." Doctor Walton paused then offered, "But son, if you ask a philosopher, they'll tell you that you haven't lost your identity at all. That you're more than just the collection of names and Social Security numbers and such that tells people who you are. Those are the things that have come untied for you." He tapped himself solidly on the chest and said, "This is what matters. This is all that matters."
He had just walked himself over to the guard rail and was peering into my purpose totally unawares. It choked me up a bit, and I wanted to reach out and tell the kindly old man everything. He understood that who we are is not the collection of anchors that keep us tethered to the earth, that we could be free if we simply turned our back on all those things that allowed those around us to define ourselves on their terms and just drifted away.
I couldn't and wouldn't say anything, but a surge of hope washed the blank stare from my eyes in a tidal rush. I had absorbed every word, would savor the thoughts, but I had to steer Walton back to the point. "So you're saying that I'll remember who I am then? When? How long is this going to last?"
Doctor Walton was still musing on his last remarks, and was very much looking to extend his offer of aide and comfort. He leaned forward and "I don't know son, I don't know. We'll - I'll - be right here with you to help sort this out. For some people the pieces get put back together within hours or days, for others it takes a great deal longer. Just take comfort in knowing you're in good hands here, and we'll help you find your way home."
Doctor Walton rose up from the chair, barely taller standing than seated, and reached for the charts he had dropped on my bed. "So while we can at least tell you what we think is wrong and what it is we can do about it, what we haven't figured out yet is who you are, where you're from, why you're here, or if anyone is looking for you. Have I got all that?"
"Sounds about right," I added. He was genuinely affable about all this, absolutely friendly and encouraging. I wished he was my grandfather, not that I ever had one of my own anyway.
"Well, since you don't remember your name, maybe we should let you pick a new one. The nurses can't keep calling you 'honey,' and I'd like to know what to call you too." Doctor Walton had a point. It really wasn't a bad idea at all.
"I don't know... hell, Doc, I don't care. How about this? What was your favorite grandfather's first name?"
"Lane. He fought in World War I. Great man. A lot of integrity."
"Okay, call me Lane. Do I need a last name too?"
"Do you want a last name?"
"I suppose the longer I stay forgetful, the more I'll need one, right? How about your wife's maiden name?"
"So I guess - for now, at least - I'm Lane O'Neill." Sure, why not?
"Lane, it's my pleasure to meet you. You have my promise that we'll do whatever we can to help you find what you're looking for."
I smiled and shook Doctor Walton's hand before he left me alone again with my thoughts. I found the peace and relief I needed to talk myself through tonight in his inadvertently direct sympathy. I had been tethered to the ground for far too long, and with the Doctor's implicit permission to loosen the ropes and let the trade winds carry me places unknown, I felt enthralled. While I had worked so hard on loosing what had been anchoring my mind for so long, it was entirely unexpected that my heart would fill with the promise of indeterminate possibilities.
I clicked the button a few times and enjoyed the warm flush of morphine putting me into an easy slumber.
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Election Day NaNo Stuff
1,775 words today. I want to mention that I'm not posting this stuff up here because of my ego, it's actually my efforts to actually accomplish something I've wanted to do, no matter how crappy the end-product turns out. If I didn't post, I wouldn't be able to hold myself (or have anyone else hold me) responsible.
I growled a long slow moan in my head, almost afraid to open my eyes.
I was warm, in bed, achingly sore, and bandaged tight around my midsection. At least they found me, I thought. I can't believe I slept through being dragged to the hospital. My head was fucking throbbing, just a tinnitus symphony of clatter as if someone was playing only the bassline percussion to a Sousa symphony on a tin roof inside my skull.
I groaned audibly this time, and heard feet shuffling lightly off to the side. A low voice, female, whispered, "Are you awake?" Careful, clinical.
Now or never. Careful...
"Good morning," she said, quietly conscious of the quarry work going on in my head, "how's your pain?"
