Thursday, March 29, 2012

Chapter 1

I will call myself Maria. I can't use my real name here, for reasons which should become apparent soon. Back in the '90s, my life was good. Sure, there were rumblings about bad times ahead and things weren't exactly perfect, they never are. Still, I was quite happy. I was with a wonderful man who had a very good job. We had money and owned a home in a big city. I was very fortunate to have been born into a time and place that allowed me to get a university degree, so I also had a high-paying job in an organization where not many other women had the same benefit. This made it possible for the two of us to fine dine and travel the world. But then, after 15 years together, he was diagnosed with an incurable cancer and passed away nine months later.

That is when I started to become aware of how scary our neighborhood had become. During the day it was fine; all the neighbors knew each other. We were all friends. But at night there were always sirens, sometimes gun shots. I would get up in the middle of the night and look out to see cars I'd never seen before. There were people I didn't know, walking the streets. As a woman alone I began to be very uncomfortable living in this scenario, so I decided I needed to move.

I had always wanted to live in that beautiful country to the north of me. Oh, land of the free, equal rights for all, how wonderful it must be to live in such a place.
Over the years I had become an active member of a fun, liberal, online forum where people from all over would discuss what was going on in politics, science, and religion, among other things. They always seemed so wise and well-read. I made many friends there and one in particular was very attentive to me. Like me, Chuck was a total pacifist who cherished all God's creatures. He loved the outdoors and being able to walk around naked in the wilderness, which he was often able to do because he lived in that aforementioned country. I agreed that I would like to be able to do the same. He always made me laugh. Then, when I was dealing with my husband dying, he respectfully stayed away.

About a year later, though, Chuck sent me an e-mail asking how I was doing. I told him all about what I was going through with settling the estate, planning to sell the house, and getting rid of most of my personal belongings so it would be easier to relocate. Since Chuck lived close to the border he suggested I come for a little weekend vacation, get away from my problems for a few days. What a wonderful idea! So I bought a plane ticket.

I was so thrilled to be going there, getting away from the city for a bit. After landing in a huge airport and getting through customs, I then found myself on a 20-seater airplane headed for a small airport in Northview. It was my first time in a small plane and I am quite sure there are still finger indentations in the armrest where I was hanging on for dear life while reciting what I could recall of the Rosary. But after the turbulent flight, we arrived quite safely. Only Chuck wasn't there.
I told myself not to panic, it was probably just a traffic problem somewhere. But after half an hour I did start to freak out because the little airport was now almost deserted. The car rental desk had closed down until the following day. The cafe was being cleaned, chairs placed upside down on the table tops. I started looking around for a pay phone to call a cab.

I finally spotted a phone booth outside. As I went out the door I noticed a truck pulling into the parking lot. It looked like the truck he had described to me and I thought, "Thank God!" I went towards it and saw this guy get out and comb his long, silvery hair into a ponytail. I swear, I got weak in the knees. This was the most gorgeous man I had ever seen in my life. In a sleeveless shirt and cut-offs, his tanned, muscular body glistened in the sun. He had smiling, hazel eyes. "Chuck?"

He seemed surprised to see me and said he expected to find me inside. I mentioned that the inside seemed to be closing down now since the plane had landed about 45 minutes ago. His reply, "Oh. Is it that late? I got stuck in traffic on the freeway. I don't wear a watch."

That seemed good enough to me so I threw my bag into the truck and away we went. It was just before noon so we drove around for several hours and he showed me the sights and talked, and talked, and talked. At one point he apologized and told me he was a bit of a chatterbox. I told him I didn't mind at all. He was charming and funny and I was totally enjoying myself for the first time in a long time.

One of the things he talked about was how he wanted to move out into the woods and live off-grid. He was 55 then and was expecting a pension later and he was sure this was something he could do. He had lots of construction experience and had been studying all about solar power. He said he thought that the world was about to go to hell and the only way to survive was to get as far away from civilization as possible. I couldn't help but agree with him.

I suggested he move to my country; it was cheaper to live there. He told me how much he'd really love to but he couldn't. There were some things on his permanent record that wouldn't allow him out of the country. That caused me some concern, but he explained, "I got caught shoplifting once. And I have a DUI that involved a pretty nasty accident. I almost died. So I just have to stay where I am." Since I have no similar experiences in my background, I figured he was speaking the truth.

We finally reached the motel where I had made reservations and I put my things away. He had recommended this motel as it was right on a lake. The view was really beautiful. The rooms were individual little cabins with a living room and bedroom. I had noticed there was a Mexican restaurant a block away and I was starting to feel very hungry at this point. So I suggested we go get something to eat.

He replied that he should just go home as he had no money. He had lost his job a few weeks ago but he didn't tell me about it before because he just wanted me to have a good time. I told him I would have a good time if he would join me for a meal and I was happy to pay for it. So off we went. We walked.

At the restaurant I suggested we have margaritas. He said, "No, I have to drive home and I never drink and drive now."

