Note to readers: This post contains moderately detailed descriptions of two graphic themes. We suggest the appropriate reading age is for those over 12 years of age.
I spied Donald on our first pass down the main drag in Tecumseh on an early Sunday morning. Leaning against the west wall outside Terry’s laundromat, something made me double-take his silouette.
Perhaps it was the care he took with his smoke, the brightly printed bandana tightly securing his blond hair, or maybe the miniscule glimpse of his soulful eyes as we cruised by. All I know was that the end of main street came quickly, followed by our thousandth U-turn, and we were soon making our way into the overly beige space.
Major appliances awaiting their next job, empty laundry carts and rows of melamine chairs bolted to the floor set the scene. Kelly and Donald were the only two patrons in the building. As April attached lapel mics to the agreeable couple, she asked them to talk about their breakfast while she checked sounds levels.
“Saturday nights, well we usually have a pancake supper, so breakfast consists of coffee and cigarettes. Today we’re going to have surf and turf because we caught fish last night.”
During introductions we learned they had been fishing at Twin Lakes the night before. Fishing was one of the first two ways they defined themselves: “We like to fish and bike.”
As the minutes ticked by, however, a paradoxical dimension of Donald and Kelly became much more apparent: they were at the same time complexly and simplistically nurturing and protective of each other.
They were also quick to divulge pieces of the Painful.
Two years ago, they met because they shared familial bonds with a child. His son had married her niece and the young couple had a baby boy. It only took one or two encounters at the local bowling center before Donald asked Kelly out. Discovering they had much in common, their conversations lasted until sun-up on more than one occasion.
Those all-night rendezvous may have been heavy at times. When I asked them to talk more about this child that had connected them, Kelly reached out and touched Donald’s arm tenderly; within a few seconds we understood why. Donald eyes were steady as he shared unimaginable pain.
His name’s Hyde. He’s five years old. He’s my only relative here in Oklahoma. His dad died two years ago. He was 18. Um, it’s…we really will never know what happened, it didn’t happen here. He died of a fatal gunshot wound to the head in Alabama and the Alabama police say it’s suicide, but everything else says it’s something different. So I’ll probably really never know what happened.
A washing machine moved into the rinse cycle, breaking up a sustained pause.
I raised [my son] myself – I moved here – I think it was like ’97. Six months later I ended up in a divorce. She wanted the house, the car, and the furniture and I wanted our five year-old son. She got what she wanted, and I got what I wanted. And I raised him alone all those years…
Kelly picked up this story at this point, as it seemed Donald may have needed a break.
And he met my niece…
A pause. But then Donald finished:
And he married her neice and they had a child together. And he’ll tell you, “I’m Hyde.” Yeah, he’s really outgoing, got a great personality, great kid – I got to take him fishing for the first time last fall for a little while.
He’s so brave – he just spent the night with us recently and he didn’t cry. Most kids will cry, but he’s just brave.
His faced showed a hundred different emotions. I spoke to Kelly:
“I see you reaching out and touching Donald…what are you thinking when he’s telling this story that’s obviously difficult?”
Well, it’s hard – losing Cory, and then, uh, having Hyde. And Hyde, for the rest of his life, doesn’t have a father.
To Donald: “Have you had thoughts about what you need to do for Hyde, or be for Hyde, because his father is gone?”
Oh yeah – I mean, I would love to have him – I raised Cory by myself all those years. He had everything he needed, and most of the things he wanted, as long as it was appropriate for kids. He played the tuba in the Tecumseh high school band. He spent 6-7 years in martial arts. He was really good in tournaments around the state.
He had a lot of hobbies and collections…which I still have all that stuff…but it’s kind of hard to have the stuff and not the person.
Rachel asked: “Do you have photographs of Cory that you’ll be able to show Hyde?”
I have hundreds of 35 mm photographs that I took throughout the years. Literally HUNDREDS. I want to put together a CD with songs about him. I actually promised people this two years ago and I’ve not done it yet. People have said, “Oh yeah I’ll do it, I’ll do it, “ but no one’s helped. I don’t have a computer. I have it all separated. I just need somebody to do it.
