Home |Confessions |Batik Gallery |The Art of Batik |Bulletin Board |Contacts |Links |Shows & Exhibitions
BATIK ART BY JONATHAN S. EVANS
Confessions of an Itinerant Batik Artist

<-- Last Chapter

Next Chapter -->


BACK TO SCHOOL ( AGAIN)

 

I think it was Leslee who told us about the little old schoolhouse back off Lobelia Road. It had been empty for awhile and belonged to Sandi who now lived in Morgantown. She had acquired the place in a divorce settlement following a particularly messy triangulated affair. I soon learned that the local immigrant population had all been married to one another at one time or another. A game of musical marriage was played regularly when everyone broke up with their current partners and switched with their neighbours. If there was anyone around that you fancied but who was married to somebody else at the moment, stick around for you'd probably get a shot at them sooner or later. It did feel like a curiously incestuous little society and I often wondered how the children of all these confusing relationships would turn out. Anyway, the old schoolhouse was currently empty and so we went to check it out and discovered that it had possibilities. It stood on its own, surrounded by tall oak trees, on a lane called George Hill Road which ran down between the main Lewisburg road, Route 219 and Lobelia Road. We knew a lot of the people living back there. The house had been built a hundred years before but hadn't been used as a school for at least twenty years. It was basically one large square room with a very tall ceiling. It had some rather half-hearted partitions erected in it which partially divided it into four equal sized rooms and had a central wood stove and chimney. The two sidewalls had long windows and the far wall was covered with ancient green blackboards. Little messages, signatures and signs of the desperate young prisoners of yore could be seen everywhere, scratched into walls or carved into the wood paneling. When Floyd the Woodman came by one day to drop us off a load of firewood that winter, he went, almost irresistibly, straight to the back wall and pointed at a tiny cross drawn low on the wall. "That's where my nose was last time I came here", he said. The house did seem to be filled with ghosts or at least with ghosts of memories and we soon felt that we were bringing our own to this gallery of living history. The house had no insulation whatsoever and one could feel thin cool shafts of wind blowing through the cracks between the panels in the walls. There was no running water in the house itself but there was an old hand pump in the garden nearby. A little outhouse stood behind the house with a two seat wooden toilet over a deep hole in the ground. It was truly beautiful and totally primitive and with a rent of $50 a month, it was irresistible.

Feeling closer to one another and calmer than we had in months, Carol and I moved our few things into the schoolhouse on a Full Moon night in late March and so began the next chapter of our life together. We put up exotic fabrics and batiks on the walls, turned one quarter of the house into Carol's room and made another my studio space. The bedroom was one of the backspaces and the kitchen and dining room made up the fourth. As soon as the old wood stove was fired up, it became the focus of the house and we set two old armchairs that Leslee had given us on either side of the fire. There was an old crumbling porch on the front of the house too, with a nice suspended swinging seat but it was still much too cold to do anything but stack firewood out there. We walked straight into a very nice and close community of people on Lobelia Road, all of whom were very friendly and supportive. We used to walk up to Phil and Bernadette's house often. They had a big old farmhouse, a lot of land and six horses, more or less retired and roaming free around the hill. Denny, the recluse, lived back up behind them constantly working on the huge house that he was building for himself up there. David too had bought a little piece of land up there and seemed to be permanently camped out in a tent up there planning his own dream house. Mike and Danette and their two young sons lived nearby and would often come by. We had a standing invitation to go to their house on Sundays for fabulous saunas in their little red wood sauna house.

Desperate for culture in any form, I discovered that the West Virginia Library system had a surprisingly good collection of classic sixteen millimeter movies and started a regular "Sunday Night Classics" double bill in the trailer library in Hillsboro. That was quite successful for almost six months and we watched some wonderful movies. I learned how to operate and repair the ancient movie projector and had audiences varying in number from three (to see "Erasorhead" and "Repo Man", a great program) to over forty (for a special kids' Matinee of "Dr Doolittle"). But soon everyone started to get Satellite linkups for their TVs and with access to two hundred plus stations, who wanted to come out on a cool night to the Library? Indeed, satellite dishes have been called the state flower of West Virginia. A common sight locally was someone living in a tiny trailer with a huge four-wheel drive truck parked outside and a massive satellite dish completing the scenario. But the Gesundheit members, who didn't get television until much later, remained a faithful audience. There were plenty of Sunday nights when only Kristin, Andy, Carol and I would sit in a line together amongst all the books, eating popcorn and watching some forgotten classic from some long gone era.