Every sound that escaped my mouth could only be entwined with a low guttaral moan, through which I replied, "Hurting." The dim light through drawn curtains hurt. Bent at the waist on my back in an adjustable bed hurt, not that I could think of a position that wouldn't. The remnants of last night's dirty work, the bruises and the aching soreness, the thunderous thud through every part of me hurt.
The nurse gave me a sympathetic smile, trying to comfort me with a warm eyes that had a distinctly maternal glow. Someone else's maternal glow, certainly not the one I was used to. She held a grey plastic button attached to a cord within my line of sight, and I winced having kept my eyes open far too long. "I turned the morphine drip up for you," she said, as she was prying my clenched knuckles from around the rail of the bed. "Let me trade you. Is there anyone we can call for you?"
Pain killers for the last shred of my honesty. Seemed fair.
"I dunno..." I mumbled. "I dunno..." The phrase seemed to rattle around my brain, violently clanging back and forth between my ears. I hurt so goddamn bad, I thought, pushing the button and pushing it again. Somewhere in the room the nurse was trying to tell me that it only gave out so much medicine over so much time, but this just hurt so goddamn bad.
I held the button to my right ear, pressing hard against a soft spot and hoping the button might tell the medicine to get here first, dull the drone, stop the fucking ringing. Christ, I was in pain.
And alone, just like I wanted.
Somewhere in the Idaho Rockies, somewhere in a mountain town hospital, somewhere dead alone and somewhere in the next five minutes I wept myself softly back to sleep.
It was night again, I'm not sure which day, when I woke again. I was every bit as sore, my head still throbbing with blunted aggression, but the dissonant drums had stopped their beating and the quiet had returned. I clicked the button once and again, and took as big a breath as my bruised torso would allow.
A voice in the corner asked, "How you feeling?"
"Like hell," I replied, not able to pinpoint who exactly was talking to me.
"They said you've got two or three broken ribs and got beat up pretty good." Unfolding himself from a chair across the room all I could see was the badge and the gun. "I'm Deputy Sheriff Walt Lancaster, and I'm glad to see you're awake. If you got this banged up, I'd hate to see the other guy. Anything you can tell me about who did this to you?" He was genuine, affable, a young cop who obviously just wanted to put the collar on someone for this atrocity.
I hesitated and tried my best to look like I was struggling to find the right words, the description, anything. I'm sure I just looked woozy instead. "I don't know. I don't remember."
He heard me, but he wasn't listening. "Was it one guy? More than one?" I shook my head a little bit, trying to clear the fog. He took it to mean, "no" to both his questions. "Not one guy? Not more than one guy? Was it a woman? Roving band of third graders?" He smiled a little bit, trying to play it off as a joke. Of course, it wouldn't be that funny if I was beaten unconscious by a roving band of third graders...
"I don't remember," I sputtered, wincing at the extra effort all this talking was taking. "Last thing I remember, I..." The words trailed off and I let them. The grimace into which I had twisted my lips, was rushing blood to my head flooding my mind with tidal confusion. I could almost believe that I couldn't believe. I could almost believe that I didn't remember.
Lancaster stepped out of the darkness and came bedside, crouching down slightly to get to eye level. I made a point of studying his uniform, letting my eyes fixate slowly then widen on his shoulder patch - MCCALL IDAHO SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT. Deputy Sheriff Walt Lancaster pursed his lips and was pre-empted before he could say a syllable.
"What the hell am I doing in Idaho?"
Lancaster tilted his head to the side and looked at me like I was trying to explain particle physics to him in Swahili. "Then, where exactly should you be? Is there anyone we can call for you?"
I stopped just short of blurting out a response, as if I was reaching for a book on the shelf and was surprised to find that it wasn't there. I blinked and rubbed the unnatural bump on the side of my head for effect. I thought about it, looked to the Deputy, looked away, and just before I felt like I was chewing scenery on this one I quietly puffed out another, "I don't know." My head continued to ache and keeping my eyes open became enough of a struggle that tears welled easily behind my lids. I sniffled loudly, wiped my nose with the back of my hand, and choked out a soft sob twisted clean through an, "I don't remember."
