4.20.2009

Battle Ground


“Who would drive down this road, see all this and think, ‘Yup, sign me up: I want to live here?’”

I’m the former Realtor but Charlie thinks he learned a few things while putting up my Open House signs. I think he learned a fear of farms long before I passed the Realtor exam.

“It’s like ‘Children of the Corn,’” he says.

We’re two married people, having a conversation in the car while completely lost. We’re on our way to visit his stepdaughter’s house in Battle Ground.

“That house right there?” he says, pointing, “it’s like the house Forrest Gump and his girlfriend threw rocks at, remember that? The girlfriend’s house where her dad abused her? It’s like a bunch of houses like that out here. Why would she live here?”

“She doesn’t live here,” I say. “She lives in Battle Ground.”

“Battle Ground? What kind of battle did they have there? Who would battle over this?”

“Lewis and Clark went through here,” I say. “Maybe the battle was an argument they had. You know how history exaggerates things.”

“Yeah, probably they were arguing about the fastest way to go home. Wasn’t this asphalt blacker a while back? The further we go, the more worn out it looks. Everything’s getting older the further out we go. I hope I’m not getting older.”

“You sound older,” I say. “You’re starting to sound like your dad.”

“I’m turning around,” Charlie says. “It’s like a cult would be here. I’m afraid I’m going to see people in robes wielding knives any minute.”

There’s a bend in the road with a small dirt driveway peeking out from overgrown roadside brush. He pulls in to turn around but he doesn’t slow down more than necessary. He’s quiet like he’s thinking about what other movies might have been filmed here.

“You’re going to have to help me not be negative,” he says.

You? I’m the negative one in this situation. After five minutes around this adult daughter of his ex’s, things come out of my mouth that sound like bad dialog from a Lifetime TV movie. I don’t know who I am around her she unnerves me so much. It’s like I’m back in high school and she’s one of those tough girls who relentlessly picked on me. It’s a lot of work.

Charlie asked her years ago when she was still a teenager why she didn’t like me. She said I was too nice. Stepfamilies are hard and she’s step twice removed. That makes her extra hard. Or me extra nice, as I like to tell myself.

“You don’t have to mention these rows of broken-down old school buses along the roadway,” I say. “Do people live in those, do you think?”

Charlie looks away from the road toward the school buses. There’s a little paint-less house next to them, with a little old man inside sitting. He’s blue as is the room he’s sitting in, from the glow of the TV. He looks back at the road and accelerates.

“This isn’t the highway,” I say. “We’re supposed to be on 502.”

“Do you remember seeing this row of old RVs?”

“I don’t know. Everything looks different now that it’s getting dark.”

“I’m driving faster before I see people coming after us with chain saws.”

We stop talking for a moment. That’s what happens when you start compounding the fear of being lost with the fear of the dark.

A counselor once told us, “There isn’t a problem communication won’t solve.” When you’re driving together in a car, lost, there isn’t much you can say that doesn’t sound like a problem. We haven’t been in an argument while lost for a long time. Either we’re learning to communicate or we’re learning how to be lost.

Actually we’ve learned very well how to be lost. I think it’s something we’re really good at, being that neither one of us can turn around and remember what we just drove by five minutes before.

“Why would she live here?” Charlie says. “Is she in the witness protection program, trying to escape something? There are no normal people within twenty miles of here.”

“There’s no Starbucks, is what you mean.”

“My point exactly. Who lives this far away from civilization? What do you do all day?”

“Farm?”

“How do you live out here? I’m serious. How do you get through the day?”

As if to answer Charlie’s question, there’s some sort of art farm coming by on my side of the road. They’re huge sculptures made of used, rusty, recycled-type parts. It’s hard to see exactly what the artist intended with these effigies, except perhaps to say that the dump was just too far away to bother.

“Who wants to look at that?” Charlie says. “That shit’s just crazy.”

I’m trying to think of something nice to say.

“They let people out of the state hospital for a week to build that stuff,” Charlie says.

I used to take the opposing side when Charlie criticized anyone’s honorable attempt at creativity. Looking at these rusty monuments to rural recycling, I don’t know how I could bend my mind like that back then.

We used to get into arguments back then, driving lost. We used to have battles over stupid things like turning left. One benefit of knowing someone well is that you’re comfortable with uncomfortable silences. You’re not forcing the conversation, like you’re on a date. You’re not trying to project a certain image or trying to act like some ideal you have in your head.

I think some people get married just so they can stop dating. It’s hard to be an actor for an extended period of time. I don’t think most of us are very good at it. Sooner or later we burp loudly and laugh, and then we have to make a decision on whether to go back to acting or not. Acting a certain way isn’t easy for anyone for any length of time.

It’s been a long time since we acted for each other, although Charlie still doesn’t fart in front of me. That’s for another reason entirely. Charlie would fart and laugh at himself all day if he could.

He started our relationship holding back this bodily function, acting like he doesn’t fart. He must continue to hold back or he can be accused of creating a false impression. I’ve created a few false impressions of my own, like acting like I enjoy riding on the back of his motorcycle which I do until he goes past fifty-five on the freeway. Then I have to act not scared or I can be accused of creating a false impression, too. Some acting in a relationship is necessary, no matter how comfortable you are in the presence of your partner.

The asphalt starts to look a little blacker and newer. The road seems to be straighter, too. There still isn’t a road sign anywhere and even if there were, it’d be hard to read now that it’s dark. I think we’re close to where we made the wrong turn.

“There’s nobody out here,” Charlie says. “There’s no one to make fun of. You can’t make fun of people living in shacks, with three broken-down school buses lining their property.”

I could be oppositional and make a good argument for his ability to do exactly that, but I don’t. It seems like too much work. When did taking the opposing view seem like too much effort?

Maybe not bothering will make me not as nice, too, at least through dinner. I don’t give it another thought.