Farewell, Farwell

June 7, 2012

 I badly wanted to leave Texas. I wanted to leave Texas badly.

It’s an illustrative grammar exercise that devolves around adverb placement assuming there is no duality of intention that a person could not simultaneously want badly to leave a state and want to leave it badly. Let me begin by saying first I am that person and that duality of purpose comes as no specific surprise to me. It’s been a demanding school term. It was a demanding school term. Here again grammar and tense fail me. What has happened isn’t over until it can exist in a firm grammatical structure that can accommodate and contain that event. I can write, “My father is dead.” as if that event doesn’t continue. As if my Father isn’t both alive and dead in my mind. I can still hear him, see him sitting in his chair snoring, and even feel him act on me and in an instant remember the feel of the frozen granulated dirt I put on his grave. “My father is dead.” is common assumed to be a sad occasion from experience, there’s relatively little nuance to indicate my feeling as the speaker, and no indication of the emotional morass that the death of a parent leaves any writer trying to compose a path through. Simply, writing is only an indicator of an event, but its failure can indicate more than grammar implies. The school year is over.
For the first time I can remember, it was the last day of school and I wasn’t cheerily chatting with friends, scrounging boxes or dumping a year’s worth of work into plastic bags and dragging it out into the hall. My boxes were already loaded and labeled, the desk emptied, room swept, key turned in, forms signed. I wanted out as soon as I could legally leave. I wanted it over for a hundred reasons I could detail, but won’t. More than anything I needed closure on the events of the year; I didn’t feel like I could contain them and balance my life much longer. I believed until I left the jurisdiction of the State of Texas something might happen to confound the end of this event. From this irrational sense I fought back a steady physical impulse to flee, when I had done nothing wrong.
The events of the school term are completed, but not finished.
This year my assignment in the Behavior Support Class was difficult emotionally and physically demanding. The boys wore me down with their incessancy, but they were hardly the worst students I’d encountered. They were casually destructive, but seldom violent. By the time I arrived part way through the second semester they had a lot invested in noncooperation. Our progress was glacial. They demanded my total, constant attention. For six periods a day I was called on to conscientiously watch their needy variety of ‘look no hands!’ behaviors. If I wavered, they raised the level of attention seeking…cursing, tantrums, throwing books, papers, destroying pens and markers, tossing the contents of the supply closet, insulting the three long suffering aides to pray for transfers…whatever violations of common sense and decorum they felt would be needed to have my attention returned to them. But mostly the boys ran. They left our classroom, took off from the aides, they ran the halls when they felt misjudged, angry, tearful and sometimes bolted for the sheer pleasure of it. They outran their previous teachers, classes and schools. They seemed to need to run.
The boys weren’t the problem, their problems were the problem. Every morning they got off the bus in a private storm of genetics, childhood trauma, unfortunate circumstances and family dynamics that constantly shifted and changed. Each boy’s internal sense of urgency projected him near or away from obvious classroom cooperation and satisfaction into realms of active half fantasies, remnants of lost half-memories, or distorted visions of expectations they had for themselves or someone had imposed on them. On occasions they literally destroyed my lesson plans, but generally they performed something that appeared to be a school task. Then stopped dead when they felt they had accomplished as much as they felt was appropriate to their day and their sense of self. They didn’t feel fettered by school rules or structures and not infrequently would launch intramural excursions to visit the principal, but mostly it seemed they wanted someone to pursue them…to relentlessly bring them back safely. By the end of May my capacity to function in chaos seemed to be diminishing, but so was theirs. They wanted to be in our classroom. They even did class work. I believe we had accomplished a fundamental kind of exchange, a growth perhaps that will allow my successor to move forward more easily. I hope so.
That’s as good a face as I can put on those three months. It was physically demanding and emotionally draining hard work. Too often I felt insecure about my position and relationship with the administration of my school and district. A lot of people seemed to want me to do a lot of different things. What I felt and perceived and what appeared to be happening were often conflicted and occasionally persecutory. I felt like a film noir detective who has to solve a crime where he’s the fallback suspect. I was continually trying to solve crimes that weren’t quite completed. This conflict spoke to something deep and anxious in my background, not necessarily heroic or ideal, but with deep roots. My lineage comes from families of immigrants, not detectives; we avoided crimes.
Let’s assume much that I’ve written this far is true to some extent, that is, it all occurred in some demonstrable fashion. I can produce witnesses, evidence, ect… Assuming all that, I drove for the New Mexico border the dawn after school ended like an escaped convict. I wanted out of Texas with the blind belief that simple, physical distance might offer some form of salvation. Although I was in a Toyota loaded with books and luggage, I took off running.
Anyone who has undertaken crossing Texas recognizes what a struggle it is. I’ve done it enough times. For me to traverse the 640 or so miles of what invariably seems like harsh weather between Houston and Farwell is pretty much 10 hours of squirming hardship. I can’t sleep or read in moving cars. I watch the road. I make notes. Chew gum. Time/spatial memory is one of my strengths. I know where we’re going; I know where we’ve been, constantly. I remember where we stopped the last time, what we ate, what the weather was like. I can’t remember the number of anyone’s telephone, any bank account, or the street number of the office I worked at for eight years. But traveling through places I don’t have any conscious interest in recollecting, that’s our different story.
Outside of Abilene I reminded my wife of the tumbleweed she ran into several winters ago. I can describe the interior of the KoKo Motel and damp texture of its frightening shag carpet. I know exactly where I parked both times, winter and summer, when we stopped at the Sweetwater Motel, where to step to avoid the pipes and holes in the parking lot to get to Buck’s Barbeque. I can revive the relative strength of the aroma issuing from the feedlots from seasons past.
