The Long Way Home

If you are the one person that has read all of my blogs, I should probably buy you a beer. Or invite to spend a week or two at our spacious and beautiful retirement home in the even more beautiful Lakeside area.

I probably won’t turn into Satan if you decide to vacation here, but you might want to limit the amount of LSD you take, just in cases. I can promise I won’t pull a gun on you. And you probably won’t contract the Philadelphia flu, though Montezuma’s Revenge is always a possibility in Mexico…  And I won’t tie you up and stab you with a really big needle, or shove a garden hose down your dick.

The only reason I mention these disparate items is because all of them were things I saw, or were things that happened to me while I was in Texas.

I’ve been writing about the vacation from hell my lovely supermodel wife, her sister and I experienced way back in 1995 when we drove down to the bottom of Texas to help their father clear his house of his dead wife’s possessions after her death.

Driving vacations are twofold in the way they unfold. There’s the joyous drive to arrive at your highly anticipated destination part when your vacation begins. And then there’s the dreaded now we have to drive all the way home part as your vacation ends.

There’s usually a whole lots of fun and frolicking somewhere in between anticipation and dread, and that’s one reason why the dread part is so dreaded. You’re usually so exhausted from having fun, the only thing you want to do is sleep for forty-eight hours, not drive.

Neither Lea nor I, or her sister for that matter, could say we had had that much fun during our vacation. The sisters had cried their way through every room and closet, every nook and cranny in their father’s house as they sorted out their mother’s stuff into piles of stuff to keep, and stuff to get rid of.

We had all been struck down by the Philadelphia flu, and Lea had ended up in the hospital just this side of hell in the process. And then there was Andy, Leslie’s goat killing, hostage taking, leg breaking horse, who had lost his head in more ways than one. His misadventures would reverberate through Bill and Leslie’s lives for years to come.

And let’s not forget Muffy’s pants.

Leslie’s sudden change of plans would spare her from the dreaded drive home, and that was probably the only good thing that would come out of our vacation for her.

I can’t say I was dreading the trip home, except for the whole driving a big moving truck thing, and the having to tow our car behind the big truck thing. I had never done that before, but I figured it couldn’t be that tough. Guys nowhere near as smart as me did it everyday, and if someone named Rubber Ducky could do it, so could I.

The days after Leslie flew back to Wisconsin went by quickly. Lea and I hung out with Dave. We rented a big yellow Ryder truck, and a towing dolly for our car. We loaded truck with Leslie’s Stuff. And Lea’s Stuff. And we got rid of the Stuff No One Wants.

Dave had a lots of experience with driving a big rig and towing another vehicle. He owned a motorhome, and he had towed his car behind the motorhome all across the country.

Dave gave me three valuable rules for our trip.

“Now this truck you’re driving is much bigger than anything you’ve ever driven, and you’re going to be towing your car behind it. So give yourself plenty of time and space if you have to stop. This thing is not going to stop on a dime.

“And it’s not going to turn on a dime, either. You have to make wide turns, you understand? Just like those eighteen wheelers do. Don’t try to cut any corners, or you’ll probably lose half of your car.

“And the last thing is the most important. You can’t back up when you’re towing your car. So when you stop to get gas, or sleep, or whatever, make sure you can drive straight out of any place you pull in to, you understand? If you don’t, you’re going to have to take your car off of the dolly, and then you’ll have to unhook the dolly from the truck before you can even think about turning the truck around. And then you have to hook everything back up again.

“So be careful! Because it’s a real bugger if you have to do it, and it always happens at the most inopportune moment, of course.”

I really liked that car. It was a 1994 Mitsubishi Galant four door sedan. Metallic Forest Green, and it had a spoiler. Of all the cars I owned after I lost my little red sportscar in the fire that burned down my parents’ house, I probably liked that car the most.

Dave had good advice, so I damn near took notes. But that ended up being the extent of what he had to say about driving. Give yourself plenty of space when you stop or turn. And don’t drive into anywhere that you can’t drive straight out of.

Piece of cake.

And then Dave said something that caught me by surprise.

“You know, Lea is Wanda’s baby girl, and Wanda used to worry about her baby girl because that’s what mothers do, and Lea was living alone in the Big City, you know.

“And then you came along. Now, I’ll be honest. I didn’t quite know what to think of you when I first met you, but I tend to reserve my judgement about people, and that’s just me. But Wanda loved you–she said you were her angel–and that, well, that was good enough for me.

“But I’ve known you for awhile now, and I’ve gotten to know you better. And there’s no doubt that you love Lea, and she clearly adores you. And you’ve been there for her through some tough times.

“You’re a good man, Mark. You were Wanda’s angel, and, well, you’ve become mine, too.”

I’m sure I had no response to that. When Wanda told me I was her angel, I had an immediate response. I might be a lots of things, but I’m pretty sure an angel isn’t one of them.

Wanda could care less what I thought. I was the answer to her prayers, and that was all that mattered to her. But now I had somehow become Dave’s angel, and I have to admit, that mattered to me.

One of the truths about married life is you are rarely good enough for your in-laws, like, they’re royalty or something, and you’re fucking Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights. But I had somehow transcended that status. Not only had I hit an home run, I had scored a touchdown, and an hat trick!

“I kind of doubt I’ll ever be an angel, Dave. But I’m working on that being a good man part. You won’t have to worry about Lea. I’ll take good care of her.”

“That’s all I needed to hear.”

You know what? Dave wasn’t such a bad guy after all.

* * * *

I think we picked up our rental truck on Monday, and spent the day loading that sucker up. The truck was quite a bit larger than what we needed for the stuff we were going to take back to the top of the country. The only reason we opted for a truck that big was for towing our car.

Dave gave me an hands-on in-service about connecting the dolly to the truck and hooking up the electricals, and putting the front wheels of our car on the dolly to tow it. It seemed simple enough…

We said our good-byes to Dave, and hit the road on Tuesday morning. It would probably take us three days to get back to Minnesota, but that would give me three days to rest and recuperate before I returned to work the following Monday.

It was the last time Lea or I would ever travel to Dave’s house.  Leslie would make one more trek down to the bottom of Texas, just before Dave died in 2011, but she would fly down. And fly back.

I remember being a little nervous as I drove the truck towing our car out of the driveway. You always wonder if you hooked everything up correctly, and you hope you did. After you’ve been driving for about an hour and nothing goes wrong, you relax and almost forget you’ve never done this before.

After a few hours, you give yourself a trucker name.

Ten-four there, good buddy! You got the Yellow Ryder over here on the flip-flop. I’m carrying a load of precious momentos, and I got my best girl by my side. We’re heading for the Great White North, so I’m keeping the pedal on them double nickels, and I got my eyes peeled for Smokey!

My lovely supermodel wife was smiling. This was going to be okay. I told Lea that I had become Dave’s angel. She was quiet for a time, and tears welled her eyes.

“He told me how much he loved me before we left. I think my mother’s death has changed him. He wasn’t like that when I was little.”

The only thing that concerned me was where my wife was sitting. She had moved from her seat to the cooler I had placed between our seats in the cab of the truck. She said she was too far away from me.

That was kind of cute, but the cooler didn’t come equipped with seatbelts, so if I had to come to a sudden stop, I was pretty sure Lea would end up flying through the windshield. And I doubted Dave would consider that taking good care of Wanda’s baby girl on my part.

But I didn’t have to come to any sudden stops. The first leg of our journey home was uneventful, and the miles flew by. And by. And by. If you’ve never driven across Texas, it seemingly goes on forever.