"Oh, good for you! Look, here's an idea. We'll have some drinks and food and walk back to the motel. Then you can sleep on the couch, which I was told folds out into a bed. In the morning I'll buy you breakfast and we'll have one more nice day together before I have to go back tomorrow evening."

So, that's what we did. After supper we opened up the couch bed and he fell into it and fast asleep. I went to my bed. I awoke in the middle of the night and looked in on him. He was softly snoring to the light of the TV, so I went in and sat down in a chair by the bed and looked at him. What a beautiful man he was. How did he fit into my future? I just sat and watched him for about 20 minutes. Then I went back to my room.

The next day we spent most of the time just hanging around by the lake, talking, until it was time for me to go. He told me all about his past. He had been married, long ago. He'd owned his own business, automotive repair, and had been working hard to save up enough money so they could buy a house. This meant he was at work most of the time and one day, out of the blue, his wife said she wanted a divorce. She had met someone else.

Chuck was devastated. On the day he signed the divorce papers he threw a few belongings into his car and went to California. He hung around the southern beaches and had quite the wild time for several years. He eventually grew tired of it and moved back to Northview, where he had lived long ago, and was now trying to start over. He had lost his business and all his tools to the ex, so he was really starting over from scratch. But he was determined to get back into his previous financial position so he could buy property out in the woods.

Although he talked like he was one of those “survivalist” types, he was quick to point out that he would never resort to buying guns. Guns only brought trouble, he said. Plus, he had no interest in hunting because he was not capable of harming a flea. Well, a fly maybe. Or a mosquito, but nothing else, no way. I told him about a boyfriend I had once, long ago, who always claimed he was a pacifist and hated guns. One day I thought I'd be nice and tidy up his apartment before he got home from work. I found two guns in the back of his closet, and a stash of porn. That was the end of that relationship.

When we got back to the airport, Chuck didn't want to come in with me so he dropped me off at the entrance. We talked in the truck for a bit and he gave me phone numbers of his parents and others who I should call if I had any trouble at the border. And then he kissed me, softly, gently, on the lips. Then he did it again. Ohhhhhh.

Chapter 2

Back to the grind, then. This was the time instant messaging was becoming popular and we found ourselves chatting constantly, sometimes for hours on end. One day I received an urgent message from him. He told me he was about to be evicted from his apartment. They had raised his rent a few months prior and he wasn't able to pay it now on his unemployment benefits. He hadn't paid for three months and he knew the sheriff was coming for him. He had to throw what he could into his truck and take off. So, goodbye for now. He would be in touch whenever it was possible. It was six months before I heard from him again.

His message:
            You're my first!
I finally got my internet back and you are the first person I'm writing to. I got out of town and went north about 60 miles to the smaller town of Whispering Springs, up in the mountains where I lived once long ago and still have lots of friends. I am living as the caretaker on a great property out in the woods.
The owner, Bill, is only here in the summers. He has a really nice little log cabin and he needed someone to help out with the property, 80 acres, and keep an eye on it while he's away. This is great! I had a phone line put in and ran my own line from the electric pole. I give Bill $150 a month to pay for the electricity. There is a fresh water spring nearby and a river to fish in.
I managed to find a camper for the back of my truck and a 13 foot travel trailer and I have set them up with an enclosed space in between where I have put in a wood stove. One of my walls is all thermo pane glass that I found at the dump so I can just sit by my fire and stare out into the woods. I ran hoses from the spring so I have running water inside and I have a really great outhouse set up outside. I think you would approve.
I told him I had found a buyer for my house, was about to quit my job, and in about five months time I would be moving north to a border town and staying with a cousin. I had sold off everything except some clothes, linens, dishes, tools, small furniture, and the music, books and art that were most important to me. He told me how much he loved music and books and it was good that I kept those.

We went back to connecting every day, talking about this and that. He started sending me pictures of his place there in Whispering Springs. It was so beautiful, so many trees. He would also send pictures of meals he had made. One of his favorites was eggs on toast with tomato, onions, and cheese. He was even growing his own tomatoes and onions. What a great life.

Five months later came the day he sent the message that would change my life. 


Chapter 3

Hi, Maria. I just found out that the property across the road from me here is for sale. It's 30 acres with an old house on it. It has its own well and septic, and already has electric and phone lines on it. There's also a creek and I think there's a spring somewhere. This is absolutely a place you could go naked all the time and not worry about being seen.
You never really told me how much money you have but I think this might be a place you could afford. Do you want me to get more information on it?

Now, I had most assuredly told him how much money I had, and how much I was getting for the house I was selling. But, I decided he must have just forgotten, him being so busy and all. Clearly how much money I had was not an issue for him. He likes me for who I am; we have so much in common.

I asked him to please make an appointment with the realtor, look at the house and report back to me. I would pay him for his time. He did this and sent back a very meticulous Excel spreadsheet describing everything. He'd obviously spent hours working on this. There was a large barn and storage shed on the property. The house had a lot of problems due to its age, but I already knew, deep inside, that I would probably go for it. I have fixed up old houses before.

