Chapter Thirty (Manitou Springs)

— — —

Note: Here’s the voice only chapter of the video book, in case you want to watch while you read. The multimedia version has music by Lightnin’ Hopkins and The Rolling Stones, but this version ain’t bad all on its own:

After our drug bust, Ginny’s father’s lawyer got me off on some sort of Fourth Amendment technicality, but Melanie pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor and had to meet with a probation officer in Redwood City. She had to take a bus. It was a hassle. We got kicked out of the house in Burlingame and lived different places during the next year — San Bruno, Belmont, San Carlos. Susie got lost in the shuffle. She may have gone next door to live happily after with the Kerry Blue, but I don’t know that for a fact.

Melanie didn’t trust me anymore. She didn’t believe I was in love with her. Being in love with someone you don’t believe is in love with you is unbearable. She got a headache every day. She tried all kinds of things to make it go away. Red wine worked for awhile — usually a little over half of a half-gallon jug of Gallo Chianti did the trick — or maybe the headache was still there but just didn’t hurt anymore; either way, the next morning it was back worse than ever. Melanie started sipping wine earlier and earlier in the day. She had soaked the label off of an old Skippy Peanut Butter jar and used that as a wine glass.

After six months, the backs of her teeth had turned maroon, but the wine had stopped working. Her head hurt all the time, morning, noon and night. The only thing she could think of that would keep her head from hurting was to kill herself — and it was all my fault, of course. If I could have somehow loved her enough, if she could have believed me, she would have been fine. The headaches would have gone away. She would have been happy. But I didn’t love her enough. I couldn’t — and after the stunt I’d pulled with Ginny and Elliot, she wouldn’t have believed me if I had. She didn’t believe a word I said by then.

It went on and on. I brought her cold washcloths and took her to emergency rooms when she swallowed too many over the counter sleeping pills and dutifully visited her in the psycho ward at Mills Hospital.

Melanie and I had to not be together anymore, that was all there was to it. Living with me was killing her. We had to split up. That was the only logical, practical, reasonable, workable solution — unless I wanted her dead. And I didn’t want her dead, I wanted her alive, I wanted her to get better, I wanted to help her, to fix her. I loved her. I wanted to love her. I couldn’t. She was too sad. It was a vicious circle.

I finally got her and Wendy moved into a big old two-story house near downtown Sacramento. They had the whole first floor all to themselves. Some junkies lived upstairs. I was convinced that the only thing that was going to keep Melanie from killing herself was going to be for her to fall in love with someone else, and the only way she was ever going to fall in love with someone else was going to be for her to be on her own. Being in love with me was killing her. It wasn’t doing me much good, either — or Wendy, for that matter — it wasn’t doing anyone any good.

— — —

A month or so after I got Melanie and Wendy situated in Sacramento, I went to see Ginny in Colorado. It was the summer of 1973. She was living in Manitou Springs, right below Pike’s Peak — not far from the Cave of the Winds. After the imbroglio in Burlingame, she and Elliot had gone their separate ways. Elliot stayed with his mother and Ginny ended up in a commune in the Rocky Mountains. The same bunch of people from the commune in the Santa Cruz Mountains had moved the whole kit and caboodle to Colorado. I took my vacation from the library in August, stopped off at Melanie’s new place in Sacramento for a few days, then drove to Manitou.

By the time I got there Ginny had been kicked out of the commune and was living in a little gingerbread cottage by the edge of a forest. She lived alone but had taken up with a group of people who espoused some conglomeration of New Age gobbledygook. The first few days were fine. We were shy with each other, unsure of ourselves, not exactly uncomfortable, but tense, wary, noncommittal. We still remembered how well we’d known each other and slept in the same small, soft, springy bed together.

We got a ride up to the top of Pike’s Peak, then got lost trying to find our way back down again. It got cold. It snowed. Then it got dark. We thought we might freeze to death. We built a fire and made up stories about how, centuries later, people would discover our skeletons. When the sun came up, we weren’t lost after all. The outskirts of the town were just behind the next little ridge of rocks. All we had to do was walk another few hundred yards.

The day after we almost froze to death, some of Ginny’s New Age buddies started showing up. They had some kind of loose affiliation with Elizabeth Clare Prophet. I never really got to the bottom of it all. They talked about St. Germaine, the Archangel Michael and some bunch of glowing guys they called “Ascended Masters.” They all wore pastel clothes and had faraway looks in their eyes, and every two-bit thing that ever happened to any of them had some big cosmic purpose.

They adored Ginny. She fit right in. Every two-bit thing she ever did her whole life always had some big cosmic purpose. I understood practically nothing of any of it. We had grown apart. She had leaped a few rungs ahead of me up the spiritual ladder. We all go at our own pace. Or maybe all her New Age claptrap was just too much of a pain in the ass, even for me. I still liked her. I couldn’t help but like her. I’ll always like her — but her New Age buddies and me didn’t hit it off at all. I left before the week was up.

— — —

All I wanted by then was to get to back to Melanie’s while I still had a few days vacation left. I wanted my feet back on solid ground. I missed her. I missed Wendy. I was craving a little common sense. Less than a week with Ginny had convinced me once and for all that Melanie was the girl for me. I was finally ready for us to settle down and live happily ever after like a normal god damn family.

That was all I thought about the whole time it took to get back from Colorado. Elliot and his religious upbringing crossed my mind briefly as I blew by the Mormon Tabernacle, but I didn’t want to think about him anymore, either. I didn’t want to think, period. I had everything all figured out. All I wanted was to marry Melanie and have her and Wendy and me all live happily ever after. I sped past the Great Salt Lake and the Bonneville Salt Flats like they were a mirage.

In Winnemucca I stopped at a pawnshop and bought Melanie an engagement ring. It was just a cubic zirconium, but the guy at the pawnshop found me a dusty black velvet box to keep it in so I could spring it on her in style. I would have told her it was a cubic zirconium, too. Melanie would have appreciated that it was a cubic zirconium. She wouldn’t have wanted me wasting our hard-earned money on a real diamond any more than I would have wanted to waste our hard-earned money on a real diamond. And because it was just a cubic zirconium, I could afford to go all out. It was the biggest cubic zirconium in downtown Winnemucca. It was huge. It was gigantic. It was a cubic zirconium as big as the Ritz.

For a while there, coming down out of the Sierra Nevada’s, Zelda Fitzgerald was all I could think about. And I didn’t want to think about Zelda Fitzgerald. Fuck Zelda Fitzgerald. I wanted Zelda Fitzgerald out of my mind completely. I didn’t want to think about Gurdjieff or Virginia Woolf or Marcel DuChamp or Bach or Saint Germaine or those glowing guys or anyone or anything anymore. All I wanted was to marry Melanie and live happily ever after. I would have been a bricklayer. I would have been or done anything Melanie wanted me to be or do. I would have gotten down on one knee. I would have begged. If it hadn’t been so late I would have brought her flowers. I would have paid top dollar — no second hand freesia or wilting baby’s breath — I would have brought her long stemmed roses, as many as I could carry. But it was too late. By the time I got into downtown Sacramento, all the florist shops were closed.

Driving around among the alphabetical streets, trying to find her house, I pictured how happy she was going to be that we were finally just going to get married and live happily ever after. Melanie might even cry a little. They’d be tears of joy. I could almost see them in her eyes. Tears welled-up in my eyes just picturing them welling-up in hers. Then, wow, would she ever fuck the fuck out of me the rest of the night and the next night and the night after that — maybe even once or twice during the day. Ha! I was so in love with Melanie I was going to die.