Today I thought I'd post a short chapter from my manuscript, Bastard Husband: A Love Story, an autobiographical account of my first year living alone in Las Vegas after a mid-life divorce.
Lately I've been thinking about the 10 months I spent in Cedar City, Utah, where I lived with my ex before I moved to Las Vegas. In this chapter I return to Utah to dump some stuff in my ex's car and give readers just a glimspe of what it was like to live there. It's a middle chapter, so it's a bit out of context, but you'll get the picture.
This is good; I need to get away. I’ve been driving myself nuts getting ready for Sunday night--analyzing, restructuring, and punching up my material. (It’s five minutes, for God’s sake.) Plus I want to get rid of his stuff. My apartment is my sacred space and I don’t need his crap stinking up the joint.
Our old house in Utah looks the same. I could have headed directly to the faculty parking lot, but it takes such minimal effort—in this case, a three-block detour—to perpetuate my exercise in self-torture. Scabs from emotional wounds beg to be picked at, and I willingly oblige, if only to confirm I’ll still bleed. Sure enough, the sight of someone else’s red Neon sitting in the driveway that used to be ours invokes the perfect degree of suffering. Linda doesn’t live here anymore. Another two steps back in the healing process. Good job.
The town looks the same, too. Nestled in the foothills of magnificent red rocks, innocuous little mom-and-pop establishments peddle Victorian gifts, country living décor, scrapbook supplies--nothing funky or eccentric. The newsstand displays this month’s issue of Cosmopolitan behind a chunk of black plastic to shield us from the shapely model’s allure. While Cedar City’s physical setting calls to one’s sense of adventure, the collective vibe feels bleached and scoured to ensure nothing skirting the borders of decency will ever take root. Yuk.
I could shake off the repressive culture when I lived here, but after five months of enjoying the decadence of Las Vegas, this place now gives me the creeps. My innate defiance against authority yearns to rebel. I fantasize about covering myself in vulgar tattoos and shouting obscenities as I strut down Main Street with a lesbian lover—let’s make her black—in our matching “Jesus Hates Me” t-shirts. It’s a shame; it’s beautiful here. If I could populate the town with the people from Laramie, I’d never want to leave.
His car is parked in its usual spot, and according to plan, he’s left it unlocked. I dump two bags of crap in the back seat. That should be the last of it. I meant to tell him he’d better change the address for his precious Economist subscription because from now on I’m throwing them the fuck out.
It’s weird to be in his energy. But since I am, I may as well snoop a little. I search for a morsel of evidence, some hint of what he’s been up to lately, unsure of what I hope to find. Receipts? Condoms? The Guide to Picking Up Girls, Volume II? I’d still love to know what that was about. I rummage through his glove compartment—“glove box,” as he calls it—and find, of all things, gloves. Damn! He’s not this tidy. I bet he cleaned out the car just this morning, knowing I’d be in it.
Afterward I meet up with my girlfriends Michael and Becky at the bar at Applebee’s. Earth-mother Becky, in her flowing skirt and Birkenstocks, is as sweet as ever. She has papers to grade, though, and stays for only a minute. Too bad. Michael is decked out in Ann Taylor from head to toe, her way of proclaiming, “I’m not from here; I just live here.” She continues to struggle, I can tell. Her clothes are exquisite, but her face looks like she just had a throw-up burp.
Who could blame her? I’d be reaching for the razor blades if I were in the middle of my third divorce. She and Mona are the same age, and like Mona, her “marital dissolution” is much more complicated than mine was. They have assets to divide, a house to give up. But unlike Mona, Michael actually liked her husband. That makes it harder.
She motions for a refill and our pig-tailed barmaid hurries over.
“I’m sorry, ladies, I can’t serve you another drink until you order something to eat,” she informs us.
“Oh, Jesus,” I groan.
“Exactly,” Michael murmurs.
Someone in pigtails is denying us alcohol. “You can’t have more than one drink unless you order food,” she explains. “Would you like to try our cheesy bacon tavern chips?”
Michael can bite that girl’s head off in one chomp. “Whatever happened to separation of church and state?” she asks, as she reaches for her lighter and cigarettes.
Pippi Longstocking is all over her. “I’m sorry, ma’am. You’ll have to go outside to smoke.” Michael rolls her eyes in my direction. She’s deliberately being a pain in the ass, and she’s digging it. “OK,” she sighs, “we’ll take your cheesy bacon whatever-the-hell-it-is and I’ll have another vodka and cranberry.”
“Make it a double,” she adds, kicking me under the bar.
“We can’t serve doubles, ma’am. I can give you a one-ounce pour and a side car. That’s a one-ounce shot on the side. You’ll have to mix it yourself.”
“You can’t serve doubles?” Michael shakes her head, though she knows the rules damn well. “Fine, give me the side car thing.” God, she’s precious. As long as it’s not directed at me, bitchy people can be utterly delightful.
I want to play, too. “I’ll have another Sam Adams, please.”
“Ma’am, I can’t serve you until you’ve finished that one. You can only have one beer in front of you at a time.”
I raise my three-quarter empty glass. “So if I chug this, you’ll bring me another?”
“You want me to chug my beer before I drive all the way back to Vegas?”
“Yes, ma’am,” she says, and marches away while she still can.
I turn to Michael, and though I’m no Jack Nicholson, coolly deliver my line. “I'd like an omelet, plain, and a chicken salad sandwich on wheat toast . . .” I need go no further. She gets it. Michael is pretty when she smiles.
I tell her about my stand-up debut three days from now.
“I can see you doing comedy,” she comments, without a hint of wonder. “You’re the funniest person I know.” Coming from someone whose lips curl only while tormenting a poor coed over morality laws, that means a lot. I think.
A short patch of I-15 clips the remote northwestern corner of Arizona and winds along the narrow walls of the Virgin River canyon. My drive through here earlier in the day was a steady climb through colorful cliffs and rocky crags, a scene, like so many out West, that impels me to thank God for my eyesight. Tonight I cruise downhill in the darkness, a little faster than I probably should. With both hands on the steering wheel, I maneuver the twisting pavement like a Play Station game, accumulating imaginary points with every passing mile marker.
This bit of highway that links the divergent worlds of Utah and Nevada serves as a birth canal of sorts. It was wonderful to see Becky and Michael, but it's clear they're in a world where I no longer fit; that part of my life is over. Even the twinge of nostalgia I felt in front of our old house ebbed straightaway.
After twenty minutes of joyful careening, the road ejects me from the canyon into the wide open sky. Cut loose from the protective parent, I'm on my own, with infinite possibilities lying ahead.
Utah is behind me. I'm a Vegas girl now.