I just spent four days in Missouri. 'Misery' is more like it though because I gave up on trying to understand small town America a long time ago. When you grow up in a small town and all you are inside is big city, there is no car, train or plane that can get you out of small towns fast enough. But, going to a small town for a visit is a great reminder to make sure you're looking at the big picture, especially when you have to go for an event like my nephew's wedding.
On Thursday, November 12th, I was trying my best to make the most out of my travel day, but the whole reason that I left two days behind my parents to head to Missouri was because I had to take my CAAP exam for English 102. So, the night before, I packed my suitcase, put together all of my necessities and readied myself for the day. I got up, went to school, took my exam (don't ask, it was horrible), then politely drove across the street from UNLV to McCarran International Airport to fly out to Missouri. I won't go into how much I hate Southwest Airlines. Being shipped like cattle across the country was never to my liking, but sufficed to say, the airplane that was to take me to Denver was delayed, then some poor schmuck had some kind of medical problem on the plane which delayed us even further, resulting in me having to run the length of a football field to catch my connecting flight to Kansas City as it was pulling away from the gate. My name was being called over the intercom in the Denver airport as I held up my ticket to the attendant at the gate and yelled "Wait for me!!!!" as the attendant took my ticket, I ran down the jet-way, only to find myself seated between Bessie the Cow and Shamu. Oh yeah, the flight itself to Kansas City was an adventure in itself.
After landing in KC, I ducked out the doors really fast for my first cigarette in close to 8 hours. I had run out of Nicorette gum half way through the trip, so I was ready to knock the head off of the next poor fool that crossed me the wrong way. As I lit up, I looked around and realized, my parents weren't there. So, after taking about 8 minutes to enjoy my cigarette, I gathered up my belongings and headed for baggage claim, all the while, looking for my parents.
After finding my bag and pulling it off of the baggage claim belt, my mother found me and what gripped me with terror straight off the bat is that she told me they were at the airport alone. Ok, first thing, my parents live in Vegas too. They have not the dimmest, dullest notion of the roads in Missouri, so I got ticked straight away: who in their right minds would allow my 68 and 66 year old Father and Mother out on unfamiliar roadways in the middle of the night? My flight landed at 9:30pm! How in the hell are they supposed to know where they are going!? That's dangerous, and given my parents, VERY dangerous. Some genius decided to give my parents one of those GPS devices, which by the way, are excruciatingly confusing, not to mention, annoying. The one that my parents were equipped with had a female British voice that sounded like she had just smoked a half-ton of marijuana. The chick sounded STONED, I kid you not! After helping my dad put my suitcase in the trunk, I sat in the backseat of the car with my head in my hands thinking of a moment out of the movie "Twister" where the character 'Rabbit' played by Alan Ruck (the guy who played Cameron in Ferris Bueller's Day Off) ... says "We're going to take a walk in the woods", followed by Helen Hunt's and Bill Paxton's characters saying "Dear God...".
Of course, after a day of travel, me on a plane and my parents on the highway, we were all famished. So we stopped before we commenced the long drive at an IHOP for steak and eggs which were not of Vegas quality to say the least *shudder*. But, thankfully, we did stop because there was not an ounce of food or drink to be had until the next morning.
So, we finally got on the freeway that would take 2 hours to get us to Backwash, um, I mean Blackwater, Mo. As we drove along, I looked out of the windows and up at the sky. The one thing that struck me immediately was all of the stars. It had been years since I had seen so many! From my apartment balcony, I can maybe make out a constellation or two, but nothing on the scope or scale that I saw out of the car window that night. Stars that I had all but forgotten were there. My mother asked me a passing question after I had noted to them about what I was seeing and I pointed out to her the constellation Orion. In all my years of stargazing I never knew my mother had never known the constellation Orion, nor the Orion nebula. So I helped her find it in the sky. She remarked about it later on in the week that she had learned that, which was so sweet, she relishes new knowledge like a child with a brand new toy. I can't help but be proud that that is one of my mom's greatest qualities.
