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Memories of Ryan and I

Jeffrey Schrader

I’d known Ryan for ten years, but hadn’t seen him in two. The last time we spoke he had quickly mentioned something about legal troubles, and I figured I’d never really see him again. By chance, we both happened to be teaching summer school classes at the same college, and ran into each other at a free jazz concert put on by the music department. We sat on a stone wall, smoked a few cheap cigarettes, and reminisced about the good old days. I agreed to meet him at his apartment later on that afternoon, after our classes let out.

At 3:30 I knocked on his door. He had a small efficiency apartment, perfectly square, with a little closet in the corner. He had a desk, a chair, a bed, a set of drawers, some shelves, and a really nice stereo system. There wasn’t even a bathroom— it was one of those modern day flophouses with a community commode at the end of each hallway. Fortunately, he had fashioned a small urinal out of a two-liter pop bottle. I’m sure that this is unsanitary, and probably a violation of some health code, but it beats the hell out of walking all the way to the end of the hall just to take a leak. The two of us sat on the floor and talked for a few hours. We also kicked a bottle of bourbon like it was water. The best part of the entire reunion was that we had both finally outgrown the whole punk-rock scene that had fostered us as children. We were both finally growing up, and growing into more mature, more eclectic tastes in better music. Before I left, I gave Ryan my phone number. We decided that we should get together and do something exciting after our classes had finished up for the summer. To be honest with you, I didn’t really expect to ever hear from him again.

Two weeks after administering the final exam to my class, I got a call from Ryan. He asked if I were up for an old-fashioned road trip, like we used to do when we were younger. I was hesitant, but eventually agreed. He told me to pack enough clothes and money for two weeks, bring along two tapes for the car, and be ready for him to pick me up at 6:00 the next morning.

As soon as the sun broke through the early morning mist, Ryan pulled his van into my driveway and honked the horn three times. I stumbled out with my supplies, and hopped in. For some reason, Ryan’s rule was that we could only listen to four tapes for the entire length of the trip. It was no big deal to me, we both had brought along some excellent selections. The music for the trip would be: Bob Dylan – Blood On The Tracks, Johnny Cash – Greatest Hits, Tom Petty – Wildflowers, and Miles Davis – Kind Of Blue. We popped in Dylan and followed the beautifully raspy lyrics of Tangled up in Blue as we headed south.

About an hour into the trip I asked Ryan where exactly we would be going. He told me we’d make our first real stop at Covington, Kentucky. I didn’t really know what special little surprises Covington held in store for us, so I asked indignantly, “Why?” Ryan just gave me a stupid look, and proceeded to explain— “The world’s largest yard sale. It starts in Covington, Kentucky, and follows highway 127 all the way down to Gadsun, Alabama. That’s a grand total of 450 miles. Can you even imagine a yard sale that big? It’s non-stop too, for 450 miles, from Kentucky to Alabama, nothing but roadside yard sales.”

I had to admit, it sounded intriguing. I’ve always been a fan of yard sales, antique shops, the thrift store, and anywhere else where I could find one-of-a-kind used treasures for a reasonable price. So, the idea of 450 miles of non-stop yard sales piqued my interest.

Along the stretch of highway 127, we slept in the van until we eventually filled it up. We had brought along enough food, cigarettes, and alcohol, so all our money pretty much went towards buying junk from the roadside. The best part of the buy is the hunt. The haggling. Never, ever pay the asking price on an item at a yard sale. Trust me, you’ll always be able to argue your way down at least ten percent. If you’re good, like me, you’ll never pay more than fifty percent of the marked price. We bought a very diverse array of items. We filled the van with everything from benches, wall clocks, graniteware pots, old books, and carpets, to dishes, silverware, baseball cards, looms, spinning wheels, American flags, clothing, gardening tools, and mailboxes. We had every square inch of the van filled with some sort of useless item that meant everything to us. And after more than a week on the road, we were looking for somewhere other than the van to sleep anyway. We checked into a little Mom & Pop motel in a rustic, dustbowl town outside of Gadsun, Alabama.

On the floor of our room, Ryan and I cracked open a case of beer and a bottle of rum. Apparently over the past two years we both had become experts in the art of alcohol. Neither of us really had a problem, but we both enjoyed getting nicely looped fairly often. Maybe it was the booze talking, but that night was when I learned where Ryan had been for the past two years.

It seems that Ryan was caught in a narcotics sting operation in New Jersey. When a cop kicked down his bedroom door, Ryan shot him. He’d been on the run ever since. He somehow obtained illegal documents, which essentially gave him an entire new identity. He knew that he didn’t have much longer before he would inevitably be caught, so he wanted to have one last trip on the road with an old friend— to live one more time.

I formulated a plan in my head. I probably should have waited to sober up before doing so, but it seemed genius at the time. I had plenty of money put away in my savings account; teaching college full time had been good to me. However, I was pretty sure that I would never be tenured at my current university; they were overstaffed as it was. Ryan too had been working as a part time professor, and had saved enough money to last for a while. So, we decided to quit our jobs (actually, to just never show up again) and live a life on the road. For years as a teenager I dreamt of somehow being able to do nothing but travel the world, it appeared as though that dream might come true. We devised a strategy to make it to Mexico, and retire on a beach somewhere. The exchange rate down there is extremely generous when it comes to American money, so basically, we would be very rich. We passed out on our beds and dreamt of our new future.

That was forty years ago. Here I sit, an old man, left alone. Shortly after making it to our beautiful new house on our private Mexican beach, we met some lovely young ladies. Ryan got hitched to a cute little senorita named Theresa, while I married her twin sister Clarissa. We lived decent lives for a while, boating, swimming, writing, painting, playing music, and of course, a whole lot of drinking. I won’t lie; it was fun. But now, I am alone. Theresa and Clarissa died within a week of each other almost fifteen years ago. Ryan kicked off from lung cancer just three years ago. My savings went out about a year ago, so I’ve been sending out my manuscripts and finally publishing all the damn novels I’d been writing over the years. I used a pen name of course, I could never be certain, but I was always positive that the American police were trying to find me. Harboring a cop-killer in another country, I would’ve been extradited and convicted as soon as they found me. I didn’t live in fear, but I always looked over my shoulder. Sometimes I still wonder what my life would’ve been like if I hadn’t decided to go to that free jazz concert; if I hadn’t run into Ryan. I especially wonder why I made a drunken promise to go on the run with him. Sure, I have an elegant house that sits right on my own private beach, but I have nothing inside of me. It’s a chasm as deep and vast as the blue ocean that reaches out all around me.

I watch the pink sun melt into the cerulean sea as stars fill the Mexican night. If I could cry, I would. All I do is sit on my chair in the sand, and wait for my turn to dissolve into the ocean. I wait for my turn to set, and watch darkness embrace me as I follow the stars into nothingness. I left a life behind for something that seemed so much better; the only thing left for me now is my eternal night. I’ll blanket myself, and veil my eyes; I pray that soon my sun will set, and I will awaken anywhere but here.

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