Shawn spent New Year’s Eve under a log rain shelter in Buckley, playing in a drum circle as people walked across beds of hot coals. It was a paid gig, a hundred bucks for two hours. Considering his lonely-boyfriend state, it wasn’t hard for Ivy to talk him into it.
If you figured 200 participants at $195 each, Ivy’s new-age friend Jordan was raking it in. Shawn only wished he had skipped the seminar, a four-hour avalanche of phrases like “seeking our true potential” and “freedom to be ourselves,” words that caused him to instinctually check his wallet.
At one point, Shawn couldn’t take any more and shot from his seat. “You dumbfuck! I’m starving to death so I can play drums in a blues band! Do I seem like I’m afraid to do what I want in life? You people are wasting your time here!”
Or at least, he wished he had. But he needed the hundred bucks. So here he was, out in the cold air, smack dab in the lahar path of Mt. Rainier, pounding skins as overpaid professionals sauntered through lava beds. The drummers were mostly competent amateurs, but the dreadlocked black guy on the djembe was definitely a pro. He and Shawn took turns spinning solos over the top of the flow.
Shawn occasionally looked up to check out the walkers. Most of them edged up timidly, let the courage build up then strode across in a burst. A few were more brazen, like the full-figured blonde doing The Twist in the number-two bed, letting out various animal noises.
That was Ivy. She came running back to the drums, her face glowing with adrenaline.
“Omigod! Shawn! That was such a rush. Try it!”
Shawn smiled. “Nuh-uh.”
He quoted one of Jordan’s instructions: “‘If you find that you don’t believe in doing this, we would prefer that you didn’t.’”
“Honey, I got my own rush. I’m gonna beat these congas till my arms fall off.”
Ivy checked her watch.
“Would you stop for a midnight kiss?”
Shawn took Ivy by the hands and gave her a friendly smack on the lips.
“Oh, honey,” she said. “I’m gonna need something a little more memorable than that. Just pretend that I’m Tacoma.”
Shawn yanked Ivy to his chest in a tango-grip, then dipped her until her hair touched the ground and gave her lips a thorough working-over. When he pulled her back up, her eyes were larger than before.
“Whew! Lucky girl! I’m gonna run through the fire again.”
Shawn returned to his drums, gave the djembe-player a wink, and caught on to the new salsa track. He waited for the old feeling, the hands drifting off, then peered through a timbered window to find the great white face of Tahoma. He thought he could use it as a satellite dish, to transmit his thoughts all the way to Pittsburgh. Did you feel that kiss, honey?
Tacoma was spending New Year’s preparing her grandmother for death. The rest of the family was busy fighting over the will – or wills, one of which was executed without proper legal assistance or witnesses. Tacoma’s Aunt Lana was riding herd on a trio of lawyers, determined to make sure that things went her way.
Tacoma was just as enraged as everybody else, but realized that someone had to stay out of the fray and see to the old lady’s last days on earth. By doing so, she basically relinquished any chance at seeing a single dollar, but she was determined to keep her grandmother free of the internecine storm, her eyes fixed firmly on heaven.
In his harsher moments, Shawn couldn’t see how the old hag deserved such treatment, considering the years of hell she sicced on her granddaughter. But he also understood that his girlfriend possessed a soul of exceptional size and grace.
A month after her grandmother’s death, they were sitting on Tacoma’s bed, talking about small things, when Shawn was struck by a thought.
“Do you know that... even if we don’t end up in each other’s lives, even if outside forces should eventually come between us... Do you know that I will always love you? It’ll never change. I’ll always love you.”
To him, it was a simple statement of fact. The sun’s out today. Olympia is the capital of Washington State. But on Tacoma, it had a dramatic effect. At first she looked stunned, as if he had just insulted her. Then she seemed to fall in on herself, turned her back to him and began to sob uncontrollably.
Puzzled, he went to the end of the bed and wrapped his arms around her shoulders. She cried for fifteen minutes, and he knew better than to say a word.
Photo by MJV