Thursday, 11 December 2014

Parted Stays

By the time I reached Alan's apartment -- a six-hour battle up three hours of rainy interstate blockaded by accidents -- I was exhausted, disgusted, and keen to leave freeways behind for a very long time. My glasses were embedded in the bridge of my nose, their bows biting into my ears.

But how good to find Al at the end of the road! He smiled broadly as he opened the door, and I was heartened to see that the break-up hadn't taken the glint from his porcelain-blue eyes. He laughed his old "H-e-e-ey, man!", clamped my hand, and suddenly we were college kids again, as if Al could make it so simply by combing his thick blond hair the same way.

There was nothing for it but to return to the scene of the crime, and so we drove across town to Fairhaven, and our favourite restaurant. As I savoured a mushroom burger and a frosty porter, Al regaled me with tales of his tour in the Air Force, his current job fixing helicopters, and a bar fight he'd recently witnessed, his large hands evoking the knife-whirling Canadians as he mugged and gesticulated, eyes wide with an enthusiasm that fell away from the rest of us with our hair.

We picked up frozen yogurt on the way home, then spooned it out over Al's breakfast counter -- I in the living room, he in the kitchen. Missing furniture and blank spaces on the wall told a story that lost none of its pain for remaining carefully unspoken. When at last Lake Whatcom blacked from the sliding glass door, he said that Michelle had been with abusive men before they met, that she treated him like a child, and that at last she came to consider him the enemy. I understood, and said nothing. That Al's relationship had failed at the same time as mine only deepened the anguish: another stay parted on a sea grown surly. But there was exhilaration in facing the storm together, damming it up in silence, and so defeating it.

I slept fitfully on the sofa that night, and woke to muffled morning-jock banter from Al's clock radio. We gulped tea as he readied for work, the anticipated stress of our respective days twanging between us in monosyllables. At the door we hesitated, I in the hall, he on the mat, reluctant to desert the other in the presence of danger. But there were aircraft to repair, borders to trace. We clasped hands again, muttered "See ya, man," and the door swung shut.

I showered and dressed, but the sadness didn't break till the Ram's engine roared to life.


(Adapted from Rough Around the Edges: A Journey Around Washington's Borderlands, copyright RK Henderson. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and a generous photographer.)
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