A preface to explain the title: some survivors of traumatic events block the events, and don't feel them or don't remember them.
When they're bad enough, sometimes the numbness gets to the point where they will deliberately hurt themselves, even going so far as to poke with a needle or cut skin with a razor blade or knife, in order to actually feel the pain that they think they deserve to feel.
I knew when planning it that this trip would amount to emotional cutting, because it would be reminding me of every trip Penny and I took over the 25+ years we were together.
On with the show.
Saturday, the 1st of July, I headed south to Redding. The purpose... well, frankly, I needed to see Pat, and Lisa, and my nieces Jamie and Samantha.
I also wanted to see Barb (Penny's best friend) and also perhaps to see Jacqueline (the mother in law).
This was the trip we had intended to make... we talked briefly about it: If things went well, go down on July 4th weekend and visit the family.
Then, a few days later, Penny went to sleep and didn't wake up. She had thought, knowing that Jamie was getting to be a good violinist, of maybe giving her the 'good' violin she'd gotten around the age of 15 or 16.
Barbara had asked for a painting Penny had gotten about 2/3 done, back in college, when she was doing photo-realistic paintings. She would start with a picture, then paint the image, not as a literal transcription of the photo, but as a realistic treatment of the image, using the medium to give it her own feel. She did four, maybe five, paintings in this style. "Damburger" was one that captured a restaurant that was an occasional hangout place. "Scarlett" is a huge piece, showing Mammy giving that corset just ONE MORE PULL as Scarlett bends over the bed. "Chinese Dancers" was adapted from a photo of two traditional-style chinese women dancers, in full regalia, one blue and one red. This was the one she started and never finished because the idiot in charge of the painting program in the University of Oregon college of fine arts was a smug, selfish, stupid, and fearful man who prevented many a fine artist from developing. Penny was one of the hundreds he chased away. He died in well-deserved obscurity.
Jacqueline had asked, for herself, for the bracelet she gave to Penny for her 21st birthday. This was the only gift I remember her ever giving that Penny truly, really loved for itself. It showed thoughtfulness, creativity, and caring, all things that Jac had never given consistently. I agreed to return it to her as a keepsake. Remember this later, or I'll remind you.
The trip down. I had intended to leave in the morning, but knew I wouldn't really manage. I stopped at target and then at the Big-N-Tall, and got new underwear (again) and a pair of shorts that fit and some tee shirts and three summer-weight rayon shirts to wear over the teeshirts to minimize sun. Also got some more electronics bits and pieces that I needed, and a big mug of ice and diet pepsi. And filled the tank on the car - it was down by a quarter tank.
It was about 2:30 when I finally got really on the road, and 3:30 when I got to Salem, and the first crystalline slice across the calm emotional landscape when I passed "Enchanted Forest" and remembered the great trip we took there with Brad and Linda and James, ages ago, and then realized we hadn't gotten to go back.
The stark bland flatness between Salem and Eugene was punctuated with only a handful of flashbacks, different trips - the drive with Nancy and Penny to Lauren Alviso's wedding to Robert McMichaels, the many trips to visit her folks for holidays. Too many college years flashes to consciously distinguish.
From Eugene to Cottage Grove, remembering how we would pick out the tapes we would play ... Jack Benny was a big one. The curving section between Cottage Grove and Rice Hill, always some of the most beautiful country; by then we would be singing along with something, or telling each other stories, or she'd be taking a quick nap. I didn't stop at Rice Hill. The ice cream place is still there but I can't eat it any more. The last time was during our last trip south, to the Lawton Guild convention in Turlock in 2003.
On to Roseburg, and remembering the trip to Raun and Mollie's wedding, but only a quick flash on that, and up the mountain, and down again, and pulling in to Myrtle Creek. Crossing the beautiful old bridge across the Umpqua river, seeing the Rose Motel, still there, still apparently being used as some sort of assisted living thing. Wonderful old bookstore, gone. DQ where we stopped on our last trip to California together, still there, still beautiful, despite stinking heat. Winetrout Motors, gone. Eating a mushroom burger and driving on old Hwy 99 back towards I5, and suddenly, except for the fact that she wasn't physically present, she was there. Somehow the taste of the burger brought it all back for just a single tick in time. I was NOT a safe driver for a while. Even remembering the memory brings it back.
