If I were feeling depressed or anxious, this is the kind of place I'd seek out, where I could be at one with nature. I've never thought of this before, but maybe this place saved my father's life.
A trailer, a closet and tears
I drove past our old trailer in Honaker two years ago and snapped a picture. I wanted to show my colleagues in Atlanta where I used to live. But that's the only time I've seen it since I was 12, when my parents built the house they live in now and we watched the trailer roll away.
It jars me when I see it again. My heart races, and I take deep breaths as I park my car at the bottom of the hill. The trailer is painted in almost exactly the same colors I remember -- blue, brown and white -- and has a wooden roof atop the thin metal one I remember. I have it in mind that I'll walk around the perimeter of the property and take some pictures. Just to be polite, I knock on the door before snooping around.
I can hear movement inside, but it takes the person a long time to get to the door. When the door finally opens, a large man in an electric wheelchair introduces himself as Grover Lambert.
I don't plan to do this, but I find myself suddenly asking if I can come in. "I used to live in this trailer," I tell him. "My parents are Judy and Delmer Presley."
Grover remembers them, and he remembers me. He bought the trailer when I was just a kid. He keeps asking me how old I am, in disbelief that I'm 34. "I remember you as a little kid about this big," he says, raising his hand about 3 feet off the floor.
I explore the trailer and find not much has changed. Even the wallpaper in some of the rooms is the same. It feels so claustrophobic. It's hard to believe three people ever lived together in this place. There's new carpet, and Grover has replaced the kitchen counters. There's a stench of sweat and medicine.
I ask Grover if he reads much, because I want to thank him by giving him a copy of my book. I am stupefied by his response. "I can't read," he says, looking down to avoid eye contact. "I never did get much education."
It's hard for me to look at him. I feel embarrassed that I asked, and so sorry for him, too. I don't know what I'd do without books and stories. They've saved my life in many ways. I look around the trailer -- and at Grover -- and all I can think is that this could have been me. I feel guilty that I was able to save myself, to get out of this town when so many others couldn't.
Part of me wants to run away from this place as fast as I can, but I can't leave without seeing my old bedroom. It's chilly in the trailer, but as I wrap my fingers around the doorknob, I notice my palms are soaked with sweat.
As I open the door, I am shocked the room is so small. There's a full bed and not much else. I fixate on the little closet in the back of the room. It is the place where I hid from my father. For hours a day sometimes, I read and wrote by flashlight there, hidden away from the world. It was the one place I felt safe.
I start to cry. I can't stop. I think about running over to the closet, flinging the door open and ordering my childhood self to come out. But I don't. I leave the closet door shut and stare from a distance.
The school I can't remember
I feel disconnected when we drive into the high school parking lot. It doesn't seem like I ever even went to school here. That's no surprise. I was disconnected from everyone during my teenage years. I was in countdown mode until I could leave Honaker.
I look at my watch and realize I have only two hours until I'll be speaking and signing books. I have no idea what I'm going to read or what I'm going to say. I've hardly seen anyone but family here for almost 20 years. A part of me would like to think no one in Honaker has changed; I remember most of the people here the way they looked two decades ago. Maybe I'm afraid of seeing that change.
Dad calls and says he'll play his song about Vietnam after all, but he has to set up sound equipment at the library. I'm relieved -- and nervous. I've done a lot of interviews and frequent readings of the book these days, but not in front of my parents. Not in front of my family. Not in front of people in Honaker.
We return to my parents' house. I need some time to think before the event at the library. But as soon as we walk into the house, Mom starts handing me books to sign for friends and relatives. She also shows me a T-shirt she's been wearing with "Thirty Days with My Father" ironed onto it. She's laminated a picture of the book's cover, too, and plans to put it in her car window.
Dad keeps calling my name from the other room. "Christal. Hey, Christal," he yells over and over. I finally yell back that I am talking to Mom and cannot have two conversations at once. I feel completely smothered. When my mother's leg brushes against mine at the table, I pull away. I don't want to be touched right now. I want to be alone. I start counting the hours until I can return to Atlanta.
I lock myself in the guest room and try to figure out what I'll read and say in front of my community today. Maybe no one will show up. I'm afraid they won't. I'm afraid they will.