That little light-haired kid is me, a recurrent character in the book I just finished, just behind Major, this ancient German Sheppard we had on the farm when I was young, and my Grampa driving what I thought was a jalopy of a tractor because it needed a hand crank to start (and would probably hand over what’s left of my teeth to get back again as a restoration project).
But like that tractor, those bright white locks are long gone. What’s left of my hair is mostly gray now, and sadly, there ain’t much of that. But that’s not why I write today. Rather, I’m hoping perhaps some of you can help me with something…
At my gramma’s funeral services last week, several people commented about things remembered from the eulogies I wrote for Viola’s husband, Victor Konvicka, (my grampa, someone I was very close to and the first person I ever wrote parting words for) and her daughter, Lillie Horecka (my mom, who despite seeming a healthy woman at the time of his death in 2001, died a short seven years later of some strange lung infection).
Now here’s where I need the help…
Aside from my mind’s eye and things people tell me here or there, I no longer have any of those writings I did from back then. As some of you know already, I went through a rather surprise divorce a few years back, one that utterly wiped out any possessions I might’ve once had. That included things I’d been hanging on to, like those eulogies, or other personal keepsakes that probably meant nothing to anyone else but me, some of which even survived the housefire I had back in 1997, when the trailer where I stayed in Albany (Texas) burned to the ground one night.
I remember burning bits of ceiling falling on my chest and shoulder and waking me up–I carried the scars of that experience for years afterward–but me not registering what was happening. I knew something was wrong, but couldn’t quite snap to what. Having fallen asleep with the stereo blaring, I kept thinking we must’ve had a storm and lost power, because instead of the stereo, all I heard were these strange pops and wheezes I couldn’t identify. Apparently, that’s what it sounds like when the living room just beyond the paper thin walls of your bedroom is about to collapse because of the flames belching out of it. Still, it got me out of bed and to a window, which I managed to open so I could look and hear outside, in case said storm was still ranging. Only then, as the cold night air hit my face and I caught my first breath of fresh air in next to forever, apparently, did it dawn on me that I couldn’t breathe for all the smoke. I tried to suck down as much of that fresh air as I could, so much so I let loose of the window. For whatever damn reason they made them like that, unless those windows were locked into one of their assigned slots–fully open, half open, or just barely an inch or so–that window would slam shut with the force of a guillotine blade. Which it did, just as soon as my fingers left it. Which also happened to coincide with bathroom adjoining the room where I was, just to my right, bursting into these wicked dark orange flames. It also happened just as I was sucking wind for all I was worth.
All I can figure about why I’m typing this now instead of some grease spot in the rubble of that trailer is that when I huffed all the smoke and fumes instead of the lung-full of air I wanted, I must’ve passed out and fallen through that window, because I remember the frost on the grass snapping me awake and me flat on back outside, staring up at the broken window that was now heaving this thick column of flame-tinged smoke into the dark night sky. I pushed myself to my feet–wearing socks, a plain white T-shirt, and a pair of shorts, the only clothes I had that made it out of the fire (and not even them, because they never ever got clean again after that)–and rounded the corner, just in time to see the living room roof fall in on itself, sending flames and sparks soaring for what looked like miles in that same dark sky. The neighbor appeared out of nowhere then, said the fire department was on its way. They even suggested I move my car, and I did. Somehow, I patted my pocket, and there were my keys. So, I climbed inside, started it and backed it up into the neighbor’s yard across the street. That, too, didn’t register then either, but the heat was so intense at the cart it melted my headlamps, side mirrors and front grill. How I just hopped in like I did, flames whipping overhead, amazes me still.
Now I was a person who hung on to stuff, having never really had much to begin with. In fact, I still had toys from when I was three. I had most everything I’d ever written up to then, from pages of I will not ____________ in class that Mrs. Hardwick made me writing whenever I got in trouble in the second grade, to every research paper through school, every writing clip I ever had, every news story I ever published, every bad poem I wrote in college–everything–it all went up in smoke that night. I’d never suffered a loss of such magnitude up until then. And I say that after losing my real mother at the age of three, (Lillie started as my aunt before I was adopted).
Little did I know that it was just a practice run for the divorce that was coming from a girl I didn’t even know yet. Anything I didn’t have in the tool box of my truck, a guitar case, or stuffed in a suitcase when I hit the road in mid-2010 for construction work, labors that later led me to more suitcase living in Victoria when I thought found what I thought was a more stable job, wasn’t just gone but no longer even mine a short four years later.
Some Waco judge said it was now belonged to someone else. Cocksucker. Sad part was, I never once even got so much as a postcard to let me know. They ran some notice in a newspaper I didn’t even know existed (which says a lot, considering I could probably give you a newspaper name to every town you could name at the time, especially those in Texas, having worked in that particular field for 25 years of my life at that point. They called it a divorce by publication, ironically, and gave me three Mondays past the third Thursday in the final quadrille of the court calendar (unless said date is a holiday or the judge develops hives) to contact them. Or else.
That probably wasn’t what it actually said, but it was close. I’m not looking the damn thing up just for some longwinded blog post, but I do know the actual wording was equally cryptic, vague and meaningless, when it was all done. Shoulda just said bend over. Even if I had accidentally stumbled on the obscure business publication where it ran, some 200 miles away from where I was, wasn’t a damn thing I could’ve done about it. Needless to say, by the time I found out what was going on, that Monday was long gone and over with.
Or else, it turned out, meant everything I ever held any sort of claim to was forfeit. Kids. Cars. Real estate. Appliances. Furniture. Computers. Books. You name it. Even the burned out wire rims of the glasses I’d placed on my bedside table the night my house burned down. All gone. I can only imagine what must’ve happened to those eulogies, considering years after the fact, necessary documents like car titles were never located.
So, I write today in the off chance any of you might still have a copy of the words I wrote nearly two decades ago now. Obviously, my memory’s hardly lacking in detail, but that’s all I’ve got. Details. Bits and pieces. Considering I must’ve read the words about Gramma several times now, forever finding (and trying to fix) new mistakes when I do, I’d really like to see what it is I said about folks like Mom and Grampa, the two people I always felt closest to in my life. Especially if whatever it was I wrote then left that much of an impression on some of you still.
I some of you requested copies, back when. I have no idea what you did with them when they got them, but if they could somehow find their way back me, I’d sure be appreciative. Thanks so much, in advance…