New Mexico and surrounding cosmos / January 8 – 12, 1979
Jackson, as Amanda predicted, had taken a box with his stereo, two small TVs, bathroom and kitchen junk and dropped it, without a note, in the middle of his dad’s side of his parents’ garage. He pulled the door down and burned rubber all the way to the corner, glad he’d stalled on signing the spring semester lease on his apartment trying to force Deanna’s hand with ‘let’s save our parents some money and actually live together instead of living together and lying about it.’
That didn’t work out, but at least she’d dropped England on him before he was out of options. Jackson hit the Oklahoma-Texas Panhandle line at 105 miles an hour and was almost in New Mexico by the time Deanna was taking the lettuce box and plastic bag of her artifacts up the stairs from his empty place to her own boxed up apartment.
His plan was to make it to Los Angeles, finish his application for USC and get in under the wire, sleep in his car for a week if he had to. That had been his plan all along, only a semester further down the road and without the sense of urgency. He would have gone somewhere else if she’d bothered to talk to him about what she was really upset about, what she wanted. The two of them, getting the educations they wanted, together somewhere. She never offered, wouldn’t talk to him and he let it slide until he didn’t want to stop whatever she’d set in motion. It was hers, she didn’t want him in it, she could have it.
She’d asked him to wait and he’d given her until Valentine’s ‘83. He could do the dance and slide on serious romance for that long, just to see what it was like without a hot girl’s bullshit. She didn’t show by noon that Valentine’s day? Screw her. There had to be thousands of hot girls in L.A. And four years was long enough to put eyes on the one Deanna didn’t want to be.
He dropped to the speed limit in New Mexico. It was beautiful, and cold, in that thin mountain air way, with a million stars in a clear, light-and-air-pollution-free sky. He spent his first night gone in the parking lot of the Tewa Lodge in Albuquerque. Three days later he smoked some peyote he copped off a trio of hippie jewelry girls in Santa Fe, took off to Taos in their van with them, and disappeared.
Tony Nakata, a reasonably fit, forty-ish, tall for a full blood Navajo, got word through family that his niece at the Crownpoint Police Station had a message for him. He sobered up, drove to Crownpoint, found out his old military operations officer Sheffield was looking for him. He called collect from the payphone in the cop shop lobby, told Shef yeah, he’d look around New Mexico for a missing kid.
Tony was looking for real work anyway. Sometimes. Mostly he was drinking beer in his grandfather’s hogan in the tumbleweeds between Grants and Crownpoint, wondering what happened to his life after Nam and Laos and Cambodia. His white, reservation schoolteacher wife had taken off with their daughter after he’d had another night of a few beers too many in a long string of nights exactly like it.
On his second day out he spotted Jackson’s car in a grocery store parking lot not far from the square in Santa Fe. It was unlocked, wires hanging where the stereo should have been, glove box open and empty. A few clothes scattered in the back seat, no sign of any keys. Kids, probably twelve or thirteen, had stolen the tapes and stereo. Pros would have taken the car or at least popped the trunk. Car like that had more valuable parts than a tape deck. Sheffield had said the kid liked girls and Nakata knew just where to find some a long-haired kid might like.
The square was lined with jewelry makers, mostly Native American, a couple of old white women, and the three girls who pretended to sell jewelry as a front for the weed, hash, and peyote they sold to tourists into that sort of thing.
He squatted down in front of them and their blankets full of cheap, Indian looking Taiwanese jewelry. “Where is he?” He held out the teletype picture of Jackson. “He had to be here. I found his car,” He tilted his chin slightly in the direction of the lot. “Right over there.”
The smallish girl in the back with nervous fingers pretending to bead some fishing line didn’t bother to look up. “Why us? We’re not runaway lost and found.” That elicited light humor snorts from the other two.
Tony palmed his thigh with a loud pop, and they all three jumped into paying attention.“Because you three, and this kid?” He shoved the picture under their noses, looked up at the sky and slowly waved his other arm. “I see a rainbow. Hear a big choir singing like God’s fabric softener commercial.”
“We don’t know him or what you’re talking about. We’ve never seen him, okay? So beat it and take your mystical medicine man laundry moment with you.”
“How about I dump your purses on the sidewalk, one at a time, before I ask again?”
The nervous girl in the back reached for her over-sized saddle blanket purse and locked her small black eyes on him. “You can’t do that. We know our rights.”
