Yellow Mama Archives

Stephen Cunningham
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spinmoveweb.jpg
Art by Gordon Purkis 2010

Could Be

 

Stephen Cunningham

 

 

Could be, I was fucking tripping maybe, I don’t know. It always seemed I was, at least. Not always, but, enough. I’d even drop a tab near the end of a work shift, get the mopping up done quick and punch the time clock and get out on that bike before the roads all got too wobbly and starting waving up and down like I was on the ocean. A pedal bike, not a motorcycle. If I’d have had a motorcycle back then, I would have died a thousand times, so, let’s be glad I didn’t. Took enough scrapes and falls as it was. Took enough acid back then to make Tim Leary proud. Maybe I should have been one of his lab monkeys, huh? Different time, different place, though.

 

          If that’s how you want to look at it. We’re all living and dying, each of us, all at the same time. You’d almost think that somehow it would just cancel itself out. Fate, God, Whatever. Erode itself away with all the concentrated indecision, at the very least. All that Either/Or. Yin/Yang. Bull/Shit. If there’s one thing that I came away with, having gone through all the drug taking of my youth, all that searching, all that sharing . . .  It’s that there’s no real way to ever pin that one thing down. You can come close, but it always slips away. Doesn’t it? If, for you, it hasn’t, perhaps you have a one-track mind. Going stagnant. Petrified.

 

           I’m not bragging. There were a lot of folks who did that, back then. A lot of them did more than me. Some of them have become doctors, and whatevers. Really “accomplished” something, right? That’s what they want you to believe. Anyone still into mind expansion must not have their head on straight, that’s what they’ll tell you now.  That’s how they want you to think. Don’t believe it. You be who you want to be. Who you need to be. Be free. I’ll back you up. I might be writhing on the floor in a super-frightened ecstasy, flipping my lid on some tropical vine concoction, screaming out about the Octopus Mother, the Tunnel, or . . . I’ll be there in spirit, though. Believe me. So, yeah, be free. At least try.

 

 Maybe those guys who went off to become psychiatrists or whatever think that money buys them that, that the cold hard money lifts them up. They couldn’t be more wrong. Money’s not going to get them anything but a safe place to be, more food than they could possibly eat, all the comforts known to man . . . There’s no reality in that. Not as far as delving into What Is Real is concerned. You copy that? That sinking in? Material things aren’t going to cut it. It’s what’s in between everything, isn’t it? It’s in those few sparse moments when you’re sliding from a dream to being awake, when the images are the most intense, the emotions kick the hardest, and the longing and the yearning and the happy all just . . . Well, you wake up then, but, you get the idea. It’s in the heart and soul where what’s most important exists. And I ain’t selling mine.

 

          Part of the reason I did all those psychedelics was to try and understand my father. Not that he had ever done any, or was a big hippie or anything. Far from it. I don’t even think I ever saw him take a drink. I know he didn’t smoke. His big thing, as far as I could tell, was being an asshole. That was probably more of a compulsion than a choice, though. Although, after awhile, who knows? Maybe some folks get to enjoying that. I know being on the other end wasn’t all that fun.

 

I meant more of trying to find out about my ancestors, by trying to get back to the source. Take some kind of substance, swim up that stream, see what kind of knowledge those old spirit forms were going to kick up. I’d read whatever books on the subject I could muster up: Huxley, Rimbaud, Artaud—He wrote a great one about some Indians who lived way up in the hills, who thought that modern man (and this goes back a ways) was living all backwards and strange. These Indians would come down into the city, once in a lifetime, just to observe and see how NOT to live a life. Once they’d get too spooked, they’d head back home. And stay there. They had no need for radios and motorcars and electric wires and such. They had the land, they had each other, with their art, their culture, their families . . . They really already had it all, so, why bother? Good for the soul to go get shaken up in town, though. Like riding a roller coaster or seeing a scary movie can kind of help blow out the pipes a bit. You’re not going to live your life inside of a carnival ride, are you? Or just watch freaky movies nonstop. You need to be connected to something much more real than that. As they well knew.