But then the car started to swerve. "Lordy!", I hollered from the backseat. My father was falling asleep at the wheel. That tore it for me, I was severely pissed off that some jerk put my parents and I in a dangerous situation by not getting off their lazy ass to drive them in to pick me up or someone not being blunt enough to say, "Sheri, rent a car." I could have gotten there on my own, but nooooo, they just had to pick me up. So, with the swerve and several jerks of the wheel by my dad, I looked at my parents and said, "Enough! I'm driving. Daddy, pull over." So, Dad pulled over and I got behind the wheel. Not two seconds after I got behind the wheel and Daddy was tucked into the backseat, what do I hear? Daddy snoring. Good thing I pulled us over and took the wheel because that sweet man would have killed us had he driven a moment longer. As I started to drive, I realized that it was no small wonder the man was passing out, there is nothing to look at on that road! It's literally making your eyes search for the next mile marker on the freeway, because that's all there is! No roadway lighting, no signs, billboards, NOTHING. I mean this is some serious nowhere happening. Not even the slightest bit of light pollution. It's pitch black. My eyes immediately started to hurt and dared to have me go cross-eyed as I drove. You have to make your eyes search the landscape for anything to keep you aware and awake. I even teetered on passing out behind the wheel, and in my 22 years of driving on the planet, I've never fallen asleep behind the wheel. It's impossible for me, so that says a lot that I was falling asleep too.
But, before the Missouri Sandman could get me, there it was, Exit 89 that would take us to Blackwater on a road called "K". Now, the other thing about being in the sticks...they don't have numbers on their roads! It's letters! I saw a road called "Y", another one called "DD" not to be confused with just "D" or the cup size of a bra. There was an entire alphabet before my eyes. I thought at that moment that my beloved Momeraths from Lewis Carrol had come to get me. I was positive that I had fallen down the rabbit hole that headed straight for Wonderland, and given the four days that would follow, I wasn't far wrong.
So, we finally arrived in Blackwater. I had told my sister's boyfriend, Carl, about Blackwater and summed it up concisely as, "Imagine a road in the middle of nowhere. Now, put 5 or 6 buildings on either side of the street that are all connected, and you've got Blackwater." My description is deadly accurate.
Now, this is a photo of the hotel my nephew runs and where I stayed for my adventure. It's called The Iron Horse. Now, what you don't see, is that if the photographer would have turned 180 degrees to photograph what is behind him, you'd be looking at a set of railroad tracks and beyond that, corn and soy fields as far as the eye can see. Yes. I said RAILROAD TRACKS. And oh are they busy.
We arrived in Blackwater around 2am Missouri time because of our pit stop for food. Getting out of the car and being grateful that the drive was over, Dad and I carried my suitcase up the stairs of the Iron Horse and I flopped down on the bed of my room for just a moment to take a breather. Afterwards, I opened my suitcase, put on my pajamas, hung my clothes for the wedding and curled up with a little bit of Kenyon to ease my mind to sleep.
Like a scene out of "My Cousin Vinny", the warning lights and bells at the railroad tracks next to the hotel started to flash and ding and I watched in disbelief as the fringe on the bedside lampshade started to gently sway. A train, with it's horn blaring, roared past the hotel at 3am. I couldn't help but cover my face with the book and just laugh. I was truly in the sticks and I was going to be stuck there for another 3 days. Oh and don't worry, the train thing? Yeah, it's an all the time thing, trains come roaring past that place at all hours of the day and night. It's not so bad really, when they renovated the hotel in the '90's they were smart enough to add padding to the walls so you didn't feel like you were physically on the train when it came rumbling past. However, the lamps still shake a bit. So yeah, there's Sheri in the middle of a scene from My Cousin Vinny with a book over my face laughing hysterically. I was in hell.
