Southern Legitimacy Statement: I grew up in a part of Oklahoma known as Little Dixie. I don’t consider Oklahoma to be in the Deep South any more than you do, but I believe most Oklahomans to be Southerners – the ones I was brought up around anyway. Regardless, the story is about the healing power of art to overcome trauma, which I believe to be the South’s greatest legacy : out of suffering, creation.
My mom said Timmy had been a roadie for Moe Bandy, if you can imagine that being someone’s claim to fame. What he was really is still the subject of conjecture, except that he definitely was my mom’s boyfriend after and maybe before the divorce. What he was also was an Oklahoma version of a cabana boy, a sort of Redneck Kato Kaelin. And the only way you can be a Redneck Kato Kaelin is if you have the drugs, or know where to get them. But I didn’t know that then. I only knew that sometime when I was about fifteen (it was summer, I remember that) we were supposed to have a spaghetti dinner at around 5:30PM and it was not ready until 11PM. When I asked what was taking so long Timmy had said it was still “marinating,” and that you had to let that bay leaf “do it’s thing.” It’s not as if that was the last straw with Timmy because I never really liked him, but if there ever was one, that was it.
Back to the drugs. I suspect the drug was cocaine. The reason I think it was cocaine, besides the spaghetti incident, which clearly I’m still sore about, is that seven years later at a New Year’s Eve Party my uncle’s new wife Shaylene brought out a Coke bottle that was full of cocaine. Get it? The whole bottle. My grandmother, who was at the party, ostensibly to see my band play at it, well she thought that was just too funny. She said she liked to see people livin.’ Anyway, my uncle had run in the same circles with Timmy and my mom. Even got himself a girlfriend on the side he could see when he visited Oklahoma from Little Rock, my mom’s friend Monique. The same Monique that had asked me to give her a “massage” a year before the spaghetti incident, when she was babysitting me and my kid sister. I suspect my father and mother were out trying to salvage what was left of their marriage that night. For the record, I did give her a massage, with some coaching since I didn’t know what a massage was, and then I kind of massaged her butt, but then I chickened out and ran to my room before anything else happened.
Back to the drugs. Now I don’t think you could use the excuse that cocaine was recreational in Oklahoma in 1986 and that this particular cast of characters was unaware of the danger, but maybe you could. When I was a child there were still old gas stations that had three bathrooms in Little Dixie, if you catch me, so maybe they were behind the times, or just didn’t know better, or more likely, just didn’t care. But my mom certainly should have known better when she was out with Monique and another passenger at 3AM on a Tuesday in 1986 when Monique crashed the 280Z into a telephone pole and sent my mother’s pelvis into the gear shift. Now, the next part is sketchy because all of the actors in this Redneck House of Usher are either deceased or incapacitated to the point that there are no reliable witnesses. The only witness I had to the incident was my mother, who is gone, and I’ve already given you a sneak peek into her reliability. What she said was that she gave the cop a sexual favor (it’s hard to say blow job), but she told me that later when she was on a concoction of other drugs, which could have been benzos but maybe cocaine was in there too.
Timmy knew he had an uphill climb with me because I loved my dad and I didn’t think the divorce was about my mother’s liberation from a rigid patriarchal system. Maybe it was about that, and the drugs just got in the way of it, but I don’t think so. I do believe there was and still is a rigid patriarchal system. But my father was a good man, a good father, and a good husband, and at one point my mother was those things too (a good mother in her case). It’s possible I’ve painted my earliest childhood with a halcyon brush, as if there was any Oklahoma Eden any of us could get back to. I do know what it’s like to want to escape from suffering, and I certainly know how to medicate myself, and hell, I might pour a few more before I finish writing this, but I think when you have children you should probably try to finish raising them before you raise hell, because Hell on Earth is what Timmy and my mother raised, and what they wrought.
Now like any person who is rotten inside Timmy had one M.O. – to make you as guilty as he was. His first foray into this Manchurian mindfuck was the pipe bomb incident. Now I don’t know any more about plumbing or pipes than I did then, but basically we went to some plumbing supply place and then we went to the place Val Kilmer went in Heat to get the gunpowder and then we sealed up these six inch dumbbells that all had a fuse coming out of them, and then we headed to the river. The riverbank was red and ugly and the water was the same and it was right by the reservation, if memory serves. There wasn’t much to blow up until we saw the old washing machine near the sand bar. He had me light the fuse of course and I ran as close as I could to the bank and we heard what sounded like a cross between thunder and Thor’s Hammer hitting metal and when the smoke cleared the washing machine was gone, obliterated, there was not even a trace of it. It was exhilarating. I guess on the surface of things this is something I would just as likely have done with one of my uncles and not really nefarious in and of itself, but I knew it was just one of a series of ladder rungs we were all going to hit our heads on as our family slid down to doom.