Our plan was to drive from San Benito to Dallas, and spend the night with Gary and Mary. Gary was my buddy that flew up to Minneapolis after Lea’s second surgery to save my life. He was living in Ferris, TX, a suburb on the southern end of Dallas.

Gary and I go way back. He was one of my brother Tom’s friends in high school, and we started doing a lots of stupid stuff together after I got out of the Army.

I can’t remember how he ended up in Texas, but he did. And then he married Mary. And then they had a kid. Spoiler alert! They would have another one nine months later. Yep. Our visit to Dallas would be a fertile one.

I hadn’t seen Gary in awhile, and I was looking forward to seeing him again. You know, drink a few beers, tell some stories, and just relax.

Lea grew tired of sitting on the cooler, and wanted to drive. I filled her in out Dave’s Driving Tips, and she took over somewhere around Austin. So Lea was driving when we hit the outskirts of Dallas at rush hour, and the route we were supposed to take to get to Gary and Mary’s was under major construction.

By the time Lea had traversed the detour, and all the twists and turns we had to take to get to our destination, she was pretty much done with driving on this trip.

* * * *

The first leg of our journey was under our belts. We had made it to Dallas. We sat out on the yard and sipped some adult beverages. I think we even listened to an album by Supertramp. They were Mary’s favorite group back in the day.

We had a meal that couldn’t be beat, and quite a few more beverages. As a result, we probably got off to a later start than I would have liked the next day.

Wednesday, April 19, 1995.

We had driven through Dallas on our way down to San Benito. Leslie had been praying for death after succumbing to the Philadelphia flu. I know I had some random thoughts about my vacation with Shorty bouncing around inside my head as I drove, but most of my attention was focused on not hitting any of the cars flying by us on the freeway. Rush hour traffic in Dallas, is a real rush.

I think the amount of traffic started thinning out a bit once we reached Denton. It was around 9:00 AM, maybe. I asked Lea to find some appropriate traveling tunes on the radio. But there was no music that morning. There was nothing but news reports. Something had happened in Oklahoma City. There had been an explosion.

A very big one.

The initial reports were chaotic and confused. It might have been a gas leak. It might have been a meteorite. Whatever it was, it had destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, and hundreds, maybe thousands of people were dead.

“Jesus. That’s crazy. A gas leak? That wouldn’t destroy a building that big. No way.” I said.

But you know what would? A yellow Ryder truck, the same size as the one I was driving, filled with explosives.

As we continued to listen to the reports, it occurred to me that our route back home went right through Oklahoma City, if anything was still moving through Oklahoma City.

“Get the map. Find another route.” I said. “We’re not going anywhere near Oklahoma City. I don’t care if we have to go through California. Find another way.”

I can’t remember the exact route Lea decided on, but she plotted a course around Oklahoma City that eventually brought us back to our original course just outside of Kansas City.

We were on the road for thirteen hours that day. We checked into an hotel at midnight, and we were back on the road at 4:00 AM Thursday morning.

* * * *

I can’t remember how many times I thought things couldn’t get any worse on this trip, but I know I was wrong every time.

It was a gray, cloudy day, and windier than hell on Thursday. I had to fight like two hells to keep the truck on the road. I was buffeted out of my lane more than once, and one of those times resulted in me careening rather close to a really big truck.

It wasn’t intentional on my part, but the truck driver’s response was. He decided to play a little trucker tag, and inched his rig toward mine. And he kept on inching.

Now I had a dilemma. This guy was clearly going to keep on inching closer to me because every time I slid to the right, so did he. So I decided to bail out and head for the shoulder of the road.

The shoulder of the road wasn’t in the best of shape, and we hit a lots of bumps and stuff. I was pretty sure we lost our car, and slowly came to a stop, then went to check on my car.

I was surprised to see it intact, but checked all the bindings and electricals, just to make sure they were still working, and those all checked out. I noticed were getting low on gas when I got back in the truck, lower than I thought we were, so I planned to stop at the very next gas station we saw.

We were in Southern Iowa by this time. The warm, shiny weather of Southern Texas had been replaced by a gray chill, and the clouds looked like rain was in the forecast.

I saw a gas station an heartbeat too late, but there was a Walmart or something like that, and all I had to do was drive around the back of the store and I could pull in right next to the pump.

“I don’t think this is going to work.” Lea said, as I headed for the back of the store.

And, she was right. I think I just about started crying.

There was no exit from the back of the store. I had broken Dave’s Third Driving Tip, and I was fucked. I was going to have to take the car off the dolly, then unhook the dolly from the truck, turn the truck around, reconnect the dolly, and put the car back on the dolly, and then find another gas station because there was no way to get to the one I missed.

“Oh, honey.” Lea said. “I’m sorry. At least it’s not raining!”

And then it started to rain.

* * * *

My lovely supermodel wife is really good at four things. No, five. Wait a minute, six. And, she’s really good at that, too. Okay. My wife is really good at a lots of stuffs. And one of those things is shopping.

The first thing she did after we got married was throw out most of my clothes, and she bought me a wardrobe. I’ve gotten a lots of compliments over the years about my style and taste in clothing.

That is not me. That’s Lea.

So when the rain started falling as I started the process to get us back on the road again, I was probably more fashionably equipped to handle the situation than I had been, ever.

I had a lightweight fleece jacket on, and more or less matching gloves. I had plenty of freedom of movement, and I stayed warm. Plus, I was so pissed off I think the rain evaporated the moment it hit me.

I’m sure it took me at least an hour to unhook everything, point the truck in right direction, and hook everything back up. I was able to find a different gas station before we ran out of gas, and that was pretty much the end of our adventures on what we would come to call our Vacation from Hell.

There are a couple of small details.

When we reached the Minnesota border, the rain turned to snow, and it snowed all the way back to Minneapolis.

About a month after our trip, we got a letter from the FBI. They noted that around April 19th, we had rented a big yellow Ryder truck, and we were driving it near the proximity of Oklahoma City, and the FBI wanted to know why.

I had hung onto that letter until we moved to Mexico, and then I figured it was time to let go of that, too.

I’ve let go of a lots of stuffs over the years. But I’ve hung on to a few things. Like being a Vikings fan. And wanting to be a prophet.

I should let God know that at least two of his masterpieces thought I was an angel.

It might make a difference. You never know…

Andy

Before I get started, a couple of things.

I need to fill in the back story about my lovely supermodel wife’s family dynamics before she shoves a garden hose down my dick and makes me cry a lots.

As you may know, my wife is the baby of her family. Her sister, Leslie, is eight years older than her. There was a brother in between them, David.

He killed himself when he was twelve.

Leslie and Lea were never best friends when they were young, simply because of their age difference. Leslie was more of a surrogate mother to her little sister than she was a friend, or even a sister.

I’ve made some references to the fact that my father-in-law wasn’t any easy man to like. He had a short fuse on his temper, and was prone to fits of rage, which I attribute to his untreated PTSD.

Dave had mellowed somewhat with age by the time I met him, but my wife told me stories about what he used to be like, back when she was a girl. Dave was downright mean and scary. He yelled and shouted, a lots. He broke stuff, on purpose. And he punched people, mostly his wife. And his son.

My parents spanked my ass a lots when I was young, but that was the extent of their discipline when I acted out.

Young David probably wouldn’t have dared to act out. A simple mistake would result in a beating. The penalty for intentionally misbehaving might well be death. And that’s probably what led to his decision to take his life at the tender age of twelve.