So, I finally managed to get to sleep. If another train came by, I would have never known it, I was dead to the world until, at around 7am Vegas time (which is 9am Missouri time), a small set of feet, stomping around in the dining room below, woke me up. 7am?!?!!??! 7 fricking AM?! I don't move before 9am if not 11am! I laid there going, "what the hell is going on!" Knowing that I had to take my levothyroxine, I slowly moved from the bed, put on my fleece jacket and went on a search for some kind of juice to take my pill with. For the first time in a year, I stumbled upon my nephew. With hair that looked like I had put my finger in an electrical socket and grumbling the word "juice", I hugged my sweet boy. Don't worry, he's used to seeing me like that and knows full well that mornings don't agree with me in the least. He had been sitting at the breakfast table with my sister and a few other folks, and my sister, with a little too much happiness in her voice from seeing me in such a disheveled state said, "Sher, you going to join us for breakfast?" At that point, all that ran through my head was, "F. U. lady." Then I gained a slight bit of coherency as I thought, "Breakfast? Yeah right, cigarette first, more sleep, then I'll consider food after my pill has been absorbed into my system." But instead of saying what was exactly on my mind, I just simply replied, "Sorry Nan, gotta let my pill go down before I can eat." So I took my pill, stumbled out onto the back veranda for my cigarette then plunged myself back into the bed for another hour. Well, at least I tried to sleep. With the constant footsteps of a youngster stomping at the ground like he was on a patch of fire ants, I knew I wasn't going to sleep again, but damn if I didn't try. After gaining some more coherency, I went to the bathroom to bathe.
OK, now the one thing about staying in an antique hotel is that you have to be ready for the antiques, and oh boy did I get saddled with one. The bathroom, well, let's just use the phrase Indoor Outhouse, which is harsh in the extreme, but the closest thing I can describe the nature of the bathroom, and by the looks of it, that bathroom was aching to be the bane of my existence. It had a lovely marble sink in the corner, but the bathtub was a whole other issue. It was one of those beautiful old porcelain tubs with ornate feet, but beauty aside, the problem lied within the fact that the thing was only about 3 feet long. The first thing I said when I saw the beautiful brass fixtures along with a beautiful saddle for the shower-head attached to a brass hose was, "Where's the shower curtain?" Nope, no shower curtain. So how the hell was I supposed to bathe in this 19th century jalopy without hosing down the whole bathroom?! To sit in it, yep, you guessed it, I knew with my 34" inseam, the only way I could possibly fit would be to have my knees at my chin practically. I looked at the tub and said, "Oh, this is going to be fun." But, I needed to bathe and this old jalopy was going to get me clean come hell or high water! So, I started by battling it out with the drain plug which didn't seem to want to fit and kept popping out, then to submerge my head to be able to wash my hair? First, you'd probably ask, why didn't you use the shower head? Oh that was real easy, it had about as much water pressure as a weak squirt gun. It would have taken an hour just to get my head wet and I wasn't about to spend 2 hours in a porcelain prison. So, the only other alternative I had was to submerge my head under water in the tub. But, being that the tub was so small, I had to scootch my butt all the way to the end of the tub and with feet in the air, finally got my head under water. Let's just say that I had to use all of my creativity to get clean and leave it at that.
Clean and feeling oddly limber, I headed downstairs to face the family. Oh yes, four fun-filled days with people who enjoy belittling you. That's my idea of fun! *rolleyes* But, for the sake of The Boy, I was going to handle it. I've got great survival skills and weeks like those are the ones where they pay off the most. It wasn't long until the negativity started flying, and that's the beauty of families like mine, they never fail to disappoint when they immediately start in on the smallest details that they don't like. I'm just as bad as they are sometimes too, as you've seen with the bathroom adventure, but I try to see the comedy in things while they take negativity to a whole new level. So with that in mind, I crossed the street to the small apartment my parents were being housed in. Lucky for me, a nice girl who works for my nephew had brought over a wonderful breakfast of eggs, bacon and hash browns, so I got to eat breakfast and spend some time with my Dad. We had a lovely talk, he filled me in on all the goods that had been happening since their arrival on Tuesday up until my arrival Thursday night. The tales of my sister and mother cleaning the Iron Horse and how filthy things were (according to them) and so forth came from my Dad, and he did what I did, shrugged and said, "Well, that's them" and just took things at their face value, not bothering to upset ourselves with details that just didn't need to be observed or much less worried about. That's what I love about my father, he's so easy going, he doesn't sweat the small stuff when the whole point to the trip was to see my nephew.
