Midway through 2017, John Prine came into my life. Trump was playing golf, I was working late — I was feeling enormously citified and wishing I was back on the farm. Out of nowhere, “Spanish Pipedream” hit me over the head, and I went dizzy for a few weeks.
Blow up your TV
Throw away your paper
Go to the country, build you a home
Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches
Try an’ find Jesus on your own
It ran through my head all summer. As I walked the city at night, I would wonder whether we should move back to Goldendale. My job was grueling, and I was surrounded by a hustle I didn’t quite know what to do with. I tried to decide whether to fit in or get out, and I squirmed through the meetings either way. Working late, alone at the office, I’d listen to Fair & Square on the company speakers.
That town will make you crazy
Just give it a little time
You’ll be walking ’round in circles
Lookin’ for that country rhyme
A year later, I quit my job and took another one where I felt a little more like myself. I built a boat, did a little fishing, and traveled around with my sweetheart. Sarah and I decided to stay in the Tri-Cities, and we decided to have kids, in spite of ourselves. We thought we were busy, and that the world was stressful, and I suppose it was. You never know what’s coming next, but it’s amazing how the ordinary bits shine in the rear-view mirror.
Ain’t it funny how an old broken bottle
Looks just like a diamond ring
In 2019, I became a foster dad. My ‘Chicken Nugget’ was the giggliest, cutest, most serious and sassy little girl I’d ever met, and she wiggled her way into my heart like nobody else could. Sarah and I stayed up late with her, checking every time her breathing changed. What was supposed to be a few weeks became a few months, and then became more than a few years. We never knew how long we’d be together, but every day felt like the best one, the worst one, and the funniest one yet.
I bronzed my shoes and I hung ’em from a rearview mirror
Bronzed admiration in a blind spot of regret
There was all these things that I don’t think I remember
Hey, how lucky can one man get?
The day John Prine died, it was a Monday. We had a social work meeting that morning. It was the third week of lockdowns in Washington state. It was the feast of the Annunciation. I didn’t get much done at work. I checked his Pickathon concert, planned for the summer. Tickets were still available.
Mama dear, your boy is here
Far across the sea
Waiting for that sacred coal
That burns inside of me
Death is never warm to sit with, but people can sure get numb. Perhaps that’s the real tragic part — not being able to cry. Once you’ve heard a few friends of friends die, you’ve heard them all? Some people only have four grandparents; some people have a dozen. All depends on how you count.
I hear a lot of empty spaces
I see a big hole in the view
I feel an outline that traces
An imaginary path back to you
This ain't no ordinary blue
Chicken Nugget’s big brother, Bubbies, came to live with us, too. We were all locked down in our house that sizzling, smothery summer. We spent a lot of time outside, or at the skatepark, or by the river. Bubbies learned how to jump his bike. Sarah and I planted a huge garden, and our pumpkins took over the block. I spent long hours walking the city at night. The washer machine flooded the basement with a half-inch of water. It all happened so fast that even now I have a hard time remembering how it all felt. At the time, it felt like a carnival ride you’re too dizzy to understand, and some days that’s how it still feels. There were sad days, and scary days, and goofy days — and in the end, it was something.
That’s the way that the world goes ’round.
You’re up one day and the next you’re down.
It’s half an inch of water and you think you’re gonna drown.
That’s the way that the world goes ’round.
As the year went on, it felt like the whole world was shuffling around. Friends I used to talk to all the time became passing acquaintances. Passing acquaintances became good friends. Sarah’s huge dinner parties became more intimate ones in the backyard. Old stores closed down, old friends passed away, some grandparents ordered their food on delivery, and some grandparents traveled the country. Everybody was trying something new.
It’s a mighty mean and a dreadful sorrow
It’s crossed the evil line today
How can you ask about tomorrow
When we ain’t got one word to say?
My life got busier. Chicken Nugget and Bubbies had a baby brother born in 2021, and sleep left me for good (for now). Li’l Man spent his first summer soaking up the giggly chaos around him, the better to dish it back in spades. The garden had another good year. Friends grew fewer but closer, and my nightly walks got shorter.
And down on the beach, the sandman sleeps
Time don’t fly, it bounds and leaps
And a country music band that plays for keeps
They play it so slow
These days, it feels as if the world is paused in turbulence. Nothing’s changing exactly, since change is the only constant. This year, the garden languished, but we spent the summer outside. Every few days there’s some horrible news, but when has it ever not been that way?
Father forgive us for what we must do
You forgive us we’ll forgive you
We’ll forgive each other till we both turn blue
Then we’ll whistle and go fishing in heaven
My nightly walks are less frequent now, but my dog Hank never gives up hope. Will it be tonight? Will it be down by the river, or through the cemetery? Will we pee on the Tahitian bar sandwich sign, or on the all-year Halloween decor? It takes a lot for the world to surprise me these days, and it takes a lot to scare me. At home it’s another story — every scraped knee is scary, and every crayon picture is surprising.
Someday I’ll take it all in stride.
The fundamental story
Of the contemporary man
Is to walk away and someday understand
Originally appeared in Tumbleweird.