Before I leave Bluejay on this next leg of the journey of return, I get a phone call. It is Jacques' voice. "You're late, " he says.
"Where are you?" I exclaim.
It turns out he checked his email hurriedly one last time before setting out for Stewart Island in the San Juans and some spring gardening projects at Peace and Plenty. Reading only my first email, he was thrown into a quandary. It was March 31st. Throwing some trash cards (his own version of Tarot, decks made from litter imagery, found on the ground), he decides, since a friend is conveniently free to travel with him, in fact, drive him, on the spur of the moment to rush down to keep his date with me in Deadwood. So, with immense effort and changing of gears, mental and physical, they have arrived to escort me to my home. And, I'm a no-show!
"April Fools on me!" he says.
Initially, I am devastated and feel guilty. I apologize profusely. Then, I wonder why he didn't receive my second and third email, both postponing the date of the invitation. He admits he didn't read them.
"I had two pages of emails."
Disappointed as I am to miss this chance to avail myself of Jacques' energy and support, I encourage him to do his own rituals in behalf of Steve while he is there. I ask him to leave me signs and sigils of his presence. I will use them, I tell him, to call upon his mojo to help me get through the door into my house, into my old life, which I basically fled four months ago.
"Your trip won't go wasted," I promise him.
I find myself back on the road in ES (Endangered Species), heading down the mountain from Bluejay Ridge. Xuxa and I spend one night in a rest stop near Lake Shasta and a night with Peggy and Joan in Grant's Pass. Resistance to an actual arrival in Deadwood is huge. By the time I get to Christine's in Eugene, I am barely moving. In fact, I could have made it to Deadwood that evening, but I elect, instead, to spend the night with her.
In the morning, I can barely muster the energy to get out of bed. The day I have dreaded ever since my departure in late November is upon me. I have to go home.
Re-entry has always been hard. Steve and Churpa and I would return to a cold, dank house in varied degrees of disarray, depending on depredations of the cat tribe and our on-going resident pack rat population. Steve would attend to the mysterious and usually frustrating mechanics of the water system and our fleet of ancient and rusty (but beloved of Steve) vehicles. I would clean up messes, schlep the mountain of belongings from Jolly into the house and wade around through the chaos. Churpa would bravely go back to school in Mapleton and re-integrate with her pals -- not always easy.
This time, of course, it's "same-same, but different." All of the same problems and puzzles, but no Steve, no Churpa.
I sit slumped at Christine's dining room table in my nightgown, resting my head on my arms. I feel exhausted, barely able to talk, to lift my head. It is not just the mountain of physical difficulties I anticipate that bows my shoulders. It is returning to a home full of ghosts -- all the little Churpas of every age, grown up and gone. All of the echoes of birthday parties, Atomic Cafes, holiday dinners with Steve's family, and, for a few years, with my mother. All the women I have been linger like holograms, floating in the dust motes, gliding down the shadows in the corners of the house.
And, of course, Steve is still dead. There are degrees of deadness, I have learned on this journey. There is the shrill excruciating and immediate deadness of the first three months, a constancy of pain. There is the on going, numb and weary deadness as the seasons change. And then, on the road, there is the jack-in-the-box deadness that springs up in your face with frightening force and then lapses back into background deadness again for awhile.
And now I'm coming home to Deadwood deadness, and I am more than fearful; I am paralyzed.
I shop for groceries and can hardly care, but I have to think about what I may want to eat that I can be bothered to cook. I cannot even look at the clerk at the check-out stand because my eyes are brimming with tears. By the time I throw my bag into the back of ES and reach the privacy of the cab, I am wailing. Tears pour down my face as I drive west under the gray lowering clouds, and some sympathetic raindrops fall from the sky onto my windshield. My tears are a torrent. Luckily the rain is just showers, which my squeaking dilapidated windshield wipers, unused for four months, can barely handle. ES has no heater and is ill-suited to Oregon weather, a fair-weather vehicle!
By the time I make the turn onto Deadwood Creek Road, I am somber but no longer awash in my own saline fluids. With dread, I turn into Andy's driveway. Andy comes out of his trailer and greets me matter-of-factly, with the sideways "pals hug." Gloria embraces me warmly. We exchange news of our winters, and I hand out gifts gleaned from Peggy's free box.
When I mention the disturbing gas fumes ES has suddenly started putting out, Andy, in true Rogers fashion, is down under the truck in a matter of seconds. He can't find any gas leak, but diagnoses another problem, a leaky rear tranny seal. I am grateful for his willingness to examine the underside of ES and am further heartened when he agrees to come up to the house Saturday and help me get the water system up and running.
Then I walk the little path to Maki's (Steves mother) trailer. Is it unusual to look forward to seeing someone and at the same time dread it? I don't think so. Perhaps the contrasting emotions are often less drastic than in this greeting, but there's often a blend of contradictory feelings wheeling through our systems at a reunion. I rap on the trailer door several times, calling out-- "Maki?" In a few moments the door opens, and Maki appears like a little gnome in the doorway.
"It's Tina," she says softly, smiling, and we embrace. I hug her gently, touching the fragile knobs of her spine curved with years. I have forgotten how tiny Maki has become.
She asks, "How does it feel to be back?" and, holding each other, I confide, "It's the last place I want to be." Looking into her blue-gray eyes I can see she understands, and tears well up. She knows. Maki really knows. On levels I can't even imagine.
We sit together on her bed, holding hands, trading our winters, and she asks, "Did you get to anyplace in Mexico that you and Steve had never been together?"
I answer, "No," and, thinking a minute, laugh. Id have to work at it to find someplace!" Steve and I have spun our cobweb of traveled roads for so many years, going to such outrageously obscure villages, as well as mainline resorts, that it would be difficult to find myself a pristine spot as yet unvisited. Or, at least, I would have to put in more miles in the driver's seat than I was capable of this trip.
As I leave, Maki encourages me. And, she adds, maybe I should push my writing. "I know you've never pushed it. Maybe you should." These words from Maki are precious to me.
I drive on up the road and up the driveway. ES comes to rest on a tilt in the crowded bone yard of Steve's fleet. I find the hidden key, unlock the door, and walk into our house.