July 31, 2010
We were at 100 percent occupancy last night, and we’re already booked up again tonight. I haven’t even had time to print out my Sandberg picture and frame it yet.
You can’t believe the rain we’ve had here lately. It’s storming like crazy. I feel sorry for the travelers; a lot of them have no idea how to drive in a downpour like this, and of course they were expecting the desert to be nice and dry. Harvey and the cats absolutely hate this weather. They’re scared of the thunder and lightning, and Harvey staunchly refuses to go outside when it’s raining. I have to try to catch him between storms and put him out. As soon as he sees the puddles, he gives me this reproachful look, as if to say, “Oh, Mom, how could you?” but I figure it’s easier for him to deal with puddles outside than it is for me to deal with them inside, so out he goes, like it or not.
I’m sure if I ever scrape up the money to get my sign relit, I’ll hate thunderstorms as much as my animals do, but right now, I’m perfectly content to curl up in a chair and listen to the rain.
July 29, 2010
Sorry for the silence yesterday … but I have a good excuse. It involves a Hall of Fame second baseman and a spectacular act of atonement by a certain Coldwater High School administrator.
Grant had been feeling guilty about laughing at me the other day. I hadn’t been doing much to ease his conscience, as I was still pretty hacked off about the whole mess, and I still couldn’t quite shake the suspicion that I had been the victim of an elaborate prank … so Grant did what any sensible guy would do in such a circumstance: He strolled into the lobby bright and early yesterday morning with a shiny, gift-wrapped package in his hand and a you-know-what-eating grin on his face.
“I figured this would cut more ice than a bouquet of flowers,” he said as I unwrapped the box and pulled out a Ryne Sandberg rookie card, a Sharpie, and a pair of tickets to last night’s Albuquerque Isotopes game against the Iowa Cubs.
“I thought you’d like that card better if it had Ryno’s autograph on it,” Grant explained.
Considering my background, you’d think I’d be pretty jaded about the prospect of meeting a celebrity … and most of the time, you’d be right. But Sandberg is special. He’s part of my childhood. I grew up watching him play. I think he was my first celebrity crush, and I know he was the first man whose photograph I ever tore out of a magazine and taped to my bedroom wall. I think I was about 12 at the time. All through junior high, I refused to go to sleep until I’d kissed that picture goodnight, and somewhere in my boxes of random ephemera I’ve accumulated over the last 30 years or so, there is probably a ticket stub from a 1989 Cubs-Padres game at Wrigley Field with the words “Mrs. Sierra Sandberg” written on the back in a bubbly script, with a little heart in place of the dot on the i. I actually broke up with my eighth-grade boyfriend after he had the temerity to suggest that Ozzie Smith was a better player than Sandberg — and refused to take it back. (Jerk.)
Grant didn’t know all that when he bought the tickets, but he knew I was a diehard Cubs fan, so while Joyce manned the front desk last night, Grant and I stood in line for what seemed like an eternity, watching Sandberg sign baseballs and jerseys and all sorts of memorabilia for his adoring fans. I consider it a major accomplishment that I managed to get all the way through the line and ask him for his autograph without fainting, forgetting my own name, or drooling on myself.
On the way home, we had to stop at Wal-Mart so I could buy a picture frame. I think that picture Grant took of Ryno signing my card will look great on the wall next to my bed….
July 27, 2010
Our DNA tests arrived via FedEx this morning. I sent Grant a text as soon as they came in, and he came right over and took his so I could take them over to Santa Rosa and FedEx them back to the lab before the close of business today. With any kind of luck, we’ll know something by the end of next week.
Collecting the samples reminded me of the project we did in junior high, in which our biology teacher showed us how to collect cheek cells and examine them under a microscope. We had to draw a picture of what we saw on the slide.
It’s been 23 years since we did that. It doesn’t feel like that long.