Lea and her family were living in Cannon Falls, MN when it happened. Dave and Wanda had gone to work. Leslie was fourteen at the time. David was twelve, and Lea was six. I can’t remember the circumstances, but they were all at home on that winter’s day.

The kids were horsing around as kids will do, and as is often the case, a piece of furniture sustained some damage in the process. The coffee table in the living room. It took me at least fifteen years of almost begging before Lea agreed to let me buy the table we now have in our living room.

David knew what was going to happen when his father got home, and decided he couldn’t take one more beating. He got his .22 rifle out of the closet, loaded it, and pointed the barrel at his head.

Lea sat next to her brother on the couch and pleaded with him to stop. Leslie stood on the far side of the room and said nothing, watching.

I didn’t think he’d actually do it, she would say during the one and only time I remember the sisters discussing what had happened in my presence.

And I knew he would, was Lea’s response.

I can see her, almost as if I had been there myself, a terrified little girl running through the snow in stocking feet, running down the street to flag down the first passing motorist she saw, tears running down her face.

And there was blood.

I may have fallen in love with Lea the first time I saw her, but it was the stories she told that sealed the deal for me. That she could pass through a fire so immense, a storm of such intensity, and survive…

* * * *

When viewed from this perspective, the weird dynamics of Lea’s family don’t look quite as weird. The fact they had any dynamics is probably some kind of miracle.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention while my wife was fighting her lengthy battle with Crohn’s disease, Leslie was also fighting for her life against a different opponent. Breast cancer.

Those Covington girls. You don’t want to mess with them. They are survivors, and so much more.

Lea and Leslie have grown much closer since the death of their mother, and father. They’ll never be best friends, and they both know that, and they are both at peace with that. But they are sisters now, and they call each other from time to time.

We used to go Bill and Leslie’s farm on a semi-frequent basis before they sold it, and before we moved to Arizona, then to Mexico.

Bill and Leslie came to visit us once in Arizona. I hope Bill and Leslie decide to visit us down here in the beautiful Lakeside area someday.

I can show Bill where the goats live.

* * * *

Okay. Where was I?

This happens to me more than I would like to admit. Last night, I walked into the bedroom to help Lea turn down the bed, and I forgot why I went into the bedroom before I got there. I went into my closet and started changing into my pajamas.

“Hey! Aren’t you going to help me?” Lea asked. So I went back to the bedroom to help with the bed, then forgot I had been changing into my pajamas.

So. Where was I?

Oh yes. I had helped my lovely supermodel wife escape from the local hospital where my father-in-law lived, down in the bottom of Texas. She had survived her bout of the Philadelphia flu, and she had survived the doctor who couldn’t believe she had Crohn’s disease, despite the fact she’d had four major abdominal surgeries, an ileostomy, and least two doctors in Minnesota that didn’t have any questions about her diagnosis. And she had also survived the fat slob of a nurse who had been too busy to take care of her.

There would be no adverse reactions for Lea from sneaking barefooted out the front door of the hospital in broad daylight, wearing little more than an hospital gown. Once the stomach flu passed, all she needed was her regularly scheduled meds at the times she was supposed to regularly receive them, and Lea could do that without any assistance from anyone.

Lea told her family what had happened to her during her brief but endless stay at the hospital while I more or less told the hospital administrator to go fuck himself, and then it was Leslie’s turn.

She also had a story to tell.

At the time my wife started feeling the first assault of the Philadelphia flu, my sister-in-law had been on the phone with her husband, Bill, the man who would unintentionally infect us all with the GI bug he had picked up on his last business trip to the City of Brotherly Love.

I’m not sure just where in the world Bill was when he called, but he wasn’t on the farm in Wisconsin anymore. And that was why he had called. Something had gone terribly wrong, back on the farm.

And that something was Leslie’s once cute miniature horse, Andy, whom was no longer cute, nor even remotely miniature anymore.

Andy had inexplicably morphed out of being a darlingpreshadorbs little horse about the size of one them Buttweiler dogs, into a bad tempered teenaged mutant medium-sized thug of a horse. Andy grown to roughly the size of an adult deer, and probably weighed close to three hundred pounds. And to prove how much of a badass he’d become, Andy had killed a goat just before we jumped in the car to start our trek to the bottom of Texas.

Bill figured Andy’s sudden behavioral changes could be attributed to the fact that he was transitioning from a colt into an young stallion. What Andy needed was the calming presence of an older father figure horse that could kick his ass when he got too boisterous. Or, he needed his balls cut off.

Unfortunately, there was no such horse living at Pfaff’s Happy Acres, just a bunch of dwarf goats, and they were clearly no match for Andy when he decided he wanted to be a bully. Nor was there any time to have Andy gelded. Bill was a business consultant, and he had consulting to do.

Bill had made arrangements with one his neighbors down the road. They had a teenage farmer’s daughter, I’ll call her Muffy, who was on spring break from college or something, and for a few dollars a day she would swing by the farm and take care of the tiny goats and the mutant miniature horse, and the cats that lived in the barn, and the mangy looking dog Bill had adopted.

It was only for a week. Bill would be back on the farm on Friday or Saturday night.

I don’t think I ever met Muffy, but just because I can do this, let’s say Muffy looked like Christina Aguilera, back when she was a genie in a bottle. And because Muffy was so cute and adorable, Bill warned her in all seriousness to be careful around Andy, given his predilection for unpredictable behavior.

That last part really did happen. And then Bill flew off to go take care of business.

Earlier on the day that Bill called, as Team Covington was returning from Mexico, Andy had somehow gotten out of his pen in Wisconsin, and had trotted down the driveway into the road. And he decided he would claim that part of the road as his own.

There wasn’t a whole lots of traffic on the road that ran past the farm, but there was some, and on that day, a school bus full of students needed to drive past Pfaff’s Happy Acres to drop off some kids a bit further down the road.

But in the middle of the road, stood a horse. It’s not an uncommon occurrence in the country. Livestock get out of their pens all the time, and the locals know how to deal with it. The bus driver honked the horn, that usually worked, but Andy shook his head and stood his ground.

As in all small towns, the bus driver knew Bill and Leslie, and everyone else up and down their road for that matter. She told her passengers to stay on the bus, then went out to put Andy back in his pen. She was a middle aged country gal, and she knew how to handle large farm animals.

Andy allowed her to walk up to him and grab his halter, and he even cooperated with her when she started leading him back to his pen.

And then, he changed his mind. Andy had evidently grown tired of the whole domesticated horse thing, and decided to become a lion, a tiger and a bear, all at once. And he became fierce!

I’m a little uncertain about the details, but Andy knocked the lady bus driver off her feet, then tossed her around a little as she struggled to regain her footing and keep her grip on the halter. As she regained her balance, Andy pushed her up against a large fence post with his not so miniature body. Forcefully. By the time Andy was done showing the bus driver where she could get off, he had broken her hip and one of her legs in two or three places.

The kids on the bus had all been raised on farms, and they raced out of the bus to save their driver, but Andy chased them all back to the bus, and he wouldn’t let them leave.

More vehicles arrived to find themselves stuck behind a school bus being held hostage by a terrorist horse. The sheriff and the fire department were called to save the kids trapped on the bus, and to rescue the bus driver whose leg had been broken into several pieces.

It’s hard to negotiate with a terrorist, but it’s impossible to negotiate with a terrorist thug horse, straight outta Oshkosh.

