It sounded like snickers coming from outside, but there was no way of confirming, at least not at this time. Alone I sat in the bathroom, once again forced to purvey over violent expulsions, a chronic theme that held the potential for serious medical attention, tremendous and erratic with each blow; a reaction over the abundance of booze and beef that had entered my body the night before—it had to be. There was no other explanation, not for this early morning episode—ugha—not again!
Pressure mounted from the inside, building and begging for a release, testing the structural integrity of my internal components, and nearing the threshold. I took my time, as would any logical test conductor; a clean discharge depended on it. Sweat poured out from my face, my breath’s deep and heavy, yet composed—always cool under pressure, that’s my motto. Steady now, no need to rush things. My muscles relaxed. Nice and slow, allow the natural order of things to once again take its place—
Whoa! Disaster struck at the sound of a thunderous boom; a colossal movement of eradication, leaving in its wake a heaping pile of destruction. The aftermath was just as curious. Strange noises could be heard, a relapse of imminent catastrophe, the combination of snickers and choking, oddly following the reverb of each push, and continuing to do so throughout the duration of my agonizing ordeal.
“What could it be? It’s 8 in the morning, no way could Bill and Gretch be awake. Impossible!” I shrugged it off, realizing it was the least of my worries at this point and refocused my efforts on the enormous struggle ahead of me—there was nothing else I could do.
It was another 20 unpleasant minutes before the rest of the chaos could be ultimately expelled, a process that involved large excretions of unwanted sweat and unnecessary energy, as well as a heavy clean up effort at the end. Ok. Just flush, slip away quietly, and nobody will be the wiser. Nobody…
I pulled the lever and watched as the toilet pushed a large mound of disorder deep into the catacombs of biological waste. Down it went, swirling and mixing into an eventual disappearance, moving closer towards it final resting place. Good. Keep going, keep going—wait, what’s going on? Don’t stop! Why aren’t you moving? Go down—down, not up! No! Stop, please… STOP— “Ohhhh no!”
An explosion of laughter burst through the walls of the bathroom, a full frontal assault on my privacy. I shot my head back and forth in a panic. What the—where’s it coming from? I looked to the door; locked. No way they’d get in through there. I lifted my head, then faded up towards the ceiling, and hauntingly remembered. The walls. They don’t reach the top of the ceiling! We’re connected… Oh God, they heard the whole thing—
“What’s going on in there?” hollered Lea from a distance.
“Uhh… nothing—nothing at all.” I darted back and forth in desperate search of some saving grace. “Say, you wouldn’t happen keep a plunger around the cabin, just in case something bad happens, would you?”
Any issue with a clogged toilet died quickly; nothing a few plunges couldn’t take care of. Besides, there were much more prudent issues facing us on that somber morning that trumped getting worked up over some stinkin’ toilet. I was going home, and this time, I was leaving my travel companions behind… for good.
I took my time packing my bags, holding out on the inevitable by ensuring absolutely nothing was left behind, anything I could do to delay the eventual goodbye. Strewn clothes scattered about the floor, another peculiar and perpetual theme of the trip that brought about flashes of the La Quinta Inn debacle and the rush from the Dude Rancher Lodge back into my immediate recollection, also aiding in my prolonged departure. I walked back and forth across the room, picking up each article of clothing one at a time, an excuse to observe all of the antiques sitting on the nightstand and hanging on the walls. Their presence provided momentary solace, artifacts that sparked a nostalgic reflection, becoming more captivating with each pass.
Pieces of jewelry passed down from generation to generation sat, having been around many necks of many family members throughout many decades, or clasped onto ears of different shape, size, and age; beautiful gems worn on occasions of love, celebration, heartbreak, and tradition amongst a host of others, many of those surely spent at the Pony Bar during a good portion of the 20th century. Pictures ranging from old to not so old spread between family heirlooms, scattered in a random, yet natural arrangement, a historical timeline of the Dutcher heritage. It was as if they were connecting Bill, Gretch, and Lea with past relatives, waiting for their deeply rooted traditions to be passed on to future generations, so they too could continue the story, as did their ancestors before them.
And now, for a long moment I stared, deep into the old family pictures, stuck in a trance and ignorant of any possessions or action occurring outside the bounds of that room. For that long moment, the commotion inside the cabin, the quiet commerce of Pony, the stresses of work, life, and the millions of problems plaguing the world, all of it became non-existent in the face of Medusa, leaving everything in that room frozen but for an idea, a glimmer of hope left floating in my head and barely hanging on, just enough to make me believe. I’ll make time stand still. Right here, right now, forever. I’ll never have to leave. And why can’t I? If only just for another long moment…
Lea, Gretch, and Bill lined up perpendicular to the doorway where my bags lay. I walked back from the refrigerator to confront the trio having retrieved the last of my coveted possessions, a final Rockstar for the ride home, beginning the awkward process of saying goodbye, something none of us wanted any part of, not even Gretch.
