Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Pheasant & the Rainbow (or, Batcaver Out of Hell)

Saturday, April 29, 2006: it was cool outside when I started out, about 9:30 am. I had committed myself to the 288-mile drive to Pullman, and to turning around and coming back the same day. I needed to visit my brother’s grave. Snoqualmie pass went quickly, and I stopped at the rest stop on the way down, Indian John Hill. I went to the bathroom, got some coffee and a cookie from those people who hang out at rest stops, and took some pictures of myself. When I looked at the pictures, I thought, funny, I feel fine, but my smile looks crooked and my eyes look worried. I sent a text message to my boyfriend at 11:55 am- @ a rest stop over the pass. About a third of the way. Feel good :D listen 2 disco & punk, sing loud! Try not 2 speed- unsuccessfully :P how r u?

It was warm at the rest stop, and it kept getting warmer as I drove. The weather was beautiful, and I thought, this will be fine. I kept seeing dead animals on the side of the road, though. It disturbed me. I had a feeling of dread that was getting stronger. I had decided to stop at all the rest stops, under the theory that the drive would be less oppressive that way. I stopped at the next one, and had another ½ a styrofoam cup of black coffee and a cookie. The other people at the rest stop seemed annoyed. I sent my boyfriend another message, at 12:28 pm- @ Ryegrass Rest Area, taking pix. It is hot!

At the next rest stop I sent another message- 85 m 2 go. getting hotter
(He did not receive this one.)

When I got to Colfax, I felt myself tense up. (My dad lives there.) There was a big sign with the temperature- 83 degrees. I was glad to have my sunglasses. I was warm, it was sunny, but I still felt like I would throw up.

It was getting a little cloudy and windy when I stopped in Pullman to get gas. The kid working there stood outside and talked to me. He told me he was hung over, and was going to party as soon as he got off work. He asked me what I was doing. I told him, “going to the cemetery to visit my brother.” He looked a little sad, and then commented on the wind.

The cemetery has been there for a long time. It used to be in the middle of nowhere, that is, the fields outside Pullman. A strip mall was built nearby, but you still have to drive on a narrow road to get there, and the fields still surround it. At it’s highest area you can see WSU in the distance. Large, old trees line the gravel roads and form a canopy. My brother is in a newer area, where the trees are still small. The area used to be a field, and when he was buried, there were only 1 or 2 other graves, all far away from his. About 5 years ago, a cop’s grave showed up next to his. I know he was a cop because it says so on his gravestone. Jeff’s gravestone has a nature scene with a mountain and evergreen trees on it. It suits him because he liked to hike and go rock climbing. He was buried with his bike helmet. Seeing his grave, I think about all the decisions that had to be made- picking a coffin, a program design with a quote for the funeral, planning the funeral. I spent half the funeral, which was at graveside, with my forehead pressed against my knees, bawling. It started to rain right after the service ended, and someone released 19 white balloons into the sky. I watched them until I could not see them anymore.

The first thing I noticed, though, was the crappy fake flowers. My dad had decided to decorate my brother’s grave with baskets of fake flowers, hung on a hook cemented into the grave, which he insisted were just as nice as real flowers, and lasted longer. These flowers had lasted at least 2 or 3 years; I recognize them from other times I had been there. You could not even tell what color the flowers used to be, and the “petals” were shredded. I was disgusted. When was the last time he was even here? He plays the devastated father, and he does not even bother to visit Jeff’s grave anymore. My mom has not been to his grave since the funeral. She told me so.

I sat on the grass in front of his gravestone. I cried, and talked softly to him. I looked at all the decorations on the other graves. Jeff’s grave looked abandoned. I told him I was sorry. I said, “I don’t know what dad did to you when you were living alone with him, and it scares me. I am so sorry we did not talk about it. I am so sorry for what he did to you.” It started to rain. I cried, and the rain stopped. The electric wires were sizzling. The rain started again, and I pressed my forehead against the gravestone. When I looked up, I saw a rainbow arching over the edges of the cemetery. When I looked down, I saw him.

The pheasant was standing at the end of the cemetery. He was beautiful- colorful, and standing proudly. He was still for a while, and then walked slowly along the perimeter. Eventually, he disappeared into the field.

I was shocked. Was this supposed to be a sign? When I was a kid, my dad would go hunting for pheasants. My brother shot himself with my dad’s hunting rifle. The one he shot pheasants with.

My dad is responsible for my brother’s death.

I took the fake flowers and stuck them in the trunk of my car. I got some paper towels out of the trunk, and tried to clean off the gravestone. I drove down to the strip mall, to look for something to replace the crappy flowers. I found bamboo wind chimes. I brought them back and hung them up. They looked nice, and tinkled pleasantly. As I drove away, I turned and watched the chimes moving in the wind, lifelike.

I drove across town to see the house I grew up in with Jeff, from when I was 4 to 17. A very unattractive woman was standing outside. She looked sharply at me as I slowed down. The house had been painted the most hideous yellow I had ever seen. It looked like a gruesome dayglow box. I had a moment of panic, not knowing if I should stop and look at the house I’d been through so much in, with my pets buried in the back yard, despite this horrible woman glaring at me. I keep driving.

I stopped at the grocery store to look for some food. It was crawling with frat boys buying beer. By this point, I had enough of Pullman. I could not get out of there fast enough.

