It's always hard to tell where beginnings start. You don't just sit back and say to yourself, "Ah, here's a beginning"; they just happen, but...
As hard as beginning's are to find, it's even harder to tell when they end.
He told the story, this story, over time. Time's a funny thing. You can gather it up, fold it into a neat little bundle, or lay the string out down a life. It's a long life. Or it's short. Time. Always had a problem with time.
I was sitting on the closed toilet seat, enthralled. I can see him, his big hands skimming the water; lifting them up, the water rolling down to his palms and escaping out through his fingers. Tiny rivulets back to the ocean. Maybe. Water means a lot to him. Means a lot to me too. I can remember watching the expressions running across his strong features, folly and pain, joy and suffering. Impossible not to fall into it; the water, the expressions.
Fannie was fragile. It's what attracted him to her. That, and the money her father had. Nobody ever has just one reason. She was fragile and soft and clung to him, inner knowledge and training, placid and content; he would take care. Things didn't pan out. Fannie's father wasn't a hard man, but he was aware of the "value of a dollar" and insisted others, anyone in his sphere, see the world as he did. Fannie's mother was different; her world was a hard bleak place that had to be contended with. There was no poetry in her soul and those that were sensitive were automatically weak. The young couple struggled; a plan failed. "Oh well".
The attraction didn't last long. Her hanging on, her inability to cope; not a partner but an albatross around his neck; it became too much.
One of the first stories he told me, the driving force; after all, it was one of the first; was from his boyhood. Impressionable, accepting, full of wonder and awe; trusting. He was driving in a car with the local Minister. An entity he'd been taught to respect; by his parents, by society. Someone he looked up to. He was still a boy, the bulk, the height, the voice; that hadn't yet come. The Minister was imbued with more. In the telling, his voice was calm; it happened a long time ago. He told me of the minister's hand reaching out; touching his leg. His father had died when the man was only 6.
There were lots of stories of that little boy reaching out. Trying to connect. Trying to understand.
"Were you ever promiscuous?" he asked me. "I was", he told me. "I was."
The day to day world of Fannie and the man was a struggle. He was a program director for a radio/television operation. In a small town .
The first time he told me of Fannie he simply said, "My first wife went mad."
It was the 1960's. A time of change. A time of beginnings. Sitting around, Saturday night, philosophizing, seeking enlightenment, his "friend" Ralph dropped some acid on him. Heady stuff, acid. Heady stuff. He talked of revelation. It's a visual. Prophets standing on the mount. Burning bushes. Sea's a partin'. His smooth voice, detached now, flowed the words out and I listened: "It was very clear. I saw myself as a slave to the expectations of my parents and society in general. It was very clear."
He went into work the next day and gave two weeks notice. Poor sweet Fannie. Her husband, the man who had vowed to take care. Filled with a vision. Filled with purpose.
He once told me, "I was empty. I was so empty."
In the two weeks before the job was gone, all their furniture was sold, their car, all their worldly possessions. Well; almost. With the money wrought, they bought a van and converted it into a type of motor home; a cozy, enveloping place for the wife and the kiddies. Ralph, the friend who gave him the acid, and his wife and their kids; another friend, Henry and his girlfriend "Blue", and the man, his two young sons, they were 5 and 3, and poor Fannie; they formed a caravan. Three vehicles, many souls, searching. Off to Mecca. San Francisco. Haight Ashbury.
It was a long time ago. He told me it was a "flight to freedom". He told me he had a vision, at the time, of naming the van "Freedom Won". Laughing, he told me, "I went blind".
Two weeks later, they were in San Francisco. They crashed with a friend, "Wahoo", in a grand brownstone apartment right on the corner of Haight and Ashbury. Mecca. They were in Mecca. They'd made it to Mecca. Land of milk and honey. Hard to have a vision. Maybe harder on those watching. Maybe.
Wahoo, the friend they crashed with, was from Georgia, and the man, conscious of such things, remembered the lovely Georgian accent Wahoo had; "He sounded just like Randolph Scott." Wahoo and his lady made their living in the netherworld of soft drugs. A parade of people came through the brownstone. "It was all sort of love and flashing peace signs most of the time", the man said.
He also remembered another character at the brownstone named "Jack the Rat". Jack the Rat looked like Fagan, and eked out a living making leather pouches with beads. It was the 60's; such things could be done; it was possible to survive without compromise or, at least, that was the dream. Visions. Hard to have visions.
I asked the man if he knew what any of those people were doing now. How had they survived? The man didn't know. It was a long time ago. Shifting realities. People come; people go.
"What did you do?" I asked the man, "How did you take care?"
He described going to the Panhandle in Golden Gate Park. Doing drugs. Laying in the sun. "Playing", he called it. They did bead work. "Ya, we played", he said. His voice, his lovely voice was tired. I could hear the weariness.
We talked about Fannie. Poor Fannie. "She went mad".
In the end; that end; the money ran out. They went down to a blood bank and donated blood. They got $20. They went to the Canadian Embassy and the Embassy gave them another $20, and that was enough for gas to get them back to Canada.
I asked him, "Did Fannie give blood too?"
His voice so tired, poor Fannie, he said "Oh yes; the kids would've given blood too if they'd been bigger."
I phoned the man's son up and asked him about what he remembered. The trip to Mecca. The man's son explained he was so small, only 5. He explained he remembered stories but only because the stories had been talked about beyond. I understood.