Driving to Santa Rosa and back was an adventure. I think we’ve finally hit monsoon season for real. It was raining so hard that Grant insisted I take the XC70, which has 4WD, rather than the truck, which has high clearance but doesn’t handle well in adverse weather.
If someone had told me two years ago that I would be driving a Volvo through a monsoon in the middle of a desert to make sure I wasn’t accidentally dating a long-lost half-brother I never knew I had, I … well, come to think of it, I probably wouldn’t have been all that surprised. As Elbert Hubbard once said: “Life is just one damned thing after another.” Mine certainly is, anyway.
Thanks to the storm, I’ve got laundry drip-drying on makeshift clotheslines all over the lobby. The overhang looks like Havasu Falls, and Harvey and the cats are under the table, hiding from the thunder that rattles the windows every few minutes.
It’s a good afternoon for sleeping. I think I’ll curl up on the couch and take a nap after I finish cleaning up the lunch dishes.
July 26, 2010
Nothing happened today.
There were no disturbing revelations. No ghosts from anybody’s past. No mysterious shamanistic visitors. No aging hippie raconteurs. No relatives. No cartoon characters come to life. No socially conscious drag queens. No reggae singers. No stray animals. No job seekers. No pogo-stick photo ops. No pyrotechnics.
Absolutely nothing happened today.
Do I need to tell you how completely, utterly, blissfully OK I am with that?
July 26, 2010
Brother Jerry came by yesterday evening to check on me after I missed the morning service. I told him I hadn’t been feeling well and left it at that.
He assured me that all would be well, and that any problems I might be facing would sort themselves out in due time, and in a way that blessed everyone concerned. Then he took a little card out of his pocket, and in a graceful script, wrote:
When he left, I looked up the verse:
And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
What is the truth? And from what am I being freed? Fear? A relationship? Something else that I haven’t thought of yet? The verse should have made me feel better, but it just led me further into the bowels of a labyrinthine confusion whose passages seemed to be closing behind me.
Clutching the card, I sank into my bubble chair and closed my eyes. I was so absorbed in my thoughts that I didn’t hear the bell announcing the arrival of a visitor. I opened my eyes to find Abuelito standing in my lobby, mumbling to himself as he arranged three jar candles on my mantlepiece.
He carried a small leather satchel, from which he removed a matchbox; a sage smudge; and an assortment of tiny objects. I opened my mouth to ask what he was doing, but all that came out was a hoarse squeak, which he ignored as he bustled purposefully about the room.
He walked over to the desk and picked up a small, framed picture of my father, which he set in front of the middle candle. Then he lit the sage and walked around the room, waving the pungent smoke into the corners and swirling it around the front of my chair until it made me cough.
When he’d finished smudging the lobby, he laid an ashtray on the mantle in front of Dad’s picture, set a cigarette in front of it, and lit it. Then he took another object out of his bag and held it in the match’s flame until it began to melt.
Bacon and cigarette smoke. Grandma’s house.
Abuelito reached over to the radio behind the desk and turned it on. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised when my father’s voice floated out, just as it had on that awful afternoon in the waiting room when I was 15.
I’m dreaming, I thought. This cannot be happening.
As quickly and quietly as he had arrived, Abuelito disappeared. I’d met him only once in my life — and yet, somehow, he had reached into my past and left an assortment of symbols obviously meant to comfort me in my present. I examined the items on the mantle. There were milagros: a heart, a pair of eyes, a kneeling woman. A Zuni fetish bear for strength. The ashtray. Dad’s picture. An atomizer bottle containing a few drops of my mother’s perfume. A small, spindly tumbleweed. And in between, popping and flickering and casting strange shadows on the walls, the three jar candles: St. Julian the Hospitaller, St. Joseph, and St. Vincent Ferrer. I had to Google them later to figure out that they were the patron of innkeepers, the patron of doubt and of fathers, and the patron of reconciliation.
