Wooden Ships (Chapter One)

A Story, by Cassidy

The t-shirt slogan reads, “If I have to explain, you won’t understand.”

Our marriage had grown toxic and I had had enough of the incessant bickering and arguing. In her mind I had lost my manhood and reminded me of it many times because I no longer possessed a business card that stated, Vice-President in Charge of Plant Operations. Management mandated a reduction in force due to budgetary cutbacks and opportunities for employment had been bleak for a man in his middle fifties. She knew it and didn’t care. I’d supported her two failed attempts at an internet business; and after my out placement funds had disappeared and my investments were deemed un-touchable due to tax consequences, she was ‘forced’ to return to work as, in her mind, a lowly legal secretary.

“I’m out of here,” I said in disgust. “If you don’t hear from me within a year one of two things have occurred. I’ve either committed suicide or I’ve found my place. In the mean time, you’ll hear from our lawyer. He’ll transfer everything to you including my investments, I.R.A., and pension.”

“You’re joking,” she said between roars of laughter.

“Watch me.,” I groaned while fumbling through the closet in search of my soft luggage and motorcycle tank bag.

“You’re serious,” she said as a tear came to her eye.

“Yes I am,” I said with ever growing anger. “I’ve had enough of you, this place, and this life. All you ever did was to take, and take, and take. It’s all yours now and the attorney will make it legal.”

With the two pieces of luggage spread upon the floor, I went into the bedroom closet and selected a sufficient amount of clothing to last seven days. I’d be traveling light, low drag, no strings, and no attachments.

As I packed, she threw my riding boots at me, nearly hitting me in the head.

“Take these with you as well,” she said, tossing my expensive breast forms at me. “You thought that I didn’t know about the contents of that tool cabinet. You should’ve been more careful. Brenda saw you prancing around in that rather un-attractive floral robe. She told me all about how you would sit out on the patio, after I’d left for that stupid law firm, wearing it while you smoked your wretched cigarettes and sipped your morning coffee.”

She went back into the garage while I continued to pack. I heard boxes falling to the floor and cabinet doors and drawers slamming.

“Barbara, what are you doing,” I demanded.

“Looking for sex toys,” she screamed. “They have to be here somewhere. If you dress like a woman then you probably want to act like one in bed. There have to be some here somewhere.”

I left her with her rage. There hadn’t been any sex toys. I knew that she wouldn’t understand I had simply worn the clothes and not acted out a fantasy to be a woman. No, she wouldn’t understand. For that matter, she wouldn’t really try.

Since she knew about the cross-dressing, there’d no longer be a need to hide, so I went into the garage and packed a seven-day supply of female attire. We’d packed for weeklong motorbike trips in the past, so packing two wardrobes wouldn’t present a problem.

I carried the two bags to the garage, and then began to strap them to the bike. One on the passenger seat and the other onto the gas tank.

“You can’t leave now, Steve. It’s after midnight. Leave in the morning after you slept on it. Maybe things will look different in the morning.”

“Do I hear concern?” I asked, “or are you fearful that I won’t make your morning coffee, or do your wash, or clean up this wretched dump. I’m tired of the taking. I’m out of here.”

I rolled the bike out of the garage, donned my riding gear, started and warmed it up, and then headed out. Prudent riding practices suggest that a rider should not start out if not in the proper state of mind. Anger, a very intense emotion, should be left behind before a ride. With caution cast aside, I began.

With no route in mind, I headed south. Perhaps to Virginia, maybe the Carolinas, maybe to Florida, and maybe the Keys. Some place where there would be water. Stream, lake, river, bay, or ocean. It didn’t matter, but it would be within eyesight of water.

Thoughts of nearly twenty-five years of marriage passed through my mind as I rode on. It hadn’t always been the misery it had become. There had been week long bike trips when she’d hold me from behind with her arms and legs. Long weekends had been filled with candlelit dinners, and extreme intimacy. It all began to unwind when her business ventures failed and the constant threat of corporate downsizing began to rule our lives. Barbara’s mechanism to deal with the insecurity of it all had been to build a fort around herself and her possessions that no longer included me. The further we grew apart the more the bickering and taking grew. The woman that I’d called a wife faded away. I looked to the watercourse way of the Tao to sooth me. Despite my anger, it had to run its course. It’d been bottled up too long and my refusal to take it with me as my search for a better life began would destroy any chance of it.

Near Alexandria, Virginia, I stopped for gas, a meal, and a cigarette. With no one to nag about my smoking, it would be all the more satisfying. Plus, if I chose to stop, it’d be my choice and not someone influencing me.

The twenty-year old Harley droned on as we headed southwest on Route 66. I hadn’t been on this section of road, or, for that matter, this section of the country since the bike had been new. Thoughts of a motel, “The Mansion” located in Luray, Virginia entered my mind. It hadn’t been from nostalgia or memories of a happier time with her that I sought it out. The aura of the “Old South” and the “Southern Way” captivated me.

At “Luray Caverns,” the search began and it didn’t take long to find it. The circular drive lined with manicured shrubs, outlined the route to the three-story brick building with its white pillars, and its divided light oak doors.

I dismounted the bike and entered the lobby.