Things were getting worse in the world; I had read about upcoming water wars and really wanted to have my own source. I was truly in self-survival mode at this point. Sometimes it was like I could hear this message coming from somewhere far away: GET OUT NOW, spooky voice and all.

At the end of September I once again flew up to Northview. This time I had a rental car arranged and drove to the small town of Whispering Springs. I went to Chuck's new place, which was about 3 miles away from town, and I spent a few hours there admiring all of his accomplishments. I felt so at peace there. He really had put together a warm, comfortable place for “nothing.” I was quite impressed. Bill had already departed for the winter so I didn't get to meet him. Then I went to look at the property with the realtor.

The house was old and funky but had a certain charm to it. Built in 1935, it was two levels with 3 tiny rooms and the bathroom upstairs. Downstairs was a large kitchen, a dining room and a small living room. The windows and wiring looked to be originals from '35. There were no appliances. The property, though, oh my, so beautiful.

There were a few scattered houses across the road, but all around the property was protected forest land. There were acres and acres of trees. Every window in the house had a beautiful view. It was so wonderfully quiet, mostly all you could hear were birds singing. The air smelled of pine. I made a low offer on the asking price.

We picked up some food and went to the local motel where I had reservations, a long row of units that looked out onto a lake. I had also bought us some beer, our favorite drink, to mellow out with, and mellow out we did. We discussed the house at length. I was concerned about the rope wiring which was exposed in many areas. He said it would be easy enough to fix, just open a wall here and there.

I would probably want to open some of the walls anyway, to free up some space which was pretty tight. The wall by the stairway should be taken out to allow more light into the kitchen. Actually the whole stairway should be replaced as the steps were steep and narrow, definitely not up to current code.

It would be great to put a cistern in the basement and capture rain water. Of course solar panels would be a necessity. He explained what I should look for as far as size and price. There were so many plans to be made, so much to be done; I was deliriously happy.

Later, we were sitting on the couch, feet on the coffee table, door open, staring out at the lake. Suddenly he jumped up and ran towards the door and stomped something. I asked, “Cockroach?”

No, a damn cricket.”

I said, “Why would you kill a cricket? Crickets don't hurt anything. Some people even consider them to be good luck. You could have just kicked him out the door.”

A cricket in here would drive us crazy, chirping all night. We'd never get any sleep.”

I said, “Ah, our first argument. How will it end?”

It ends by me going to bed.”

Okay, I'm going to take a bath. It's been kind of a long, stressful day for me.”

Enjoy yourself. I'll take a shower in the morning.”

I had a nice soak with some bath oil, candles, music, a beer. Then, sweet sleep. I woke up later in the night to find him tossing and turning, seeming anguished. I wondered, 'What demons haunt this poor man?”
The next morning I called the realtor to be told my offer had been accepted! So we had a very busy day, signing papers, opening a bank account, transferring funds. Before I left that night I asked Chuck to be my property manager, until I could return, and he accepted. Everything that day was so easy. All signs told me I was doing the right thing. What could possibly go wrong now? Nothing. 


Friday, July 29, 2011

Chapter 4

The next few months were a whirl of activity for me. I had to let all my friends and family know about my big move. I did a lot of research on tax laws. I had to learn a new monetary system and try to be conversant with both the USA and metric systems. I got a thorough check up and a tetanus shot. Busy, busy.

I called and spoke to an immigration lawyer who told me my chances for citizenship were slim due to my rather advanced age, unless I got married or found a high-level job. Not many jobs in Whispering Springs but I still had a powerful feeling that this was what I was supposed to be doing. I had made a major investment and I would just have to wait and see how it worked out. All I wanted was to live surrounded by the glory of nature, with good friends close by, and have my ecological footprint be as small as possible to make up for all the resources I had used up in my life.

Meanwhile, another dire e-mail came from Chuck. He said he feared for his life. Bill had returned and was throwing him off the property. Bill was a cocaine dealer and evil. He and his ex-wife had tried to kill Chuck a few times. I should never, ever have anything to do with these people, in spite of the fact they were now my neighbors. I took that warning to heart.
Happily, Chuck soon found a new place to live, a tiny shack behind another house in town. He was making it work for himself. He was on welfare now so he had to live very frugally, but he was doing it. Our emails started ending with hearts or flowers. Now it was coming on Christmas.

I was ready to make my first road trip up with some belongings in my van. It was an 18-hour drive and thanks to friends and family I knew which side roads to take and which highways were the quickest. So it was a pleasant drive, lots of scenery and not much traffic for most of the time. I spent a night in a lovely resort hotel. I did lose a few hours at the border while my van was searched. But all my papers were in order, so no problemo.

Once, when we were chatting, Chuck had mentioned that his feet were so cold in his new place. So for Christmas I bought him a pair of handmade, sheepskin, wool-lined slippers. They weren't cheap. I also bought him a large, beautifully illustrated book about a homesteader who built a house all by himself and lived in the wilderness, A Sand County Almanac.