In their uncertain light, I looked at the cigarette. It was my grandmother’s brand. I suddenly remembered a painting Grandma kept on her living-room wall. It was one of those paint-by-numbers pictures kids used to make, and it showed the angel Gabriel addressing the Virgin Mary, with the words “FEAR NOT” written below the picture in elaborate calligraphy.
I propped Brother Jerry’s Bible verse against the St. Joseph candle and walked out into the clear night air to finish Grandma’s cigarette and listen to the coyotes. I’m still not sure what it all means, but between Brother Jerry and Abuelito, I’m a little more willing to believe it will turn out OK in the end.
July 25, 2010
Grant left the room. I stayed in bed, sobbing, trying to make sense of the whole awful mess, for a long time.
When I finally got up, the kitchen was clean, the laundry was clean and hanging on the lines, and there were two notes on the table. The first was from Sandy:
I am so sorry I caused all this heartache for you. I had no idea whose daughter you were. I can only imagine what must have gone through your mind when you were listening to my stories and putting all that together. What a perfectly horrifying thought.
Even if I had known who your father was — and maybe I should have known, because nobody else could possibly have those eyes — but even had I known, I’m not sure the time frame would have occurred to me. You see, Grant was two months premature. The doctors wouldn’t tell me why, but I was and still am convinced it had something to do with some of the drugs I took before I found out I was pregnant. He was supposed to be a June baby, but he was born in April. He was so tiny, and we nearly lost him a couple of times.
Those two months in the hospital, watching him fight, defined me. I grew up in those two months. And those two months were so significant that I’m not sure it would have occurred to me that anyone might count backwards and put his conception in July. Grant was my seven-month baby. I forget that the rest of the world doesn’t automatically know that.
Your father and I were together for a very short time. We never saw each other again. By the time I got pregnant, your father had been out of the picture for nearly two months — so, no, Grant certainly is not his son.
I feel terrible about causing you such grief, even unintentionally, and I hope you will one day forgive me. I am immensely grateful that Grant is not your brother, because I would very much like to call you my daughter-in-law someday.
P.S.: The Tumbleweed is beautiful, and Grant and Joey are both very lucky to have you.
The second letter was more concise:
I’m an asshole. You added two and two together and quite logically came up with four, and I laughed at you for it. You deserve better.
I love you, and I never want to lose you. Please forgive me.
Wisely, Grant and Sandy spent the balance of Saturday away from the Tumbleweed. Grant called around noon to check on me and to tell me they were taking Joey to see a movie in Tucumcari. He offered to bring me some lunch before they left town, but I wasn’t hungry, and I didn’t think I could look at him after the way he’d laughed at me. The situation may have been nothing more than a comedy of errors, but from where I was sitting, it felt more like Greek tragedy than Shakespearean farce, and Grant should have understood that. I wasn’t ready to forgive him just yet.
Besides all that, I’m not entirely willing to trust the memory of a woman who freely admits to having spent most of the late ’60s stoned off her gourd. If Grant really doesn’t want to lose me, I’m sure he won’t mind picking up the tab for a DNA test to put my mind at ease.
July 25, 2010
I must have passed out.
I awoke to find Grant sitting on the edge of my bed, wiping my face with a cold cloth and talking softly. His voice sounded soothing, but the words sounded like some alien language I’d never heard before.
I sat up, groaning, squinting at him through swollen eyelids. My head hurt, my stomach hurt, and I was too mentally drained to comprehend anything he was saying. I could still smell the bacon Sandy and I had cooked for breakfast, and I suddenly hated that smell more profoundly than I had ever hated anything in my life.
“While Mom was telling you all the sordid details of her life in San Francisco in the swinging ’60s, I don’t suppose she got around to the part where she spent two months hovering over an incubator in a maternity ward, willing her infant son to survive, did she?” Grant was saying.
I looked at him dully. “I don’t understand.”
Grant sighed, shaking his head, and took my hand. “Oh, Sierra,” he said.
I snatched my hand away. “Don’t touch me.”