The sheriff couldn’t get anywhere near the bus, or the horse. Andy had no intention of peacefully returning to his pen, and charged the sheriff when he approached. He chased anyone away that tried to approach the bus, or the injured bus driver laying on the ground nearby with one leg bent in at least two impossible angles. Andy had taken prisoners, and he wasn’t willing to let any them go.

The sheriff had a dilemma. Neither Bill nor Leslie were home, and he had no idea how to contact them. Their horse had become a menace to society. It had taken a bus full of children hostage, and had seriously injured the bus driver. He had to act, and he had to act quickly.

He got his shotgun, and walked toward the renegade horse. When Andy charged the sheriff, the sheriff pulled the trigger, and a shot echoed loudly across the fields and woods surrounding the farm. The children ran out of the bus. The fire department flew into action and rescued the bus driver. And some scientist guys from Madison showed up because the sheriff called them after he killed the psychotic terrorist horse. By Wisconsin State law, any crazy horse had to be tested for rabies.

And then the scientist guys had a dilemma. The rabies virus lives in brain cells, and nowhere else. The scientist guys could have taken all of Andy’s remains, but they didn’t need all of Andy to run their required tests, just his head. And Andy, well, he wasn’t a small horse anymore.

Seeing how Andy was dead and wouldn’t be needing his head anymore, and that was the only part of his body they needed…  It’s much, much easier to transport the head of a dead horse than it is to transport the entire dead horse, so that’s what the scientist guys decided to do. They left most of dead Andy laying in the driveway, and then drove back to Madison where their tests would eventually reveal Andy did not have rabies, nor did he have the Philadelphia flu.

He was just a misunderstood youth, an over-amped adolescent, a rebel without a cause. He was the Headless Horse of Trempealeau County.

And that would be the end of this story, except for a few small details.

You may remember that Bill had hired Muffy, the perhaps cute and adorable college coed farmer’s daughter that lived down the road to keep an eye on the farm while he was out of town.

I’m not sure where Muffy was on that day, or what she was doing, but she was nowhere near the farm when Andy decided to go rogue and terrorize the community. As she was driving home, cute and adorable Muffy decided to drop by the farm to check on the animals entrusted to her care, and found the headless body of a dead horse laying in the driveway. She pretty much shit her pants.

I don’t think she went back to Bill and Leslie’s farm. Ever. Her dad ended up taking care of the goats and cats and dog, and he probably made the arrangements to have the rest of Andy’s body disposed of.

I’m not sure if Muffy called Bill first, or if the sheriff did, but one of those two called Bill and told him about the demise of Andy the militant mutant miniature horse, and then Bill called Dave’s house to let his wife know her wicked horse was dead.

As for the bus driver whose leg had been broken into several pieces, she ended up having several surgeries to put her back together again. And that was good. However, she had no health insurance, and that was bad. She ended up with a whole lots of medical expenses she had no way to pay, and ended up sueing Bill and Leslie for an enormous amount of money.

It would take a few years for all the legal wranglings to sort themselves out, and as both parties were walking into the courtroom, a settlement was reached.

Bill had wisely added an umbrella policy to his home owner’s insurance when he had purchased the farm, and the however many hundreds of thousands of dollars they settled on was paid by his insurance company.

Lea and I would also incur some medical expenses while we were deep in the heart of Texas. Our health insurance covered the majority of it, but we were billed for the balance. And Lea was given the opportunity to tell the hospital administrator to go fuck himself, too.

* * * *

“Sonuvafuckinbitch!” I probably said something like unto that when Leslie finished telling us about Andy. And the bus driver. And the kids. And the sheriff. And the fire department. And the scientist guys. And Muffy. And her pants. It was probably the most exciting thing that had happened in that part of Wisconsin in the last fifty years. “Man, I told Lea I had a bad feeling when Andy killed the goat, but I had no idea it’d turn out this bad!”

See? Not a prophet.

To say our plans would require some renovations would be an understatement. Leslie had to fly back to Wisconsin as soon as possible. She would not be able to drive our car while I drove the truck we were going to rent to get all of Wanda’s stuff back to the top of the country from way down at the bottom of the country.

“I’m really sorry.” she said.

“Don’t worry about it. We’ll figure something out.” Lea replied.

There was one bright spot. Leslie and Lea had gone through Dave’s house like a pair of stormtroopers, and everything had been sorted, separated and mostly packed. Lea and I would finish that, and load everything in the truck we would rent. We would take care of the stuff to be sold or donated. Leslie suddenly had more than enough stuff of her own to deal with.

* * * *

Leslie flew back to Wisconsin the very next day to take care of the shitstorm of events related to her mutant miniature thug horse from Hell, and all the havoc he had unleashed.

We rode along as Dave drove her to the airport. Leslie and Lea went through a checklist to make sure they hadn’t missed anything. The last thing either of them wanted to do was make another trip to Texas.

We drove back to the house afterwards. I was going to miss Leslie. She had a way of handling Dave that neither Lea nor I possessed, not that Dave was a terrible management problem anymore.

But he did have his moments still, and Lea didn’t have the same technique her sister did. I was a pysch nurse. I wasn’t yet the elite nurse I would eventually become, but I was confident I could handle Dave if I needed to. And the tall Texas blonde ER nurse had just shown me a new intervention…

“Man, I still can’t believe what happened with that crazy horse!” Dave said, as he drove. He spoke for all of us. That was pretty fucking wild, no doubt.

“It’s been quite a trip so far, Dave. I think I’m going to need another vacation to recover from this vacation.” I said. And we all laughed.

Yeah, it was funny then. But in less than a week it wouldn’t be. Remember that thing I said about life? There might be times when things can’t get any better, but things can always get worse.

Yes. They could.

And, yes, they would.

Saving Captain Covington

One of the perks of working for the Federal Government is the amount of time you get off. For starters, you get all of the holidays. When was the last time you got Columbus Day off?

And, you get five weeks of paid vacation a year.

In April of 1995, I did something I had never done since I had started working at the MVAMC. I took two consecutive weeks off, but I did it for a good reason. My father-in-law had called, and said he needed help cleaning out his house after his wife had died.

Wanda had died the previous October after traveling all the way from the bottom of Texas to Minnesota to see her baby girl before her fourth abdominal surgery in three years. Wanda had had an heart attack after arriving in Minnesota, and needed another coronary bypass surgery before she could safely travel back to the bottom of Texas. She would die on the table in the OR, leaving a tidal wave of shock and grief in her wake.

My lovely supermodel wife called her sister, and plans were made. The three of us would drive down to the bottom of Texas and clean out Dave’s house. We would rent a truck, load that sucker up, then drive back home. I would drive the truck. Leslie would drive our car. Lea would ride with me or Leslie. Done deal.

Early Saturday morning on April 8th, Lea and I drove from our house in Minneapolis to just outside of Ettrick, WI where Bill and Leslie lived on their hobby farm, Pfaff’s Happy Acres.

I loved their farm. Bill had planted a bunch of apple trees, and collected himself an herd of miniature goats. He named all his goats after Biblical prophets. Amos. Isaiah. I think he even named one Elijah. And he had a girl goat named Ruth, of course.

Leslie had a kind of a miniature horse named Andy. Miniature horses are supposed to be, you know, small. But in the Spring of 1995, Andy went through a growth spurt, and had turned into a mutant, semi-large horse.

I was much taller than Andy the first time I met him. Andy was a few inches taller than me the second time we met. And he had developed a bad attitude.

