Two miles down the Interstate, on that frosty day, a red Jeep pulled up to me. At first, I thought they were going to ask me for some kind of directions. That would have been a joke; I had no fucking idea where I was. A man, with a long white beard nestled under the glare of what may have been reading glasses, sat behind the reflection of the Jeep’s driver window. He urgently opened his door as if an apocalypse was brewing yonder.
“It’s freezing out there,” the kind man said with a strong Texan accent. “Get in, I will give you a ride.”
Henry Melton was his name. He said he had drove by me three times already and was worried about my well being. I felt my beard defrost a bit upon entering the warm vehicle; a sorry beard that has always crept around my chin like a caterpillar.
Henry was an author from South Texas. He had been writing science fiction for decades. Mr. Melton drove 10 miles past his exit to get me to my hotel. The little red Jeep blasted down the Interstate as we talked about books and writers. He was such a nice man and he re-established a pure kindness that at times felt extinct in the world. If you are reading this, Henry Melton, not only do I thank you for picking me up on that cold day, but for also shining hope and illuminating the shadows of humanity. You are a great man.
The next two weeks were spent with my aunt, Karen. Karen lived on shore of the beautiful Lake Belton with her dog, Buddy Guy. She was planning on moving to Florida, so I was helping her clean house. A lot of astounding articles of all kinds would pop up during the “clean house” process. Karen and her late husband, my Uncle George, had kicked more than just a few asses in their life. They knew all kinds of interesting people, from John Lee Hooker to the Clintons. Much boxed wine would be drank as Karen would share stories from her past with me and magnificent memorabilia would pop up in dusty boxes; more history lived in that house than I have ever seen in any book. Camila would come up on the weekends and join the clearing of this house, while also taking advantage of Lake Belton’s glory… and Karen’s lakeside hot tub.
Karen always had old blues playing in her forest green Saab as she sped around the streets of Belton and drank her boxed wine out of what she called her “sippy cup.” She would have nostalgic moments as we would drive through those old roads, weaving in and out of what had became her home in the late 70s, while deer would bombard the car like dogs with hopes for a snack. Sadness would lurk in Karen’s wise eyes momentarily now and then as we drove, but the adventuring hippy spirit from within washed away her tears and she would start happily singing along with Janis Joplin who only wanted a piece of some one’s heart. My Aunt Karen, who’s next stop would be Florida, welcomed the new chapter in her life, leaving behind all the memories that lived in that old lake house. Leaving them to float about like a crimson ghost silhouetted by a Texas sun; submerged by clouds and dancing with the many, minute, ripples that built Lake Belton–dancing restlessly to the banks of ending time.
One night, after eating some good old Texas BBQ in the small town of Belton, Karen was driving us back to her house.
“You know what, Travis,” Karen said with her thick accent as she put down her “sippy cup” and lit up a smoke. “You need to meet my neighbor. His name is Catfish George. You will like him. He catches so much damn catfish! He’s crazy.” She paused to gather her thoughts and with her contagious laugh, she said, “You will like Catfish George.”
Cat Fish George’s lawn was riddled with boats, huge iron smokers, trucks and a couple of dogs. David Allen Coe’s, “If That Ain’t Country”, overwhelmed my head as Catfish George emerged from his garage.
“The old man was covered in tattoos and scars, he got some in prison and others in bars. Others he got working on old junk cars, in the day time.”
His beard was grey and scraggly and he was covered in what may have been oil. One of the dogs was trying to escape the confinements of the garage and he grabbed the small dog by the collar and gently placed the little barker back into the garage. He muttered something under his breath with a thick Texan accent, took a sip from his beer and welcomed Karen and I into his garage. He had tattered jeans on, a Jeff Foxworthy shirt that said something about rednecks hunting Mexicans and a warm smile.
After insisting that I grab him a fresh, Busch Light from a nearby cooler, Catfish George immediately started cracking jokes. Karen had told him, with pride glaring in her smiling, boxed-wine-glazed eyes, that I had just gotten married.
“Oh really,” said Catfish George, “I’m sorry I missed the wedding. I will make sure to be at your funeral, though.” He started laughing and drank his beer. “Which, won’t be long from now.” It took me a minute to get his clever joke, then it came down from above my head and seeped into my scalp. He continued,
“Let me ask you somethin’. Do ya mind?”
“No, not at all,” I replied.
“Good, cause I’m gonna ask ya anyways. Does your wife have small hands?” I was afraid to answer this one.
“Um…” I halted uncomfortably, “yeah, I guess so.” He started chuckling like an old engine trying to start. “Why?” A look of seriousness froze his face.
“Well, cause small hands makes your pecker look bigger!” An uproar of laughter came following his joke and I couldn’t help but join his hysteria. Again, he told me to grab him another beer out of the fridge and began with another joke; except this one, I’d soon figure out, was not a joke.
“Hey, Travis,” Catfish George summoned, “you wanna see my snake.” I was convinced that this was surely another penis joke, but his eyes widened like a child’s on Christmas morning; just waiting for my response.
“I’m not sure if I want to answer that,” I said with a flare in my cheeks.
“Welp, Ima show you anyway.” Once again, I thought a wiener would be joining the party, but instead he turned around to walk to his truck. He stopped and turned around towards me, stern as hell. “There is a .44 caliber in my truck. If this goes bad, you have to promise me you’ll shoot me in the head.” I laughed, thinking it was a joke. His face stared deep into mine, unchanged. He was not joking.