I arrived at my house when I told him I would, Christmas Eve around noon, but he wasn't there. So I unloaded everything all by myself. I discovered he had set up a bedroom for himself in the house. Well, that's okay. He was doing stuff around the place. The driveway was all shoveled out of some recent snow. He had added new counter space. He put in baseboard heaters which I like. The house had previously been heated by propane and I didn't want to stay with that. They have natural gas in town but it's not available out in the woods, so I had to settle for electric heat until I could get a wood stove.

I was, of course, billed by and had paid Chuck for all his work, twenty dollars an hour. I paid him with wire transfers instead of checks. He didn't want the welfare office to find out he was making any money. Not wanting to stir up trouble for myself, I had agreed to his wishes.

Finally I was finished unloading the van and I found my way over to his new place. He was delighted to see me and had a fridge full of beer. So we had a few and talked about this and that. I asked why he hadn't been there to help me unload. He explained that he wanted me to have some alone time with my new house, to really appreciate it. Well, okay, I could see that.

Then he told me he had a big surprise. We were going to a party. It was just across the street at a friend's whom he had known for some twenty years. I was quite pleased at the idea of meeting some new people.

We went over and I was delighted to meet such fine folks. Phil and his sister, Lizzy, had 10 other brothers and sisters and the night was a constant influx of people, all wonderfully nice. No one questioned where I had come from, they were just all happy to have me here. Friends and family kept walking in the door, without knocking, shouting “Merry Christmas!” It was one of the best times I ever had.

Around midnight all the guests had departed and it was just the four of us. There was no more beer. We all agreed one more would be nice and I said that there was some across the street. I asked Chuck if it would be alright if I went and got one more for each of us. He agreed it was a good idea.

So I went and was probably gone 2 minutes at the most. I walked back into Phil's and handed out the beers. Chuck looked at me for a minute, then screamed, yes screamed, “What the hell do you think you're doing, just walking in without knocking!!?”

I was stunned. I said, “I was only gone for a minute. You knew I was coming right back. Besides, people have been walking in all night without knocking. Phil, is it okay with you that I did that?”

Phil assured me that it was, but Chuck kept on raving. He said I had no manners, that since I was from another country I obviously didn't understand proper behavior. He told me I would never survive here with that sort of attitude. Then he said he was going home and I could do whatever I wanted.

I asked Phil if it would be okay if I slept on his couch. He said, “Sure. Stay as long as you want. You're family now.”

Chuck then stormed out and I stayed to finish my beer. We talked about it a little bit and Phil said Chuck was just drunk and most likely wouldn't even remember any of it in the morning. But I could sleep there if I wanted. Heck, I could even share his bed.

I thanked him profusely but said I really needed to get back over to Chuck's, if I could get in. Phil said he would leave the door unlocked for me, but to be sure to knock first. We had a good laugh.

So I went back over and Chuck's door was unlocked; he was snoring loudly in his bed. I undressed and crawled in next to him, and we slept the night away.
We awoke Christmas morning around 8. I headed to the bathroom and Chuck headed to the fridge, to get a beer. He asked if I wanted one but I declined, saying I'd prefer coffee. He put some on and he was quite cheerful. No mention of the night before. He then made us some eggs and toast and it was all very nice.

Christmas is such an odd holiday. What other time of the year would we put a dead tree in our living room and then sit in front of it, eating candy out of our socks? Well, we actually had neither tree nor socks, but I told him I had a gift for him and he said he had one for me, too.

I was so delighted. I certainly wasn't expecting anything, what with him being on welfare and all. He insisted I open mine first. It was a set of 2 picture frames to hang on the wall. Each would hold 4 small pictures. Something for my new house. That was just so sweet of him.

Then he opened his. He looked at the house shoes and put them on. Then he stood up and looked down at them. “I wouldn't wear these. They're ugly!”

I said, “Excuse me? Those are exquisitely hand-made sheepskin. No additives, no preservatives. They are extremely warm and I thought you needed them.” He just huffed, tossed them aside, and opened the other present.

I can't keep this. Look around, I have no room in here for books. Think about it, I'm always having to move in a hurry. This would just be one more thing I'd have to worry about.” Then he chugged another beer and said he was going back to bed.

I decided I might as well drive back to my house and put some things away, so I took the book and left. I hung some pictures and emptied a few boxes, meanwhile contemplating all the events of the past 24 hours. Had it just been 24 hours? It felt like a week. Being with Chuck was obviously going to require some adjustments on my part. But I reminded myself of all the good things about him; they far outweighed the bad. In for a penny, in for a pound, I've heard said.

A couple of hours later he called and asked what I was doing. I told him and he said I should come back to his place. It was Christmas, after all, and I shouldn't be working. Besides, I was only here for two more days. So I went and he was all happy again. He was making a big pot of homemade soup.

