[Editor's Note: Don't miss Michael Perry's reading at Powell's City of Books on Burnside on Thursday, May 14th!
As I wrap up the week here and head off for book tour, I want to say thank you my wife Anneliese and my two little girls. I must say it again: I am a lucky knucklehead, I love what I do, and I am grateful to do it. Can't wait to hit the road and meet a whole bunch of you, thank you face to face. But back here at home, my wife will be preserving reality. I wrote this two years ago:
Earlier this year when I was booking speaking engagements and book tour commitments and setting up a smattering of jobs for the band, I promised Anneliese that in light of the new baby and the new farm, I would keep the summer as clear as possible. Naturally this got nibbled down some, and last I checked my calendar, ten days of August are shaded green for the road. But I had managed to keep July relatively clear — just two green days — so when the phone rang three weeks ago and it was a magazine editor calling, offering me a feature story with the catch being that I leave right after the Fourth and be gone for seven days, I dreaded telling Anneliese. Not because I anticipated a blowup — she doesn't play that way — but because it meant leaving her with the children and the pigs and the chickens and the company and everything else again only this time without a buffer of warning. "I'll be gone at least a week," I told her, and without hesitation she said, "Well, you need to go."
I launched into justification babble: It's a cover story… could lead to more work… it will pay well…self-employed writers nobly striking out on behalf of the fam… When I noticed her just standing there quietly, I trailed off and fell silent.
"It's what you do," she said.
I wish I could say I would be as amenable if the roles were reversed. I have not a shred of evidence suggesting that would be the case. Behind the blue eyes of my wife are reserves that would-be rough boys and bestselling yogis only dream of.
And so it was that, two days after the chickens arrived, I flew away, and two days later I was ascending the face of Mt. Rainier in the company of two soldiers, one of whom had lost a leg in recent battle and the other his sight. At one point, we stood in a vast snowfield above the clouds and spoke of our children. When I returned home, I went upstairs and took my baby from her crib, and the shape of her had changed so in seven days that my breath caught, even as I considered what it might be to part with your children under much grimmer circumstance.
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A week later, Amy asked me where I was born. "I was born by the railroad tracks," I said, looking her straight in the eyes and not missing a beat. "The train whistle wailed, and I wailed right back." Anneliese (who knows a Steve Earle lyric when she hears one) rolled her eyes and left the kitchen.
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Sometimes when I'm out there on the road, I feel a twinge in my chest or I drift to the interstate rumble strip at 3 a.m. and 70 miles an hour and I wonder what my children will remember of me, and I begin to compose free-form mental lists. The usual short-circuits comprise the clarity and flow, but it goes something like this:
Girls, Dad was in over his head. Constantly. In all respects. He meant well. He wanted to do more for your beautiful Mommy. His learning curve often lagged his balding curve. Advice? Sure — beware young boys and dissolute men, who are knuckleheaded and inept in every respect except worming their way into a sweet girl's heart. Whenever possible, run close to the ground, for eventually we all fall. Get yourself a good pair of boots. Leave affectionate notes for your mother, but with greater frequency than I have. Once a week, offer her a blanket apology for everything in general — I rarely forget that one. Strive for charity and I don't mean just box up your old socks. If someone tells you there is no God, or conversely describes him right down to the sandals, ignore that person. Rather, go to the ridge on a clear night and, for five minutes, stare at forever. Accept infinity and humility follows. Do not let me catch you with cigarettes, but if pipe smoke drifts your way, breathe deep. This guards against prudery and furthermore there are times in the face of pleasure when we should do the obvious.
Your mother and I delight in watching you grow, even as we grieve your speeding away. So many times we watch you quietly, then turn to each other and smile. Which is not to discount the times you drove us up the wall and out the attic. Demons, I presume — nothing else explains the transformation. Drawing on our own imperfections we try to teach you right and wrong. Assess our vulnerabilities and plan accordingly. You may be pleased to know there were times when I was instructing you in the ways of righteousness and your mother snuck around behind you over by the refrigerator just so she could roll her eyes at me.
Thank you for your eyes, which remind me of your mother. Thank you for your laughter, which smooths my brow. Your unsolicited hugs, which heal the frayed inner bits of me. You know what? Thank you for being so nice to me. If you ever get to digging, I pray the flaws you inevitably unearth will rest on the light half of the balance.
I just missed my exit.
© J. Shimon and J. Lindemann