Hitting the brakes hard, because some dimwit has his hyperactive dog with him and they're walking towards the freeway and the dog is NOT stopping, and is NOT on a leash. All the stuff in the car scatters, and I have to pull over once I reach the freeway intersection to clean the spilled drink from the carpet, and to try to get my composure so I can drive more safely.
I start seeing freeway deer. Lots of them. All single does, smugly, happily eating by the road, one every 30 or so miles.
Canyonville, more memories, not too strong though. More intensely of other drives, before I went to college. Grants Pass, the memory of the one horrible hard drive where Penny (usually the passenger) decided she wanted to drive, so she took the wheel in Roseburg, and suddenly, at the top of Smith Hill, the fog started, and remained, thick, impenetrable, with maybe 50 feet of visibility, all the way to Grants Pass and beyond to Medford and beyond to just before Ashland. That was the Hell Trip. It took, I think, 2-3 hours. I drove from Ashland the rest of the way, and she was MUCH happier.
In Medford, decided to drive through the downtown and see how it had changed. Lots of it is still the same, but a lot has changed too. It's 9:30 and 95 degrees. The sun is still up, but setting, and I drive past where I got heatstroke three times one summer, past the store that now holds some sort of generic thrift shop or something, and past the ... wow, the Century Theatre is now the Ginger Rogers Theatre and it is PRETTY! Medford finally has some vestige of the arts!
And the whole block that used to hold J.C.Penneys and a restaurant and some other stuff I don't remember, is gone, and there's some sort of huge municipal building. I drive past what used to be Bob's 29 Cent Burgers back in 1970, I see that K-Mart has been replaced by WinCo, I stop and get popcorn chicken and a drink at KFC or somesuch, then head south. More flashes: Ashland trips, wondering whatever happened to Allen Swingle, wondering what happened to the DMV where I got my motorcycle endorsement years ago, wondering if I should go in, and take Siskyou Parkway out from Ashland to the freeway, but deciding I should just get there.
Heading up the mountain to the Siskyou Pass, another freeway deer, and memories of the group-trip with Brad and Linda and Nancy and Michael, to the bed-and-breakfast on the mountainside, but not too much because, well, I've used about 6 gallons of gas getting so far, and this is the first SERIOUS mountain pass I've tried, and the poor car hates me because I'm insisting on it going no slower than 50. Only made 10MPG through that stretch, making up for 44 most of the way down, but on the way down... 30 minutes at 100+MPG, the engine barely running, I love hybrids.
On the way, flashback to a dozen different trips as we crossed the border, stopping at the fruit blockade and inspection station, which is now only stopping trucks. Going past the rest stop at the cutoff to Rogue River, we stopped there once or twice only. Going down towards Yreka, and there is a huge metal sculpture of a dragon, and I want to get pictures but can't stop. In Yreka, seeing that every damned gas station is charging $3.31.9 per gallon for gasoline, and getting disgusted by the price-fixing, deciding to wait and get gasoline in Weed.
Through the weird ultra-dry area that starts 4 miles south of Yreka, and past the Weed Airport/Rest Stop, admiring Shasta and her perfect cloud cap, and Castle Crag and his perfect cloud cap, and then hitting the foothill and pulling into Weed. Flashbacks to when Mom and Bud stopped there in 1970 on our escape from Montana. Remembering that Penny and I wanted to stop and explore once but didn't have time. After a really annoying visit to a gas station, paying $3.27 per gallon and dealing with a broken pump that mis-charged me, and back on the road. Last freeway deer, this time a doe that wasn't watchful, and some truck had gotten her, and heading down and through Dunsmuir but not stopping. We went through Dunsmuir once, looking for gasoline, on one Thanksgiving trip where we had filled up in Grants Pass and the headwind was so strong that by the time we hit Dunsmuir the Comet had only a quarter-tank left, and it was after 9 and nothing was open.
The sun was well down by the time I hit the nasty switchbacky stretch between Dunsmuir and the Shasta Lake access area. Flashback to the one thanksgiving trip where we picked up Patty in Eugene and gave her a ride home. That was part of the brief time when Penny trusted her sister Patty - which ended in 1994 when Patty started ragging about me to Penny on the phone, and Penny tore her a new one. The flashback was of the two coyotes, one which had been struck by a car, and its mate torn between running and staying. I decided to focus on driving, which was getting nasty again in the dark, with the 50 mph curves and the genius drivers who believe that the M in the 50 MPH speed limit means Mach.