After breakfast, it was time to head into Columbia to get nails done. Now, what's funny about this is that I like to be prepared, it makes no difference if it's for school, raiding in World of Warcraft, being organized at the apartment, I live by a simple ethos: Be prepared and pee before you leave. I mean that's as simple as it gets, so before I stepped toe one on the plane, my nails were done, my eyebrows and lip were waxed, my clothes were ready and I was prepared for battle. My sister asked if I needed to have my nails done and I held up my freshly manicured nails and said, "Nope, I came prepared, flasked and buffed too." Now, those who don't play WoW will never get that reference in a million years. The flask and buff reference is one that comes from 2 years of raiding in World of Warcraft. Flasks are special potions that your character drinks that give you extra stats to help you win the day. Buffs are like flasks, but they're spells instead of consumables. So it was my way of saying that I got on the plane prepared, that I needed no extra things to get me through the week. So, as my Mom, Dad, Sister and my sister's best friend Lexie headed into the nail salon, I promptly made my way outside for a cigarette and a stop at the bookstore.
Being as I had almost finished the Kenyon that I had started just 2 days previous, I knew I was going to need a new one to get me home, so I purchased Vane and Bride's story "Night Play" plus a little black journal to write notes for my blog. Afterwards, I headed back to the nail salon to find my family still being primped and preened for the wedding the next day, so I sat outside the salon scribbling notes in my new journal and reading a few passages out of the book I had just purchased. Just then, the lack of sleep was getting to me, I nearly fell asleep in the chair reading, so I got up to check on everyone. Linda and Lexie were under the nail dryers and Mom and Dad were being finished up. With a new coat of clear on his nails, my father pranced around and in a high falsetto voice went "Wooo! Look at me girls!" Fighting the urge to put my palm over my face, I laughed and just moved on. I sat on a pedicure chair next to my sister, letting their conversations become a fuzzy white noise in the background. All I wanted at that moment was my new chair, my desk and a cigarette because it was getting painful. But, that wouldn't be for another two days, so I put it out of my mind and followed the herd into JC Penney's for accessories shopping.
So, with nails done and accessories in tow, it was time to head back to get ready for the rehearsal dinner. Not one but two trains rolled past the hotel and shook me back into coherency as I changed clothes, lobbed a piece of Nicorette in my mouth and prepared for the impending battle ahead.
"Why was it a battle Sheri?" you may ask. Ok, let's set it up. We know full well what happened with me and my ex. Go back 2 years and it's the same story for my sister. We both caught our husbands texting on their cell phones to their new girlfriends. Both men cheated on us several times and finally we separated from them. There's more dirty laundry in it than that, but I'm not going to go into further details, it's just not worth it. So sufficed to say, my sister was going to have to deal with her ex-husband and new wife. Ok, let me just say this, my ex-brother-in-law's new wife...oh my gods! Haggis. Now, I use the term "haggis" because, one, the bitch just looked like a hag, and second she reminded me of the scottish dish Haggis. Ok, it's sheep's stomach kids...get the visual? Ok, let's move on. Eeek...oh that woman takes ugly to a whole new level, but what's worse of all is that she's the town whore...she's broken up six marriages, then she lands my ex-brother-in-law. You know, if I've said it once, I've said it 1000 times, "The human race never fails to disappoint me." The guy I wanted to have as my big brother and who I thought was a pretty cool guy goes and steps on his whatevers. Meanwhile, all of the people who know my sister are just flocking to her like she's the second coming of Christ and the whole time I'm sitting there going, "Alcohol. I need alcohol. Now." So, we go through the rehearsal, dirty looks fly back and forth, snide remarks, the whole shebang...I just wanted to slit my wrists and get out of there, but then, as I was making my preparations for hari-kari, there he was, the absolute reason for my existence and the redeeming nutritional value of the whole trip, my nephew. Standing against a wall with the same pained look I had, I knew that my sweet boy was in as much pain as I was and at that moment I couldn't hold him to tell him it was going to be all better. He didn't look happy at all and that is what broke my heart the most.
Leaving the church to head for the rehearsal dinner, my nephew pulled up in his car and I hollered "It's the Roach!", the name of his Mazda 3. He looked at me and said, "Wanna ride in the Roach?" and I happily jumped in the car with my sweet boy. We talked on our way to the pizza parlor that was housing the rehearsal dinner and he related his disappointments and pain at what was happening, but that he was happy to see me and I grilled him on when he was going to come see me again, you know, the regular Aunt/Nephew discussions. I asked him if he was happy with his bride to be and so forth and he told me he was the happiest he'd ever been in his life with her, and that was enough for me. I already liked my new niece, she's spunky, has a lot of fire and just seems like a really good girl for my sweet boy. So, she was anointed, if my nephew was my Sweet Boy, then his bride would be my Sweet Girl. We arrived at the pizza parlor and visited a bit more while waiting for my parents to show up, you could tell he just wanted the whole fiasco over with and ready to get on with the rest of his life.