At that moment, Grant inexplicably did the worst thing he could possibly do under the circumstances: He burst out laughing. He laughed and laughed, his face contorted, tears trickling from the corners of his eyes.
I recoiled. Why was he laughing? Had he known all along? I shuddered, wondering how far he would have let things go if his mother hadn’t let the cat out of the bag. Then an even worse thought — if such a thing were possible — occurred to me: Maybe that wasn’t his mother at all. Maybe she was an actress he’d enlisted to play a horrible prank on me. Maybe he was setting me up. I’d trusted him with my past, and he was turning it into a sick joke. The thought of someone using my father as a punchline was almost too much to bear.
I wanted to hurt Grant. I wanted to claw his eyes out. I wanted to hit him. I wanted to tear out his windpipe, to silence that godforsaken giggling. I could feel rage building up inside. It scared me.
I think it scared Grant, too, because he suddenly stopped laughing and got very serious.
“I’m sorry, Sierra,” he said. “You’re right. It isn’t funny at all.” He reached out to brush a lock of hair away from my face. I backed away.
“Please,” he whispered. “Let me explain.”
“Go to hell,” I said, and the calm in my voice startled me.
July 24, 2010
When I finally stopped throwing up and gathered the strength to stagger to my feet, I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket and, with shaking hands, sent Grant a text:
“omfg get over here now 911 get over here”
Fifteen seconds crawled by; then a reply:
“wtf im on my way r u ok?”
WTF indeed, I thought. No. No, I am not OK. I may never be OK again.
What are you supposed to feel when you find out there’s a fairly high probability that the man you’ve been dating for three months — the man you’ve fallen hopelessly in love with, the man whose house you’ve remodeled, the man who is supposed to be your happily-ever-after — might be your long-lost half-brother?
Shove aside the ick factor. Don’t think about the number or intensity of the kisses you’ve shared. Superficial concern, that. Gargle with peroxide whenever you think of it, then put it out of your mind. It’s done. You couldn’t have known. Let it go.
But what are you supposed to feel? Normally, you break up with a guy like Grant, and you spend a week on the phone with your best girlfriends, drowning your sorrows in a pint of Ben and Jerry’s by day, sobbing yourself to sleep every night, and sooner or later, you get over him, realize he wasn’t The One, and go shopping for an upgrade. It hurts, but you grieve it through and move on.
Of course, getting over a normal breakup involves mourning the end of a relationship that was OK in the first place. Maybe not perfect, maybe not a good match, but it was OK to be in love with him, so it’s OK to miss him, to remember the way his arms felt wrapped around you, to remember the good times fondly and force yourself to be grateful for them. It’s OK to grieve, because it’s OK to want things the way they were before all hell broke loose in whatever direction and tore up the relationship. But in this case, you obviously DON’T want things the way they were. That’s the whole problem: Things shouldn’t have been the way they were in the first place, and you’ve got to try to undo them, erase the whole relationship, start over knowing what you know now.
And at the same time, you don’t know. Do you throw away a perfectly good relationship, only to find out, somewhere down the line, maybe with the help of a geneticist, that you have absolutely no DNA in common, you’re not related, you’ve proclaimed each other icky on the strength of a former drug abuser’s memory of a drunken romp with a rock star 42 years ago? But if you don’t end it immediately, maybe it turns out you are related, and you’ve just knowingly prolonged … yecch.
What the hell are you supposed to do with that? There’s not exactly an instruction manual. No Cosmo article: “10 Ways to Survive the End of a Potentially Incestuous Relationship.” Not a lot of precedent for that. The ancient Greeks would have solved the problem with a rope or a dagger … but the ancient Greeks didn’t have a motel to run or Joey to take care of.
As Grant so eloquently put it: WTF?
I sat in the bathroom for a long time, trying to figure out what I was supposed to be thinking, looking for a way out of this maze I’d blundered into through no fault of my own, hoping to everything that was holy that there was some way to sort it out.