The Deputy turned on his heel and left me for a moment to clean up my tears of fatigue. Every huff to try and stifle my crying was wrought with aches and pain. I'd never broken ribs before, and corseted in those bandages without being able to fill my lungs full was incentive enough not to break them again. Lancaster came back moments later with an older woman in nurse's pajamas, clipboard under one arm, both of them walking with an official gait. She spoke quietly as well, a different nurse from the night before. "How are you feeling?" she asked, needlessly and rhetorically.
"I ache. What happened?"
The Deputy spoke up, "Well, we're curious as to why you can't tell us." The nurse interrupted, "How's your head? Is the morphine strong enough?"
"Yeah, I guess... I don't know, I haven't had morphine before. I guess. I don't know... My head feels ten feet thick and it aches just to think." I asked the question again, this time with more insistency. "What happened to me?"
"You took a pretty bad beating, they found you out back of a restaurant a yesterday morning. Three broken ribs, some minor internal bleeding. You took a couple of blows to the head too." Her nametag said HARRIS.
"Looks like something big, blunt. Didn't break the skin." Lancaster was flipping through his notepad, checking of items on his laundry list. "You were kicked or punched or hit with something - most likely the latter - all over your torso, but it looks like you were able to shield your face from whatever it was that struck you. Two men arrived at the diner just before dawn to receive a produce shipment, you were out back, unconscious and face down on the blacktop. No ID, empty backpack and tent in the dumpster. No money, no credit cards, nothing. Ambulance called, brought you here." Lancaster looked at me expectantly, as if he were offering information that might unlock whatever door it was he was trying to open. "You're in McCall General Hospital." I looked at him blankly, eyes still watering convincingly.
"I'm Nurse Harris, and I'm in charge of the floor here tonight. What's your name?"
Again, I flipped through the imaginary Rolodex and came up empty. I didn't really know what emotion to wear on my sleeve right now, so I chose "timid."
"I don't know. Why can't I remember?"
Nurse Harris reached out and set a hand on my shoulder, offering a reassuring sincerity. "It's all right honey, we'll help you figure that out." She looked at an exasperated and curious Deputy Sheriff, who was completely devoid of solutions. Lancaster shrugged and pulled his radio from his belt, indicating on his way out to the hall that he'd have to call this in. The nurse strapped my arm into the blood pressure gauge, taking care to ask if it wasn't too tight around my badly bruised arms. With one eye on the meter, and another looking me up and down, she struggled to make small talk. "They said you might be hiking up through here. Do you remember if you came up with friends..." she looked to my ring finger, noticing the well-worn patch where Marnie's wedding ring used to be, "...or family?"
I struggled to take a deep enough breath for Nurse Harris to hear my lungs through her stethoscope. "I don't know. I don't even know where I am, but none of this feels right. I'm not supposed to be here."
"I've got a son about your age, and I remember one time a long time ago he got lost for a couple hours at Old Faithful - you ever been to Yellowstone?" I shrugged, she let it go. "I cried and I cried and I remember threatening the life of every park ranger within earshot to find my little boy. He had wandered into the Visitor's Center there, and was following a tour group around like he was one of the gang. Five years old..." She chuckled softly and under her breath, "I've seen some pretty bad injuries here before, and you'll recover. I'm not a doctor and I'm not trying to tell you what you do or don't have, I just want to tell you that no matter how scared you are right now, no matter how alone you feel, the people who love you won't rest until they find you and bring you home."
That was exactly what I was afraid of.
Waiting and Watching
Gracie and Falstaff were kind enough to give me some action on some of the various races around the country today, so as you're watching the returns tonight would you be so kind as to root for me to win $10 off each of these degenerates?
