The Ocean Drive

Jeff Kaliss

I’m thinking of you, Everett, Little Brother. Remember how we could always do that, think each other, wherever we were and whatever else was clogging up our minds? I got a lot on my mind right now, but you always rise up above the garbage. You can help me take a look at the garbage, before I dump it out for good. Out in the ocean, which can take it.

Tried phoning you, before I left and locked the house. After I’d written and left the goodbye note. My last piece of creative writing. I phoned the rehab center where they said they put you after the stroke. They told me you were sleeping a lot, and that when you were awake, you weren’t making sense. That’s what happens to folks with strokes. You probably wouldn’t have made sense out of what I was gonna tell you I was gonna do. You probably would’ve had half a mind to talk me out of it. But that might have been the half that got the big blood clot on it, Evvie. Damn it, how come your blessed Jesus Christ wasn’t look out for you? How come I couldn’t, somehow? But I haven’t taken much good care of myself, have I?

Anyway, it’s a pretty good night to be done with all that. Did anybody in that rehab place tell you the entire state is being blown off the map by a hurricane? Rain and wind gotten all excited by global warming? Didn’t your Book of Revelations predict this kind of weather? You’re probably just lying there blissed out on legal pharmaceuticals, popped into you by some cute nurse with starched curves. Bliss away, Evvie, but if I got any last thoughts, I’m thinking them at you now.

And, Evvie I’m driving into that hurricane, right into the worst of it, which is the best of it, isn’t it? Right into the power and the glory, amen, amen, brother. Your big brother Jack is driving your dead daddy Harry’s truck. The ‘72 F-100, from what they called The Forgotten Decade of Ford. Driving seventy-miles-per hour into a seventy-miles-per hour storm. Do the fucking math, Evvie, you were always the high school Einstein!

“Uhhhhhh. It’s uh,-uh, wait, wait, it’s uh. . . “

”Did you say something, Everett? I brought your evening medicine in, do want to sit up in your bed and have me help you take it?”

“It’s, uh, yuh, seventy and seventy, 140 miles per, hour, resultant. Puh-praise Ford!”

“The speech therapist will be back to work with you tomorrow, Everett. I hope you have a good night.”

“Brother not. Jack, not so fuh- fuh-fuh, not so fucking FAST!”

“Everett! What would your wife say?”

Everett! You’re feeling this, aren’t you? And you’re getting scared. I’m always scaring you, and then getting scared about scaring you. I’m sorry, Little Brother. I’ll slow down, it’ll give me more time, for the last time. Should we remember some stuff, while we can?

“Juh-Juh- Jack. Jack’s back!”

I’m gonna head us the other way on Ocean Drive, into town, sneaking out on whatever Mom and Dad were arguing about, after supper, into a night, sixty years ago, was it, Evvie? When the cars were big and loud and shiny, even in the moonlight. The peeper frogs are counting the stars for us. And the night is warm and sticky, like sweat. We’re on the edge of the road — no sidewalk that far out of town —, and some big Chrysler is bearing down on us from way off, roar getting roarier, lights getting brighter and brighter, brighter than any of those doctors’ lights they’ve been shining on you, Evvie. I grab your hand, it’s warm and sweaty, I yank you closer to the roadway. Just to scare the shit out of you. And you squeal, and try to pull back, yank, squeal, yank, squeal. Then I laugh a kid big brother laugh, and the headlights pass us by like a mixed blessing, with a breath-sucking swoosh and a roar.

“Haah! Haah! You didn’t get us, you big fool! Probably some goddamned tourist.”

“Ahhh, oooh, Jesus, Juh- Juh- Jack, they, they could have, Jesus!”

“Are you okay, Everett? Oh, I did mean to tell you, your brother Jack called earlier, but I told him you wouldn’t be able to speak to anybody yet, not really. I told him to check back tomorrow. He said he probably wouldn’t be around. I don’t know what he meant.”

Too bad I’m not around to knuckle your head for you now, Evvie, though does it have a bunch of stitches in it? Did you feel that old walk down Ocean Drive? Jesus and girlfriends and wives aside, you gotta admit brothers are better, most of the time. Are you gonna miss me? I’ve always missed you.

Must be because you and I were such a team playing our way through school, making life look alright even when we weren’t getting much attention at home. I got you your first can of Colt 45 malt liquor, after Michael Dumont had been getting it for me, because I was still underage. And you chugged it down like it was a baby bottle! Got you a date with Joyce Grindle’s little sister, and you had to stop the illegal drinking before she’d let you get past first base. Not every brother who’s willing to let his brother party with him. Remember those summer nights after the summer jobs, remember all those tourist girls? And the school dances? I’m surprised we both managed to graduate. Even though we didn’t really have a fucking clue as to what to do next, except that we hope there’d be more beer and more girls and we knew we’d get legal and vote for some idiot sooner or later.