“All this ‘we know’ talk. I’m no cop, ladies. I can dump your purses just because I’m a big Indian asshole.” He picked the leader of the pack. Pretty, in a rough sort of way. Dressed the part of a hippie jewelry maker. Too much makeup and a touch too old for anyone paying attention. He could see how a young guy could get hooked right into her. He snatched her purse away.
“HEY HEYYY, Big Chief asshole! DON’T!”
Tony held the purse out of reach in a hand that would have made six of hers. Her eyes bounced between his eyes and the purse. “He bought some peyote…and some other shit, right? And we drove around and partied and then he got out of the van to puke. In Taos.” She turned to her friends for support. “Like almost three days ago, right? We couldn’t find him when we were leaving, so he’s still there.”
“No, you got him fucked up and ripped him off before you dumped him. You hope he’s still there. Because if he’s not?” Tony dumped the purse, tossed it out into the street in disgust with what the Square had become and watched the girls scramble after the pharmacy that rolled out over the sidewalk. There were never cops around when you needed them.
“Jackson, have you ever wondered what a life is worth?”
He felt her presence, knew she was there without seeing her. All he could see was an out of focus pile of clothes that might be him, lying in the dust next to a dilapidated, unpainted house on the edge of old downtown Taos. “Not really. I guess I never thought much about it…”
“Not many do. You paid five dollars and made a promise if it would go the way you asked. Have you tired so soon of your five dollar life?”
“I guess five wasn’t enough. Not the way it’s gone since then. I got close, but never close enough.”
“Self-pity is a pair of lead boots. You are responsible for where you are. Now you’ll throw the gift of your life away, possibly hers as well, because you don’t understand it, can’t see beyond your own instant gratification? Can’t accept the journey that is yours?”
“There’s not much left of where I was going, is there? There I am, right down there. I tried, you know?”
“No, you played your own game of emotional dodge ball, just as you accused your five dollar young woman of doing, and put up a good front. Disguising anger and frustration as caring and supportive, using them to force volatile confrontations to get the emotional feedback you wanted from her. That was as unfair as her not sharing herself with you. Now it’s come down to a pharmacological potpourri and a pile of dirty laundry. In Taos?”
“I only took what I could handle. Whatever they gave me in the Gatorade I didn’t ask for.”
“That isn’t exactly true. You wanted to continue joyfully and irresponsibly fornicating your way through life and drank what they told you would give you the strength, and them the willingness, to let you have them all. They knew what you wanted. Those women have dealt with banes like you their entire lives. Yet you trusted them to find you irresistible when in truth they found you an expendable nuisance with four hundred dollars in your front pocket, and there you are.”
He felt his eyes drawn to the pile of clothes again, attached but strangely unattached.
“Robbed, humiliated, out of your mind and near death. Instead of irresistible you have discovered yourself to be a horny, lost, heartbroken, insignificant almost dead sucker in a pile of dirty laundry. A self-realization that needs not be accompanied by pity, self or otherwise. ‘Is’ just is, if you follow me.”
Jackson could feel the desert breeze blowing through him, holding him in position, a low flying kite and realized that he, and the woman’s voice, her ethereal touch and the wind were all one essence, floating together.
“So now what? I don’t know how I know, but when it gets dark and cold again, I’m toast. I can’t do another night out. I’ll die, if I’m not dead already, self-pity and all. Ripped out of my mind with a mouth full of sand. And nobody gives a damn.”
“That is far from the truth as well. It is all much bigger than you. Don’t think, don’t surmise you understand even a pinhead of valuable truth, or run your mouth. For a moment, simply Feel.” He floated, the cool wind warmed him.
“Jackson, we have come together at this crossroads for a discussion of the Big Two. Forgiveness, and Participation. You need to grasp both. That you may use them to find a way to make a difference with every opportunity you are shown. Right now there is a man in a rusty old truck coming this way who needs to meet you as badly as you need to meet him, or he will also end up a pile of dirty, dead laundry in New Mexico. He will turn left or right. Left, and after dark, he will find a pile of laundry that was you. Right, and before the sun sets he will find you. You may choose to meet him and return to your five dollar life, to start making a difference, or not. Left or right. Your call.”
“What happens after, either way?”
“That is not for me to say. But if it will help with your decision I can tell you that we have a surplus of piano players right now. Really good piano players.”