 

             Anyway, I’d read whatever literature I could find on the subject at hand. Namely, tripping out hard enough to find my ancestors, in whatever realms they may be residing in now. There are a lot of layers out there, or in there as it were, so I knew it was going to take some digging. There wasn’t any map I could hang onto, no compass that was going to point the way. I couldn’t even find a guide to help me find the right trail to take. Not in my hometown. If there was someone like that around, I sure never knew them. Maybe they’d been chased out a long time ago, or were still in hiding. Maybe they had chosen to split. Who knows? Maybe there had never been anyone like that around these parts, and I was going to be the first. Like one of those explorers who put the first footprints in the snow atop the mountain, or cleared a path for others to find sometime. I don’t know. I sure felt alone about it. Sometimes it wasn’t even all that fun. With no one to accompany me, there wasn’t anyone to compare notes with. Who’d truly understand what I was talking about, what I was relating. All my friends, except for one, thought I was just going nuts. Loony. Loco. They thought I took too many drugs, and it had fried my brain, and that I’d probably end up with my arms strapped around me in the mental hospital two towns over, where all the crazy old geezers ended up. I’m talking lobotomy, here. Electroshock. Whatever it was they did to try to keep the geezers from starting up a riot, they were going to do to me. And I wasn’t even all that old yet.

 

          My friends, though, what did they know? With the exception of that one, they didn’t really seem to know shit. Bunch of cheap beer-drinking, shoplifting, hot-rodding weirdos, cruising back roads looking for swimming holes and girls to cruise. I liked girls, and in the summer, sure, I liked to swim. Never been all that enthused about cars, though, and haven’t owned one yet. I’d drink a beer from time to time, too, but I never got to where I’d crave it. Those guys were just my friends because they were the kids I grew up with, went to school with all those years, and they were the ones who didn’t give a shit enough so that they kind of stuck out from the normal crowd. I’m not saying anything against them. They were a good bunch of guys. Funny, wild, took chances. I liked all that. We just never had that many deep discussions. Whereas this other friend and I, we did.

 

           Oswald was taller than me, quieter than me, and had more money than I did. His old man had died, left a bunch of money behind. Enough for Oswald and his mother and his sister to live pretty well, without having to worry about all the stuff that most folks have to fret about. They weren’t rich, but as far as comfort goes, they did all right. Oswald, he liked to read a lot. Mostly science fiction. Which helped him understand where I was coming from, and the places I was trying to get to. More than most, at least. His mind didn’t just shut itself off when faced with an alternate reality, let’s put it that way. He could think about more things at once than one. He understood the concept of there being other possibilities. So, when I really needed to talk with someone, about something kind of different, even something kind of weird, he’d be the one I’d go to.

 

          We’d sit around his room drinking tea, or coffee. Sometimes sipping on a bottle of his father’s wine. The old man wasn’t going to need it any more. He used to bottle up his own stuff. Depended on whatever was around that season. Whatever the animals hadn’t gotten too much into. One year it’d be blueberries, the next, raspberries. One year, it was pumpkins. That batch turned out kind of funky. But we drank it. Once all the better stuff was gone. Being teens, what did we know about drinking wine? Pumpkins. Good golly. Looking back, it’s a wonder we never ended up poisoning ourselves on that old stuff. But we survived. We’d sit around, and trade ideas, and look through comic books and art books, and scribble notes about our thoughts, and sip that wine. His mother didn’t mind. She knew we weren’t raving around drunk, and since neither of us drove a vehicle, she didn’t have to worry about that midnight phone call from the sheriff asking her to come and claim the bodies. She was a nice woman. Like a second mom to me in ways. Left us alone enough.