As we entered the landromat ten minutes earlier, Kelly was on the phone. We gave the conversation a break – or so we thought – by asking her about the topic.
“Were you talking about adopting a dog or something when we came in?” She responded:
We were fishing out in Twin Lakes – I get a call from my co-worker Amanda, we call her Panda, and she asked if my boxer was okay. I said yeah, we’ve got Lola tied.
She said, well there’s a boxer here that got run over. She’s acting funny in her hips. I said, “call tribal,” and our land lady has a kennel – she has the biggest heart. I called Carol (their landlord), and Carol goes and snatches her up. It turned up the dog had a dead puppy, who she had been trying to birth for over a day; it was rotting and she was emaciated. Someone dropped it off…a purebred boxer.
Our Puppy Love (the owner)– she loves dogs and raises them. She got the dog, put it in her brand new mini van, separated…(pause) … helped it have the puppy that was dead. She can’t get it to eat, you can see every rib. The dog was so gentle…she made it through the night. I bought a ton of meds for this dog, once you’ve starved an animal, they won’t eat; she’s going to try [to save her] and we’re going to help.
If we can’t find her a home we’re going to…we already have a boxer. If someone starved her to death there’s legal problems there, but if it’s possible and everything works out, we’re just going to take the dog – even if it doesn’t eat, and I have to force feed her with a dropper or whatever. I’m going to try to get it eating again.
Young female, probably a year and a half old…had to be her first litter. I’ve never seen a dog in that condition alive.
Donald raised his son on his own, and was willing to raise Hyde. Kelly was already making plans to do what she could to save this dog.
These two were life-givers. Souls with room for one more. Two people who had experienced loss and were willing to bring those who needed love under their shield of protection.
Our team look at each other, eyes widened, much like you would see a crowd act during post-funeral gatherings in the foyer of your local church.
It felt heavy on that clear Sunday morning in a wide-open laundromat. I finally said, “I wonder if you have something you’d like to share. I feel like we’ve been the ones asking questions.”
Kelly deferred to Donald, “Oh, he’s got the stories!…” A potential mood change dangled at the end of her sentence. He smiled, and began talking about riding motorcycles. We asked for some advice should we ever take up the hobby.
Kelly: He’s given me advice – I’m riding for the first time…he says, “When in doubt, hit the gas.” [laughter]
Donald, smiling: I’m teaching her – and it’s a motto that I live by…because a lot of people when they wreck bikes, it’s because they hesitate! ‘Oh gee – what should I do what should I do?’ So, I’ll just drop two gears, crack it wide open when in doubt, and if they’re going wreck and pile it up it will be in my rear view mirror. Some people think that’s nuts, but I’ve lived by it for 30 years, and it works.
He continued: She just recently got past the break-in period on her bike. When you buy ’em they come with stock mufflers, but once you get past the break-in period and you can put drag pipes on. It’s a fact that loud pipes save lives.
Anybody I know that got in a wreck, the first thing the that person said in the car said, ‘I didn’t even know you were there.’ Well you may not see me, but you’re going to hear me coming, you’re going to hear me leaving.
So on Valentaines Day, we went out and got drag pipes on her bike, makes it really loud. People think – – oh that’s a cool bike, but what it really is, is a way of protecting her.
That theme again. Donald and Kelly, the protectors. They-who-watch-out-for-each-other and for those children and dogs in their lives. They who gently care for those who are left in the world, who are connected in this world by serendipity. They who talk ’till morning, after the pancake suppers, followed by coffee and cigarettes.
They…who made our stop in Tecumseh profound.
Field notes: Our team is preparing for our “Ten Percent Show” as we are able between rolling out a new semester, beginning a new job, and being overbooked with wedding videos. We’ll make it. After all, we’ve got ten years to do this thing, right? We’ll make it…because people like Kelly and Donald make everything we do so worth the work. ~ Kelly