THE PRICE OF HAPPINESS
The Palace Hotel had become my home. It first opened in 1896; built to accommodate the first-class travelers from the train station across Main Street. The building took up almost an entire block. Being on a corner gave it even more significance.
I remember staring out the second floor window at that train station, wishing I could buy a ticket to anywhere.
When I was there in the mid 70’s, the train station was ragged, compared to the Palace.
Even though the hotel closed down long before, the restaurant and bar were still viable and had not lost an ounce of its elegant mystique.
The Hotel portion lost its attraction when people started using cars as a main source of travel. It was then, that the “old” Main Street was renamed 1st street and was replaced by the “new” Main Street a few blocks over. Several motels dotted the outskirts of town to accommodate the passing travelers.
The new Main Street sported a complete set of three stoplights I always mused as to why they were called Stoplights, when every night at 6 o’clock they all turned yellow. Four sides of the lights were set to blinking yellow.
I had this odd propensity, an urge, to combine descriptions of things that were called one thing, yet were really more than that one thing. To me they should just been called STELLOW lights and that’s what they became to me.
The bar became my favorite place to be. It had a unique character, all its own. I believe it was influenced by the energy of those who came to reside there. Endless people have passed through. The bar was willing but not able to reveal its untold history, witnessed by the wood and cut glass.
The atmosphere held secret memories going back to the Hotel’s beginning. I even heard there was a public hanging in the street between the train station and the Palace, and the bar became the focal point for the sightseers.
Hours turned into days. Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months. My everyday reality was pretty much the same mixture of complete unexpectation.
I had a lucrative job, making gobs of money and I could drink pretty much all the time. I did not have to go to school. I could stay up late; learn all kinds of new things. I could sleep until I woke up, always in a drunken stupor.
About a month after my arrival, one day, my dad woke up in an unusually good mood.
“Susie, we’re taking the day off!”
Hmm, what kind of trick is this?
Things changed so quickly, he changed so quickly, I was always left on edge. I felt like I was walking around blind-folded.
His jubilant mood caused me concern, though I didn’t dare show it; I was learning.
Sometimes he would act like all nice and friendly, causing me to drop my defenses. I would slip and say something that he jumped, viewing it as a sign of betrayal. Mr. Nice and Friendly became Mr. “You little bitch, trying to get away from me! You owe me now, you little slut!”
And so another endless session of trying to please him began again. These sessions could go on for hours, even days. I remained naked during these times, as did he.
Other times, he would become extremely angry and unpredictable. He sulked and got snippy with his words. He would beat me down with this behavior; I didn’t know when to expect a blow to the side of the head or a choke-hold and knuckles scrubbing on my noggin.
“Ah, come on Suze, I’m just joshin ya! Here, let’s kiss and make up!”
After a month of this, I was a jumpy, suspicious basket case.
“Uh, what do ya mean, dad? What’s going on? Are we going somewhere? Why are we not working today?”
“Well, I have a surprise for you! Now get dressed, make sure to wear your boots. And your cowboy hat, you look so cute in that hat!”
Oh my God, I hate surprises! And now he wants me to dress up like a cowgirl? Pervert!
“Now hurry up and meet me in the office. We’re gonna go for a ride! Oh, and leave Baron here, I’ll have the busboy come check on him” He was out the door, practically skipping down the hallway.
Gulp. He kept his gun in the office…in the safe. We never went anywhere without Baron. And we’re going for a ride???
I ran to the toilet. I didn’t know whether to vacate my bowels or throw up first. I was shaking when Baron came to me.
“Susan, stay calm. Keep your eyes peeled for an escape route. Keep you knife in your boot. If you have to, grab his nuts hard, and twist! He’ll scream and drop like sack of potatoes! That’ll give you time to either stab him or find the gun and shoot the motherfucker. Then, come back and get me and we’re outta here! You can do this! You’ve got to do this! You can’t leave me with that demon!”
He was right. I now had a mission. I would save myself for Baron. I was pumped.