 

          His sister, though, now she was something else. Real shy, real quiet, real pretty. In her own way. She wasn’t going to win any awards, and not a lot of guys at school went after her, but I liked her. She wasn’t the long-haired blonde who was always lighting up the room, or the girl with the biggest boobs or anything. Just a real, nice, real-type girl. The kind that, if you admitted to yourself just what it was you needed out of life, she’d be the one who would probably come the closest to it. I guess I always had a crush on her, since we were smaller kids. We all grew up together, living so close and all, and chased each other around the fields and camped out in tents made of blankets hung on the clothesline and such. Went on nature walks looking for rare birds and what have you.

 

I never told my friend about it, about how I thought I kind of liked his sister. It seemed like one of those things that could break a friendship up, and I didn’t want to do that. He was the only person I could even halfway talk to, who even halfway kind of got me. I didn’t want to mess that up. I sure did like his sister though. I found that the more time went along, the more I got to finding that I liked her. It was one of those “pickles” you hear folks speak about. Why it’s called a pickle I guess I never knew. Maybe because it seemed so sour sometimes. Had those little bumps and such all over. Was kind of cold, and dripped. I don’t know. I liked her, though. One day I thought I’d make her mine. That I would be hers, for her, as well. Things almost did turn out that way. Eventually.

 

          We’d sit around in Oswald’s room, he and I, and I’d be telling him about my latest vision. Or he’d relate the plot of whatever novel he was reading, pointing out the inconsistencies, adding in how it could have turned out tighter, better, more compact. That’s the word he’d always use. “Compact”. He always wanted things squashed together more, jammed in and wadded up, and rolled up like a snowball. You should have seen him make a sandwich.

 

Oswald, he grew up to be a semi-famous writer, in his own way, and moved to one of the big cities after awhile. I’d only hear from him sporadically. He had some success, and had a new girlfriend every six months or something, and it all occupied his time, I guess. I’d get a letter now and then.

 

Back when we’d sit around his room, though, he was just an oddball kid talking about androids and spaceships, strange new planets and inter-dimensional beings traveling back and forth through time. Kind of funny stuff for a kid out in the sticks to go on about, but, what else you got? You try living out there all those years, see what your own brain drums up. Made me realize that we haven’t come that far from when the cavemen sat around grunting their own fables, pointing up at the Milky Way with the end of a charred bone or something. You never know. It’s all connected.

 

          Once Oswald left, I’d moved on to other things, anyways. I’m sure we would have remained good friends, but we had already been drifting apart. He got more and more into his writing. I’d stopped taking psychedelics and was into taking real long walks, and horseback riding, and trying to set up a camp for kids with mental problems. I didn’t realize, at the time, that I’d need to go to college and get a degree in child psychology, and study up on all of that. Become certified to handle all of that. But my heart was in the right place.

 

I worked real hard for a couple of summers, saving all the money that I could, and I bought a piece of land where I was going to set up my camp. “Camp Luna-Kids,” I thought I might be calling it. A play on words. On “lunatics” to be exact. Made it sound more like the Moon was involved, what with the “Luna” in there, like we were going to use the Moon to help us deal with them. Us being me, myself, and I. So far. Since there wasn’t really a camp out there yet, there hadn’t been a need to hire anyone to help me. I didn’t even know if there were going to be enough “afflicted kids” around to make it fly, either. I had a feeling that there were, but, it was still to be seen.

 

          Since Oswald had been gone, I’d kind of shied away from his place. I’d run into his mom sometimes, down at the grocery store, or in town somewhere. One time she invited me for supper, and I went. She always was a nice lady, as I said, and I had been feeling bad about not checking in with her sometimes. I kind of wanted to see how his sister was, as well. That’s the main reason I went up there. I figured she’d be around, and maybe we’d get to talking. And then maybe the next thing that you knew, we’d start hanging around together some, go for walks the way we used to when we were kids. I kept thinking, it wouldn’t be like that, now, though. We weren’t little anymore. She was nearly out of high school, and I was just past twenty.