Entering the pizza parlor, my ex-brother-in-law and his new family were sitting on one side of the room, so my sister took it upon herself to put as much distance between them and us as possible, seating us on the furthest side of the room from them. It broke my heart to see my nephew looking at that situation, having to choose sides in a battle that wasn't his fault to begin with, however, everyone was nice to each other, and everyone took turns traversing the room between the two of them. My sweet girl came over and talked with me quite a bit. We talked about the cake, the little details and I asked how she was. I listened to her talk and hung on every word. It was wonderful to get to spend time with my young people, they made a bee-line to me and gave me as much love as they could with the limited time we had together. But, the night had to come to an end, and we all adjourned back to the Iron Horse for bed.
As usual, a train went rumbling by and heralded the day of the wedding. Like a scene out of "Father of the Bride", I had a Steve Martin monologue going in my head, including the comedy of the bathtub again. I sat down and wrote my nephew and bride's card, reminding them to savor every day together, you know the typical Aunt to children routine that is normal for me, and before I went to battle the tub, my sister poked her head in the door and asked me if I wanted to go have my hair done. Now in my 38 years on the planet, except the one wedding where I was the bride, I don't trust my hair to someone I don't know. So I declined the offer and knew that I would be fine. I'm just the Aunt, I'm not the mother or the grandmother, I don't need all that frou-frou and rah-rah. I was there for The Boy, my hair would be just fine with me doing it myself. (And I have to admit, I did look great.) By the time my sister got back from the salon, it was time to go to the church, and we had to be there obscenely early. Why? Because they took the pictures BEFORE the ceremony! Ok, stop. Who does that? Seeing the bride before the wedding? I once again fought the urge to face palm. But, this was The Boy's show. If that's how he wanted it, who am I to say otherwise? So, the pictures snapped on as I stood in uncomfortable shoes, chomping on Nicorette, repeating the mantra, "The Boy. This is for The Boy." I'll cut off my own arms before I ever see him disappointed or upset, so I kept my mouth shut and smiled.
I hate weddings. Ever since I've been through marriage and came out on the other side, I detest weddings with a passion. I could go on about the needlessness of marriage and the horrors that go with it, but, as I said, this was for The Boy's wedding, that's what he wanted, so I kept my eyerolling to myself, even though Haggis showed up in white. You know, my family and I are kind of old-school when it comes to weddings. If you're going to a wedding, any fop would know that if you're a woman, if you're not the bride, you DO NOT wear any sort of white, not white shoes, not a white belt and most certainly not a white ruffled shirt. But there's my ex-brother-in-law's new wife wearing white so bright it'd blind you. Oy veh! How I wanted to face palm! But, I focused on The Boy.
As we waited for the pictures to wrap up, I stood there wishing that I really was my Night Elf Druid "Relyimah". I wished with all my heart that I could put my hands up over my head and cast "Gift of the Wild" on myself.
I would have enjoyed getting 750 extra armor, increased my intelligence, beauty and grace by 37 and had a bigger bullshit resistance for an hour. Enough fantasy though, let's get back to the goods.
Then it came time to be seated. Now here's the fun part sweethearts. My nephew, in his wonderful wisdom, came up with a plan. (Oh that child is so mine, I love him so much.) He figured out that if you put my ex-brother-in-law next to my sister, there was going to be ugliness. He didn't trust them to keep their hands to themselves, so he came up with the idea of the "Buffer Zone", which consisted of his two Aunts. Well, Lexie really isn't his aunt, but she is my sister's best friend, so she's an Aunt too. He had my ex-brother-in-law and Haggis seated first, then Lexie (who he's known for the last 20 years) then me, then my sister's boyfriend, then my sister. It was genius. For it to get ugly, they would have had to go through me and Lexie to get to one another, so there was no chance of that, Lexie and I were like two sentinels ready to lay the smackdown on anyone who got any ideas in their heads. Lucky for us though, everyone played nice, keeping their hands to themselves (although I did see my ex-brother-in-law sneaking a few longing glances at my sister). But best part for me, it resulted in a front row seat.