As I was packing Leslie’s luggage in the trunk of our car, Andy grabbed one of the goats by the scruff of the neck and started shaking it around like a ragdoll. I raced into the house to tell Bill.

Bill was working as a consultant back then, and he traveled a lots. Bill had just returned from a trip to Philadelphia, where he had contracted a particularly virulent, though short-lived stomach virus, and he still looked a little green around the gills.

Despite his weakened state, Bill and I ran out to the barn to do try to save one of the prophetic goats from the psychotic horse. We were able to get the goat away from Andy, but we were too late to save it. Then Bill moved Andy into a different pen before he decided to kill any more goats, but Andy wasn’t exactly cooperative with the move, and Bill was shaking with anger and exhaustion by the time he was finished.

“I have a really bad feeling about this…” I whispered to Lea, as the goat we tried to save took one last gasping breath, and died. We said our good-byes to Bill, and climbed into the car, and headed off to San Benito, TX.

* * * *

It’s a little over 1500 miles from Ettrick to San Benito, and none of us felt like spending twenty-two consecutive hours in the car. Dusk was approaching when we reached Oklahoma City. We found an hotel in Purcell, OK, and checked in. We would resume our journey in the morning.

Lea and I were ready to roll early Sunday morning, but Leslie was not. She was pale and clammy looking. She just needed a few more minutes to compose herself. Before we hit the road, we stopped at a nearby Burger King for breakfast. Leslie took one bite of her breakfast sandwich, and turned a stunning color of green. She ran to the Ladies Room, and she stayed there.

“Maybe you should go check on your sister, and make sure she’s still alive.” I suggested to my wife.

“She’s laying on the floor.” Lea announced when she returned, and sat down to finish her coffee.

“What does that mean? Should we call 911?”

“No. She’s just being dramatic. She’ll be okay.”

This was my first exposure to the odd dynamics of my wife’s family. There would be more.

There was an Urgent Care office next door to the Burger King. I thought about dragging Leslie across the parking lot to be evaluated. She’s a much larger woman than her sister, but when Leslie finally emerged from the Ladies Room, she declined all offers of medical treatment, and crawled into the backseat of the car.

“Drive!” she ordered. I drove.

The next 700 miles were perhaps the longest miles of all our lives. Leslie was utterly miserable. She moaned and groaned and prayed for death.

“If she doesn’t shut up, I’ll fucking kill her myself!” Lea told me during one of our stops for gas.

As night started to fall, we pulled into Dave’s driveway. The first stage of our rescue mission was over. We had arrived safely, and more or less alive.

* * * *

Leslie looked a whole lots better on Monday morning. The Philadelphia flu had wreaked its’ havoc upon her, and then it was gone.

Lea and I slept in the guest room. Dave moved into his motorhome, so Leslie could sleep in the master suite. We usually went out to eat while we down in the bottom of Texas, except when Leslie or Lea felt like cooking. But I think those occasions were rare. The reason for our visit took an emotional toll on everyone.

Dave’s daughters surveyed the house like generals planning an invasion. They started sorting stuff into three piles: Leslie’s Stuff. Lea’s Stuff. Stuff No One Wants. The stuff no one wanted, like all of Wanda’s clothes, would be sold at a local consignment shop, or given away.

Leslie and Lea shed a lots of tears in the process. They understood the necessity of what they were doing, but it was tough duty.

Dave and I tried to stay out of their way as much as possible. He showed me his medals from the Army, two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star, and casually told me how he got them. Dave had received a battlefield commission to captain during the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir in Korea after all the officers in his unit had been killed to death. He had only been almost killed, and as the highest ranking surviving NCO, he instantly became the commanding officer of what remained of his unit.

Dave had to have been the luckiest unlucky bastard I ever met. He was at Anzio in WW II, which was one of the worst places you could be at that time. And he was at the Chosin Reservoir, which was one of the worst places to be, ever. For all time. He was lucky because he wasn’t killed or captured, but he was wounded twice. And he was an emotional basketcase for the rest of his life.

He showed me his pistol, a .45 automatic, and offered to let me handle it because I had been in the Army, and I could appreciate it. But I had seen one too many handguns up close and personal, the last one during my vacation in Dallas with my buddy, Shorty.

I declined.

Leslie and Lea would occasionally question Dave about what to do with a particular item. He almost always opted to get rid of it. The sorting continued daily, the three piles of stuff grew progressively larger. No one else started exhibiting the symptoms of the Philadelphia flu, and I thought the rest of us were going to dodge a bullet.

Leslie felt like cooking on Wednesday. She made beef stroganoff, and she made a lots of it. We had a meal that couldn’t be beat, then retired to the living room to relax. After watching TV for awhile, we all headed for bed. And I started feeling not so good.

I can’t remember how many times I vomited, but by the time I finished, I knew one thing for sure. I would never eat beef stroganoff again.

Being sick is one thing, but being puking sick is the worst. Ever. I’ve rarely been puking sick in my life, even when I drank to excess, and I did that a lots. If I had been prone to vomiting, I might have been inspired to quit drinking sooner because I fucking hate puking.

I eventually crawled into bed, and started praying for death, much like Leslie had a few days earlier. I tried not to moan or whine too much because I knew what my wife had endured when she had been trying to survive her battles with Crohn’s disease.

But I was miserable. I eventually said this to my wife, “Honey, I hope you don’t think I’m a sissy or anything, but I’m sicker than a dog, and… I… want… my…mom!”

* * * *

By the next morning, I was pretty sure I was going to live, though I was feeling very shaky. And then Dave came into the house from his motorhome. We took one look at each other, and knew we had both fought the same battle.

Dave thought we all needed a break, so we got into his car and drove the short distance to the Mexican border to do some shopping and stuff.

Leslie and Lea walked around some of the streets of Reynosa while Dave and I parked ourselves in a little cantina and tried to drink a beer. It was perhaps the least amount of fun I’ve ever had with a beer in my hand.

We ate dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Reynosa, and I actually started feeling better. I was ready to back to the cantina, but everyone else wanted to go home. Lea said she wasn’t feeling too good. By the time we got back to Dave’s house, the Philadelphia flu was beginning its first assault on my wife’s already compromised body.

Lea’s health, or the lack thereof, had been the intense focus of our lives for the three previous years. She’d had four major abdominal surgeries, and had almost died at least three times. She had had about one third of her intestines removed, and had ended up with an ileostomy and an external pouch.

I wasn’t a medical nurse, but I knew enough about my wife and her medical issues to know she wouldn’t be able to survive the ravages of the Philadelphia flu without professional help. At the very least, she’d need IV fluids and electrolyte replacement therapy, or the consequences could be dire.

Lea ran into the house and down the hallway to the bathroom as soon as we got back to Dave’s house, and as the rest of us walked into the house, the phone rang. Bill was calling, from wherever he was in the world on business, and he needed to talk to Leslie. It was an emergency!

I had an emergency of my own to take care of. I tossed the phone to Leslie, got directions to the nearest hospital from Dave–fortunately, there was a little forty bed facility just a few miles from Dave’s–and helped Lea into the car, hoping she could get the medical attention she needed before she started having seizures. She said her muscles were starting to spasm, and I didn’t think a full blown grand mal seizure was far behind.

The local hospital had an emergency room. I got Lea checked in, and started explaining her complicated medical history to the admissions clerk while the staff started taking care of Lea. The ER staff all knew Dave and Wanda, and they assured me they wouldn’t let anything happen to Wanda’s baby girl.