Versus Gracie I've got:
· North Dakota Constitutional Amendment 1 (something about educational trust accounting) YEA
· ND Constitutional Amendment 2 (eminent domain reform) NAY
· ND Initiative 3 (divorce/custody/support reform) YEA
· VA Marriage Amendment (Man & Woman) - NAY +9.5
· FL State Senate (Jennings v. Oelrich - Alachua County) - OELRICH +5.5
· VA Senate (Allen v. Webb) - ALLEN +1.5
· PA Senate (Santorum v. Casey) - SANTORUM +12.5
· NY Senate (Clinton v. Spencer) - SPENCER +34.5
· PA Governor (Rendell v. Swann) - SWANN +22.5
· MI Governor (Granholm v. Devos) - Devos +10.5
(Gracie took favorites, I just played the opposite)
With Johnny, I've got:
· MO Senate (McCaskill v. Talent) - TALENT +6.5
· TN Senate (Corker v. Ford) - CORKER -5.5
· VA Senate (Allen v. Webb) - WEBB -1.5
· CT Senate (Lamont v. Lieberman) - LIEBERMAN -11.5
· PA Senate (Santorum v. Casey) - SANTORUM +12.5 (makes me sick to root for a close race)
· NY Senate (Clinton v. Spencer) - CLINTON -34.5
· FL Governor (Crist vs. Davis) - DAVIS +6.5
Lines were set by digging for polling data (Pollster.com, mostly) and adding half points for Dem favorites, subtracting half points for Repubs (R to meet expectations, D to exceed).
Monday, November 06, 2006
Monday's NaNo Stuff
Went down and hung with Al yesterday, so I slacked. Going to make up for it this week. 2,207 today, finishing Saturday's chapter and moving into a new one.
I tossed a glance to the nightshift waitress leaning over the counter trying to keep interested in the line cook's bullshit, and I think she was thankful for the relief. She tossed a smile in my direction and swayed her way on thick drumsticks back to my booth, seemingly not at all upset for the interruption. "I'm Lena, and you look like hell." She opened her mouth wide, corners stretching to the backs of her ears. Even through nicotine-stained teeth and neon pink lipstick her playful greeting was genuine.
I did look like hell. I looked like I had spent the last few nights rolling between a puddle of oil and a pile of dirt, which in fact I had. Lena peered outside, venturing her ballast onto tiptoes to scan the parking lot. "I didn't see a truck pull in, you just passing through?"
Idle or rhetorical, all I wanted to deliver was forgetful. "Yep. Off to see a city about a girl." Seemed plausible enough, if not entirely untrue in a convoluted sort of way..
"Baby, there ain't no better reason to be goin' or comin'." She grinned and shook her head from side to side to hammer home her point. "I haven't met a man, good man or bad, coming through this place that ain't on the road for or because of some girl somewhere. Whatever it is you're heading to, I hope she appreciates whatever it is you been through to get there."
I nodded, returning her patter. "Ain't nothin' I won't do for hope. And pancakes. Mind if I start there?"
Too many cups of coffee and four trips through the Statesman cover-to-cover and I managed to let an uneventful night sneak by into the Idaho morning. From the window of the back booth in the T&A, unhurried and lost in my thoughts in sort of a daydreamish nap for most of the last few hours, I watched dawn crest over the roadway. Orange glow gave way to a piercing yellow blanket whose source was eyeing me from out east, sitting in that back booth. For a moment or two I felt caught by the sunlight cresting over the trees, as if he had been chasing me through the heartland and was shining a beacon, a signal to those who might be looking.
