Novel Excerpts

WHEELING ACROSS AMERICA: Book 2, Chapter 52, The Train Ride, journal entry

              After the tour, Thursday, May 4, l967: I’m looking out the loft windows on Spring Street to write this last entry in my Tour Journal. The windows in the lofts across the street are reflecting my building and I can see myself muted, fuzzy, like in a watercolor, staring out the window. The late afternoon sun, with that orange glow I love, like Louis’ eyes when he looks at me as if I’m something very special he stumbled upon, is making the buildings soft and glowing. I am glad to be back.

            We took the Greyhound to Chicago and the Amtrak from there to NYC. As we passed bush after bush of lilac and forsythia in Iowa — dabs of yellow and purple paint against white wooden houses — a desire to be living in such a house with Louis choked me up, I guess in both meanings of ‘choke.’ We reached Chicago at 6:00 pm and found a diner   near the bus station where we ate mushy franks and beans and day-old slaw. But, Louis and I were happy being away from the others, so it didn’t bother us.   Since the summer in Vermont when the whole thing with the Fire Dragon started, we have rarely been alone. Maybe that’s why we don’t know how to be a married couple — we’re never alone with our two-ness.

            So, it makes sense that we want to know the others we hang with, work with, and wrestle with. Even ‘know’ in the Biblical sense, since we try to find others that we want to know better. All our work seems to hinge on exposing and breaking down the repressive structures that control and limit our human potential to connect.

               I’m not trying to come up with a rational that allows us to be lascivious and irresponsible, as the right wing would like to peg us. By closeness, I mean  intimacy that is caring, that takes hard work and demands patience. In other words, I think it is natural to want to touch the people you live and work with.

            We missed the 8 pm. train out of Chicago; or rather we decided not to take it, as it was very crowded. In the train station, Louis found a five-dollar bill in a telephone booth. He put it in his pocket and waited awhile to see if anyone would return to pick it up. No one did, so we had five more dollars to spend until the train left at eleven thirty.

            We were walking around the train station, trying to decide how to spend our five dollars when Louis said an incredible thing to me: “I’ll call your father and tell him I’ll give him five dollars to take back the words he said to you.”

            “What words, Louis?”

            “Don’t you remember? He told you he’d give you five dollars to throw your eye-sores, your sculptures, in the river.”

              Louis has one of the more incredible memories in the world. He remembered this story I told him two years ago. My father is always more concerned about my medical insurance situation, than about me.

            You can’t believe how good it felt to laugh with Louis about that, though when my father said it, I considered patricide. To laugh gave me some small relief from the terrible sadness I feel about my Rune sculpture. And the anxiety I’m trying not to feel about Louis being with other women. I’ve got to laugh more and maybe say to myself, I am not my work, I am not my work, like movement politicos tell people, you are not your job, you are not your job. The truth is, politicos see their work as a life and death matter! What is the balance between taking ownership and letting go? I don’t know yet.

            We walked outside to explore some city streets and maybe find a movie to go to.   I find the on and off neon signs of movie theaters nauseating and Louis and I never want to go to the same movie. It’s one area where we always disagree.   In other areas where couples usually fall apart, like which restaurant to go to, or what to order in a Chinese restaurant, we do pretty well.

            But here it was again. We were arguing about which movie to see, The Group or King of Hearts. We couldn’t eliminate one as being too far to walk to; they were both right in front of us. I wanted to see The Group which follows the lives of several Vassar women graduates, chronicling their twists and turns in life. I love Candice Bergen. I thought the movie might give me some insight into why the women students at Jones were so disappointed at our not performing the women’s play. They were really upset.

            Louis had already seen King of Hearts twice, but wanted to see it again with me. I admire his ability to see a movie three or four times and enjoy it more each time. Even if a movie is excellent, usually one time is enough for me. I’m sure this has to do with the nauseous feelings I get from the hot oil from the popcorn machines and the perfumed cleaners they use in movie houses.

            Louis has a very stubborn part to him. The King of Hearts is an anti-war film, he says. You should see it, he tells me. We can match the inmates from the mental hospital to members of our group, later on the train, he jokes.

            But you’ve already seen it, I told him. Why can’t you see something new? I don’t want to see something new, he said. I want to see something good. Besides, The Group is too long; you’ll throw up before it’s over. Hearts is only an hour and a half.

            Louis won. We swung toward the Embassy instead of the Metro. He didn’t hold back his glee. If you think Jenny is a sexy dancer, he says to me, (how is that for projecting!) Bujold is incredible. I’m not in the mood to hear Jenny’s name, I said. When he said, Genevieve Bujold reminds me of you, I was pleased.