“Yeah, yeah! I can do this! I will do this! I’ll save you, Baron!” Again, I didn’t realize that he was actually saving me.
I pulled on my hat, and looked in the mirror. I pretended to quick draw my knife. I was ready.
“Ok, little man, I’ll see you when I get back!”
I bent down, held him tight and kissed him over and over.
“Now, stop that, Susan! Don’t start crying! Don’t let on that you know anything, get it? Remember, be smooth!!”
I walked out the door and sauntered down to the office. As I reach the doorway, I almost lost it, my knees buckled. Dad was digging into the safe’s interior. My view was blocked, but I knew I was going to die that day.
“Ah, here we go! Just grabbing a little cash for the trip!”
Suurre, dad, suurre….
“Go on downstairs and grab a six-pack of Olympia. I know that’s your favorite.”
I couldn’t stand Olympia beer. It tasted like piss water. In a final act of defiance, I loaded the cooler with Coors.
I took three longs swigs of Crown Royal, and went back through the kitchen and out the back door to the sidewalk. I leaned crossed legged against the hood of his car and waited.
He came out, happy as I’d ever seen him.
Damm, he a good actor! Or maybe he’s just that happy to kill me….
“Hop in, we’re gonna take a ride down to Maxwell.”
Maxwell was about twenty-five miles south of Raton and had a population of about three.
“Dad, why are we going to Maxwell? Are we going to that National Wildlife Refuge?”
We often took scenic trips, so I gathered a drop of hope.
“You’ll see, get in so we can go! We’re gonna be late!”
My drop of hope evaporated. I replenished my fluid; I popped open a beer. He looked over at the Coors I was downing. I waited for his reaction.
“Ah Susie, you didn’t have to do that! I told you to get your favorite, not mine! But, thanks, pass me one of those.”
He just turned my ‘act of defiance’ into an ‘act of altruism’. Dammit, you fucker!! I never win!
We headed south on State Road 64, which turned into State Road 85, which then turned into Interstate Road 25 Why didn’t they just name the fucking road Inter/State Road 64-85-25? Adults were so stupid, sometimes.
I remained silent, sulking as I gazed out at the desert passing by. My dad began to whistle, as I began to plan murder.
“Hey, whatcha doin’ way over there? Come sit over here by me…”
As he wrapped his arm around me, I looked down at his crotch. I began to see more of an opportunity. But my nerves were shot. I popped open another beer and burped.
By this time, we were half-way to Maxwell. I downed the beer and grabbed another.
“Whoa there, Cowgirl, not so fast! You’re gonna need your wits aboutcha!”
What in the hell was he talking about? I was trying to create a diversion, excuse to escape…disguised as having to go take a pee….
He started that damm whistling again, then broke off into a portentous croon: “♩Gonna take a sentimental journey, a sentimental joouuuurny home... ♩”
Yeah, journey home, alright, you fucking psycho!!!
In mid-croon, he stopped. “Hey, see that building down there?”
He was pointing at a huge dilapidated barn, about three miles down the road.
Yeah, dad, I see it alright…my final resting place…
“Uh, yeah I see it, what about it? Why do you want to go there dad, huh? Huh, dad!?”
He looked at me with a quizzical expression I rarely saw.
“What’s the matter with you? You should be happy!”
I guess he was right about that. Soon, I would be out of hell and entering heaven.
As we pulled to a stop in front of the barn, I knew I had to make a move. I reached over to grab his balls, but he’d already begun pushing me to the other side of the car.
"Quick! Get over there! We don’t want this guy catching us.”
God, I really did feel like dying. Instead, I opened the door and placed myself defensively behind the open door.
But Dad motioned me forward. I slowly walked around to the front of the car. He put his arm around me in a “fatherly” sort of way and led me to the barn’s entrance.
I heard a shuffling noise, then a guttural cough, a wheezing from someone old, someone who had been around dust and hay for all his life. The creak of a stall door scared the crap out of me.
An old man appeared from the stall. He was tall, his big belly was held in by a pair of the oldest, dirtiest overalls, I’d ever seen. His head was huge, but oblong.