But I knew this was going to be kind of an ordeal, no matter what anyone said. When I told the clerk at the desk my wife had an ileostomy, this was her response.

Illy-what? Can y’all spell that for me?

Like most ER’s, this one was busy. I gave the clerk a list of all the medications Lea was taking and the dosages of all of them. It was a very long list. I made her make a bunch of copies, and I would hand a copy to anyone that had anything to do with Lea’s care while we were in the ER. I stopped every staff person I saw, and told them I was a nurse, and what my wife needed. STAT!

The nurses in the ER were actually very helpful, and Lea had an IV running with a potassium piggyback running in no time. She didn’t have the same issue with vomiting that I had had, but her external pouch needed to be emptied constantly.

Lea’s nurse was a tall Texas blonde. Besides my wife, she was busy taking care of at least three other people, one of whom was a big hairy guy that had been brought in by a couple of Texas Department of Corrections Officers.

I don’t know what this guy had done, but I’m guessing jail isn’t anywhere near as much fun as they make it look on TV. This guy presented with chest pain, but didn’t appear to be in any apparent distress as he strolled into the ER. He had a big smile on his face, and he waved at everyone, making sure they saw the handcuffs on his wrists.

Per hospital policy, the big hairy guy was restrained to a litter because he came in under police escort. He totally cooperated with that, but he had stopped smiling. Once he was restrained, the tall Texas blonde nurse explained what was going to happen in no uncertain terms.

A nasal cannula was placed in his nose holes, and he was started on O2. An IV was started, and labs were drawn, using the biggest needle the nurse could find. And she made sure she missed his vein with her first attempt. Then she informed the big hairy guy she needed an urine sample.

“I can pee in a cup. I do it all the time for my PO.”

“Nope, y’all can just lay back and relax. I’m going to cath you.” And she did, using a catheter about the diameter of a small garden hose.

The big hairy convict guy probably wasn’t in any pain in any part of his body when he walked into the ER, but after roughly thirty minutes of tender loving care from the ER staff, he was hurting in at least two places.

“Hey! Take me back to jail! I’m good! Get me the fuck outta here!!” And once his lab results came back normal, back to jail he went.

* * * *

Just between you and me, that was the most beautiful intervention I’d ever seen on a malingering patient, ever.

A malingering patient endorses a plethora of symptoms to lengthen their stay in the hospital. We saw this all the time in Psychiatry. Some of our patients wanted to stay in the hospital as long as they could, for a multitude of reasons.

Some of them were homeless, and if you’ve never tried living on the streets, it totally sucks. Some of them were trying to avoid going to jail, and I’m going to guess that probably sucks, too.

It might have been legal to restrain a guy and stab him in the arm with a really big needle a couple of times, then shove a garden hose down his dick in Texas, but it wasn’t in Minnesota. If we had been allowed to use those interventions, we could have easily cut our recidivism rate in half, if not more. We couldn’t even carry tasers, which I thought every psych nurse should be issued, no matter which state they worked in.

Seeing how Lea’s nurse was busy taking care of a guy that didn’t need any care, I decided to take care of my wife because she did, and I was a nurse, too. I grabbed a box of gloves and a basin, and I informed her nurse each time I emptied Lea’s pouch, or she vomited, and the volume of fluids she expelled each time. Her nurse was grateful for the help, and offered me a job.

One of the other ER nurses heard I worked in Psych. She came over to quiz me about her ten year old son, who had recently been diagnosed as Bipolar. I can’t remember her name, but she was probably a couple of years younger than I was. She was kind of attractive, and clearly overwhelmed by the situation with her son, and practically started crying on my shoulder.

That seemed like a weird diagnosis for a ten year old to me, and to her, for that matter. I suggested she get a second opinion from a real doctor next time, and spent close to half an hour listening to her. I wished her luck, then we both went back to work.

Bipolar Disorder is a terrible disease.

Lea’s condition had stabilized somewhat. Her nausea had passed. She was no longer vomiting. In fact, I thought she looked good enough to go home, and even Lea thought she was going to be okay.

But given the fact she’d had multiple surgeries and she had an ileostomy, and then there was her family history of heart disease…  The ER doctor didn’t feel comfortable discharging my lovely supermodel wife, no matter what we said. He wanted to keep her overnight for observation, just in cases.

And that’s where the ordeal started. Given Lea’s cardiac history, the ER doctor wanted her to be admitted to a monitored bed. The only problem was there weren’t any open monitored beds in the hospital.

Now, you might be thinking, it’s an hospital! Aren’t all of the beds monitored? A monitored bed is hooked up via EKG leads and highly sophisticated circuitry to an alarm system behind the nursing station. If something goes awry in a monitored bed, alarms go off and every nurse on the floor goes running to that room with crash carts and oxygen and a shitload of medications to save a life.

I used to work in Cardiac Care, and I understood the rationale behind the ER doctor’s decision. So we waited for a bed. And we waited. And we waited.

The first symptoms of the Philadelphia flu hit Lea about 6:00 PM. I had called Dave’s house a couple of times with updates. My last call was probably around 10:00 PM. Lea was doing better, but the doctor wanted to keep her overnight. Dave said he and Leslie were going to bed, but they’d leave the door unlocked so I could get in the house when I got home. They’d see me in the morning.

When midnight arrived, Lea was still waiting for a bed. She was getting a little upset with the wait. I was way past that.

I’m an incredibly patient man. You can ask around if you like. But this situation was beyond ridiculous. I asked to see the Administrator on Duty, every hospital has one, and I wanted some answers. I was informed she was busy, of course, but she’d be down to see me in a few minutes

When 1:00 AM rolled around, I demanded to see the AOD. Now.

She actually came running into the ER. She was a very sweet woman who apologized profusely in her darling Texas accent. She offered her condolences to us. Wanda had been a friend of hers, then explained the difficulties she was facing.

There were a limited number of monitored beds in her hospital, and they were all currently occupied. She had called in the maintenance team, and they were moving heaven and earth to hook up a monitoring system in one of the rooms to the nursing station so Lea could be admitted.

In the meantime, was there anything she could do for us?

Well, yeah, there was. It was incredibly noisy in the ER. It was filled with a lots of unhappy people. Was there any place to put my lovely supermodel wife that wasn’t as loud and busy while we waited for the monitored bed was being set up?

Yes! Lea could be moved into a room in the ER, and a real bed could be put inside the room. Lea would be more comfortable, and the room would be much quieter…

Lea said that would be fine. And the very sweet woman left to see that this was taken care of immediately. And it was. As to how long it would take for Lea’s monitored bed to be ready, well, that was a mystery.

When 2:00 AM rolled around, I was falling asleep standing up. I told Lea I was going to go back to Dave’s house. I hoped her bed would be ready soon, but she was at least in a quieter place, and maybe she could even get some sleep, but I had run out of gas. I had to go.

I think I finally got back to Dave’s around 3:00 AM. I would find out later that Lea would wait in that room for at least another three hours before she was admitted to her hastily assembled monitored bed.

* * * *

I woke up the next morning around 9:30 AM because Dave knocked on the door and told me Lea was on the phone. My head was foggy, and full of cobwebs.

“Come and get me!” Lea’s voice said. She sounded terrible.

“Are you being discharged?” I asked. I was a nurse. I kind of understood how hospitals worked.

“No! The fucking doctor here doesn’t think I have Crohn’s disease! He wants to run a bunch of stupid tests on me! I told him to go to hell!”

