In memory of a dear friend and grandfather-in-law. We loved you very much.
Robert E. "Bob" Schmidt,
We will keep you close always.
From a letter August 28th, 2015:
Dear, dear Bob,
I am so sad to hear of Pat's passing, but I know she is at peace now, and watching over you with all her love. "Sweetest dreams," as our Andrew wished her.
I want you to know that I look up to your great, lifelong love affair with your beautiful bride. Your deep love and respect for one another will always be an inspiration to us, and a torch Andrew and I will carry with us all our lives. The world needs more love, doesn't it?
There is a beautiful poem by Rumi that I find comfort in. I hope now it can bring you some measure of comfort as well.
"Now that you live in my chest,
anywhere we sit is a mountaintop.
What used to be pain is a lovely bench,
where we can rest under the roses." -Rumi
Sweetest dreams, dear lovely man.
July 4th, 2017, Tuesday.
The glittering happiness, stillness of
all obligations slipped
adrift in the locusts, slatted sun
July 5th, 2017, Wednesday.
The gym is loud and I don't quite catch everything the old pilot says. We’re on machines, getting our cardio in. We’ve been on a waving basis for a while, have never exchanged more than jokes.
Today is different.
“After the war,” he said, “we took an old tiger biplane back to Germany to see the old WWI sites. Did that together all summer. He was a good friend- gone now." The old man looks down briefly and then goes on.
"You can still see them from the air, you know, those sites. He and I, we’re flying over one, we can see this glass box down there. I drop the plane down- you could put those biplanes down anywhere- and there’s a man's bones inside. A soldier, still holding his gun. They’d found him like that. Put him in that box, kept him where he fell.”
Stories are spilling out now, fast, the way they will when they need to be told, and everything around us falls away until we aren’t in a gym any longer.
"I’m driving down a country road after too many beers, following my buddy when his lights disappear. I have to turn around to look for him. I go back a ways, and there he is, sitting out right out there in No Mans Land.
This was out in the country, and what people don’t realize is the Berlin wall wasn’t more than a couple feet high outside the city. Oh, there was barbed wire of course- anyway, this was first time anyone had ever broken into the East side. So my buddy, he’s sitting out there with a cut on his head in that Volkswagen sobering up, and you’ve got the East and West Germans on either side, calling their superiors. And there’s me, standing in the road.
Nobody knows what to do.
So both sides come down and help push the car out. Fixed the wall and redid the wire, like nothing ever happened. Now how ‘bout that?”
He tells me about his neighbor, routed onto a train with her husband to one of the camps. She escaped and walked all the way across Germany back to Berlin. He did not.
“Never saw him again. Took her a year and a half to get home. Think of that,” the pilot said. “She lived right next door to me.”
We were standing between the machines then. I was holding my keys, my phone's alarm had gone off, once, twice.
“It is always so good talking to you,” I said. “I wish I didn’t have to leave. I hope you have a good day.”
“You have a better one.”
“And thanks, you know. For your service. It means a lot.”
He smiles. “I didn't have anything else to do.”
As I head out, he calls after me. “Now you spell everything right, y'hear?”
Then he laughs and waves me on, loose-limbed even now. White athletic socks pulled tall up over his lean calves.
For a moment I can see them, the glittering beauty of those two, half a century ago.
Young men looking into a glass box.
Men under the fields, facing the sky.
I wake up at 6, takes twenty minutes to persuade myself from bed. It’s still crushingly busy at work: I fell asleep on the warehouse floor at midnight earlier this week, while the boys kept humming on, til 1 am, 1:30, 2…
So sleepy. But this has been my plan: this is the morning I’ll ride my motorcycle in the street.
So far I’ve just been noodling around, practicing in parking lots. Scooting my Rebel along the greasy, cracked strip of asphalt back and forth behind our warehouse.
Almost running into ditches, parked cars, etc.
Goddammit I’m doing this. Because this is the day and this is my plan.
Unlocking the wheel, strapping my tank bag on. Wiping the seat off with a painter’s rag; embarrassedly waiting for the man sleeping in his van across the street to drive away before I hop on and duck-walk down our gravel driveway into the street.
FINE-C, sitting there warming up, watching the traffic. Lots more of it than I planned.
I’m suddenly so nervous I feel like I have to pee, maybe throw up, but when I don’t kill it on my first turn off the street suddenly I no longer give a shit about the cars, the people watchful inside them.
“You have a right to do this,” I keep saying- or hearing- in my head, and how funny that this is what it says to me, this voice I’ve never heard before- “You have a right to learn this.”
Killing the bike on turns; motoring happily around Hampton Park, taking up space at stoplights-
“You have a right to do this!”
I go chilling through a series of neighborhoods, azalea blooms fallen electric in the street, smashing through sleepy mirrors full of nothing, house after house with its eyes closed beneath the draping branches of wandering oaks,
and then manage to kill it somehow right in the middle of the (thank god empty) road. Swedish-looking middle-aged woman walking by with her tiny dog. Fussing my bike into movement again, I grin over at them: “I’m gonna do this!”
She flexes her muscle at me, smiling a little- “You’re gonna do this!”
And then I do, I ride away, very slowly, haha, down the block.
I don’t hit any cars and no cars hit me.
My Rebel 250 is just a gloriously sexy scooter, really; and I don’t look cool on it, not with my cat glasses, my big silver spaceman helmet, dorky braid hanging down under the back. Killing it dead and motoring around slow as a tired cow-
but I feel the tickling edge of something that must be freedom.
Ah, this muggy, lovely morning, and the air full of water. Sitting with coffee on the porch watching the sky turn blue, and my bike in the driveway grinning back at me.
Oh hey there, Thursday.
PS. still saving up for a camera. Almost there.
Pauline West's first novel, EVENING’S LAND, is a Library Journal Self-e Selection, winner of the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation Award and recipient of the Carol Marie Smith Memorial Scholarship for the NOEPE Center of Literary Arts.
Pauline West's books on Goodreads
Candlemoth: A Holy City Romance
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Candlemoth Volume 2: How To Spend It
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Candlemoth Book 3: A Twist of Fate
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Stalker: A Gothic Thriller
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