We had car trouble pretty soon, for the weather and the roads were brutal to most vehicles in our neighbourhood. We sold the VW bus as soon as we could. Its Corvair engine was always a problem and it was grossly under-powered for the mountainous terrain we lived in. The bus was passed from hand to hand and then passed on again and eventually appeared abandoned along the side of Route 219 on the way down to Lewisburg. The poor vehicle sat there for the next five years, its wheels long removed, getting slowly stripped and more dilapidated as the traffic and the years went by. Long after Carol had left the scene, her bus sat there by the road, reminding me of great days in the Mid-West, romantic nights parked out in the wilds as well as all the miseries of an unhappy relationship that probably never should have happened in the first place.

After a vacation and business trip to Washington where I sold another batik and we caught all the new exhibitions, we settled down into life on Lobelia Road. It was Spring after some late snow and I dug and planted out a big vegetable garden next to the house which had about an acre of land around it. I was working hard everyday on my new batiks too which was pretty satisfying. I felt that I had achieved a good balance in my life between art and other projects and an active social life. Carol was working hard on a beautiful soft sculpture bedspread made of scrap materials which had a three dimensional West Virginian landscape on it. At the State Fair that summer, she would win second prize in the Quilt Contest with it, no mean feat in a world where traditional quilt making was elevated into a prized art form.

 

At the start of May that year, I heard of a new restaurant, the Cardinal, (named after the brilliantly red state bird), opening in Lewisburg and went down there for an interview. Stephen and Jessica, who lived near us on Jaycox Road, were the proprietors and were looking for a baker and a salad prep. chef, a job which looked perfect for me. I was hired on the spot and started the next day at 7.30 am on a shift that usually ended at 3pm. It was hard work but I enjoyed it, at least at first, for I was working with friends, making new friends and was suddenly plunged into the heady (after Lobelia Rd.) action of Lewisburg's social swirl. The food was very good too. I got to bake dozens of cinnamon rolls and breads, pies, cakes of all kinds, tarts and pastries and at lunchtime, I made Caesar salads ad infinitum. Ricki, the baker I worked with, was great fun but Stephen and Jessica were often hard to be around and a lot of the new staff defected early on. It felt rather frustrating for it could have been a perfect job, friends working with friends to serve friends. But soon Stephen started to behave like many restaurant owners and was both critical and boorish. Jessica too could be imperious to say the least and both seemed to have forgotten about politeness which is the oil that runs a good restaurant business. A "Thank you" and a "Please" here and there would have worked wonders. After a few weeks of getting up at 6 am. and driving down to Lewisburg to give my all for minimum wages and never a kind word, I confronted Jessica and told her how I felt. Things were better for awhile but Stephen, always an antisocial type, continued to be rude and alienated staff and customers alike. It became more and more difficult to put up with his snide remarks and his complete inability to say anything pleasant. The situation began to seriously deteriorate for me. I certainly enjoyed the regular money and the social scene but in the end it wasn't worth it and the job became an ordeal. Perhaps the bottom line was that I wasn't all that interested in food although I think I learnt a lot while working there. After four months of hard work, I seized control of the situation and gave Stephen a week's notice. In the end, I believe he wanted me to stay on but couldn't back down and tell me so. By the end of August, I was a poor struggling artist again.

I had worked away steadily on my batiks through Spring and into Summer and found the schoolhouse a really nice environment. The cracks in the walls which made the house so cold in winter, kept it pleasantly cool in the hot weather. At night, Carol and I would walk back down to the schoolhouse after a pleasant evening with Phil and Bernadette and would pass under the archway of oak trees that was George Hill Road in the early summer. The trees were full of fireflies, thousands of points of pulsating electricity to light our way home.

