So then I ran out of money.
Self-fulfilling prophecy or blind luck? I never dropped into the red. No checks bounced. I had said I would travel and write until the money ran out; what I had known was that I would run my finances straight into the ground. But I’m like that now, living with a certain reckless abandon when it comes to money and time.
I believe, before it was all said and done, after the auto-pays for the car payment and phone bill came out, that I in fact got down to eleven dollars. Maybe it was too many lattes. Or too many gas stations, filling up the car and driving on, day after day, sleeping in the car night after night. Searching for a place called “home.”
It’s that hokey, my writing project idea. Even so, how do I tell you a story about searching for home when I have to abandon that journey for an urgent financial detour?
Maybe I shouldn’t have taken this job, though, regular hours, good pay, health insurance I’ll probably never use. Life insurance that makes me nervous, thinking about dying all safe and secure, with plenty of money to bury myself. Not the way to reach Valhalla. Maybe I should have picked up a gig bussing in a restaurant instead; god knows I can’t wait tables to save my life. I tried that once, offered people dessert before they’d ordered their meal, forgot to ask how they wanted the meat cooked, medium, well, bloody and rare. I lasted two weeks.
I wanted a job back then so I could breathe, so I could fend off the crumbling of my sanity, a kid raising kids in the middle of the high mountain lonesome. Nowhere. You could almost hear the banjo twang of our poverty. Never felt so lost as I did living in Walden, Colorado. I remember pushing the dilapidated stroller, the slow desperation of walking through that tiny town from one edge to the other, then turning back and walking it all in reverse, until I once again reached the last worn house, the last dirt street, the last faded corner. Standing there, I’d look out at the road leading away, the old highway narrowing into the distance, out beyond the long grasses in the ditches where I stood, the ranch pastures rippling in the constant wind. I’d reach down and pick the yellow butter-and-eggs, hand a few stems to the baby in her seat, a few to her brothers, tell them, “See? Doesn’t that look just like eggs for breakfast?” But some days, we didn’t have any eggs for breakfast. That’s when I learned that you could still make pancakes with your last egg, water down the dregs of your cheap syrup. French toast was a golden luxury. After a while, I didn’t even bother to make the pancakes, just laid in bed, sleeping off the despair like a hangover. So their dad became the default Sunday morning pancake maker, having given up the church once he found his new Jesus, namely, porn mags and cigarettes while he worked the late shift at Corkle’s Gas. All so I’d have more than the twelve dollars he’d once handed me to take to the grocery store. One time it was seven.
He blew our money on bad cars and new fishing gear and beer and smokes. I blew our money on taking the kids out for cocoa and bacon at the Coffee Pot Inn — and once getting totally drunk at the bar and having to be walked home by the local cowboy twins, tall brothers in Stetsons and Wranglers whose names I never knew.
You’d think I’d hate pancakes, and butter-and-eggs, and high mountain valleys, all those sad associations with reaching the utter limits of failure. But I don’t. I have a bittersweet, wistful fondness for all of them; though not for Corkle’s, which still pisses me off to this day. The last time I went through Walden, I filled up my car at the other gas station, directly across the street, flipping a nice F-you to that damn sign as I pumped my gas. It was this very summer, in fact. While I was heading north to find yet another place called Mountain Home.
The log house in Walden where we lived, watching the world speed past us…over time, it rotted away, until they finally tore it down. Nothing but a wide, smooth spot next to the road now, low purple asters growing along the gravelly edges. Just a placeholder for what I remember of who I was, a long time ago. I don’t need to inhabit that space now. In fact, I can’t. Which is a blessing.
So, eleven dollars. This is how I know I’m on the right path. I look back at my life with forgiveness.
All the suffering I let the world put me through. All the fear, walking from one edge of the flat earth all the way to the other, too afraid to venture farther, convinced we’d never make it, what with the dragons and the kraken and all.
If I say “Home is where the heart is,” I mean it’s where you take yourself. I’m starting to wonder if home means the degree to which I’m living authentically, from the heart. A moment of courage in the midst of spectacular doubt — the will to remain curious about the world, see if there isn’t something more, something possible.
Even if waiting tables really is not. Anything’s better than Corkle’s.