About 20 miles out of town, a pheasant was standing on the side of the road. He seemed to watch me as I drove by.

10 minutes later, the rain and wind really started. Chunks of earth, a to-go cup, newspaper, and branches flew across my windshield, sometimes thudding into my car. After a while the rain stopped, but not the wind. The dust was so thick that I could only see the silhouettes of barns and grain silos. The sun was an angry yellow-brown ball.

When I got out of my car at the rest stop, my hair whipped across my face, and dust stung my eyes. I hurried back to my car and sent another text message (that didn’t go through)- 200 m 2 home. Very strange trip. Very. Including the drive back so far –xoxoxo

I spent part of the drive behind a car that would slow down whenever the dust got especially thick. At times, we were going 20 miles an hour and I could not see past the car in front of me. I noticed the spindly watering contraptions were running in the freshly plowed fields, but the water was shooting straight up.

Road kill surrounded Othello. As I drove into the Columbia Basin, the wind died down. The Columbia River was pitch black and churning violently. I stopped at the rest stop just past Vantage.

The rest stop was dark, and eerie. There were 2 vehicles, a minivan with a woman inside, and a car. The car looked abandoned, but I wondered if the owner was lurking around somewhere. The woman leapt out of the minivan and ran to the bathroom. As I walked up, she was on her way back. “You better get out of here soon!” she said to me. I nodded. She waited until I was back in my car before she sped away. I sent a text message. It was 8:26 pm- Hi! I think I just escaped hell! My eyes r burning. Wish I was home safe!

The dust and wind picked back up after I drove out of the basin. Ellensburg was grimy and quiet looking. I kept driving past the Indian John Hill rest stop at the base of the pass.

At 10:54 pm- I am home! Brutal winds in E. WA, chunks of earth, branches hit my car. Visibility bad! Saw rainbow & pheasant at cemetery, another pheasant on road. Surreal. xo


I said...

Sorry to flippant in regards to your very serious post, but I can't resist....



artquest1 said...

Kristina said...
thanks Bob. I'm glad you got something out of my blog. it makes me happy that both my friends and people I don't know read my writings. a question- what is your interpretation of the sub-text that you speak of?
5:56 PM

Hi Kristina,
I’ll try to respond – bear with me if I’m not able to be specific.
My background is art, originally visual but I’ve expanded that into quite a bit of theatre, both performance as well as writing, and as I involve myself with in many elements of art, I’ve been spending quite a bit of energy trying to understand the difference between craft, technique, skill, and methodology on one hand, and what lies beneath that overlay, which is where I believe the art of the piece lies. If you have time, visit my new blog, ArtQuest, where I’ve recently started trying to sort this out.
When I first started reading your blog, I was quite entranced by the narrative and the path you chose to weave your way through this emotional tale. The visual text, the tale itself, is tragic, gripping, and heart rending, but as I thought later about what I read, it was what was unsaid that I kept returning to.
In theatre, when the actors first get together for the rehearsal process, one of the things you try and do is to figure out who your character is, what his/her relationship is to the other characters, and what incidents, thoughts, and encounters led up to the character you first meet on page one of the script. This obviously is not detailed in the script, but if you are going to portray a believable character, these are things you must discover.
Obviously, this discovery process does not involve the author, and at its conclusion, your particular rational for who “you are” in the play might well be at odds or divergent from what the writer pictured. You may not change the words the playwright intends for you to say, but your manner of saying can certainly influence the unfolding drama.

What I find gripping and entrancing in your writings, is how you allow this “interior level” of following the story to exist, along with the visible, tangible story arc. I find myself thinking and wondering about the “little girl” (yes, I know it is you, but I don’t know you at all. But I feel I really know this little girl – she is the reality you have allowed to be created). What your writing offers, is an invitation to just enjoy the surface narrative, or, if you wish, to delve beneath the surface. While the narrative has highway signs to guide you along the way, your sub-text, or shared dialogue gives one more freedom.

By its nature, art must have depth – it needs to be more than what it appears to be and what the observer perceives. If you get what a picture, song or story has to say during your first serving, well, you don’t need to come back and taste it again and again. The depth that art has, allows the reader, viewer, or listener to find new and more varied stimuli with each visit, to explore new possibilities and relationships, and to add more to the puzzle that is life. You ponder it long after your first encounter, and are anxious to renew the affair.

The surface level of your writing informs. It tells me selective details of the early and later life of a woman, and it supplies a logical framework (and even motivation) for an unfolding series of vignettes. I find the real power, in what you have allowed me to add to your story – it is an invitation to be a participant, rather than a passive observer.

Because art doesn’t inform, and its role is not to answer question, but to ask them, I feel your writing is much more than narrative. Art is not interested in you knowing, it wants you to wonder, to ponder and to dig deeper. Art does not arise from glib facility, but more from painful encounter, and secret and clandestine rendezvous’.

I may well have given far more of an answer than you wanted to hear, and obviously, what I derive from your post may have nothing at all to do with what you intended. That is the risk of sharing, I guess, because a gift once given, is no longer your, it belongs to the recipient. Thank you for sharing, and I would be interested in hearing any response you may have to this or to my blog.

Thank you for sharing. Bob

Tealrat said...

I know! at least you didn't grow up there :(