This was also the Summer of the Cicadas. My old friend Nic came down from Boston to visit us during the month or so that these locusts appear, once every seventeen years. They certainly were funny looking creatures, green with tiny bright red eyes, when they suddenly started to hatch out and appear one day early in June. The air and the bushes and the trees were full of them for weeks as they mated mindlessly for the few weeks that this generation spent on Earth. They flew back and forward continuously, rubbing their little wings together and making their unmistakable sound which said "Me, Me, Take Me, Take Me, Me, Me, I'm Yours!!". Then they laid eggs in the branches of the oak trees and died. The branches died too eventually, fell down to the ground, decomposed and entered the earth. Seventeen years later, I was told, they would be resurrected and would do it all over again. It was quite amazing and I couldn't help reflecting on my own, probably just as meaningless or meaningful, cycle of brief existence. Nic enjoyed the Cicada Show a lot and I made him a small cicada batik to hang in his home. We had a nice visit with him for although our lives have diverged wildly in style and content, I have known him since I was nineteen and he has always been a true and constant friend. West Virginia is mostly limestone rock and is a spelunker's Paradise. We took Nic to Lost World Caverns near Lewisburg. These are some of the biggest and most impressive caves I have ever seen with gigantic stalactites and stalagmites running on for literally miles. One could shoot a wonderful sci-fi movie down there, I thought.

I got an invitation to exhibit my batiks at the Textile Museum in Washington DC in November that year too, which gave me a lot of pleasure. Given rather short notice to get a show together, I worked hard to finish thirty-five new pieces. Bruce called me suddenly from New York to tell me that my old friend and neighbour Peter One from Ibiza had died from lymphoma cancer on June 23rd after suffering terribly for months. He had been my staunch ally throughout my days of reggae madness and I had known him for many years. I knew of Peter's illness, it had first appeared five or six years before but he had had treatment for it which had seemed to work. The cancer had gone into remission for awhile. But Peter, an incredibly intense, private and driven individual, had refused to make any compromises or changes in his life and had continued his high-pressure lifestyle around the world. To the end, he had continued to push his limits in his diet, his drug habits and in his demanding relationships. Perhaps inevitably, the cancer had returned and carried him off. I hadn't seen him in years but had written to him in the final few months offering Gesundheit's help. He had rejected it, saying that he wouldn't eat lentils for anyone. I had thought of him often. Ten years before, I had had a fantastic time and a truly unique experience with him in the Rif Mountains. He would definitely go onto my list of the ten most unforgettable people.

The Second Annual Spring Creek Festival happened on three days in mid-July. It was a great success aesthetically and musically but it didn't make as much money as expected. The Festival was held on John's land off the Brownstown Road where he and a team of carpenters had constructed a huge and substantial stage in a natural basin at the edge of one field. A smaller tower for the soundboard and crew had been built opposite it. David the Kitemaker had erected a long, futuristic-looking tarpaulin cover against the sun for the spectators and there was a concessions booth and a security squad. The music ranged from local folk singers to bluegrass groups and from a classical guitarist to out and out rock and roll bands. We had a mad dance to finish off the program late each night. I worked hard all day making endless burritos and serving drinks but got to enjoy the music at night and dance on the grass out under the stars and a big moon. The headliners on the Saturday night were one of West Virginia's few successful bands, "Stark Raven", and one of my favourite groups. They had a slightly retro-folk rock sound, featured two women lead singers and a distinctive rock violin sound that I loved. They have since gone on to considerable success on the Public Radio Show "Mountain Stage". I slept out in the back of my Chevy at night on the field, swam in the river during the hot afternoons and had a fantastic weekend.

We discovered that there were compensations to living in the schoolhouse. In the late summer, incredible numbers of orange Chanterelle mushrooms appeared all over our land. They were really delicious, with a meat-like texture and taste and could be cooked in a great variety of ways. Mysteriously they popped up every summer at the same time and we would go out and harvest them and give them to all our friends for weeks.

Life slipped by that hot summer. Carol and I continued to have our ups and downs but had learned not to appear in public together too often and made sure that we spent plenty of time apart. I went over to Gesundheit regularly to hang out with Eva and J.J., Patch's old doctor friend who was now Eva's boyfriend. I spent a day baking there and met Ramesh, an Indian restaurant owner who normally lived in London. He became a great friend of mine and someone to visit whenever I went back to England. The Evans Safety Network was gradually widening.

