A Writer’s Fix-A-Flat

I haven’t had the ability or desire to write a blog post – or do much else – in months. Those two posts I was able to make about my partner’s death were all I’d managed in the almost nine months since, aside from the news stories and features I write for a living.

Two days ago, I was thinking about Laura (as I do nearly all the time) and also about our good friend Kam, who died a couple years earlier from melanoma. She chose to die here on the farm, in a hospital bed in the living room.

All the way to the end, even when a brain tumor prevented her from being able to communicate, she managed to mutter repeatedly, “Not gonna get me, not gonna get me.” She fought for her life with everything she had, and she lost. Her words haunted me all the way until Laura died, when they were eclipsed for several months.

But two days ago, I heard those words again, and I thought about how wrong it was that Kam and Laura, both of whom invested so much thought and energy into improving the farm and running a horse-breeding business, should both wind up dying here.

I thought about how full of life everything seemed in those first five or six years, how full of energy, and how different it is now that I and one dog are the only ones left. I have been the embodiment of Alison Krauss’ song “Ghost in This House.”

I pulled a photo of Kam building a fence from a pile on the coffee table, then one of Laura tending a just-born foal.

Then, without even thinking about it, I opened a Word doc and started writing about those early days, writing with humor about all of our dumb mistakes – after all, we were straight from a major metropolitan area and none of us had ever lived on a farm before – and yet the courage, inventiveness, and strength we discovered in ourselves as we overcame challenges (usually by doing it the hard way, as we would discover with more experience).

I even laughed as I wrote, something I haven’t done much of lately. And the words just flew from my fingers, page after page after page. It felt so good, sort of like when you attach a can of “Fix-a-Flat” to a tire and the foam pours out and the formerly flat tire starts to become whole again.

If you live in the city and have AAA, you may not have done that before, but it’s like watching a miracle take place. Writing and writing – yes, the words were pouring from me, like the can of Fix-a-Flat, but I was also the tire, the one rising from being flat-on-the-floor, and that, too, was like watching a miracle.

Below is an excerpt from what I’ve been writing. It’s very slightly fictionalized. It takes place three weeks after we arrived at the farm and the day after a small tornado ripped apart one of our outbuildings and blew all the windows out of the house:

*  *  *

As we drove along the side – the WEST side, I reminded myself, though I had to look at the sun to figure it out – of our property, Laura said, “Hey, look. What’s that?” pointing up at the half-destroyed outbuilding. I had a hard time seeing what she was pointing at, but after she stopped the pickup and we sat a minute I saw an almost invisible arc coming up from the wreckage and falling back to the ground not far away.

“It’s water!” said Kam. “That place must have had water run to it!”

Oh my god, I thought. It’s been spewing out at that rate since yesterday. I wonder how long until the well runs dry?

We all must have been thinking the same thing, because Laura stomped on the accelerator, sped through our new red gate and down the gravel driveway out to the barely discernible track that led up to that outbuilding. She slammed on the brakes under some supple trees that had survived the tornado, and we jumped out.

The arc of water was coming from about three feet from the end of the wreckage. All that remained was the solid wood floor set on thick stone slabs. Ol’ Jess was right – the whole wall – the, um, north wall – was completely gone. I didn’t even see it out in the pasture. What was left of the north end was caving in.

Kam squatted, peered under what remained of the building. “I bet this was the original homestead, not just some outbuilding,” she said. “It used to have a crawl space, but it’s mostly filled in with dirt. But I can see the valve that turns the water off.”

She reached under as far as she could, but her fingers didn’t even come close. We stood there, wondering what to do. We didn’t know then that we could have just turned off that particular water pipeline at the well-house.

“Well, there’s only one thing to do,” said Laura. “Kam and I are the strongest, and you’re the skinniest, so we’ll just have to lift up this side of the house and you’ll have to crawl under and turn the water off.”

“Are you nuts?” said Kam. “Pick up a whole house?”

“This side shouldn’t be so bad, with the wall gone. And there’ll be two of us.”

Kam shook her head and positioned herself two-thirds of the way down the house, and Laura went to about the same distance from the other end. I got on my hands and knees in front of where the valve was. They squatted, felt for good handholds.

“Okay, now!” shouted Laura, and damned if they didn’t manage to lift up the side of the house about half a foot. I wriggled under and had to really yank the valve to get it to move, then realized I was yanking in the wrong direction.

“Hurry!” shouted Kam.

I finally got the valve shut and wriggled backwards out as fast as I could.

The arc of water was gone.

We all stared at one another. “I can’t believe we just did that,” said Kam.

“Goddamn! We did it! We take care of our shit!” shouted Laura, and started jumping around, pumping her fist in the air. Kam laughed and did some kind of karate-like dance – she’s a black belt. I just stood there watching them, but my face hurt, I was grinning so big.

“And you were the brave one!” said Laura, giving me a big hug.

“Why do you say that? I just turned a valve. I didn’t pick up a whole house.”

“Yeah, but I wouldn’t have crawled under there,” said Kam. “What if we hadn’t been able to hold it? You’d have been killed!”

“Or what if there’d been a rattlesnake nest or a bunch of black widows!” added Laura, patting me on the back.

Now I was starting to feel a little less excited about what we’d done. Being killed hadn’t even occurred to me. Neither had rattlesnakes or black widows. I realized I had absolute faith in Laura and Kam, and wondered if that was such a smart thing.

The two of them danced back over to the truck and I walked behind, considerably slower.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “A Writer’s Fix-A-Flat

  1. Dear Kathleen,

    I ran across your post on Aristotle’s Poetics–which is deft and beautifully written–and was so interested in you and your life and work I clicked on your most recent post. And experienced jarring shock to learn that in the short space of narrative time between the two posts, your life had changed irretrievably with the deaths of Laura and Kam. I am so sorry and grieved for you. You have my best wishes.

  2. denisedesio

    May I respectfully tell you you’re NUTS? So this is your city-girl turned country memoir? Very suspenseful!

    I’m peeking out of my hole to see what you’re up to.

    • (grin) Thank you, Denise…I appreciate your taking the time to keep up with me when you’ve got so much going on in your life. Actually, I’ve got another chapter, I think, just from the last few days. We had a blizzard and the power (including heat and water) was off for several days. My cell phone was also dead and the dirt road was completely impassable, so I was totally isolated and fighting for survival for several days. The good side, though, was that no travelling axe-murderer could possibly have gotten to me! I was surprised at how much knowing that relaxed me. Makes me wonder if I’m just paranoid as hell, or if many women live their lives in a constant low-level awareness that they could be attacked or killed at any moment.

  3. YAY YAY YAY!!!!!!! Excellent- gave me a perfect experience and I too have a grin on my face! Keep those fingers and that brain moving! When is the next passage?

  4. Kath, I recognize the places and the tornado and the damage it caused but you never told me about crawling under the house while Lasura (with her bad bac k) and Kam held it up! You were lucky but knowing Laura, she’d have NEVER have dropped it. Good story. I’m looking forward to some more. It’s great that you’re writing again. Iron Man

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