Another issue of the Stateman was dropped in the machine, and another day passed that my disappearance went unreported. I was full of mixed feelings on this, naturally. On one hand, the worst thing that could happen is for my picture to be in every paper coast-to-coast, and on the other it would maybe be nice to know I was missed. Then again, I wasn't an attractive young girl like Elizabeth Smart, nor had I potentially fallen victim to the hide-your-daughters spectre of Natalee Holloway's possible abduction into miscegenastic torture. In other words, despite my mother's sort-of celebrity, I'm sure Nancy Grace wasn't going to be devoting time to a slightly overweight and balding thirty-something who apparently got robbed, killed and dumped in places yet-to-be determined.
And then there was the problem of getting myself a hundred miles north. No bus routes running that direction, as Route 55 only goes as far north as McCall. No trains, and I couldn't really expect to have such luck as to catch a trucker who just-so-happened to be heading into town there. So, resigned to the worst-case scenario, I caught a ride with the line cook into town that morning, and he dropped me off in front of a sporting goods store. I spent most of the rest of my money on hiking shoes, a change of clothes, a pack, a map and a tent. One stop at a convenience store to load up on bottled water, cans of Dinty Moore and granola bars, and I pointed myself north.
100 miles north, Route 55.
The rock was about the size of a fist. Not my fist exactly, a little bigger than that even. I tossed the chunk of granite lightly from hand to hand, measuring its heft and judging it to see if it was suitable. Thinking it adequate, I tossed it in my pack with the others and continued to rummage along the bank of the stream gurgling slowly by.
I didn't really expect to enjoy camping this much.
Growing up in the household of a woman who felt "rustic" was when we had to share a bathroom in a hotel, I hadn't spent a great deal of time in sleeping bags and tents growing up. Hell, I didn't spend a lot of time in shoes with knobby rubber soles goofing around on the side of a mountain either. It wasn't that bad of a walk, really. Five days walking anonymously on the shoulder of Route 55, and five nights spent a couple hundred yards off the roadway, a small fire and a couple of granola bars under the canopy of the universe. Every day was cool mountain mist in the morning with sobering sunlight all afternoon and an evening full of colorful possibilities as the sun sank somewhere over the far end of the Pacific ocean.
It was easier than I thought to hike it myself, and more satisfying than catching a ride would have been. I spent most of each day soaking in the scenery, scaling the roadway as it climbed and twisted gently through the Idaho mountains. The time I wasn't enthralled by the mindless bliss was filled with careful rehearsal of my cover story. It was cautiously simple, free of complication. I was going to make it very simple to leave Langston behind without the perception of intent, and from there could simply wrap myself in any plausiible fantasy I could imagine. I walked as long as I felt like walking, climbed around on the side of the mountain when I wanted, bathed and relaxed everywhere I could and would along the way.
Still digging around on the creek's bed I tossed a piece of shale back into the drink with a perceptible plop. Too jagged, god forbid.
The last real meal I had eaten was six days ago at that T&A outside of Boise. Three days of fasting on the rails left those pancakes sitting like a stone in the bottom of my stomach, and it was the genuine anticipation of the unknown next in McCall that kept me sated on my journey. I would eat a couple of candy bars during the day for energy, I drank as much water as I could purify from the ever-present run-off streams cutting through the shallow ravines roadside, and I dined on small portions of that beef stew in my pack for the first couple of nights. Eventually, I gave up and tackled the dozens of granola bars I had stowed instead, and two or three of those a night was usually more than enough. I was burning huge amounts of energy with the sweat box primer to my marathon of exercise, and felt as good physically as I had felt in years. Probably ten pounds or more lighter too. I felt fucking great, just full of energy. Every morning I'd pack up, bury the fire, and head back to the roadway with relish.
Another thick globe of granite, which I hoped wouldn't crash around with the others and shatter into dozens of little pieces and a cloud of dust. Into the bag.
On the fifth morning north of Boise I didn't need the sun to signal daybreak, as I hardly slept at all. Mile markers on the road had indicated that I was less than fifteen miles outside of McCall. I wanted to run the rest of the way with wings on my feet, but the walk seemed interminable. The anticipation was absolutely killing me.
