Saturday, July 24, 2010

My Alter Ego

I have an alter ego. I discovered her a couple of decades ago. There are times that I envy her and well, there are other times that I am so relieved that I am not her. She’s the girl I would have been had my parents not divorced when I was three years old. She’s the girl who grew up in Southern Pines, N.C. with her narcissistic photojournalist father and her lovely funny horse training mother. Her name is Wee Gee, like Ouija board . . . it was Wee Gin when she was small because she was named for her godmother Virginia, and so Wee Gee was little Virginia. But as she grew up, fox hunting from the time she was five, running on the sandy moonlit fire lanes in the midst of the long leaf pine forests, swimming in briny ponds with snapping turtles, her name morphed and evolved and besides, the twenty or so kids she went to school with, cause it was a really small town back then, shortened the name and started calling her Wee G. And she liked this change, cause she wasn’t wee anymore. She was getting kinda tall and lanky and her hair was the color of fresh cut straw that they laid out neatly in the young horse’s stalls every morning and her shoulders were always deep red brown from the sun.

Her best friend from the time she was first able to walk was a girl named Patty, the daughter of another horsewoman and a wealthy man. Patty had a pool table in the basement of her house and by the time Wee G. and Patty were eleven or so, they would smoke cigarettes, play pool and drink Patty’s father’s bourbon til they got so drunk they took off all their clothes and pretended to be strippers dancing on the green velvet of the pool table in the smokey light of some old Tiffany lamp. Once, Patty’s mother came home and found them, Wee G. and Patty, passed out drunk on the pool table in their underwear. She woke them up, made them coffee, told them to go outside and swim in the pool til they sobered up. She didn’t tell Wee G.’s mother, she felt that she was to blame somehow and she had locks put on the liquor cabinets in the bar room that was all glass and looked out on the horse pastures.

Wee G.’s first boy was an older boy. She was fourteen and he was sixteen. She met him swimming at the pond that lay in a grotto of long leaf pines near her godmother Virginia’s home. The pond had a floating dock and there was a marsh on one end where the bull frogs mingled with snapping turtles and every once in a while a heron lurked on the edge of the pond and this made the little fishes and the guppies terribly nervous. So Wee G. was floating around the pond on a hot July afternoon -- in fact, she was sound asleep in an inner tube and she was alone cause Patty was in Europe with her parents who thought that Patty needed some expanding of her mind, some culture, but all she would come back with was a new taste for Hashish and Turkish cigarettes. So Wee G. is sound asleep in the inner tube and this boy comes swimming up to her and puts his tan fingers on her burned shoulders and he says, “Hey girl, don’t you know there are snapping turtles in this pond?” and Wee G. wakes up and looks at this boy and she smiles and says, “Those turtles don’t ever bother me. But don’t you know they’ll bite off your thing?”

They spent the afternoon swimming and she found out he lived in town. That his father worked in the Savings Bank. He didn’t know a thing about horses and she told him she would teach him how to ride, that her mother had plenty of horses in the barn that he could ride. But he said he wasn’t so sure about riding horses, but he could take her for a ride in his jeep. And so they got out of the water just when the sun was starting to go down and they got in his jeep with nothing but their bathing suits on and he drove her all the way to the edge of the Reservation, that’s what they called Fort Bragg down there, and they smoked cigarettes and he even had a little pot, so they got high and they made out, while some jets flew overhead and then a B-52 glided over them and dropped all these paratroopers and they came down to the wire grass and the young long leaf pine forests like a spawn of white butterflies and they surrounded the jeep. Wee G. and her boy were captured. There were bombs going off in the distance on the bombing range and the paratroopers told them they needed to go home, that they were in a restricted area. But they didn’t let Wee G. and the boy go until they searched the jeep and confiscated the rest of his pot, a half a bottle of bourbon, and her pack of Camels.