He put some music on; he wanted me to hear his special CD of his favorite songs that he had made off the internet. The first tune was Cyndi Lauper's “Time After Time.” I had always loved that and in time it became our song. Next was Jackson's “Man In the Mirror,” another favorite of mine. Then there was a 911 recording of a woman at McDonald's who was served the wrong burger. So she called the cops. It was very funny. Next was “All Out of Love” and “Thriller,” and then a George Carlin routine. That was it.

He told me he had so many albums years ago that had all been lost. First the ones he lost to his wife, then another bunch he had in a house he was renting with some other people. One day he had come home from a camping trip and the house was empty. The roommates had all vanished along with all his stuff. Wow, this guy has had some rough experiences. I told him I had hundreds of tapes and CDs and would be more than happy to share them with him once I got all moved in.

It was pretty chilly in his place at this point and he said we needed to get naked and get in bed, where it was warm. So we spent the next 18 hours playing, laughing, touching and learning all about each others' most intimate desires. When I drove back to my country the next day, I had an ear-to-ear grin on my face that wouldn't go away. 

Friday, July 22, 2011

Chapter 5

I returned in May with a plan to stay for three months, and this time Chuck was there to meet me. There was someone else there, too. He introduced me to his life-long friend, Bernie, who lived in Northview and spent the summers hanging out in the woods in his camper, fishing, drinking, and enjoying nature. Bernie had been around for a few days, staying on the property and helping out. I was a bit stunned, to say the least, since Chuck never bothered to mention this to me, but Bernie seemed to be a genuinely nice guy. He helped me carry everything in while Chuck went off to take care of something in town. I was delighted to find that Chuck had put a small bunch of wild flowers in a vase on my table.

Then I became very enamored of Bernie when he showed me the cutting board he had installed for me under the counter. He later showed me a photo album he always had with him that had pictures of a house he had built himself some years prior, with Chuck's help. It was quite spectacular.

Chuck came back with some beer and we fired up the barbecue to make burgers. Then we were all pretty tired so we turned in early. Bernie went to his camper and Chuck and I upstairs to his room where we shared the double bed he had set up. There was no bed in my room yet, just a feather mattress and sleeping bag on the floor. 

The next morning Bernie insisted on leaving. He didn't want to be in the way and there was a lot of business that needed taking care of right away. He was off to a lake to go fishing.

The morning went well. Chuck was helpful and full of ideas about what I needed to do now. There were no appliances in the house so right away we had to drive to Northview. I bought a mini fridge, a microwave and a small freezer. He convinced me I should buy a chain saw, too, because I needed to put in a wood stove later and use the acres of wood that I own, with which I could heat my house forever.

While we were shopping we passed the restaurant where we had shared our first breakfast. It was closed down. I was surprised as the food had been good, and cheap. Another sign of the times, I guess. I said, “Oh, look. That first restaurant we had breakfast in together has closed. That was so good that morning.”

I don't remember ever eating there.”

You don't remember us eating there?”


I thought, “That's odd, I am able to remember many of the good restaurants I've eaten in over the years, probably because it's such a rare occurrence. But I am able to remember if the food was good, and I do recall the breakfast we had there. Nice memories, I keep them.” I wondered why he didn't. The whole Man/Mars Woman/Venus thing? We are different, after all. I decided that must be the answer. We remember different things. No big deal.

After we returned to Whispering Springs and put everything away, Chuck wanted us to go up the road to meet some of my neighbors. The Clines, Dan and Marie, were retired school teachers who had built this gorgeous wood home on their 100 acres and were living totally off-grid. What a fantastic place! I knew this was exactly what I wanted to do, and with the right partner, it seemed completely doable.

So we were sitting there, talking with the Clines, and I just mentioned that I had been sleeping in a sleeping bag on the floor because I didn't have a real bed. A couple of days later they came to my house with small box spring on legs, saying they hoped this would be helpful to me. My eyes teared up as I realized how wonderful this place was with such generous people around. They told me to call if I ever needed help with anything.

I spent those three months in a veritable state of bliss. I could not believe how well everything was going for me. My life had been filled with letdowns and heartbreaks, and now it appeared that everything was finally going my way. The people I had met were all so incredibly nice, and life here was so peaceful. I totally loved hiking around my property and exploring. 
Plus, Chuck set up a solar heated water system for me so I could have hot water again. He and Bernie had pulled an old 40 gallon electric water heater out of the basement, as I had no plans to use such an expensive appliance. I planned buy a smaller model sometime later. Chuck painted it black and I helped set it up on a tower he built at the back corner of the house. There is a hose going into it from the outside tap that fills it. Then a hundred feet of black hose come out which the sun heats up quite nicely. Since no one can see me there, taking a hot shower outside quickly became one of my most favorite things to do.

During this time Chuck finally found work at one of the local mills. That meant he now didn't have much time to spend with me or to help out. Faced with having several acres of yard to mow, I bought a used John Deere yard tractor. Yee haw! Do I ever love driving that around.