“How did he take that?” I decided to ask.

“He’s not very happy with me right now.”

“How’s everything else going? Are you getting your meds?”

I knew getting her meds right would be complicated. That’s why I handed out a list of them to everyone, hoping the floor nurses would get a copy and get them ordered.

“No! I haven’t gotten anything! Not even morphine!”

“I’ll be there in ten minutes.”

I was so pissed I was shaking. I almost asked Dave for his gun.

* * * *

Lea wasn’t in the best of shape when I had taken her to the ER, but she looked even worse when I arrived at the hospital the next day. She was drenched with sweat, and writhing on her bed. I was a nurse, and I was a very good nurse. I knew what what was happening to her the moment I laid eyes on her. My wife, was going through serious opiate withdrawal.

I went to the nursing station, then tracked down her nurse in the hallway, and I tried to be polite, at first.

“Excuse me. I know you’re incredibly busy, but my wife is in that room down there at the end of the hallway, and you need to come see her now, please.”

Lea’s nurse was a young-ish slob wearing light blue scrub bottoms and a multicolored top about the size of a pup tent. She kind of shuffled when she walked, and her hair looked like it hadn’t been combed since March.

“Yeah, I’ll be down there just as soon as I can. I’m doing something right now.”

“I’m sure you are, but have you seen my wife lately? She hasn’t gotten any of her meds yet, not even her pain meds, and she’s going through withdrawal.”

“I haven’t had time to go over her meds yet. Like I said, I’m doing something right now.” she replied, not even bothering to look at me when she talked. And that was the last straw for me.

“You listen to me, and you better hear every word I say.” I said softly, but loud enough for her to hear me clearly. “I’m a nurse, too. So when I tell you you need to come to my wife’s room now, I mean right fucking now. And if you don’t do as I ask, I’ll have your ass in front of the Board of Nursing before your shift ends. Now, move!”

I appeared to have gotten her attention. She stopped doing whatever it was she’d been doing and turned to look at me for the first time. I nodded in the direction of Lea’s room, barely controlling the urge to push her down the hallway.

“Oh my word!” she said when she entered Lea’s room and saw my wife.”She didn’t look like this the last time I was here! Let me go check her meds. I’ll be right back, I promise!”

“That’s bullshit.” Lea said, as her slob of a nurse shuffled out of her room. “I’ve been like this for at least an hour!”

“Well, let’s give her a minute to fix this. Then I’ll kill her.” I said. I was only partially joking. It’s probably a good thing I didn’t ask Dave for his gun. Unlike Hillary, I probably would’ve used it.

In a very short amount of time, Lea’s nurse returned with a syringe filled with Demerol. She injected the drug into a port in Lea’s IV tubing, and by the time she shuffled out the door, Lea looked a whole lots better. My wife exhaled a huge sigh of relief, and smiled.

“That’s better!” she said.

“Can you walk?” I asked. I was making an assessment. Lea was wearing a hospital gown and a pair of panties. The only clothes she had with her were a pair of denim cutoffs, which I pulled out of the closet and handed to her. She didn’t even have a pair of shoes. I had taken her purse and the rest of her clothes home with me when I left the ER.

“Yes. I’m fine now. Why? What are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking if I don’t get you out of here, you’re going to die.”

“Then get me out of here!” she said, and pulled on her shorts.

I disconnected Lea’s IV, and covered her IV site with gauze and tape. Then I started disconnecting the leads of the monitor. This was the tricky part. Lea was in a monitored bed, and the moment I started messing with her leads, all kinds of alarms would go off. A veritable army of nurses would descend upon us, and even her slob of a nurse would eventually shuffle back to her room to check on her.

But a funny thing happened when I disconnected the first lead.

Nothing.

No alarms went off. No one came running. And I got even more pissed off, if that were possible. When Lea was disconnected from all her equipment, we walked out of her room, down the hallway past her slob of a nurse, who was so busy doing something she didn’t notice us walk by her, and got on the elevator.

We walked out the front door of the hospital, my barefoot, hospital gown wearing lovely supermodel wife and I, across the parking lot, and I drove us back to Dave’s house. I think we laughed the entire way.

* * * *

Dave was waiting for us at the front door when we pulled into the driveway. He had a puzzled look on his face.

“Mark! The hospital is on the phone!” he said. His expression was also one of concern. “They said you took Lea out of the hospital without permission! They want you to bring her back, right away!” Lea was his daughter. And he had just lost his wife a few months earlier. I don’t know if he ever understood how many times his daughter had almost died in the last few years, but he clearly thought I had done something to endanger her life now.

“This is Mark.” I said into the receiver. Lea was explaining what had happened while she was in the hospital to her her father and her sister, and that way her family would know I wasn’t trying to kill her to death.

“Mr Rowen, this is the hospital administrator.” a male voice said into my ear. “I understand you and your wife have had a bit of a bumpy ride while you were here, but we would certainly like the opportunity to fix that. You’re a nurse, right? You have to know your wife is very sick!”

“Yes, I know.” I replied. “And I’d like to keep her that way if you don’t mind.”

“I…I don’t understand, Mr Rowen.”

“Yes. My wife was very sick, but your hospital did a great job and she’s doing much better now.”

“But your wife is still very sick.”

“And, she’s still alive, and I’d really like to keep her that way. However, if she had much more care at your facility, I don’t think she would be.”

“Now, Mr Rowen, that’s–”

“I agree. That’s more than quite enough.” I interrupted, and hung up the phone.

We had driven from the top of the country to the bottom of the country to help Dave do something he didn’t have the heart to do himself. And it was a task that nearly broke the hearts of my wife and her sister. They were clearing their father’s home of most of the items that reminded him of his dead wife, and collecting the items that reminded them the most of their mother.

We had all come down with the Philadelphia flu, and we had all survived. Even Lea. There had been one casualty, an innocent goat had been murdered by a homicidal horse, but that had been way back in Wisconsin, before we had actually set off for the bottom of Texas.

Thank you, God, I thought. And I also thought at least nothing else could go wrong on this trip, and that the worst was over.

But life is a funny thing sometimes. And while there might be times when things can’t get any better, things can always get worse.

Sometimes, they can get a lots worse.

Burnin’ Down the House

My family moved a lots when I was a kid. My dad worked for the Aerospace Program, and then for the ICBM Defense Program. He was the project manager in charge of building the silos that housed the missiles America had aimed at the USSR.

It takes about two years to build a silo, so that was the longest period of time we lived in one place. I think the shortest was around eight months.

By the time I started high school, I had lived in eight different states: Minnesota, Michigan, South Dakota and Arkansas. North Dakota, California, Missouri and Montana. I’m gonna take a wild guess and estimate I had lived in about sixteen different houses. We lived in multiple locations in some of those states. My parents were very good at moving.

Worst Case Scenario: When I was in the seventh grade, I started the school year in Minnesota, completed most of the year in Missouri, and finished the year in Montana.

Yeah, that was a lots of fun.

Just before the start of my senior year in high school, my family moved back to Minnesota. I would not accompany them. My sister, Colleen, graciously offered to let me live with her and her husband so I could complete my high school education in Montana.

My parents bought a beautiful home set on the banks of the Mississippi River outside of Little Falls, MN. It’s the boyhood home of Charles Lindbergh, perhaps the most famous aviator of the 20th Century.