What, exactly, was it I was supposed to be anticipating here anyway?
I kicked around another hour or two creekside until I had filled the soft nylon pouch in my pack about half full with rocks. Nearly twenty stones, sized from apples to cantaloupes, sagged heavy in my pack as I retraced the steps back to camp. It was late afternoon on day six out of Boise, and I still had work to do.
It was yesterday afternoon when the weary traveler found the spring in his step. I passed the airport on the south end of town around four o'clock, and couldn't erase the grin between my ears all night long. The town was a little tonier than I remembered, presumably taking a little of the shine out of Sun Valley by attracting the summer homes and halfway-there ski lodges of the bottom of that upper tier. I trudged into downtown, a three block Hollywood set and started to scope out the possibilities for tomorrow. I knew I had a night and a day ahead of me to prepare, but for now all I wanted to do was walk around and breathe it all in. I knew that after tomorrow night, I wouldn't get a chance again for a little while.
No one blinked at the backpacking wanderer walking through the center of town, and I was hoping it might stay that way for a long, long time.
I camped that night just outside of town under cover of trees, careful to stay as secluded as possible. The next morning I gathered stones and rocks from a mile-long creek bed a few hundred yards from where I had slept, and brought the rocks back to camp. I packed up camp, ditching the last of my food and putting the five hundred some odd dollars I had left under the inserts in each shoe. It was still early, so I sat by the creek trying to simultaneously clear my mind and steel my courage. I thought I might get a head start, and spent a good hour beating bruises into each arm with a thick steel tent stake.
Darkness fell on a Wednesday night, and I waited patiently with a pack heavy with stone for the streets to roll up and the town to get some sleep. Ten o'clock passed, then eleven. I gave it until just past midnight to hike back in just off the roadway under cover of darkness. It was behind the sleepy diner, closed for the night, across from Chipmunk Park that I unstrapped the nylon pouch from the metal frame of the pack. The shoulder straps were buckled by carabiner-strength aluminum clips, which were easily rigged by a couple of clicks into a long single strap holding the thirty some-odd pounds of rocks in the bag. The clips held fast when I took a test swing around my head.
Midsection, legs, head. I lightened the bag for the sake of velocity by rolling a couple of the bigger rocks under a nearby dumpster. Twenty-five pounds, that seemed about right. I took a deep breath and started swinging the bag high around my head. I closed my eyes slowly, held my breath and felt a dull crush into the side of my ribcage as the bag made impact. I exhaled sharply and tottered uncertainly into the back wall. Wincing, I bent down to pick the bag back up and started swinging it again, the twisting of my torso wrenching me in agony. I brought it down with ferocity into my left side this time, and felt the sickening crack of the rocks crashing against each other and finding nothing but bone, sinew and flesh to which to transfer their energy.
Again, into my belly. I choked on the thin air and felt as if my lungs couldn't draw a breath. Again, square in the back. I was driven to my knees and spat blood on my fingers. My legs felt like toothpicks made of balsa wood under my weight, but I only need a few more shots. Another swing into my left, and I was certain that I had broken a rib or two. Once into my thighs, then again, and the bruises would rise. I hadn't drawn blood, but had splattered my shirt with crimson with my coughing and wheezing.
All I had left was the head. I caught my breath and put my pack back together, scattering the rocks in and around the back alley as if they'd been there for millenia. I dropped the empty backpack, frame and all in the dumpster.
I backed away from the green steel trunk and felt every muscle in my body trying to get me to stop.
Again, I closed my eyes.
I sped five swift steps ahead.
A thick curtain of nothing, then stars. Literal and metaphorical, circling my head and alone in the middle of the universe.
Twice. I saw stars and the droning light that lived inside my head, which at that moment was leaking steadily out of one ear.
I don't remember ramming the side of that dumpster a fifth time before the veil fell over my eyes.
For the first time in weeks, I didn't dream.
Bill Simmons @ ESPN
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