“Vuh-vuh, I dunno. vuh, vote for Ji-Ji-Jimmy Carter.”

I missed you awful when you went down that university in New Jersey, while I was finishing up state college up here. You figured that the further you got from Dad, the better you’d be able to do better than him. You could have. You could have. But the books weren’t much fun, the frat parties were too much fun, even when it wasn’t your frat, and those brothers weren’t really your brothers. Must have been something about you, though, you managed some study sessions with some smart, sexy girls. Then you dropped out, moved to California to get even further away from home, but you got one of those smart girls to drop out too, and come out to try to make a normal life with you in wonderland.

“Alice in Wonderland, huh-huh how the hell can you tell you’re in Wonderland?”

“Everett, you’re singing! In complete sentences! I’ll have to tell your doctor tomorrow!”

Alice, that’s right. You sent me a photo of you. I was getting mine, but yeah, Alice was pretty cute. But she found out you had a bad allergy to normality. Probably got that from me. You probably missed me. But you didn’t come home.
Alice left you to find someone with a real BMW and fertile sperm, and you left the city and headed up to a commune in the redwoods, where they sunbathed naked and popped LSD every day with their apple juice. When you opened your mind, though, you didn’t really know where you were, did you? Without a real home, without your brother. You were face down in a field, harvesting the monsters from your unconscious and shivering in a ninety-degree afternoon, when a bunch of Jesus Freaks from an adjoining commune just happened to passeth your way. They lifted you up and told you you’d been born again. Which never made any sense, when you told me all this, because Mom and Dad had never had you born Christian in the first place. It just made me sad that my good Little Brother had had to make his trip without a map, and had ended up adopting a new dogma. It still pisses me off, Jesus or no Jesus.

“Ruh-ruh-ruh! Wuh, woof! Th-th-thank you, Jesus. Th-th-th-thank you, Juh- Jack.”

“Please try not to shout, Everett, it’s getting towards sleep time.”

Maybe Jesus did help save you from something, but for what? You took a bunch of dumb jobs, since you never completed college. Actually, while holding on to those job, you did find a way back to college, but this time it was Bible college, a kind of sleepy scene, without much of anything going on, but with the Good Book and a lot of fellow dogma lovers telling you what to do and what to think. Then you did come back home, and found a local Bible-thumper to marry and start a family with. But she cut you off from your old family, including your old brother. If they’d had a category in the high school yearbook for, Most Likely Not to Accept Anyone Else As His Personal Savior, it could’ve been me.

“Most, Most Likely, Likely to Know What It’s Like, What It’s Like Not to Succeed.”

Was that you thinking that, Little Brother? Your mind must be growing up on you. Yeah, yeah. I sought what I could seek in a state college, found my own smart girls, we did have some here, stayed an active, beer-drinking bachelor while I went on through to my own bachelor’s degree, in philosophy, that’s what you do when you’re a seeker. Dad laughed, ‘cause he figured it wouldn’t save me from working dumb jobs. Which meant, it wouldn’t save me from him. He was right. Not that he ever wanted me to go very far. He was always much more interested in maintaining his Ford F-100 than he was in taking care of me or you, Evvie. Or Mom, for that matter. And after he lost her, he also lost interest in himself, quit his job, sat around watching bad politics and badly written tv shows. The truck had the last laugh, well-taken-care-of as it was, it outlasted him. He went out after a stroke, maybe that’s where you got it from, Evvie, hate to tell you.

“I miss you, Dad. I’ve prayed for you.”

I’m driving his truck right now, Evvie. Out into the Waters of God, which may wash it clean, though they can’t was me clean. Have you prayed for me, Little Brother? Dad? Dad? I’m starting to repeat myself like you, Evvie. Dad, you’d better let me know what part of Heaven or Hell they parked you in, because I’m headed that way. You’re gonna have to miss me too, Evvie.

“Jack, wait, Jack.”

Yeah, I’m driving Dad’s Ford. Don’t you wish you were with me? Dad would never let us drive his rig. Certainly not into a hurricane. I’m getting out past the houses now, everybody huddled in kitchens around their kerosene lamps, ‘cause the power lines got blown down an hour or so ago. Goodbye, goodbye you orange glowing families, you better hug each other while you can. Getting into the foresty part of the Park, that’s some other kind of family, isn’t it, Evvie? Even the biggest of the pine trees can stay still in a storm like this, they’re waving at me, like the crowd at graduation. Bye-bye, trees.

“You can’t.”

Yes, I can, and you know what I have on? No, I don’t mean a poncho, ‘cause I don’t give a shit about getting wet. I mean, what I have on on Dad’s cassette player. Nothing that he would ever have listened to. What would be the very last song in my life I would listen to? I’ll turn it up.