Chuck also convinced me to buy a farm truck he had found for sale. It was a 30-year-old Ford with 4-wheel drive and it still ran, sort of. Since Chuck had had the same kind of truck for 25 years, he assured me he would be able to keep it running forever. This was something I was definitely going to need when he started cutting wood for me. He would cut the wood up on the hill, then I could drive around and load it up to move it to the yard.

I spent a whole lot of time then tearing all the ratty carpeting out of the house. Underneath that was old, stained linoleum, which I also removed. Under that I found layers of newspaper from the '50s. I sometimes lost hours reading through them. They were in pretty good shape and Chuck told me I should save them. Later I could go through them and cut out pictures and ads while he made frames for them. Then we could sell them.

Finally I was at the original wood floor. This was a series of what looked to be hand-cut boards, 10 inches wide and in various lengths. They didn't always fit snugly together so some cool air could be felt coming from the basement. I was definitely going to have to buy more rugs. I didn't want carpeting because I don't have a vacuum cleaner. I just use a broom.

All too soon it was time for me to leave again. Back at my cousin's I was so miserable. I missed my birds and the quiet. I missed the star-filled night skies. I missed my funny little house. But most of all, I missed my friend.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Chapter 6

I got to thinking about how I was going to cook with just a microwave, barbecue, toaster and crock pot. I wanted something a little more eco-friendly. So I did some research online and found myself a solar oven. That would be the perfect solution for my new, off-grid lifestyle.

Chuck sent me a message telling me he had a great surprise for me. It was in the barn waiting for me. No, he wouldn't give me even a little clue. He wanted it to be a truly great surprise when I returned. He mentioned that I might not hear from him so much now as he had become a member of the volunteer fire department and was going to lots of training sessions. I was so proud of him. I was sure this would be good for him in many ways.

Later he started sending messages of distress about his rental situation. He had lost his job at the mill and was back on welfare. The other guy on the property where Chuck lived didn't like that Chuck was there all the time now, since the guy's wife was also there and he seemed to think something might be going on between them. Meanwhile, Chuck had started not paying the full rent amount, due to broken water pipes and electrical issues. So the landlady, Pam, had left an eviction notice on his door.

Chuck knew that this notice was not legal and had no validity so he was making plans with his social worker to fight it in court. He told me how much this social worker, Ann, liked him. He could get her to do just about anything for him. He said she always told him that he was unique. Here is something he wrote to me, explaining how she was looking out for him.

Oct 6            
My worker told me that the landlady called social services, complaining about me not signing the lease and whining I was giving her a hard time. Ann sort of hinted that they told her that if I was paying the rent to go blow it out her ass . Pam also told them she was going to evict me, but social services already knows my situation here, the insulation/sewage problems, etc.
Nice try, Pam. I'll be "doing" her as soon as I know she's in Florida - wonder how THAT will go when it comes to the part for her to attend a court hearing. A no-show on her part would almost guarantee a win for me. I'd probably win anyways, but I'd love to see her holiday interrupted - serve her right. Everything should be froze up pretty good by then, too.
So forget her 1 year lease - I'll fuck her on her 60 day notice too - I'll go straight to the dept. of health - they're a lot quicker than the court. But I can possibly get money off her thru the court - I'll sting her on both ends - but no rush on my part. Ann read me the whole report on Pam's call, and Pam will never know that I know, unless I tell her.
I was pretty anxious to get back and see what I could do to help. Just before my next trip he told me he had been sick a lot, probably due to not being able to afford decent food. This had caused him to be “fired” from the volunteer job because he wasn't able to keep up with the other fire fighters. He had been looking online for food supplements and found something that looked good called N-large. It's a powder you mix with liquid and has lots of nutrients in it. Chuck couldn't order it because he had no credit card. So I found it online and had a gallon of it delivered to him, $100.

He said:
In a way you sent me up some Health "Insurance"!! - Well done :)
I said:
Well, you know, sweetie, that I worry about you. You seem to have so many challenges.
He said:
Oh, you don't have to worry about me. I have a guardian angel who watches out for me. No matter how bad things get, they always end up working out just fine. It's probably because I'm such a good guy. I am totally honest and I would never hurt anyone. So Momma Nature provides.
Then I didn't hear from him again. 

I returned at the end of November, wanting to spend another Christmas and New Year. First thing I did was call Chuck, but his phone was disconnected. I went to the barn to see what my surprise was. The first surprise was the barn was half filled with Chuck's stuff: boards, mattresses, window panes, old computer parts, all sorts of things. Then I saw it, a wishing well! I had mentioned before how much I wanted one to set over my well head, which was a big metal thing sticking up in the yard. Now, this wishing well had obviously been picked up at the dump as it needed painting and such, but I loved it. It was just what I wanted.