 

I thought of walking with her now and I saw us holding hands, pausing here and there to lean against a tree while slowly kissing and smiling and making little love-sounds at each other. I’d never had a steady girlfriend, yet. In fact, I’d only kissed one girl. That was at a dance at school, some kind of function, and she’d given me a split lip. I bent down to kiss her, she saw it coming,  and her fist came up and popped me in the lower lip. Slit it right open like her knuckles were made out of a machete. Can’t really stitch a lip up all that well, so I just waited long enough and it healed. Always had that kind of ripple there, at the side, after that. A little wavy scar.

 

             Oswald’s sister came to the door, the time I went up there to eat supper with them, and I could tell that she was nervous just to see me. The smells of cooking were in the air, and it made my stomach growl. Since I’d been on my own, renting a room above the place I worked, I mostly ate cheese sandwiches, and cans of chili and whatever. Once in a while, some of those frozen burrito things they had down at the convenience store. Three for a dollar, and they’d fill you up all right. Can’t beat that. Spend the next day on the toilet, but, a penny saved, right?

 

Oswald’s sister stood there, in a pretty dress, her hair tied back, and she looked just like I imagined that she would. Which was good. She smiled at me a little, her eyes peeking up a bit from looking at the floor. I never knew just why this girl was so shy, but I didn’t take it personally. She was like that with everybody. Maybe more so with me, though. Maybe that just showed she liked me. I didn’t know. She never did express her love for me or anything, never flung her arms around my neck and begged me to make her mine. Not yet, at least. Right? Can’t stop a man from dreaming.

 

          So I had supper with them that night, and it was really good. Homemade everything. Right down to the gravy, and the fresh pies for dessert. Two kinds of pie: apple and huckleberry. Oswald’s mother said she couldn’t quite recall just what kind I’d liked, so she’d made them both. I said I liked them all, any kind of pie was fine with me, and ended up having a slice of each. She said it sure was good to see a young man eat, and we all laughed at that, me with crumbs of crust falling from my mouth. I think his sister laughed the loudest, and the longest, and while it seemed a little odd, as overall it really wasn’t all that funny, it sure was nice to see that girl spark up a bit. Like there had suddenly been a light thrown on in there, and you could tell that somebody was home. That the place was warming up inside.

 

After she helped her mother clear the table, we all had a glass of wine. After a while, her mom excused herself, saying she was going to retire for the night and try finishing up a book that she’d been reading. I kissed her on the cheek in thanks, something I had never done before, and for a second, their mother looked a little flustered. Then she left us be, and went upstairs.

 

             Oswald’s sister and I, we stood around awkwardly for a few minutes, finishing up our wines. When I finally asked if she’d care to go out for an evening stroll, she readily agreed. “Anything to get out of this place,” she said. “Let’s go.”

 

So we went walking, taking the trail along the riverside where we used to skip all those rocks, and chase bullfrogs, when we were kids. Where we’d watch the ducks and geese land, and the beavers swimming by with branches in their mouths, heading downstream somewhere. This time, as we were older, it all felt different. I even took her hand in mine, and she accepted. We each had sweaty palms, so it seemed we had to grip on tighter just to keep a hold of one another. I looked over at her, and she looked over at me, and then we both got kind of shy. Well, she got even more shy. And I felt funny. It was kind of strange, doing something finally that you’d thought of doing so many times before but had never done. Like looking at a hot air balloon, for years, and then finally walking up to it, getting in the basket, firing it up and floating away. Lifting off from Earth that first time is always going to kind of rattle you. Make you dizzy. I just held onto her hand, and walked along with her, and tried to not just crash land it, you know? Think I did all right.

 

          We got out to where that one big set of rocks was piled, from way back when the glacier had made its way through here, and we sat ourselves down facing each other. For a while, we just sat there, noticing the moonlight on the water, listening to whatever sounds there were. We looked into each other’s eyes, and it just happened.