I finally saw Redding at 10:20, got into the Best Western Hilltop at 10:30.
Touching briefly on various things: Penny and I had planned to check into the Best Western rather than the Red Lion (our previous favorite, as it was our honeymoon hotel) because the Red Lion was run by idiots, did not have wireless or even networks in the rooms, and was overcharging hugely, and the staff was rude at best. So, on our previous trip, returning from the Lawton weekend, we decided that they were no longer going to get our business.
Chose Best Western for the wifi and the good prices. Got a room on the freeway side (facing west, ugh hot at night). Note, many people think I am a wimp for not liking Redding's 99 degrees at 11pm weather... to those people I say, "You are mad dogs and englishmen."
Wireless did NOT work in my wing, but that's a rant for another post. Awake until 3:30 as usual, woke at 7AM (not as usual), dressed for the stinking heat (already 85 degrees outside) and staggered over to the 'free breakfast' ... a continental breakfast, that meaning, one that the English imagine they eat on the continent. It had a sugared-cereal bar for the kiddiewinkles, orange juice, battery acid coffee, boiled eggs and oranges, cottage cheese with tomatoes but no pineapple or other ameliorating fruit, and four steam-tray things containing: Fried Potato Tidbits, One Single Mass of Steam-Scrambled Egg Mass, One Single Mass of Ultra-Thin Bacon Deep Fried Between Wire Racks, and One Hundred Steam Cooked or Roasted Sausage Links Which Never Saw a Grill or Griddle.
Only 9AM, I headed over to Pat and Lisa's, gave the violin to Jamie (and there was sniffling), and she gave me the book she had written and drawn and the school had printed, that was going to be Penny's present (sniffle again) and I headed over to All Saints Episcopal. It was disgustingly hot, but other than that, a nice service, with all the patriotical hymns dragged out. Stopped back at Pat and Lisa's, but at 1:30 I started to collapse, so we agreed to meet for dinner around 6:30, I'd call at 6 to get more details. Collapsed for two hours, then got hungry, so around 4pm, headed over to the hotel restaurant, "C. J. Gibbs, Where Legends Begin" and had an incredibly good lunch, and used the wireless just fine there.
When I got back to my room, my electronic key didn't work. I went back to the office, and discussed the lack of wifi, and the lack of working key. Two people at registration, a smart, older woman who simply couldn't do anything because they weren't allowed to so much as TOUCH anything in the server room which was locked anyway. Of course, calling maintenance who COULD do, just didn't occur. So they 'fixed' the key, I went back, found that wifi was still broke, decided to watch Dangermouse and fell asleep.
Them thinking I checked out, and turning off my PHONE while I was sleeping in the room Sunday afternoon, so that I didn't connect with Barb until 7pm on my cell when she got home, that's also a rant for another post, and finally, that I didn't get a call from Lisa at 6:30 when we had planned to meet and get dinner, while Pat was trying to connect with his boss, so was 8:30 and far too late to meet up with Barb for dinner, also subject for another rant.
Everything having collapsed into 8AM the next day, I drove around Redding in disgust - it was 8:30, it was still quite light, and I drove some of the neighborhoods Penny used to drive me through. Around 9:15 I decided to just get food. I'd spotted a new-to-me place, "The Lumberjack" ... endorsed by Citysearch as "Redding's Best Restaurant" ... never believe Citysearch. More rant on that subject later.
So, having had a nice safe flashback-free drive around, having eaten an edible meal of Select Rib (no way was this Prime), I lurked in the lounge until 1AM playing City of Heroes on the laptop. Then back to the room to try to sleep, only to have the king flashback, which I really didn't need to flash back, thanks.
When I found Penny, I thought I was feeling everything. Not quite. Apparently I was numbed by the shock, and all the 'emotional cuts' had brought enough back that I could go through it again, in detail, only this time I could feel the desperation and the helplessness and the guilt (which I had already processed, thank you) and of course the sure knowledge that I wouldn't be seeing her again on this earth.