I went over to Phil's where I learned that Chuck had moved out about a month ago. Phil said he'd seen his truck around now and then but had no idea where he was living. So I went back to my moving in chores. I still had boxes of clothes I hadn't unpacked yet. I do have a lot of clothes, I admit it. But I figured if I kept them all then I would never have to buy any again. Another way to save money. 
This little old house, though, doesn't have much closet space. I had only brought two sets of drawers so I knew I was going to have to put up shelves. But where? Well, there was the one room with Chuck's cupboards which he had built, and all of his personal belongings were gone from there now. I didn't feel right using his furniture so I took it all out and put it in the barn. At long last I no longer had to climb over boxes scattered about the house. They all went in my newly emptied room.

I pulled out my wishing well and painted it and put shingles on it to match the shingles on my roof. I had found some in the barn left over from when the house was shingled, just a few years ago. I kept myself very busy all the time to keep from stressing about why Chuck had just vanished. 
I spent Christmas and New Year with Phil and his family. It was, as always, a wonderful time, lots of food and laughs. I was sure fighting off some major depression, though. It looked like my friend had abandoned me and I did not know why. It poured down rain on New Year's Eve and I stood out in it at midnight to add my tears to the drops falling on the ground. Then I told myself that I had the most wonderful place on earth to live and I would just have to learn to be happy with that.

A few weeks later I was downtown and I saw Chuck's truck in the parking lot of the post office. I took a few deep breaths and went in. Chuck was at a counter, sorting through some mail. In spite of my pounding heart and the electrical shocks running through my nerves, I managed to walk behind him and “accidentally” bump him. I mumbled, “Sorry.”

He said, “No problem,” and then he turned and looked at me. “Well, hi! How are you? How has everything been going for you?”

I'm okay, I guess. Kind of been wondering what happened to you.”
All kinds of things have happened to me. I got booted out of that other place and had to spend a little time living in my trailer which the Clines let me stash on their property for a while. Then I found another little place for rent. It's cheap and the only heat is a wood stove so I've been spending all my time cutting wood. I had another job at a garage for a bit, but I didn't like the way the owner treated his customers so that didn't last. My wee house faces the river over there, across the bridge. Do you have time to come over for a coffee and you can see it?”

Well...all right.”

So, I followed him over and he showed me where and how to park on the other side of the road, because once again there was another house on the property and they were real nasty about anyone taking up even an inch of their “side.”

It was a nice enough little place; the view of the river was fantastic. Chuck had made a number of modifications to the place to make it warmer and more comfortable. I was impressed. 
We had a coffee and chatted about this and that. I was very pleased to see that he was wearing the house shoes I had given him our first Christmas together. I decided not to mention anything about them, but I told him how much I loved the little wishing well and how I had fixed it up.

He then said I would have to go now; he had lots of stuff he had to do. But he asked me to return tomorrow and plan to spend the night. He had two beds and I should bring some beer and it would be just like old times. We could drink, play some Cribbage, have a meal and then sleep. Sounded good to me.

I went over early afternoon the next day and he seemed a little jumpy. He kept getting up to look out whenever a car would go by. We had a couple of beers and he relaxed a bit and was showing me all of his photos on his computer. Then I heard a car door outside and said I'd get up and look.

There's a little red car in your driveway and a very attractive red-headed lady just got out and is headed for your door.”

He jumped up. “You just stay there, I'll be right back.”

So he went to the door and brought in the woman and said, “Maria, I want you to meet Ellen. You two have a whole lot in common. She is single and just moved here the same time as you. She even lives out by where you do.
I met her a couple of months ago while I was outside working on my wood pile. She was driving by and saw the stacks of wood and wanted to know if I had any to sell. So we got to talking and I've gone over and chopped some wood for her. I just knew you two should meet each other. And now, here we are.”

She and I chatted for a bit, exchanged phone numbers, but the tension in the room was sure palpable. Thankfully, she left fairly soon. Then Chuck was Mr. Cheerful and we spent a delightful evening together. All was well and we were back together again.

I would go over and he would show me all about how to chop and stack wood. He taught me how to tell the difference between types of wood and how they would burn differently. He showed me how to load a wood stove and how to keep it burning. He had rigged up this nifty device with a thermostat and a light bulb. At night when the fire died down the thermostat would turn the light on by his bed and wake him up so he could reload wood. He was truly the most inventive person I had ever met.

But, again, one night came a panicked phone call. “Maria, I really need your help. My landlady is coming over tomorrow, with the police, to inspect my house. She's been bugging me about my wood in the yard and how I enclosed the front porch with glass. You saw all of that; you know I did nothing to alter the place. I just put up things to keep it warmer in here. The walls are all self-supporting and can be taken down in a matter of minutes, no damage to the property.

So I told her no, she could not just come into my house. Then she said she was coming with the cops and would break the door down if necessary. All I want you to do is come over and write down everything that happens and everything that is said. I know you are really good at that. You can do some sort of shorthand, right?”

Well, of course I'll be there. You can always count on me.”

It turned out to be not all that dramatic. Yes, she came with two police officers. She had some sort of club to break down the door, which she did swing a little bit and hit the door knob. Chuck took pictures of that. But he had left a key outside and told her she could use that instead, if she wanted to. So they came in, walked around, and I wrote down everything that was said and done. Then they left. But she left Chuck with an eviction notice based on what she had seen that day, for the very first time.

