We locked eyes as she drove through the intersection on her way home. The sight of my wife startled me as I sat watching cars roll under the overpass, its shadow I was using a shade.
It had been a least two weeks, possibly three, since I’d last bathed. The jeans I’d been wearing when I left were no more, the knees, inseam and the left cheek area where a pocket had once been, was holey and left my skin exposed.
For days, because of my deteriorating mental health due a near starvation diet of whatever I could find in the trash bin, I refused to sit down, fearing I’d make the tear in the back of my pants worse or I’d cut myself and become sick from the onset of an infection. When I finally gave up the jeans, which were by then held up by a broken pair of suspenders, tied to a belt loop, I had lost more than 40 pounds.
The bib overalls, given to me out of pity were not much better, but at least gave my suffering brain a respite from excessive worry. And they fit well with my worn out sneakers and a found straw cowboy hat that was more straw than cowboy, but covered my unkempt hair and the sores that had developed from my poor hygienic practices.
Never wishing her to see me in the ‘state of perpetual decay’ I told myself I was in, I quickly shouldered my rucksack and dodged moving vehicles to get to the other side of the roadway.
Thinking I was well off her beaten path should she manage to turn around, I slowed my pace after a hurried two-block trot. However, she was ahead of me, slowly pulling up beside me an asking me to get in the car with her.
“Let me take you out to the house, so you can get a shower, eat and some fresh clothes,” she offered.
I looked at her with hope, “Does this mean you want me to come home to stay?”
She didn’t answer.
Taking my cue from her silence, “No. If I can’t stay forever, I don’t wanna be reminded of all that I’ve lost.”
We sat quietly before she spoke up, “Then let’s get a room, where you can get cleaned up and some sleep. I’ll go get some clothes from the house and then I’ll pick up a pizza. Is that okay?”
She got us a room on the 22nd floor, in one of the nearby hotels, then went to do as she said. Meanwhile, I took a long, hot shower, shaved my face and head, then laid on the bed, promptly falling asleep.
Worn out, both physically and emotionally, I slept so hard that I didn’t hear her come in. She ate a couple of slices of pizza before crawling into the accompanying bed.
At some point I woke up and needed some fresh air, so I slipped out the sliding glass door and onto the narrow veranda. My mind was still racing as I looked down and into the crystal blue of the hotel’s swimming pool.
“I bet I could jump from here and make it,” I told myself, as looked to gain a foothold to climb up on the thick railing.
“What are you doing?” my wife said with concern.
I smiled, “I dared myself to jump from here into the pool below.”
“No – your not going to do that!”
“But I really do think I can make it.”
“And if you don’t?”
“Then no one has to worry or wonder about me – at best, I’ll be dead or a veg at worst.”
“Well, I’m not ready to be a widow jus’ yet, so get your ass inside and back to bed now.”
I slipped passed her and eyeing the now-cold pizza, “But I’m hungry. I’ll go back to bed after I have something to eat.”
That night, after I returned to bed, she didn’t sleep so she could keep me from doing something stupid. I woke up refreshed and without the slightest memory of the high-jinx I’d planned to do that early morning.
We parted ways with a lengthy hug; she to work and me to wherever the day led.
The following night I laid out my sleeping bag in the cheat grass and waited out the dark hours through morning. Above me were those unforgettable stars, the milky way spreading from one end of time to the other.
These are the same constellations that had watched peacefully over all travelers of the high desert of Northern Nevada, who had for centuries slept fitfully under their distant canopy. They had seen the first peoples, the Native who wandered the banks of the great basin, the White explorer followed by the settler and so on.
And as I lay there, I marveled at the intimate knowledge that those same Heavenly bodies had seen them all; and they saw me. From hunter gatherer to industrialized man, they had been there, witnessing, and I knew I was in good company.
I also knew I had to quit running from myself.