July 24, 2010
I would like to note, just for the record, that I have never slept with Grant. The importance of this fact will become clear shortly.
As Sandy and I slip-slopped around the kitchen this morning in identical Birkenstock clogs, I asked her how she had come to write her master’s thesis on Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who is one of my favorite poets.
She replied that she had spent part of the late ’60s in San Francisco, where she had found a job tending bar just down the street from City Lights Books. Working so close to the bookstore/publishing house/wormhole through which avant-garde “cool” enters the universe, she found herself pouring drinks for the likes of Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, and all the writers, artists, and musicians who were either in their inner circle or wanted to be.
Giving me a conspiratorial wink, she added, “This was the ’60s, and I was a rather fetching young lady, far from home and on my own for the first time, so of course I slept with quite a few of ‘em, too — the straight ones, anyway.”
I laughed, wondering what it would have been like to live in San Francisco in the ’60s. Mom had spent a year there — in fact, it was where she met Dad — but she was not quick to relive the parts of her past that involved him, so I didn’t get to hear many stories.
Sandy, whose picture probably appears in the dictionary next to the words “old hippie,” was more than happy to regale me with stories of her misspent youth, and we spent the next 20 minutes cooking mountains of French toast and bacon while she recounted her adventures.
I was enjoying the stories until she started telling me about the sultry summer afternoon in ’68 when a lanky young singer from New York with arresting dark eyes and a slightly ragged baritone voice walked into the bar, ordered a double Scotch on the rocks, and sent her hormones through the ceiling. As she treated me to all the steamy details of their two-week affair, a horrible thought occurred to me.
“If you don’t mind my asking,” I said in a very small voice, “who was this dashing character?”
My father’s name shattered across my eardrums, exploding into a thousand tiny shards.
One of the things Grant and I have in common is the fact that we both grew up without fathers. Grant never knew his father’s identity; he was just one of the nameless, faceless men his mother had encountered through a drug-induced haze, shadows moving aimlessly through one strange, hedonistic summer before motherhood forced a then-18-year-old Sandy to straighten up and settle down.
Grant is an Aries.
“Excuse me,” I said, clamping a hand over my mouth and rushing down the hall.
July 23, 2010
Grant’s mom, Sandy, is quite possibly the coolest woman alive. She got up this morning and insisted on helping with the laundry as soon as she saw me loading the Speed Queen. The fact that I knew how to use a wringer washer scored me almost as many brownie points as the green chile crepes I made for breakfast.
She wanted to see where Grant worked, so he took her to the high school while I worked with Joey on his lessons. We are reading Henry Huggins, which we both absolutely love. Beverly Cleary has always been one of my favorites. When we finish, we are going to read Otis Spofford, which I think Joey will also enjoy.
After Joey’s lesson, we all piled into the XC70 and headed out to Sangre Mesa to hike on the trail. It was a little hot, but the wind was blowing, and we brought plenty of Gatorade, so it wasn’t too bad. Sandy was utterly charmed by all the little lizards darting in between the rocks on the mesa, and she stopped to have a silent conversation with a gopher snake that was sunning itself on the trail. (Grant shot me an apologetic look, as if this were the flakiest thing he’d ever seen, but I loved it. I envy people who can commune with wildlife like that.)
When we finished our hike, we cooled down with giant cups of shaved ice from Scout’s Yellow Snow and then came back to the Tumbleweed for a late lunch. We spent the balance of the afternoon hanging out in the lobby (Sandy loved the bubble chair, of course), listening to Sandy tell funny stories about things Grant did when he was little.
Grant fired up the grill this evening, and we had a wonderful time eating dinner with a pair of Route 66 tourists from Marseilles and a biker from San Francisco who told us stories about his harrowing ride to Los Angeles on the Pacific Coast Highway.
I don’t know why I was so nervous about meeting Sandy. She totally gets the Tumbleweed.