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Story by James Wolner
A Piece of me that’s missing
I Settled in Taylor in 77. That is, if you can call it, ‘settled’. More like I just . . . stopped.
Stopped everything. Pulled off the interstate one day and just stopped driving, stopped thinking, stopped running from a something that was really a nothing in the first place.
When Spokane shriveled up in my rearview, I eyed almost every small town across Montana: Whitehall, Chestnut, Ballantine.
But wasn’t until I got into North Dakota – and I seen the Badlands – not until then did I feel like stopping.
As if life and living ain’t ‘bad’ enough. We gotta label a beautiful piece of God’s creation as BAD?
I thought…if this is what they call ‘bad’ in North Dakota, well that’ll work fine.
I daydreamed a half hour or so after the badlands and then exited at a place named South Heart…whatever that meant. There ain’t nothing ‘south’ about this part of the world.
I prowled and poked around downtown south-heart but couldn’t pick up the scent of a home.
So I sorta shrugged my shoulders and kept driving east along the pre-interstate ‘Old Red Trail’ highway a bit further as it winded in a sorta relaxed manner – kinda like a tributary looking for bigger water.
Cept me, I wasn’t looking for nothing BIG. More like I was looking for things to shrivel up and just go away. Kinda hoped the old highway would just turn into gravel at some point and then eventually into wild grass and finally I might just drive right off the edge of my own dead-end world.
Didn’t happen though, rolled into a place named Taylor before dusk and I’ve been here ever since, living quietly, keeping my shadow soft and grey and out of trouble for the most part.
I mean, my ends meet. There are cold cuts and beer in the fridge and the roof only leaks if the wet-wind whips up from the South-East.
I’d get up there and replace a shingle or two myself but I don’t much like the memories.
I was on the roof in Spokane one Sunday afternoon – dripping thick bullets of sweat onto hot shingles – when Cindy told me she was leaving for good. Just looked up at me from the dying lawn in her cut-off jeans and t-shirt and yelled ‘I’m done Duane!’.
Then some california-looking kinda guy drove up in a Pinto and she climbed in with him and off she went. Took nothing but a small bundle of her clothes, all her notebooks and a six back of my beer.
I’m not that guy who talks about his exes at the bar though. Just ain’t no good in revisiting.
No! Nobody here in Taylor knows about Cindy or Vietnam or any of the things that happened in any of those places.
I tell people I lost my thumb in a farming accident. A simple story. Easy for them to grasp.
It’s just a piece of me that’s missing.
It’s gone, like everything else from those times.
Cindy and Saigon. Mom and Dad. All that’s gone now.