Travel is something in my genetic storm of circumstances, which I seem to have evolved to do.
This trip we thought about visiting some of the music sites mentioned in an article of Texas Monthly. The miles and hours failed to coordinate us with any of the towns with the exception of Littlefield. I confess in decades of living in Texas I’ve only learned about six lines of Waylon Jennings’ songs. Here I’ll also confess as a lack of enthusiasm for visiting Waylon’s Uncle’s liquor store. En route Littlefield is one of the Sisyphean marker towns that indicate how much painfully farther there is to travel in either direction. But we did pause in Buckholds for the Cotton Festival Parade and bought homemade molasses and pecan ice cream, a Mule’s Ear and I texted a picture of a nicely polished Studebaker Hawk to two friends while a polka band played “Wasted Away Again in Margarittaville”. There are distractions other than musicians’ graves.
It would appear in driving by that most of the contents of the State of Texas have been arranged for sale in yards and makeshift flea markets. That the number of craft products that can be made from beer cans is limited in quality, but infinite in variation. Along the roadside there’s a scarecrow world of scrap metal figures welded together to twist in the wind. Car carcasses in yards and drives, or left in groups like rusting creatures in a sty. I saw a Militia Supply store, two places for mud racing, billboard ads for knife sales hundreds of miles away, dozens of discount smoke shops. The places with cars in the lot were Dollar Stores. A dozen varieties of bagged fried snacks and hyper-caffeinated beverages, lottery scratch-offs and novelty lighters were available anytime I paid for gas. My road was awash in burnt coffee, bird whirligigs, double patty burgers, sexual enhancers, cellophane wrapped magazines, bootleg cd compilations, fruit flavored cigars and water for sale in refrigerated cases and outdoor stacks. Driving through towns like Comanche, Eastland, Gatesville, and Gorman, Governor Perry’s “Texas Miracle” seemed more than 600 miles from the voters who put him in office. I’m not sure what I, or anyone, had hoped for, but it couldn’t have been these arrays of deserted shops surrounding granite courthouse squares.
By contrast it seemed there were an extraordinary number of friendly, obese people who had invested in interesting tattoos. The folks at Buckholts were having a good time in spite of my condescension. Plenty of people were standing in what shade they could find talking with their neighbors and laughing because they were glad to be with them. I overheard a man yell “Tell your sister-in-law I’m coming over there this afternoon with gas powered weed eater and a live chicken!” New churches with fresh crushed gravel parking lots were advertising services. One church marquee read ”Pray for America: Chronicles II”. As ever the ranching supply and hardware stores were neatly arranged with tillers aligned like a flight of geese and galvanized steel tanks in concentric displays. Two men in straw cowboy hats stood talking without looking at each other. A combination cattle auction arena and attendant steak restaurant had recently been constructed out of attractive limestone. We were passed by plenty of Super Duty 4x4s and heavy duty dualies in a hurry for Saturday afternoon. Although it was too hot to play on, playground equipment looked new. There was yellow safety foam atop the fences at the ball field. Even though it was ninety-five degrees, a couple of pitchers were warming up in a dusty parking lot.
There’s an attraction to escape to someplace rural, indigenous, or to want to be in the country, that is a kind of common mythic desire. There’s a nascent drive to grow our own food, to work directly at a physical task without a managing intermediary that seems poetic and brave. To not be beholden… a freeman, as I search for language, I find these peculiar archaic terms feel the most comfortable. It’s as if I’m describing something I’ve lost, instead of something I never possessed. The mythos of lost country life is a loss we might offer up as the price for our heritage of immigration and migration; we can possess only a passing sense of home. We have all left some thatched peasant village that’s the movie set in the film about the misplaced past of our ancestry. Simple anthropology demands we have to have descended from some sort of farming community, a proto-community where we weren’t strangers…one that for some reason we have run away from.
Most of us cope with these remnant attacks of our collective past by buying real estate, hobby gardening, lawn care, camping, or driving with our windows rolled down through farm country. But we still believe we could somehow reclaim our missing freedom and independence in those Green Acres. But the reality is farmers are as much in debt, desperately worried, and dependent on the collapsing Greek economy as anyone else. We’re the same. We’re all frightened, but we’re not sure of whom or what. In the global economy we’re all merely costumed variations of people who don’t really matter, except to ourselves.
For me Farwell, TX is on the border between worlds. Crossing over to New Mexico doesn’t feel like coming home, it feels like running away from home. Around six as we approached, the horizon filled with a huge thunder storm and to the south a long glowering cloud of smoke. It’s the kind of enormous weather event that can only happen where the geography is so flat and uninterrupted. That evening the seeming contradiction of a vast fire and even larger storm seemed apt, like a finish line to my flight.
Then, as now, there is always something terrible to leave behind, something terrible about to be done, and an unpredictable world of sudden, terrible collaboration. I know just beyond the border crossing is Fort Sumner, the site of one of Billy the Kid’s peripatetic graves. William Bonnie, one of America’s most celebrated runaways. But Fort Sumner is also home to the Bosque Redondo where Kit Carson, another of America’s mythic runaways, brought 8,500 Navajo people to the brutal dry end of their “Long Walk” after burning their crops, destroying their orchards and confiscating their land. Wherever we run away to, someone has run away from. There’s no place too forgotten or far enough away.
Clearing brush in the Jemez Mountains, the school has already tracked me down by cell phone. Someone wants me to know I haven’t been forgotten; I won’t have to escape.
I remember everything; I remember nothing. I remember nothing; I remember everything.


2 Responses to “Farewell, Farwell”

  1. Linsay Locke Says:

    Dom, it’s in our DNA — the archetype of Ulysses — just like baby sea turtles, newly hatched, know to sped toward the ocean, and in which direction to head. Sometimes we forget that we know the direction in which to head.

  2. domzuccone Says:

    Oh for a shell and an ocean!

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