There were other things that happened in between that may have been as pivotal as the spaghetti and pipe bomb incidents but the one that really got me was when Timmy offered to get me a prostitute for my 16th birthday. I looked over at my mom and she was smiling but she was so stoned it didn’t really seem to register with her. Then I looked again at his shit-eating grin and then I looked at her again and I realized they had discussed this beforehand and decided to bring it up at my birthday dinner at the Hungry Peddler in Oklahoma City. I told him I was doing just fine, thanks. He asked me how far I’d gotten. I’d like to think I said none of your business, but I probably said something I’ll regret forever as I’d been fooling around with Missy Eichler over that summer and though we hadn’t gone all the way we had done pretty much everything else. I just wanted him to let it go and I knew I had to at least give him some bread crumbs or he was going to eat me alive. But it doesn’t make it OK.
Weekends were spent with my dad at my grandparents’ ranch that summer as my father only had visitation and though he made me bust my ass in the pasture every day, those summer days and nights are still some of my fondest memories. On Sundays when he had to drive me and my kid sister to where my mother and Timmy lived on Cheyenne Street, we’d always have lumps in our throats as to just what we were going to walk into. And rightly so. One Sunday night we were parked out front hoping we really didn’t have to go back in there, and cool as you like my dad put his farm truck (“Whitey Bird” we called it) into drive and started ramming the shit out of Timmy’s old Plymouth, back and forth. Piece of shit. Timmy. The Plymouth. My mother. It let some of the tension out. We were able to walk in.
My father finally made my mother an offer she couldn’t refuse and by the fall we were back together again as a family in Dallas. My father had gotten a promotion, and aside from the money and security my father was offering, maybe there was a part of my mother that realized she had gone too far with Timmy. In the end though it didn’t matter, as soon enough my father was trying to score cocaine for my mom out of a seedy but sort of glitzy bar in Richardson called Southern Comfort. That’s a whopper of tale, remind me to tell you that one. About a year later the grand domestic experiment was over, and before my junior year started my mother and sister were back up in Oklahoma. I had decided to stay with my dad down in Dallas. Whatever horrors I beheld were made infinitely more legion for my sister in that shitty Oklahoma town living with my mom through her high school years; it almost makes me too ashamed to recount mine. She wasn’t old enough to make the same choice I did, she was just a child, and all her friends were still up there anyway. Yet somehow in the end it made her stronger for going through those additional concentric circles of my mother’s demise. More often than not I lean on her now for the strength I could only have hoped to have given her as her big brother back in 1986.
As for Timmy, I think about him sometimes. I know the adage that hurt people, hurt people, and I believe that. There’s no way to go back in time to stop the first hurt, or the first person to hurt someone, this endless carousel of hurt, no matter how much we try to love one another in the present hour. When she was trying to get sober my mother had said he’d lost a wife a long time ago, and maybe that had set him on the path to ruin. I saw her picture once (his wife’s) in the garage on Cheyenne Street amongst his things when he moved in there, didn’t know who she was. She was pretty. If he felt half as strongly about her as my dad did about my mom, maybe someone could understand it, if not me or my sister. Still, he was a real person. And like the Stylistics say, people make the world go around, good ones and bad ones alike. “The ups and downs, the carousel.” (-Linda Creed, songwriter for the Stylistics). But for me, the only way to process him was as an archetype. And maybe it’s callous to reduce him to that, to flatten Timmy and my mother out with a pen. How would you deal with it? …Even at fifty-one though, I don’t know what archetype he was. When I was seventeen, I wrote a poem about him and my mother, I’ll share that in a minute. In the poem I imagined him as the devilish personification of Time, to borrow a ‘reeling in the years, stowing away the time’ kind of symbolism (sophomoric I know, but hey, I was a sophomore). Now maybe I see him as the personification of Temptation or Addiction or one of the Seven Deadly Sins, or all of them. Definitely all of them, the sumbitch. But even at this age, unlike most things I wrote back then, this one doesn’t seem to be total garbage, (except for the one lame Time thing, and maybe the desert part), so I’ll let it stand for now. And unlike most things I write now, I know it’s true, because I can still remember my mother’s big brown eyes, and then her tearful gasp, when she read it in 1987.
Time can’t keep me
If I choose to escape him
He’ll just fire up the old Plymouth
And watch me run over the hill toward dawn
Then on a desert highway
He’ll offer me a ride to Hell
And I’ll think it funny that I didn’t know
I was bound there all along.