 

I reached out, and touched her face. Felt my fingers in her hair. Felt her ears, her earrings, the back of her neck. One finger slowly traced along the thin line between her lips, and they opened, and took the finger in. She kissed my fingertip. It nearly blew my mind. All those times I had tripped my head off on some wild drug, had taken all that acid, all those mushrooms . . . And the thing that got to me the most was having this young woman, the one I really felt the most for out of any girl I’d ever even seen or had imagined, having this young woman I was in love with slide my finger in her mouth as if she loved me back. It got me shivering, and it was summertime.

 

          Next thing that we knew, we were kissing. Really kissing, too. Open mouths, tongues twirling, teeth clicking together some. Her fingers were on my face, and mine were on hers. I pulled her closer, and she came. She pulled me towards her more, and I went. Gladly. More than gladly. It was the only place I wanted to be. To be with her. Nothing else compared.

 

We took off our clothes, and went and jumped into the water. The current wasn’t all that strong there, and the river was just deep enough where your toes weren’t touching bottom all the time. We hugged, and felt, and kind of groped each other out there. In the moonlight, and it was really beautiful. She told me she had never been with anyone before, and I said the same. That this was all brand new to me, as well. We kissed some more, and she hugged me close, and lifted herself up a bit and wrapped her legs around me and I slipped right in. Like we were meant to find each other, and it was just a perfect fit.

 

Oh God, that moment felt so good. One of those one-of-a-kind experiences, in life, for sure. The moon was shining down, and off on the other side of the river I could see a couple of deer, dipping their heads down to drink. They’d look at us, as careful and cautious as deer usually are, but we all left each other alone. Did our natural things, just living it, and the world seemed just fine.

 

             Oswald’s sister was moaning on me, scratching at my skin, hanging on so tightly that I ended up getting a crick in my neck the next morning. It was worth it, though. She really seemed to like it, being out there with me like that. Even in the midst of that first time she was going on about how we’d have to do this all again. How it felt so wonderful, and how she loved it, and how she’d always loved me . . . 

 

There it was. She’d said it. It was out, and ringing around the area with an echo that even bounced around out in the open. I whispered that I loved her too, and that I could not believe we’d finally gotten together. Right as I came inside of her and got her pregnant. Because of course that is what happened. We ended up making a baby out of that first time. Or so we reckoned.

 

We did it a lot more after that, made love that is. And did have another kid, a few years later. That first one, though, that was the one we made out of a pure and total love. Of a burning seed inside of us that finally got to see the light of day. We’d helped it sprout, out in the river that first night, and ever since, we’ve been together.

 

          Her brother, Oswald, never seemed to like it all that much. That I was married to his sister, and was a blood relation now and for forever. What could he do about it, though? He knew that, deep inside, I was an all right guy, and could be a good friend. He’d never really had a problem with me before all this. He saw we really cared about each other, also, his sister and I, and that we were trying to be good parents and all of that. So he accepted it, and welcomed me into the family for once and for all. After being like an honorary member all those years, things didn’t really seem all that different. Yet, it all seemed new, as well. As if I’d finally broken through, and had finally found where I’d been looking to end up all those times. As if I’d finally found myself, and understood just what that meant.

 

It’s always weird when you find that other missing piece, you know? When the whole image starts to come more into focus, and the realization hits. Somehow, in many ways, each one of us in that small family, from my good friend, and now brother-in-law, Oswald, his mother, his sister who was now my lovely bride, and myself . . .

 

Somehow, we’d all found some peace and happiness in this crazy world. Maybe the ancestral spirits had smiled down on us, had helped to guide us to each other. Stranger things have happened, right? Well, for whatever reasons, no matter what, we’d all ended up together. And there wasn’t anything that was going to make me mess that up.

 

 

 

These days Stephen Cunningham is living in a small town. He is new to reading and writing fiction. He has mostly read non-fiction, biographies and such. It all just leads to now. He tries to be inside whatever character, lets them talk and think the way they do. Type it out. Some of it could be from real life. Some's just supposition.

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