“Lea,” I began, having to take a deep breath before continuing. “Thank you for the hospitality—for letting me call this place home. I heard so many good things through the years and… I’m just glad I finally got the experience.”
“Oh,” was all she replied before delivering a smile coupled with the placement of her hand on her heart in a sign of flattery. “We had so much fun.” We went in for a hug. “You take care of yourself Zack. Thank you for looking after those guys this whole time.”
“It was the very least I could do…”
Gretch and I now stood face-to-face, careful not to show any sort of emotion towards each other. “Gretch,” I said, exaggerating the schwa in her name, a particular habit in Appalachian dialect I picked up over the years from conversations with my east coast relatives, as my parting words had not yet entered my head. “I just… I—“ What in the—there’s that stupid lump in my throat again! What the hell? “I think that—“ Oh my God, you’re choking up. Knock it off—get a grip, man!” “I’ll see ya,” I quickly said in a forced confession, giving her a quick pat on the shoulder. C’mon man. “I mean… I think I might—maybe I’ll… I’ll miss you.” My words somehow broke through her emotional armor, revealing a genuine smile for the first time, followed by a hug. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a genuine smile on my face either.
But something hit over during mid-hug. There was a revelation, similar to a message from God, only much stronger. My mind turned to mush, letting the unnatural presence take total control of my body. My jaws moved up and down, involuntarily instructed through a manipulation of muscles working to force out an unfamiliar language of spoken tongue, and succeeding quite magnificently, moving so fast that by the time a coherent thought could be sorted and analyzed through my head, the next one was already spoken—ultimate diarrhea of the mouth.
“Hey Gretch, I don’t know what you’re doing next month, or the month after, or even the month after that, but if I’m in Boise, which I might be, maybe we should get together for a drink, kind of like a date—well, not a date, but I guess it could be—I mean, with Bill’s permission of course—I know, we can go to Applebee’s! And I’m buying—that is, as long as it’s on the 2 of $20 menu—and only if you want to, which I’m sure you will—I know how you guys can’t pass up a free drink, heheh—“
“Oh my God!” Gretch scoffed and brushed the incident off, retreating to the den to act as if she was embarrassed by what had just taken place. Lea watched the interaction, shaking her head with a smile of pleasant disbelief that permanently stuck to her face.
I turned to Bill, delivering unto him a shrug of the shoulders and a sheepish grin. He took in a deep breath that lifted his entire upper torso, leaving on his face a sheepish grin of his own. “You need some help taking anything to your car?” he asked.
“Yea… yea I’d like that.”
I squeezed my suitcase, a case of beer, and enough old fashioned ingredients and whiskey to kill an elephant into the trunk. Bill placed my backpack and a few other items in the backseat and shut the door, leaving nothing but strands of overgrown brush bent by a warm gust of wind between Bill and I, two friends standing in silence in the essence of continental America’s final frontier. “Well, I guess this is it,” he said after a long pause, not knowing what else to say. I was thankful he spoke, for I didn’t have the words either. I hardly ever do, especially during moments like this.
“It’s been one hell of a trip,” I said to him, meeting him in a handshake that eventually turned into a hug.
“I’m really glad this happened. You don’t think this is the end, do you?”
“I don’t think so—no, it won’t be. But if so, for some God forsaken reason, I guess you can say we had one hell of an ending.” We shared a chuckle and then once again stood apart from each other, wishing we had more words to share. Nothing came to mind. In the absence of dialogue however laid a recognition, one too difficult to explain in a single goodbye. Something had changed during that two-week venture through the heartland of America and back, a growth between two men, an ultimate culmination of brotherhood. Something we can’t quite explain, but will never forget.
“I’ll see you soon my friend. Message us when you get home.”
“Will do. Take care Bill.”
The lyrics of Third Eye Blind played through the speakers of the Benz as I made my departure from Pony that late morning with a full can of Rockstar in hand, leaving me with much to think about on the drive to my parents’ house in Spokane, Washington.
I drove the coast just to see you
Why’d you take so long?
And I get that you know that I miss you and I
I know something’s wrong…
And then you speak to me
And everything is easy…
I’ve yet to come across anybody who can accurately describe the feeling one gets the moment an adventure is over in a single word or phrase. It’s like a turning point or a crossroads where a false known awaits you. There’s an intriguing element around the corner, yet a sorrow that exists over what you’ve left behind, and what you have to come back to. And whatever sorrow you’re feeling is partly overcome by a sense of accomplishment, taking part in something not many have attempted before you, something proudly displayed like a medal of honor. It leaves you in a state of ponder, encouraging you to continue your search, to understand the mysteries of life; eerily familiar to what was felt at the onset of your adventure.
Whatever that feeling was, I had a lot of time to figure it out during the 6-hour drive to Spokane.
But I guess if I had to put a label to it, it feels like you’re running out of the gate at your heart’s command… almost like you’re running out of the vein…