It hadn’t changed. The center facing mahogany reception desk, the dining room to its left, the formal ballroom to its right, the game room down a flight of stairs, and the magnificent hand-carved railings of the grand staircase that ascended to the second floor and the guest rooms — ten feet wide, carpeted, rising to a landing, and then curving to the left and right.

“I’d like a room,” I said to the petite middle-aged receptionist dressed in a Civil War era costume with the nametag, “May,” pinned to it. “I stayed here twenty years ago while vacationing”

“Thank you and welcome back, sir,” she answered in a melodic southern drawl.

“Do you still serve dinner?” I asked while filling out the room documents.

“Yes, we do. It’s family style and we start seating at seven o’clock. I’ll put your name in the book.”

“Please do,” I said

With my luggage strewn about the floor of the room, sleep came fast as I’d been awake for nearly thirty hours and had been riding for nearly twelve. After a refreshing nap, I went down for dinner.

Seated with nine other diners, we faced plates of ham, turkey, chicken, roast beef, peas, corn, beets, string beans and mashed potatoes. Strained conversation consisting mostly of “Please pass the whatever.” coupled with “More sweet tea.” and “More lemonade.” echoed about the room. Waitresses dressed in Civil War costume replenished the rapidly emptying serving platters.

“Excuse me sir.” A woman in her mid-thirties asked. “Are you taking a motorcycle trip?”

She had apparently made the assumption based on my riding boots, and leathers.

“Yes, I am,” I said.

“That sounds exciting,” she said with a quiet clap of the hands. “Have you taken motorcycle trips in the past?”

“Lots of times. My trips have taken me to the Keys, Maine, Canada, Atlantic Canada, and South Dakota. It’s an interesting way to travel?”

Despite my present state of mind, I tried my best to be cheerful in my response to her questions. She meant well.

“Do you stay in motels?”

“At times,” I said “Sometimes I camp.”

She paused for a moment and looked at her spouse.

“Honey, maybe we should learn to ride and take motorcycle vacations.”

“It’s not as romantic as you might think,” I cautioned. “The road can reach up and bite you. One time a truck passed me and the tire cap blew off. Metal from the cord and rubber bits pelted me. I also got caught in a tropical storm and one time had to hide out under a bridge to avoid a tornado, and another time had to ride in the snow.”

“My god.”

“If you really want an adrenaline rush,” I added through the beginnings of a smile. “You should try racing motorcycles. Triple digit speeds can be addictive.”

We ended our conversation with handshakes.

After dinner, I ascended the staircase that led to my room, showered, put on my nightgown, and then went to sleep.

With a full tank of gas, an empty bladder, and a continental breakfast in my system, I continued south. The Weather Channel and the cloudy sky warned me that it would be a wet travel day. I doubted the rain would be occasional. My bones and years of motorcycle travel told me that it would be an all-day steady rain.

The rains became heavier and vision became distorted by the spray of the passing traffic. I chose to follow an eighteen-wheeler to block some of the wind and spray and also to guide the way. The truck turned off at a rest stop, but I chose to press onward, deciding to at least try for the Tennessee border and Bristol.

At Bristol, motels would be plentiful as it was a stop on the NASCAR circuit. A decent meal might await as well.

After check-in and with all of my clothes now hanging from the shower rod, I searched the room in anticipation of finding an ironing board, an iron, or a hair dryer. None had been available.

“Room 112,” I said. “Do you have a laundry room on the premise?”

“Mr. Barnes,” the young female voice responded. “The laundry room is behind the pool shed. You’ll need a key.

I wiggled into a damp t-shirt and jeans and then headed off to the reception area in search of the laundry room key. The teenaged receptionist busied herself with an issue of “People” magazine.

“Excuse me,” I said. “I called a bit ago and asked about the use of the laundry room.”

She looked up and smiled. “Here you go, Mr. Barnes. The dryer takes quarters. Do you need change?”

“No thanks.”

I returned to the room gathered up my damp clothing, and then headed toward the laundry room, to shove everything into the dryer. Thankfully, my nightgown hadn’t gotten wet or damp. I removed my jeans and t-shirt, put on my nightgown, and made an additional trip to the laundry room. A sudden cloudburst once again drenched me.

Back in the room, I removed my nightgown, took a hanger from the closet and then hung it over the heating/air conditioning unit to dry.

Lack of food and dry clothing caused a chill to run through me. I crawled into bed and covered myself in an attempt to return some heat to my body and attempted sleep. More thoughts of the watercourse way filled my mind. I wanted my life to be stream like. Ever flowing, finding the least resistant path, not fighting the relentless flow to a river, to an ocean, to evaporation, to rain, and then back to stream. A never-ending cycle of renewal.

I had to learn to forget what I knew and not force things or myself on others. Things had to happen naturally and not through cause. Life had to come from living.

The better part of two hours had passed since tossing my clothes into the dryer. The nightgown had dried so I put it on, and then headed off to the laundry room. Tempted to remain in the laundry room to fold them, the cold damp air on my lightly-clothed body drove me back to the warmth of the room. With everything folded and repacked with the exception of my riding gear and my nightgown, I once again called the receptionist.

“Is there a place to eat that’s within walking distance from here?” I asked.

“There’s Barna’s Grill about one quarter mile from here.”

“How’s the food?”

“Glorified race track food, if you ask me, but the locals seem to like it.”

“Thanks.”

To be continued……

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