Catfish George pulled a wooden box out of his white pick up truck. He told me to stand back and opened it using a long pole with a clamp on the end of it; a snake stick. “This fucker’s huge,” he said. Catfish George began to talk to whatever was in the box, trying to woo it out of it’s hiding. It didn’t work. “Stubborn bastard, huh? Stand back, this is gonna piss him off.”
A three and half foot Texas rattlesnake came plopping out of the box. It’s tail end was shaking like a maraca. Catfish George was right, the snake was pissed. It came quickly sliding towards me with escape on it’s angry mind. I didn’t know what to do. Between fear and marvel, I became still. It was just feet away from my trembling feet, ready to strike, before it was lifted up into the air by Catfish George’s snake stick. He laughed and danced around with it for a while, then put the snake away. As Karen and I walked back to her house, she said, “See, I told you Catfish George was crazy! Only in Texas, huh?” I agreed.
Valentine’s Day came, and it was time for me to bid farewell to my Aunt Karen. Camila and I left Lake Belton and started the three hour drive to Enchanted Rock, located in central Texas.
Camila had been ranting to me about Enchanted Rock for the better part of us knowing each other, and the excitement that lit up her eyes as we approached the national treasure filled me with happiness. When we drove into the parking lot, it was a frenzy of tourists. It took an hour just to find parking. We had to move quicker because the sunset, our whole purpose of going there, was moving faster than us. People scattered up the giant, pinkish, plutonic batholith like starving insects, all there for the same purpose Camila and I had ventured for. The sunsets there were unbelievable.
The sunset was beautiful. Being on top of that massive stone as the sun made it’s daily departure was beyond astounding. The stone was rounded and carried similar characteristics as a half sun on the horizon. At one point, it felt as if we were standing on a sunset from a different dimension. We asked a couple to take a photo of us, and the wife became extremely overwhelmed with excitement. She whispered something to her husband and then burst out, “You are him! You are Ethan Hawke!” Without a sliver of hesitation, and before I could tell her this was not true, she took a photo of us with Camila’s phone and then her own. Once breaking it to her that I was not Ethan Hawke, she spit on me with her eyes and walked away, looking disgusted the whole time with her chin pointing to the sky; hovering away from the peasant who was not Ethan Hawke. The husband, on the other hand, did not give a shit and sneakily sent me a smile behind his wife’s arrogance.
Three more days were spent in Austin. During this time, one last shit show occurred.
Camila had attempted to drop me off at my Uncle’s house after we went out for a night of drinks, but the time was too late. He had left an envelope for us, congratulating our marriage with a wad of cash. The night was SO beautiful that I decided I would do a little camping that night. Camila disagreed, but I assured her that it would be alright. Once again, I learned the hard way that I should not take my wife’s judgement for granted.
The weather was horrendous. A once pleasant night transformed into an unforgiving freezing, monsoon. I awoke, still a bit drunk, in a bush that I thought was a good place to touch down that night. Wrong. I was soaking wet, and all of my belongings were gone. A trickle of water crept near me. Maybe a small river. I could not tell in the pitch black of the night. I stumbled to a nearby 7-11 and got into an argument about God knows what with the clerk. I needed to be careful, for I was on the county line, where the forgiving Travis County met the zero tolerant Williamson County. This Court Tour was over and, although it was a nice trip, I wanted it to be over.
A techy-looking man kicked man in the stomach and told me to get the fuck out of where ever I was. The light was blinding and the floor was cold, but no where near as cold as the night was. A bathroom I was in, in some kind of hospital.
“I’m calling the police,” said the man, “you really need to leave. Like now.” I assured him that I meant no harm and briefly explained my line of unfortunate events. His understanding smothered his fear and anger, and he did not call the police. Kindly, he let me leave with no quarries.
Finally, after a month of constant rambling, Camila and I were in a hotel where we would be leaving early the next morning back to California. The trip was impactful in so many ways, and having gone on many long journeys in my life, this one would definitely top the others. However, I was burnt, financially broken, and ready to go home.
Camila and I were running late for our flight. We had six large bags to haul as well, and by the time we got to the airport, we had 20 minutes before our flight was to depart. Luckily, there was no line for security, so a brief hope shined ahead. A hope that would be smothered by one more shit show. Never a dull moment.
A police officer yanked a 12″ butcher knife out of Camila’s bag. It was one we had purchased during the first part of this story. He was going to take her to jail. I could not fucking believe it. Did God not want us to get back to California? After a battle with truth as our weapon, a truth proclaiming the accidental origin of the $3 dollar, Walmart bought knife, the officer let us go. The whole time, all I could think was that this Court Tour would never end. What have I created?
Camila’s lovely hair touched my shoulder as our plane lifted off the Austin runway. What a long trip it had been, and now it was coming to an end. A trip that spanned over four months, with chaos mostly here more than there. All shenanigans aside, this story met it’s ending happily. My wife and I, with our love more persevering than a desert cactus, were on our way to our first stop in life. Irrevocably and finally, home was within our grasp.
I’ve heard many mouths mutter the saying that “home is where the heart is.” Never before in my life had this been so relevant. Although Camila and I had a particular somewhere to go that day it remained that no matter where we ended up, even if it was nowhere, anywhere would be home. For my heart was eternally with her.
And hers with mine.