In August, Carol and I got up early one Monday morning and drove up to Pittsburgh. There we met David, my friend and immigration lawyer, at his parents' house to prepare for the following day's interview with the US Immigration Department. All the paper work necessary for my application to become a legal Resident Alien in the USA had been done. All that remained to do was to convince the bureaucrats that be that I was a respectable, responsible individual and that I had made a bona fide marriage with Carol. At this point, that was a moot point for our relationship had never really stabilized. It always felt that it might fall apart at any moment or that Carol might run away again. The commitment of true intimacy would always be difficult for her. We were interviewed separately and some of the questioning was pretty intense and quite personal. The interviewer didn't quite ask me when we'd last made love or which side of the bed Carol slept on, but he almost did. It was difficult to explain our runaway wedding after only two weeks and to make it sound convincing. I think that I pleaded a case for two artistsí passionate spontaneity. I had to talk about our separation in Hillsboro, about Carol's abortion and consequent hysterectomy. I guess that our separate stories must have validated each other's for it all seemed to go well and David was very confident that I would get my Green Card. I wouldn't know for another two months and still had to be checked out by the FBI, the CIA and Interpol (if they still existed). I was taking nothing for granted.

The last week of August was the West Virginia State Fair and was traditionally a week of heavy rain. This year was no exception and we spent a very damp few days down in Lewisburg where the Fair was held. State Fairs are a unique American experience and this was one of the most American. We found ourselves there with a booth in the Arts and Crafts Enclosure where Carol was selling her quilts, little bags and soft hats. She was a great seamstress and had assembled a huge stock to show to the West Virginian public. I had brought all my new batik paintings along and had also made a series of tiny round batiks, which were stretched in embroidery frames and hung on strings. So we set up our Fiber Arts Booth and spent five very damp and tiring days trying to peddle our wares to the endless procession of visitors. Literally thousands of people walked by to see our work. Sitting down most of the time, all we really saw was an endless stream of huge bellies, over-tight jeans with straining heavy buckled belts and teetering cowboy boots. This wasn't America at its most beautiful. But it was all pretty interesting, especially when we sold something and we made new friends among the other crafts people. Carol won a prize for her quilt and we got to go to a great party with a live band when it was all over. They always say that the West Virginia State Fair ain't for wimps and that's certainly true. It's a grueling experience and itís mainly for masochists, especially if you don't make much money. We only made about three hundred dollars in total and resolved never to do it again (although we actually went on to do it several more times, masochists that we were!)

I was still waiting to hear about my Green Card application but I finally decided to take what felt like a really big step for me. For the past eight years, I had been driving in the States on an old English driving license (they give you one for life there). I thought that now I might as well go all the way and get thoroughly legal and on the record in America by taking the US driving test. I've always been terrified by examinations of any kind. My fear stems from my father's having always expected so much from me academically and his having pushed me through so many tests. Just the thought of taking any exam could make me break out in a cold sweat and I had delayed getting a driving license here for as long as possible. But one day, I screwed up my courage and drove the old Chevy up to Marlinton, ten miles up the road. I filled in a form, took and easily passed a written test and then went outside for the practical part. I had to park the car between two posts which I managed without much trouble. Then the examiner got in the car with me and told me to take a right turn, which I did, then another which I did and then a third upon which he said "You've driven before". "For twenty five years", I said and he told me to drive back to the police station and passed me. In contrast I remembered the time I had sat my English test, oh so long ago. It was notoriously hard to pass the English test first time and people often had to sit it five or six times before they were given a license. I had practiced hard, taken a few lessons and took the test in a trance of concentration, driving faultlessly and making all the right moves in the correct sequences. When we were finished, I knew that I had done well but the examiner said "Do you see that sign over there, Mr. Evans? How far away would you say it was ?" I looked and guessed. "About one hundred yards", I said. "Yes, well, its less than twenty yards away", he said. But he passed me anyway.

 

On October 7th 1986, I became a legal resident of the US of A. The Gesundheit Institute threw a surprise party for me complete with a massed choir singing "America the Brave", an America (roughly) shaped cake and a great night of fun and dancing. I felt very good about it and will always be grateful to Carol for marrying me, which made it possible and to my lawyer and friend David, who made it easy. Now, if I had two cents to rub together, I could leave the country and go and visit my family again. I had not seen any of them for almost ten years. In fact, more years were to pass before that became a possibility.