"It was a long time ago, I was only 5", the man's son told me.
I asked about an incident. At a laundry mat. I'd been told Fannie had taken the boys and was doing the washing. Apparently the boys were playing with some other kids in the laundry mat.
"It was the first time I'd encountered racism", the man had told me.
"We, my younger brother and I, were playing with this black kid. The black kid's mother came up to me; slapped me in the face and told me to get lost. I don't remember it. I cried, I know that", the man's son told me.
"Because of the injustice?" I asked the man's son.
"No", the man's son laughed, "No, I don't remember it. Probably because the slap in the face hurt. I don't remember."
I don't know the man's son well, but I phoned him up and talked to him, a "voice out of the blue" and he talked back. No reserve. He talked back and was kind to me. Hard to find people who'll be kind to a stranger. I like the man. I like the man's son.
Can't live on love. Can't live on luck. They sold blood, they scrambled and then they fled Mecca. When they got back from San Francisco, they ended up on Unemployment Insurance and Welfare.
"It was okay back then. That was acceptable", he went on to say.
I understood. Freedom Won.
"I worked making candles for awhile", he said and I laughed.
I apologized. Sorry, but it's time. "Tell me more about Fannie", I asked.
"Oh, she did a fair amount of drugs", he explained. "She obviously shouldn't have and then. After awhile. She just left."
I was confused, needed elaboration.
"In her mind", he said, "She just went somewhere else."
I remember telling him that I was having trouble sleeping. I wasn't worried about it. Just a comment. Just data to make someone else aware. And it took a while to know; his programming; it flowed down paths I couldn't see right away. Took a while.
"Just before she went mad, Fannie didn't sleep well. I coped for a time", he said, "and then her parents, taking pity on us offered me a job to run a cabaret. That's when I really got into stride."
I wanted to understand the promiscuity. I needed to understand. Maybe for him. Maybe for me. I kept coming back to it and he tried. He wanted to provide. I asked him, "Did you carry guilt?" and he answered:
"Oh yes, but at the same time I relished in the freedom."
Through all this. Through moving to San Francisco, then coming back. Through moving to another town; running the cabaret.
"Through it all", he sighed, "Fannie would end up, every couple of months, back in the hospital". "She went mad.....She went mad".
Finally, Fannie in the hospital once again, he'd had "enough"; felt he couldn't handle it anymore. He traveled to the hospital and talked with her doctor. Told the doctor he would be leaving her.
"I felt she was in care", he said. "It was very clear. I saw myself as a slave to the expectations of my parents and society in general."
"OK", I asked him, "So after you left Fannie you went back to San Francisco. Then what?"
"While in San Francisco I went to a big dance hall club and saw Jerry Garcia there; you know, of the Grateful Dead", he explained to me.
"That's where I met Joyce". By way of explanation the man went on, "Joyce felt her parents really meant to name her Joyous".
In the bathroom, where this story came together; in the bathroom when the man first spoke of Joyce, he described her as the "lovely lady from Michigan". His eyes were distant. The expression on his mouth wry. The lovely lady from Michigan. Her parents meant to name her Joyous. It was the 60's. Fannie was mad. The lovely lady from Michigan.
I envied him, the man, visiting the "Sensorium" in San Francisco. Joyce, and the man, and a few friends experiencing the sights and sounds. He described going through the various rooms; one room would be soft and dark and you'd just feel things. Another room would have things dangling from the ceiling, another hard edges.
"There was no one else there. We had the place to ourselves, so", the man told me, "we went through it naked", and he laughed and shook his head and again the wry smile. Felt good. Felt good. I envied him.
The man described driving with Joyce. Free. They encountered a Mission run by the Franciscan Order. Took a tour through it. "There was a gift store there and we spent some time looking around at the religious creations the monks had fashioned", the man explained, "Joyce and I ~ Joyous and I".
"I remember", he said, "seeing a beautiful wooden cross there. Artfully crafted by pious men. It was wonderful", and his eyes gleamed. "I picked it up, thinking Fannie would like it."
The man described buying the cross and taking it out to the van "Freedom Won" and sitting there for awhile, in the van, looking at it; noting the care and love and faith that had gone into its crafting. "I don't know", the man mused, "I just got out of the van and went back into the gift store. I asked the monk there if he would bless the cross for me. The monk explained only the Father could do it. I had to wait for awhile until the Father had finished his meditations."
The man's eyes as he described the Father were envious too.
"He was so full", the man told me, "you could feel the power and faith, and hope and beauty in him". "I asked the Father to bless the cross, and he did, and then I went back out to the van."
I asked the man why. Why he'd gone to the effort to get the cross and get it blessed.
The man shifted his weight in the bathtub. I waited. I watched. Water flowing back to the ocean. Water flowing through time. There's illusion there; water and time; hard to figure it out.
"I knew", the man said. "I knew Fannie would like it. You see. I knew", and he paused for awhile and again the longing, things lost but remembered, ran across his face.
And again I watched. I love this man. I watched.
Then he laughed. His face open. Free. Or almost.
We're getting there; the man and I. It's a long life. Freedom Won. It was a long time ago.
"Then I went back to the van", he said, "and got into it and we drove down the road, Joyce and I, the lovely lady from Michigan".
I could see his expression changing I could feel the release, "and then", he told me, "and then we fucked".
I laughed too.
Freedom Won and time.