“I guess you wonder where I’ve been. . . “

That’s right! “What You Won’t Do For Love”! Bobby Caldwell, from the other end of the Forgotten Decade, 1978. Sing it, Evvie! Guess the big brain clot didn’t mess with your music. The storm’s trying to drown out the sound, too, but it can’t, it can’t. “I searched to find the love within!”

And I did. Bobby sang it: “Some people go around the world for love/But they may never find that they dream of”. I went around the world without leaving my home state much, seeking truth, seeking love, figuring they must have something to do with each other, but what the fuck? Got married once, adopted a kid, Marti kept her life and the house so clean that there wasn’t any way for love to muss it up, then she took off with the kid and left what I guess she thought was the mess in me. At least that’s the way it looked to her.

I got a government job. I think Dad saw that as a step up, a cinch into stability. But it was boring as shit. I wrote you a lot of letters then, trying to connect with someone I knew had brains and heart. Your Christ Almighty wife had run off with your kids, so although you were rightfully pissed, you had a bit more time for me.
“You always were a good writer, Jack. You always should have been a writer.”
You reminded me that I had a muse, even when I wasn’t sleeping with one. I took some creative writing classes at community college, and started writing stories, to make life look more interesting. For a while, it gave me something interesting to talk about on dates, ‘cause girls seemed to always like sensitive suffering writers, especially when the girls and the writers were still young.
Suffering doesn’t age too well, though. And it doesn’t usually work too well on editors, if it has heart in it. They say you should get used to rejection letters. I started papering my walls with them, waiting for an acceptance letter which I could actually frame. It just made more of that mess that got me divorced. Time went by, a blear of biweekly bank deposits and uncelebratory holidays. Then, at some bar which I thought was actually for getting drunk and not for flirting my way into another one-night stand, I actually met a woman, a woman, who could see me through the whiskey, and wanted to. I still don’t know whether she just wanted to fix me up, but we dated, made it legal, conceived a child (not necessarily in that order), bought our own place, and then took over Mom and Dad’s place as a summer place.

Which is where I’ve been staying now, past summer and into hurricane season. Sally and Emmy went home early. I’ve held onto the job — it’s helped pay for all this and to put something aside for the new generation’s old college try —, but I’ve also held onto the drinking, and it become tough for anyone else within sniffing distance to put up with the mood swings and the intoxicated post-graduate philosophical rants. Maybe you could have, Evvie, but you weren’t around.

“I’m sorry, Jack. I did pray for you. I’m praying for you now.”

I’m done with making you do that. Done with feeling like an emotional Typhoid Mary. Done with bleeding all over my fiction and my poetry. But you know what? I know I’m alive right now, because I’m parking my past and my future along with the goddamned Ford F-100, in the parking lot above Thunder Hole.

Remember, remember when we used to come down to Thunder Hole, Evvie? In the rain and the wind, when the tourists would have been scared shitless? Right about when the hurricanes were climaxing? Hurricane Heidi, Hurricane Belle, and all the rest of those wild girls, looking for boys to destroy. You and me, we’d hike down the rocky path to just above where the storm was rushing the seawater into the inlet, towards the cavern, then bursting fifty feet upward into the air, all over us, the chilled liquid salt soaking us, while the waves of compacted air thundered in our ears.
Driving back down Ocean Drive, back home, we chuckled and drank beer.


And wondered: would sex ever be that good?
“Was it?”

But I’m not driving home this time, home isn’t home any more. And this truck doesn’t need to be mine. I’m leaving the keys stuck inside the visor, so it can go to whatever happy family might find it. Trucks last, people don’t. Neither do stories, when they don’t get published. But I want you to remember this one, Evvie.

“Jack, what are you thinking you’re doing?”

Wish you were here, Little Brother. No, I don’t.

“Jack, you can’t go down to Thunder Hole during a storm, the Rangers won’t let you.”

Never stopped me before.

“Jack, this is no more fooling around. You’re scaring me. For Christ’s sake!”

“Everett, what’s the matter? Why are you getting out of bed? Are you having a bad dream?”

“Jack, a living person can’t just turn his back on life. And you’re more than just living, you’re a husband and a father, and a writer who readers deserve to read, all over the world. And you’re the only big brother I have, and I want to have you more, I want to see you more, I’m sorry I haven’t. Don’t walk out on that cliff, this isn’t a story, this is goddamned real! Oh, God, oh, God, no!”

“Everett, this is amazing! We’ve never seen someone come back from a stroke this way, speaking like you are, like the stroke never happened! It must be a miracle, I’ll have to tell the doctors! There must be an angel out there who knows you , loves you, and really cares about you. Why are you crying?”

“There was, Nurse. Or maybe there is, now.”