T.D. Thompson, Author

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Rules for when I finally escape this nut-house and Hit the Road:

Rule #1: No hitchhikers.

          1a) Never

          1b) EVER!

          1c) No matter how cute

          1d) or how pathetic-seeming

          1e) or how lonely I get. Even though being lonely sucks, big-time.

          1f) To be single is to be free. *Remember* that. 

Rule #2: Be happy

Rule #3: Remind yourself that life is not always going to be like this and someday you will look back on this time and you will laugh.  No matter how you feel about it now. 

          3a) and never moralize or lecture, even if it’s only to yourself, because you’ve had enough of that to last a lifetime.

          3b) and no talking out loud to yourself either.

Rule #4: Always eat fruit for breakfast.

Rule #5: Don’t be scared.

Rule #6: Fall in love asap.


            That was what I wrote in my notebook, the one mom bought me right before she left.  The one she hoped would encourage me to write down my thoughts and goals, which in turn would eventually persuade me to go back and finish high school, and actually apply myself for a change.  By that point, she figured, I’d be enthusiastic enough to maybe go on and get some post-secondary and make something of myself.  That notebook. 

            It’s a small blue, unassuming, lined pad of paper with a lot of weight attached to it, and it’s mostly empty, but sometimes I would write lists of things in there: names of dogs if I ever got to have a dog, or the botanical names of flowers when I happened to learn some at work. I never put anything in there that Grandpa might find and read. 

            “Good golly, little gal,” he’d hollered at me one night, shortly after I moved in with him and shortly after one of mom’s daily visits. “Get that little Ruby Keeler butt of yours in action and write some stuff down.  That mother of yours was the best little gal ever and she wants you to write.  So write, already!”

            “But Grandpa,” I’d started, already aware I was wasting my breath, “There’s nothing to say, and it’s boring to write stuff, and I just don’t feel like it.”

            “Feel-shmeel,” he’d muttered in return.  Shaking his cane at me, he turned from the stove where he was heating up some leftover chili for our dinner, and added, “your mother is worried about you girl, so you just go sit your little bony keester down and do some writing.”

            “About what?”

            “Who cares?”, he’d hollered.  “Just get your mother off my back and write down all your gal-thoughts and hopes and whatever gals think about!”

            Muttering away to himself, he’d leaned his cane against the kitchen counter and stirred the chili violently, slopping a glob of it over the side of the pan and onto the hot burner where it sizzled and smoked.  The smell of burned beans filled the air and I put my forehead down on the cool surface of the kitchen table.

            Even though he insisted he never went through my stuff when I was at work, I wasn’t completely convinced that what I wrote would remain private, mostly because I had no such reservations about digging through his personal stuff if he happened to be napping or out of the house at the time. 

There were creaky wooden drawers full of faded letters, and trunks up in the attic heaped with antique clothing. There was the bathroom medicine cabinet with its dusty vials and bottles of out-dated drugs. All were interesting to me at the time, like a very primitive archeological dig into an obsolete society.  There was no way I was purposely going to hand him anything he could read and tell the parents, and use against me, so I never wrote anything personal.  Anything about feelings or boys or how lonesome I sometimes got.     

            Although, now he’s dead I guess it doesn’t matter anymore, and I can write whatever I want in there.  Which makes me feel even lonelier than I ever did before.

            It might sound cruel, but it’s true that the day he died I was mostly absent. And the part about finding him lying there that evening, so much smaller than it seemed he should be, shrunken and empty like the husk of something out of a fall garden, is something I still can’t talk about.  Maybe later.  Maybe later, it will get easier.

            Discovering him there in the narrow hallway, lying cross-wise, with his head angled against a wall made me realize how dying is a totally one-man show.  Even if, unlike in Grandpa’s case, there are other people in the room keeping you company, it’s not something you can say ‘hey, wanna come with?’ and hold hands and do it together, like seeing a movie or going to the mall.  Now, after some time has passed, I think of dying as a birth, only backwards, and you have to do it alone.  But back then I thought of it, if I thought of it at all, as a frightening experience which happened to other people but never to me or anyone I loved.

            In Grandpa’s case he really was completely alone on that final day.  I didn’t find him for several hours, not until I got back from work.  And that was mostly because in the morning I hadn’t gone out of my way looking for him.  To be honest, that morning I was just relieved he wasn’t talking, nattering, nagging and driving me up the wall like normal. So I practically tip-toed out the door, heading to work and unaware there was anything wrong, hoping to escape before he shuffled into the kitchen for his first coffee and cigarette. 

            After I moved in with him he’d made a point of having his smokes outside in a feeble effort to keep me healthy and unaware of his filthy habit, but that was little consolation.  He had a way of hacking deep in his phlegmy lungs, coughing up gobs of goo first thing in the morning, which nearly made me gag.  His bare old hairless chest concaving itself towards me through the half-open flaps of his ancient faded and threadbare housecoat as he made his way to the coffeepot, was like a waking nightmare.  That memorable image was often enough to keep me nauseous through most of my work-day.  And the fact he somehow considered himself to be the boss of me no matter how antique he was and how young and full of vigor I was, annoyed the crap out of me.

            It wasn’t like we didn’t get along, don’t get me wrong.  We did find stuff to talk about, but mostly later in the day when I was exhausted from that horrible job mom had found for me and when he’d had time to shave and dress himself and manage to appear half-civilized.  We’d have dinner together, which he’d normally cook since my kitchen skills were nil, then we’d sit and watch some tv, and he’d maybe take the time to lecture me for a while, dispensing all kinds of obsolete advice. 

            “It’s a salty cookie that never cracks,” he’d say during the commercials.  And, “when a man’s at sea there’s only so much whiskey in the bottle.” 

            None of it made much sense, but fortunately he didn’t bother talking during the actual programs; he saved these gems for the commercials. It was a routine which we both knew was basically baloney, but I’d pretend to listen respectfully, before we’d both shrug and go our separate ways for the rest of the evening.  It was a moderately dysfunctional way to spend time, but it worked for us.

            But maybe I should begin at the beginning, and keep everything as orderly as possible, which in my opinion, is a lot harder than everyone else seems to think.

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