I finally got to sleep at 4AM, and when the alarm went off, I wasn't functional, but Barb's phone message at 8AM woke me enough to call her back, then stagger into the bathroom, take my provigil, shower, shave, and dress and pack everything. It all went into the car except for the pouch. I stopped at the I watched Madagascar while doing this. Barb showed up around 9 and I gave her the painting and we chatted a while, then Pat and Lisa showed, and she decided not to join us for breakfast. Gave the girls each one of Penny's toy Kougras (she had addicted them to Neopets!) with additional snifflies. I took them to the Black Bear, which is a chain place (we have one in Beaverton) and then I headed over to visit Jacquie, having confirmed she was back.
She was on her best behavior. More later, with only the observations that (1) she has grown tinier and more wrinkly but in a cute way, and (2) she seemed to have some confusion issues (I was NOT moving to the Simi Valley, nor even Silicon Valley, I was there to VISIT FAMILY, a concept that she finally got or pretended to get), and (3) while we talked about stuff, she continued an ongoing dialogue about Men (which are, in the abstract, terribly evil and unrealiable things.) Also, annoyingly, she talked about giving that bracelet to Patricia and how it wouldn't fit right. That was NOT why I brought it down. I would gladly give Patty something else, but not that, thanks. I brought that down for Jac, because it was something that had meaning to her, or so I hoped. So, if it does end up with Patty, I'm going to be very unhappy about it.
As she had a 1pm doctor visit, and with much work because of the chattiness, I finally got away at 12:54 hoping she made her doctor's appointment, then on to the freeway.
As I had realized that nothing was going to stop the flashbacks, I decided to take pictures of all the places we stopped at on our honeymoon/jobsearch in 1981.
This helped keep the flashiness under control, but the accompanying leakiness continued unabated.
Past Canyonville and before Myrtle Creek, there's a stretch of road where, returning from the last Christmas trip we took to Redding, we'd been greeted by snow around (but not on the road) and glorious lights on an inn along the way, and that came back in a hard crash, which didn't help me deal well with the road work that suddenly narrowed everything to a single lane each way, and with the other drivers, who had been continually foolish in their desire for speed over survival.
I was OK by Myrtle Creek.
After I got past Roseburg and Rice Hill, though, there's a stretch of ordinary that turns into what used to be a curved, somewhat winding road across a ridge that leads into the Willamette valley. Many times, but especially on our honeymoon trip, the rock faces along the old roadbed were laced with waterfalls. Now that the road has been moved, they don't do that any more, and that was a double "never again" that left me screaming incoherently... Somehow, I was still driving fine. Just as well traffic was light though. The car chose that moment to let me know that it wanted gasoline soon - I had gotten from Weed to Redding and back to Cottage Grove on a tank of gas. The last gallon blinks. We had stopped in this particular station once or twice.
Stopped in Eugene on the way, then turned off at Corvallis, took 99W to Dallas and visited with Mom and Mitch, but didn't look in on Grandma - she's doing well but was in an odd habit of throwing off her bedclothes, then calling for help.
I took a quick nap, then headed back home. Realized that if I didn't talk to someone, I'd end up screaming again. So I called Brad and Linda and chatted, but with chancy phone connection crossing from Dallas to Salem, and not wanting to trash their evening, I didn't think of staying on the phone for the full drive. I called my friend Spider, and explained that with stress and flashbacks and fatigue, I needed to talk to keep safe while driving. I think he was vegging about reading or something, so he agreed to talk, and thus I drove north into a huge, very spectacular, very dramatic lightning-tossing thunderstorm which eventually proved to be hovering over Wilsonville. In between bits of static from the lightning, and talking about the trip and so on, I was alert, not stopping at the rest area south of Wilsonville, which was the last stop on the honeymoon drive north. By that time, we had both started to have a horrible cold. It was too dark to take pictures, and I'm not sure how well the SK would manage keeping the conversation open, keeping the bluetooth open, and taking a picture in the dark, anyway.
I got into Beaverton as the last of the sunset was fading from the few clouds in the west, and stopped at work to find that the test I started running Friday had failed - the software had not crashed. Oh well.
There will have to be more trips in the future, of course, and certainly one or another will involve the necessity of driving alone.
Maybe next time different things will return.