Now it was suddenly Fall in West Virginia and I swear I'd never seen such incredible colours as all the maple trees turned yellow and orange and brilliant reds on the hills around us. It really was breathtakingly beautiful and a challenge for any artist to try and capture on canvas or cloth. I took long walks around Lobelia among the trees, as if trying to store up all these amazing colours and images in my mind. I'm not a Christian and I've never believed in God but I do believe in Beauty. Autumn in West Virginia was as close to Heaven as I thought I'd ever come.

One early morning in late October, I walked up the high hill behind the schoolhouse to Briery Knob. It was a steep climb and I had to navigate through the mud and puddles. The road and paths were wooded on all sides but as I reached the top, the hill was clear of trees and the view was panoramic. The wind up there had turned the stumps of old trees into fantastically weathered and twisted abstract shapes. To one side, I could look down on National Forest stretching clear to the horizon perhaps forty miles away with neither roads, houses or signs of civilization to be seen. To the right, I could see Hillsboro and beyond that to Marlinton. With binoculars, I could pick out various friends' roads and houses. And those colours everywhere! The trees seemed to be on fire in the soft golden Fall sunlight. All my problems with Carol seemed far away and the problems of the world lay far below me up on Briery Knob.

 

My exhibition at the Textile Museum was coming up in three weeks and I was racing to finish up my last pieces. I thought that I had a pretty good collection together as I took my last three batiks outside to submerge them in their final black dye bath. I was using the luggage pod off the top of the old VW bus as a dye vat. It was a good wide container, deep enough to take a good quantity of dye so that I could have several pieces in there at the same time, with a lid that I could close to keep the dye clean. It seemed a fitting use for the pod whose days of frantic cross-country traveling were hopefully over. The batiks were all from West Virginia and were mainly scenes of rural life with a couple of the paintings of classic cars that I liked to do thrown in. I had also included some pieces from the town of Lewisburg, a rendering of the historic Old Stone Church and the town's two barbershops. I had tried to show a side of country life that was slowly becoming superseded by the fast moving late Twentieth Century, a holdover from an era which was patently doomed in the long run.

I spent the first week of November stretching all the batiks which was quite an undertaking in itself and I was delighted to have so much help and support from my friends and neighbours. I had all the batiks ready for Washington by the middle of the month. I hung and stacked them all around the schoolhouse to give a neighbourhood preview show before packing them up and driving them up to Washington. Friends trooped by to look at them one long day in mid-November and I sold one of them, a view of the Brownstown Road, to Betty who had a Wool shop in Marlinton. This sale financed the whole trip and the hanging operation in Washington, which was just as well as I was completely broke again. Carol had been working sporadically as a substitute teacher locally but we were still terribly poor. We used to describe ourselves as living way below the poverty line in Paradise.

 

Carol and I were not really getting on any better. We had our good days but there were plenty of bad days and it was clear that in general, we didn't bring out the best in one another. But I thought that I still loved the light, loving side of her personality and that I was committed to hanging in there through thick and thin. Perhaps I should have cut loose long before. But in retrospect I realize that I have nearly always held onto all my relationships for as long as I could and have taken some of them much further than I should have. I've always felt that one couldn't have too many good friends and have actively avoided conflict with intimates. My dedication to my friendships and to my support group is probably due to my feeling that I don't have an immediate or terribly strong family support system. I know that if one day, heaven forbid, I was busted smuggling a pound of heroin in Istanbul while dressed as a nun without a penny in my pocket, that I would probably turn to a lot of friends for help long before I'd involve my family. Anyway, until the balance tipped the other way, I didn't want to let go of Carol and had decided to make the best I could of my mistaken marriage. I hoped that somehow circumstances would change and that Carol and I could learn to live happily together. Unfortunately, the scales were about to tip the wrong way.

In mid-November, Carol and I drove up to Washington with the batiks for my Textile Museum show and went to Gesundheit to stay as usual. I prayed silently that we were going to be able to behave ourselves in company. I spent pretty hard days hanging the show in the gallery adjoining the Museum and then went out and bought a new shirt and trousers for the opening on the 20th, thanking Betty for having bought the batik that was making all this possible.