I was never a big fan of Little Falls. I have no evidence to support this, but I don’t think Charles Lindbergh cared much for Little Falls either. After all, he flew all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to get out of town. And he did it when no one else had ever succeeded in the attempt.

Truly the act of a desperate man.

I would rejoin my family after I was discharged from the Army. I’d be willing to bet I was a fairly desperate man myself. I was running from a horde of demons, but there’s a funny thing about demons.

You can’t run from them. They live inside of you. Wherever you go, they go.

Fuckin’ demons!

Regardless of my feelings about Little Falls, I loved my parents house. It is my favorite house of all the places we lived. The only other place that comes close is our house in Missoula, MT. That was a cool place too.

I called the Little Falls house The Ranch. My brother, Bob, and I raised homing pigeons there, and Bob had a herd of chickens. And some pheasants. We had a lots of good times at The Ranch. My family lived in that house longer than we lived anywhere else.

It was nice to stay in one place for awhile. I honestly can’t remember how many times I moved in and out of that house. Despite the sound advice I received from Jerry and Shorty in Dallas, it would take me awhile to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, and find myself.

I know I moved out of The Ranch for good when I started nursing school. I would meet Lea after I had been working as a nurse for about a year, and became an home owner when I married her. And because I was suddenly making more money in one month than I had in half a year at most of my previous dead end jobs, I bought myself a present.

A little red sportscar. A Toyota MR2.

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It was my first car that wasn’t a piece of shit. I loved that car like I have never loved an automobile before, or since.

Because it was a sportscar, it wasn’t meant to be driven in a Minnesota winter. So I asked my parents if I could store it in their garage until Spring. They had a big garage, and I did not. I actually owned three cars at that point in my life. In terms of automobiles, I had arrived.

And then came the fateful morning in February when I received a call from my sister, Julie. It was Zero Dark Thirty in the morning. I may have just completed a stretch of nights, and I had the day off.

“I hope you had insurance on your car.” Julie’s voice said into my ear. I was half asleep when the phone rang, but I woke up in a hurry when I heard that.

“Yeah, good morning to you too, Sis. What the hell are you talking about?”

“Mom and dad’s house burned down this morning. They barely escaped with their lives, and they lost everything. Not that you care!”

There’s a reason I would feel so comfortable around crazy people when I was a nurse…

“Julie, I just woke up, so give me a break.” I laughed, and sat up in bed. “Okay, tell me what happened.”

As I struggled to clear the cobwebs out of my head, Julie related what she knew. The fire started in the garage. A couple of the neighbors saw the flames, and ran into the house, getting my parents out safely. They escaped with whatever clothes they were able to grab, and my dad was able to get his car out of the garage just before the flames spread to the house.

My baby car was consumed by the flames, and was a total loss.

* * * *

I called my brother, Tom. He was living in Monticello. It was on my route to Little Falls from Minneapolis, and I would pick him up on my way.

“I think I might have burned the house down.” he told me when I picked him up.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I put a heat lamp in the dog house this weekend, for Tabitha.”

Tabitha was the family dog. She was a black cocker spaniel, and she was about two hundred years old. Her dog house was in the garage, and my own bro thought he would do something nice for the dog because she was old, and it was winter. He put a heat lamp in the dog house to keep Tabitha warm at night.

“Maybe the lamp fell off the nail, and landed in the blankets. That would start a fire, right?”

Yes. Yes, it would. And the fire had started in the garage. Tabitha’s dog house was right next to where I had parked my car to keep it safe during the winter.

I seriously thought about pulling over on the highway and killing my own bro to death.

* * * *

I’m not sure if shock adequately described my feelings when I pulled into the driveway and saw what remained of my parents house. There were no fire hydrants anywhere near their house. The fire department went through the water in their tanker quickly, and there wasn’t much they could do to extinguish the flames after that. They had no way to refill their tanker. The fire fighters basically stood around and watched our house burn. When it burned itself out, they left.

The house, and almost everything in it, was a complete loss. And sitting in the burned out frame of the garage, was the scorched remains of my little red sportscar.

The two material things I had loved most were both gone forever.

* * * *

My parents had gone into town. One of their friends had welcomed them into their home so they could shower, and made them breakfast.

Tom and I cautiously entered the shell of our former home and looked around. The smell of smoke hung heavily in the air. The interior was dark, black and burnt. Most of the windows were gone. There had been a huge picture window that looked out toward the river. Now, it was just a massive hole in what remained of the wall. There was an equally huge hole in the living room floor where the couch had been. It had burned so hot the floor under it collapsed, and it ended up in the basement.

The basement was filled with about five feet of water. Various debris and flotsam and jetsam floated in the dark water. My bedroom had been in the basement, but given its state, exploring was out of the question. It was oddly bright in the basement. The huge hole in the ceiling of the basement/floor of the living room let a lots of light in.

My parents had done at least two major remodeling projects on their house, and the place had been gorgeous. Now it was garbage, damaged beyond any hope of repair.

The guys that had gotten my parents out of the house pulled in to the driveway. Their faces wore the same look of disbelief that my brother and I had on our faces. They filled in their part of the story.

They worked together in an office kind of kitty corner across the road from my parents’ house. As they were getting ready to start their day, they saw Tabitha shivering outside the door of their office.

“What’s Tabitha doing here?” one of them wondered. She was a very social dog, and all our neighbors knew her, but she didn’t usually visit that early in the morning. They looked over toward The Ranch, saw the garage on fire, and ran into the house to save my parents.

I shook their hands, and very sincerely thanked them. So did Tom. And we thanked Tabitha, too.

Then I went to say goodbye to my baby car.

“Sorry about your car, man.” Tom said.

“It’s just a car. It can be replaced.” I replied. And that’s when I remembered I still owed something like eight grand on it. But luckily, it was insured. And that was a very good thing.

* * * *

My parents and a handful of my siblings arrived. That particular look of disbelief was very popular that day. We carefully looked around what remained of our house. Somewhat amazingly, not everything was completely destroyed by the fire.

Some glassware and kitchenware survived. A box of family photos and a plush toy Santa Christmas decoration made it through the fire by hiding in a small closet in the hallway just outside the master bedroom.

The photos, and Santa, would smell like smoke for years to follow.

My mom was very quiet as she carefully explored what was left of her life. My dad, my siblings and I tried to keep up some sort of encouraging chatter, but we weren’t very successful. I mean, how do you pick up the pieces when there’s nothing to pick up?

And then my mom spoke.

“You know, I think I got rid of the mice this time.”

And that’s when we all knew everything was going to be all right.

* * * *

Life goes on. It always does, no matter what else happens. Our old house would be totally demolished. The new house my parents built was nicer than the old house would ever be, despite all the renovations and remodeling they had done. And the new furnishings were a major upgrade from the furniture we had grown up with.

But it wasn’t the same. I never formed an emotional attachment to that house, and when my parents decided to sell it and move into town, it was no great loss to me or anyone else in my family.

My insurance company mostly covered what I owed on my car. I think I had to come up with about eight hundred dollars to pay the bank.

My lovely supermodel wife would actually buy me another MR2 to replace my little red sportscar. My second MR2 was black, and a newer model than my first MR2. But just like the replacement house, my replacement car was nice, but it wasn’t the same. When I decided to sell it, I was done with sportscars for good.

In an odd twist of fate, my wife would fall in love with them, and all of the cars she bought after that would become increasingly sportier and fastier. Her last car was a Nissan 370 Z that could probably go 180 mph. I know for a fact it went 140 mph.

Lea loves to drive fast.