We discussed that at length after they left. How could she already have on paper something they only just saw that day? Did the neighbors peek in the windows when he wasn't there? Chuck said he was sure they just had a family member they wanted to move in, so he would have to go. But he was going to fight it. He had my notes; he had his own notes and pictures. He was going to court.

But, then it was time for me to leave the country again, in order to stay legal. So I had to go.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Chapter 7

Chuck started doing work around my property again after I left. I had invested in a cell phone to leave with him so I could reach him wherever he was in case of anything urgent. I also signed up for a very affordable long distance service on my other phone and we would talk for hours on end.

He was doing alterations to the house and keeping the property looking nice. I paid him constantly for everything he said he did. One time he called me collect on the cell just to ask a simple question he could have asked about in an email. I told him to please not do that as it cost 30 cents a minute and that could add up pretty quickly.

Later I got this e-mail:
Consider sending me a money thingy for another 400 or so - what I have will barely cover 1 battery and 5 bundles of insulation - I don't wanna discuss it now - unfortunately I feel somewhat reluctant to ask you for money - that's your fault for going on a rag about 30 cents for a one-minute phone call - work on that - we both know I will need $$ for the property- not me, the property . . .
I replied:
Check is in the mail.
Finally it was time to return. Chuck had a court date and I was to be a witness, along with Bernie. We both knew that Chuck had done no damage to the house. We were going to testify to what a conscientious, honest person he was.

I was informed that I would have to drive myself to the court house since Chuck wasn't sure what he would want to do afterwards. So I followed him to Northview and Bernie met us in the parking lot. Several of the police force from Whispering Springs were also there as witnesses and we ended up waiting outside the court room all day as his was the last case called. I did have a nice time chatting with Bernie all day.

At long last Chuck was called in. He was not allowed to call either me or Bernie as we were just listed as character witnesses. The case was all about did he pay or did he not. The judge had no interest in what his character was. When Chuck came out of the courtroom he said he got confused and wasn't sure what to say. But he had a feeling it would be alright. He had turned over all his pictures and documents of what happened to the judge. Now he and Bernie were going to go out camping and I should just go back home. Thanks for coming. 
Yes, I was extremely pissed off about that. But a little later that night, they called me. Drunk, silly, funny, they both raved about what an awesome woman I was. All was forgiven.

Then I left the country again, to stay within my time allowance. I got an email from Chuck. He lost the case and had to be out of the house in 90 days. Worse news, his father had died. The man was 95 and had been ill so it wasn't a complete surprise. He had lived in a big city, too far for Chuck to drive, and he couldn't afford a train ticket to attend the funeral. So I asked what it would cost and sent him a wire transfer for the amount.

Sixty days later I returned. Again, I had heard nothing from him since he had come back from the funeral, when he wrote once to thank me and told me it was a very difficult time for him. But I knew the date he was to be out of his house. I started driving by the place to see if there was any sign of him moving. None.

I did, though, get an interesting phone call from Ellen. “Hi. Remember me? I'm sorry it's taken me so long to get in touch, my life has been very busy. I've finally got my house all painted and everything put away. I was wondering if you would like to come over this weekend. I'll make some snacks and I have a lovely bottle of wine we could share. Ask Chuck if he'd like to come, too.”

Well, Chuck probably wouldn't be interested right now. His father died and he's having a hard time with that. Plus he's being kicked out of his house and I don't know if he has another place to move to or not. But I'd like to come over. I could really use someone to talk to.”

She gave me directions and a couple of days later I drove out to her place, which was even more remote than mine. There were no neighbors to be seen, anywhere, for many miles. Her house was absolutely adorable.

She told me all about her life and how she had finally come to this remote spot. She had long been in animal rescue and this always caused problems with neighbors, so she decided she didn't want neighbors anymore, ever. She now had three dogs and eight cats.

Being an animal lover myself, I was in fur heaven there. I told her I had always had cats but with my situation of having to go back and forth all the time now I couldn't possibly take on the responsibility of a pet. Someday, though, once all the hurdles had been overcome I would be able to stay and then I would sure have cats. And dogs. And chickens. Maybe a horse or two. We bonded like crazy.

She told me how odd it was that first time we met. Chuck had called her and practically begged her to come over that day because he wanted her to meet me. We finally agreed we didn't understand why it had happened but we were both glad it did.

By our second bottle of wine, I was pouring out my heart about Chuck. “I am so in love with the man. He is like a dream come true, except I'm never sure what he thinks about me. He has so many problems in his life, and if he would marry me all those problems could be overcome and he could finally have the chance to live the life he desires. We are so perfect for each other. But he just seems to be so inside himself that he can't see what's going on right next to him.”

I think it's all going to work out, Maria,” she said. “You two really do seem to be meant for each other.” I slept on her couch that night.