The opening itself was great fun. All our Gesundheit friends turned up for the occasion, the batik looked good and was much admired. I was happy to play the role of the Artist and to be both charming and modestly verbal about my art. I've never been able to talk about my work as some artists can and have always been envious of people who can express their ideas about their work. I am easily impressed by artists who can explain concepts behind pieces or point out salient details to their audience. You have to be quite satisfied with your work to be able to show it off and I rarely have felt that about my own. In response to praise, I manage to mask the cringing that I really feel inside. I have learned to say "I'm glad that you like the work" while privately saying, but can't you see the flaws, the clumsiness, the pale imitation of the reality that I tried to evoke? It's sometimes hard to be an artist dealing with the public. My only real involvement with each piece is during the quiet, private phase of the conception and the realization of each piece. That period, often lengthy in the making of a batik, is when I really enjoy my work. Figuring out my process, making my decisions and then relying on my skill to carry out my idea is tremendously exciting and satisfying. But by the time the batik painting comes back from the drycleaners without its coat of wax, I have already mentally moved onto the next piece and the next challenge. It's easier to address the new batik and its inherent challenges than to deal with the feeling of failure, which often accompanies the finished batik for me. Thus in Art, so in Life. As long as I can keep on the move and can continue to look forward, I feel fine.

We drove North after the show opened and went first to Leonia, New Jersey. Long ago, in another lifetime, I had left most of my possessions in my friend Gwen's basement. She was now married to Trevor and they were both delighted to see me -and not just because I had come to take all my stuff away with me and to give them their basement back. We left the car there and took the bus into New York where we crashed at Cathy's place on 45th Street and 9th Avenue. It was great to see her again and to catch up on each other's lives. We spent time with Bruce who was living at his girlfriend's apartment in Tribeca next door to Grace Jones, the singer. Bruce seemed unaged and unchanged and was parked near to a telephone in front of a big television. We visited with Lanny and Michael and Gene who were still living on the edge of Time Square and pushing hard to get by and be successful in the City. Before we left town, I left Carol to do some Museums and went out to Larchmont with Bruce to see his mother Lorna as well as sister Lynne who was visiting from Colorado with her family. It was always great to spend time with my adopted family and I felt very upset to say good-bye to them all. Before we drove South once more, we made another trip out to Leonia to pack all my things up. I was happy to see Robert, my friend the keyboard player from Catch a Fire who was now playing on tour with the Mory Kante band and who laid all kinds of great new music tapes on us. We arrived back in Arlington at Gesundheit exhausted but just in time to eat the leftovers from Thanksgiving dinner. Next day we attended a big wedding ceremony and celebration for our friends Steve and Shelly. But once again I was getting on badly with a depressed Carol who announced that she was going to move out of the schoolhouse and live in the Gesundheit trailer as soon as we got back to West Virginia. When we got back to Lobelia the following day, she even went so far as to move half her things out of the house and over to Gesundheit before I managed to persuade her to come home again. I knew that it was indicative of her life and the state of her head that she now had possessions strewn all over the place.

There was good mail when we got home. My shiny new Green Card had arrived and there was a sad letter from my Ibiza neighbour Phillip who was getting on very badly with his lady, Maria. But Phillip also enclosed an ancient tape of Chris and Gwyn playing together in Ibiza, "Tone Rose" Live at Art's Bar, Santa Eulalia. That was so wonderful to have and to hear in spite of its abysmal quality and as I played it over and over again, it brought back incredibly poignant memories for me. Golden Days!

 

I think that I knew that I was ready for a major life change at this point but couldn't have known what form it would take as we settled back into country life. Winter was upon us again in the mountains. There were a million chores to be done, firewood had to be collected and cut and the whole house had to be weatherized. This we did by hanging heavy curtains up over the doors and putting plastic sheeting up over the windows. Then early in December I woke up one morning feeling very ill with violent stomach pains. I knew that there was an intestinal virus about and that several friends had come down with it. But I was completely unprepared for the pain that I began to feel. Soon I was in bed literally writhing in agony. Carol was off working as a substitute teacher in the local junior school all that week and seemed to be barely around. But Kristin came over from Gesundheit to be with me often as did various other friends. Bob the doctor gave me some painkillers and after eight or nine desperate days, the pains lessened. I felt better but very weak and wasted. One day I got up and went over to Gesundheit where I sat around a bit, ate some miso soup, the first food of any kind in well over a week and thought that I was on the road to recovery. Worried about me, Dr Bob sent me to a specialist doctor in Lewisburg who took one look at me and insisted that I entered the hospital for further tests. He thought that I might have a burst appendix. The specialist found that I was chronically dehydrated for it had been hard to keep any liquids down for days. I found myself in hospital room #227 with an IV drip in my arm and no end in sight.