            Louis was right though, King of Hearts was incredible, maybe because it was more like a play than a movie and that’s why I didn’t get sick. It was over before I had a chance to think about my stomach. We returned to the train terminal and over several cups of coffee convinced ourselves that it was a good decision we made to go off by ourselves. We even talked about plays the two of us could make together. We also watched a peculiar drama unfold. A white man walked back and forth near us, staring at a black man and a white woman who were sitting at the table next to us. He seemed both fascinated and impatient with them. Something else distracted us and when we looked again, the black man was gone and the white man sat with the woman engaging her attention. It struck us both then that the woman was a hooker. To me she looked like an ordinary woman, lipstick, blouse and skirt and sensible pumps. Nothing outrageous. I had never seen a hooker up close. Louis kept kicking me under the table to stop staring, a bad habit of mine when someone fascinates me.

            Finally, we ignored the hooker and focused on each other. We talked about play ideas for two actors: a happy clown cheers up a sad clown, Louis’ idea; A soldier murders the same Vietnamese woman over and over, my idea; When we actually tried to picture just ourselves performing in the park, alone, it seemed very hard and not too much fun.

            Many young people were in the station, raising money for the Heart Fund and a photographer snapped our picture, which we bought for a dollar. Finally, it was time for our train.

            We sat close together on the train, bending toward each other and holding hands to find comfort. We are trying very hard to keep the specialness of our intimacy intact. We do feed each other. We whirred past what were for me depressing sights — lonely drive-in movie theaters, worn-our factory buildings, squalid three-story row houses with people in undershirts (men) and wilted dresses (women)playing cards. I wondered all the time, why something about my life, or life in general, saddens me. Even before Cheryl disappeared, before the news of Rune’s destruction, before the realization that Louis and I would not be each other’s, ‘one and only,’ forever and ever, I, Lucina Holzer from a small town in the mid west, have been inflicted by melancholy. Some pervasive form of this disease hovers within all the injustices I see, like a grey, polluted stream making its way around sharp threatening rocks. Yet, I am capable of great joy. I really am.

            I don’t know why I should have felt so depressed by seeing people playing cards on the stoops of their row houses. They were having fun. We fell asleep into each other and didn’t wake up until we reached New York City around 9:00 in the morning.

            We trudged our suitcases to Horn and Hardart to get their baked beans and franks. No comparison. Delicious. We were back in our New York City. We saw a younger version of the old man who rode on the train with us. That guy would leave his seat every half hour, maybe for ten minutes, only to reappear and then repeat the pattern. He must have had diarrhea, or Louis thought maybe a colostomy, a bag he had to empty. The younger version in Horn and Hardart — they both had wire spectacles that fell down on their noses — sat by himself eating a huge plate of macaroni salad. But, he didn’t leave his seat once.

            Then we took the subway to our loft and collapsed into the king-sized bed in my studio area that is no longer my studio. File cabinets and boxes of old PANS surrounded us. Dawn’s area (it was Louis’ study in the old days, before communal life,) was a mess. She left it filled with newspapers, pizza boxes and coke cans. Should I ask her to clean the space up, before she leaves, or let her be in Blissville with her new love, Cheryl?

            It didn’t really hit me again until I saw my workbench  — the dust covering it, and the tools still hanging on the wall behind it. I’ll never see Rune again! What happened to Her? Louis is still sleeping in the bed — it’s late afternoon. I can hear trucks honking outside my windows. There still aren’t a lot of cars in the factory district.

            I know something now for certain — I will never have a home like my parents. I will never ever have a living room and a dining room. I will never own big sofas and dining room tables and chairs like Ralph and Marge do. I will never be married like they are.   Louis and I will never have children — he will never want to have a child with me. He has a child. And actually, I’m too busy with my life to really want my own kid. Home is going to be wherever I am. Home is my journal, my mind. Home is where I am at a certain moment. Home is me trying, trying so hard to understand. Me trying to make sense and trying to make it better. Me now with Louis trying to stop the war with all the other people–that is home.

             Louis was on the bed alone and I sat in the rocking chair I found a few weeks ago, by the dumpster on Wooster Street. Was that the same dumpster where I found Rune’s head, the newel post? I’ll ask Louis, he’ll remember. I’m still facing the loft windows but the orange light is almost gone now.

            Then I started to cry and I couldn’t stop. I cried for myself, I cried for my parents, I cried for my brother, I cried for Louis, for Marlene, Jenny, Hans, Dawn, Cheryl and Marcel. For Jack, Al, Marin — I even cried for Hugh, and Jim and Donna, over and over I cried. I stopped for awhile and then I cried again, for my Rune who is dead – I cried for that part of me that I tried to save, but couldn’t.

            Louis heard me and came to me. He tried to make me feel better. I told him I feel like I’ve lost one of my best friends. I know that going over to Shauna’s place, where Rune isn’t, will be like going to a funeral.   At least at a funeral there is a coffin and you know that the body of your beloved is in it.

            Not even a slat or a nail from Rune will be their or anywhere.   My Rune is gone. Forever. All I have left is my thoughts of her and two snapshots.

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