As the ceremony began, the minister just had to throw in the "We know that according to the Bible, marriage is a union between a man and a woman." Lexie grabbed my hand as I popped my knuckles at politics in the middle of a wedding, besides the fact that I have tons of gay friends who would like to get married too and are better couples than most heterosexual couples I know. But, on the ceremony went, prayers and all. Now, everyone knows I'm athiest. I sat there through the beseeching of the flying spaghetti monster to bless the two youngsters. Good wishes are one thing, but the whole religious thing made me want to puke. But, I sat quietly, repeating my mantra, "The Boy. This is for The Boy." and just got through it.
The one thing that will stick to me about the whole wedding is when the vows came up. The kids wrote their own. My nephew was first up when he promised her that he'd work hard to provide for her, that he'd make sure she got an equal share of the covers and when she's sick he'd stir the chicken noodle soup for her. He did his vows in his Aunt's style, with plenty of humor that beautified the seriousness of the vows he was taking. Then my new niece said hers. Now here's where you need to get out the tissue, because I can't think about it without tearing up. That darling girl took out her piece of paper and as she started to speak, I heard myself. She said, "Ryan, you taught me..." about the things I had taught my nephew as good life lessons that could have never possibly come out of anyone else on either side of his family except me. How life needed to be savored, each moment cherished. That through good and bad you have to be strong and have the will to see things through, how love is beautiful and worth sharing every day. That sweet girl stood there and channeled me almost verbatim. My words came pouring out of that sweet girl's mouth. I started to cry because I realized that for all the times I never got to be with him, all the skinned knees I missed, all of the heartbreak that I wasn't there for because he lived so far away, that when I did get to speak to him, he heard and took to heart every little bit of wisdom I could give him. I sat there realizing what an impact I've made on that young man's life and how much my darling boy loves me. It's still overwhelming to think about, much less write about, because I knew that my sister had written me out of his life long ago because I was viewed by her as a bad influence and a horrible person. But my sweet boy knew. He heard me when I explained to him how some people, not by their own doing, are just broken and that he can't take their words to heart because he was having to fight their emotional baggage, not his own, and that he couldn't let it affect him.
After the wedding, I walked up to the boy and asked him, "Sweet Boy, I think I'm crazy." He looked at me and said, "Why's that?", and I replied, "Because, I was sitting at the wedding, and I could have sworn that all of the words that came out of her mouth for her vows were mine." He smiled broadly and said, "You're not crazy." I almost collapsed into tears, but I didn't. I held it together, grabbed my new niece and held her tight and said, "You're mine now." I could tell that she was really happy I said that, because there is nothing more thrilling to a new bride than to have her groom's family welcome her with open arms and claim her as their own. I like that girl. Can you blame me? I'm an old egotist I guess, but if those kids live by the words I gave them, I'll just be tickled pink and hope that each one serves them well.
During the reception, I took in a bit too much to drink and before I did anything that would require me to remove my foot from my mouth, I adjourned up to my room. Besides, I felt really out of place because I really didn't know anyone and it was after all, the sweet couple's night and I didn't want to disturb it. So, I went upstairs and passed out, hearing a train coming and giggling as the lampshade fringe swayed.
The final morning arrived, and barring the fact that I had finally "tamed the tub", I packed my suitcase and got ready to go. In the hallway, standing together were my Sweet Boy and Sweet Girl. I don't think I've ever had tighter hugs from either of them before. You could tell that The Boy and I wanted to spend more time together, but we both knew it would have to wait for another time. I let them know how proud I was of the both of them and that they are my beautiful children that would always have an endless supply of love from me. As we said our goodbyes, I tried hard not to cry. But, life keeps moving forward, and as a heavy rain started to fall on the awnings of the Iron Horse, we set out on the two hour drive that would finally get my family and I on a plane home, complete with a really annoying Garmin GPS unit who was bossier than hell. "Turn right, turn left, do a U-turn." Yep, that was the story of the week.
It's taken me an entire week, lots of sleep, 3 classes and a deep seated wish for Xanax to recover from my adventure, but oh, it is so good to be alive.