 

It seemed like they gave me every test under the sun the following day including the "Infamous Barium Enema RollerCoaster Ride", about which the less said the better. The doctors finally came up with the diagnosis that I was suffering from a chronic disease called Crone's disease. This was an inflammation of the lower intestine for which there was no recognized cure except the removal of the parts of the intestine that was afflicted. The doctors had decided not to do that, fortunately for me, but I was to stay in hospital for a few days for observation and rest until I got my strength back. Meanwhile, without any medical insurance, this was all costing me thousands of dollars. It seemed that Crone's Disease, about which not much was known, was considered to be a stress-related chronic illness. I was advised to slow down and to change my attitudes and my lifestyle. I knew that I certainly fit the profile for I have always been a rather manic, tense sort of person. Moreover, I had been under tremendous stress for the past year due to my relationship with Carol. All that was going to have to change. I had to work less, take life more slowly and resolve my bad relationship with my wife. The latter, meanwhile, was being neither helpful nor supportive. I had barely seen her since I'd been ill and had been admitted into the hospital. I kept asking for music and a stereo and books but somehow, I'll never understand why, Carol couldn't get it together to bring me what I wanted. Fortunately, lots of other friends were very supportive and came to visit me. I gradually felt stronger and got back on my feet again. I spent hours walking round and round the hospital floor I was on, dragging my IV

drip apparatus behind me like some cybernetic cross, getting gradually fitter every day. I got pretty friendly with the nurses too, one of whom gave me the hospital's Watt telephone number. I was able to call my friends all over America and talk with them for hours. New friends of mine, Elliott, a musician facing mid-life crisis and his lovely wife, Carol who was studying to be an osteopathic doctor, came by often and I was very grateful to them.

 

I was finally discharged in mid-December fifteen days after my first symptoms and went home knowing that my life would have to change from this point on.

But if there were any differences, they certainly weren't immediate. In fact, Carol, in spite of my fervent protests, was even more abrasive than usual and staged a row about something as soon as I got back to the schoolhouse. I recollected that she didn't do well under pressure. She was probably too self-absorbed to be able to give me the space and respite from conflict that I knew I needed right then. That night, neighbour Phil's new rock band "Stratton Alley" played their first gig (Live at Marlinton Moose Lodge!) and asked me to come up and hear them. I remember that I went because I wanted to be supportive and was curious to hear what Phil had been up to. But I felt very weak and tired and soon realized that I ought to be in bed. Carol showed up there late after working up at Snowshoe, threw a little scene almost immediately and walked out leaving me stranded high and dry without any way of getting home. I ended up going to sleep in a corner of the bar. From that point on, I realized that I wasn't going to be able to count on Carol for anything and that I had to save myself. From that point on, we were never lovers again.

I spent a quiet Christmas house-sitting at "The Current" again, watching movies on television and sitting outside under the stars in John and Leslee's new redwood hot tub. A hard life, but someone had to do it.

On the last day of the year, I got up at seven am to sit and meditate on World Peace and Cooperation for an hour. Thousands, perhaps millions, of people were supposed to be doing this simultaneously all over the world. But as I sat there in the corner of the schoolhouse, with snowflakes falling gently by outside the window, I felt like I was the only person left in the world. In the stillness of the moment, I seemed to be the only person left awake. World Peace, any kind of peace, seemed pretty remote as the snow started to pile up outside and cover the branches of the trees with a heavy coating of white. I couldn't believe that one Englishman's thoughts in West Virginia could make a jot of difference, but I could have been wrong, of course.

 

<-- Last Chapter

Next Chapter -->



tjanting tools
Home |Confessions |Batik Gallery |The Art of Batik |Bulletin Board |Contacts |Links |Shows & Exhibitions