Wee G. spent two years running around with that boy. Wee G. would ride horses half the day for her mother, muck stalls early in the morning, fit school in somehow, and then she’d crawl out her bedroom window, the window that faced the shed row barn, cause they ran a horse business don’t you know, and so the house was actually attached to the barn, so Wee G. slept with the horses’ billowy voices in her ears most nights, but lotsa nights, she crawled out her window and ran barefooted down the warm sand drive, every once in a while sticking her self with a sandspur, that she would have to stop and pull out and then keep running out to the road where the boy would be waiting with the jeep's engine running and the headlights off. Sometimes they would go pick up Patty, who had a soldier boyfriend now, and he could get them hashish anytime they wanted it. And they would go way out into the pine forests and smoke hash and every once in a while they would even do some toot, Patty loved toot, and Wee G. liked it, but not as much as the burn of bourbon going down with the taste of hash still on her tongue.

Wee G. was lost and at the same time she wasn’t lost. Her mother was resigned to Wee G.’s wild side cause she had problems of her own, mostly having to do with Wee G.’s father who ran around on her . . . he was up in New York taking pictures most of the time and it was all she could do to keep the barn full of good horses. And she didn’t worry too much about Wee G. cause the kid would get up every morning and ride three or four horses, she even schooled two young horses and sold them at a profit for her mother at the age of fifteen, so it was clear that was what Wee G. was good at, and if she had a wild streak in her, well, maybe it wouldn’t lead to anything too bad, maybe.

Wee. G. quit school the year before she was supposed to graduate. Her mother was furious and her father was so distant and high on pills that he didn’t really notice, all he noticed was how pretty Wee G. had gotten and that she had taken up with a steeplechase jockey who was winning all the major races up and down the east coast, so that made him damn proud. See, Wee G.’s father had been a steeplechase jockey and his father before him, so if Wee G. was going to follow the family tradition and marry herself a steeplechase jockey that was just fine with him. She still ran off with the banker’s son in the jeep every once in a while, but that was just for old time sakes, and Patty was living in a trailer on the edge of town now and she was addicted to toot and Wee G. felt like she oughtta watch out for Patty every once in a while. So she’d get the banker boy to come pick them up and they’d go drink in the Blind Beagle and Wee G. would tell Patty, “Just tonight, girl, just tonight, don’t do any toot, just drink til sunup with me and my boy, okay?” And Patty would stay clean for the night and in the morning Wee G. would feel like she’d done something for Patty, even if it was just temporary.

But then the steeplechase jockey would call and tell her to get in her truck and get up to Fairfax for a meet, or Middleburg, or Camden, and then he finally came and picked her up and they spent the whole month in Saratoga. They galloped horses in the mornings, he rode jump races in the afternoons, and they drank and danced every night until it was almost time to get up and gallop horses again. She told him she had a nice horse at home, one that her mother had given over to her completely -- a four year old that was a mighty good jumper and wouldn’t he like to race the colt in a point-to-point coming up in Delaware soon? If the horse did well, maybe they could take the horse further.

But they never got that far, the jockey brought her home from Saratoga and next month she reads in the Chronicle of the Horse that he’s married now. And there he is in the winner’s circle at a race meet in Pennsylvania with this girl who’s taller than he is and is from a family whose name is real big in steeplechasing, a money family.

This is where Wee G. falls. She moves out of her parents’ house and into the trailer with Patty for a while, but Patty’s toot habit is so bad that Wee G. moves into a rooming house downtown. She still works for her mother, mucking stalls, riding horses, but she’s out at the Blind Beagle every night and sometimes she sees the Savings Banker’s boy, but he’s going to Carolina up in Chapel Hill now, he’s going to work in his own Savings Bank some day, and he'll marry a nice girl who doesn't traipse around in the pine woods at night in her bare feet smoking hash.

Wee G. drifts and drinks and smokes and falls off horses which at some point breaks her jaw and almost all of her ribs. She won’t live with any man, she just holes up in that rooming house, and heals up, and rides more horses, and works in this barn and that barn. Every once in a while she makes a killing on one good horse sold and then she blows it on toot for Patty and bourbon at the Blind Beagle. And all the while her godmother, who owns half of Southern Pines, tells her that someday she’s going to leave her a small fortune, but Wee G. doesn’t believe that. She’s stuck, but in a way, she leads this zen master’s life, cause she’s up at five every morning riding her motorcycle to whatever barn she’s currently working and she’s minding the horses, despite the hangovers and the smoke in her soul.

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