His thick white hair stuck out from under his Huckleberry Finn straw hat. A white walrus moustache dominated his deeply tanned and wrinkled face. He had to be at least a hundred years old, but his thick fat palms were almost smooth, like a child’s.
“Well, well, this must be the lucky lady, eh?”
I looked up at the clearest crystal blue eyes I’d ever peered into. All the sudden I felt safe.
But I was locked into terror. I couldn’t trust any of my feelings.
My dad spoke. “Susie, meet Will. Will, this is Susie. She doesn’t know why we’re here.”
Oh yes, I did, I was getting ready to be shot, chopped up into little pieces and fed to the pigs in that pen over there! I wasn’t stupid!
Will chuckled, amused at my wide eyes. “Well, then, I guess it’s time for an introduction. Susie, come with me.”
I had no choice, he wrapped his huge hand around mine, engulfing it in comfort.
We walked down to the stall where he’d appeared from.
“Susie, meet your new pony. She’s had a lot of names, but you should call her what you want to call her.”
My heart did at least six summersaults. There in the stall, stood the most beautiful Paint mare, her head turned towards me. Her eyes said “Call me Sugar”.
I squeaked, Sugar! That’s her name! Sugar!”
Will backed her out of the stall and lifted me up onto her back. She was nine years old and gentle as a lamb. I reached down and grabbed her neck, my tears falling into her mane.
I was so confused. I had just come from hell and entered heaven without being murdered!
Dad looked genuinely pleased. “Well, what do ya think, Suze? Think you can handle her?”
I didn’t answer. I just sobbed, “Thank you, thank you, thank you…”
Dad took out the money he’d retrieved from the office safe. He paid Will and arranged for Sugar to be trailored back to Raton. I couldn’t believe it, I was so happy, really, really happy.
As we drove back to Raton, dad started the usual teacher/boss/preacher drone.
“Now you know, Suzie, this is a big responsibility. You have to feed her everyday, look after her everyday. There are no days off with a horse, Susie.”
I didn’t mind nodding enthusiastically and thanking him all over again.
“Well then, why don’t you show me some of that appreciation, little lover?”
He unbuckled his belt and exposed his penis. He pulled his testicles out and settled them on top of his unzipped pants.
“Come on…” His hand came around the back of my neck and forced my face down onto him.
“Ah yes…now hold my balls…gently! Like birds eggs.”
For twenty miles, I never saw anything, but him. My head repeatedly hit the steering wheel as he pulled my hair, forcing my mouth up and down, up and down.
From then on, my dad referred to this as “Rolling Blow Jobs”. It particularly pleased him when truckers drove by. He always laughed when they honked for him.
Forever later, we arrived back in Raton.
I followed as Dad went in and checked on the bar and restaurant. It wasn’t too busy, everything had been handled by Crystal, dad’s top bartender; all was under control. I watched as he took most of the money from the till, while joking with Crystal. She knew she would get her bonus for keeping up the place while dad was gone.
Then he stretched and displayed his lazy, arrogant Cheshire cat’s grin. He headed up to the apartment for a nice long nap.
“Crystal, you aren’t going to believe this. I have a horse. Her name is Sugar.”
She nodded kindly. “Yes, I know, sweet Sue! You couldn’t have chosen a better name!”
“I didn’t, Crystal, she told me her name, she told me!”
“I believe that, Miss Susan! Stranger things have happened. Your dads happy too! He’s ordered New York steaks and lobsters for you two, later on tonight and then, he’s taking you out on the town!
You’re a good girl, Suze, you deserve it!”
The weirdness of my days, and nights never ceased. Some were weirder than others but they all were so very strange.
I went upstairs and found my dad snoring loudly, with his mouth gaped open. God, I wanted to take his dirty socks and stuff them down his throat and into his bloated stomach. I looked at his penis and thought of the knife in my boot…
I crept around to his side of the bed and looked at his alarm clock. It was set for 8:30 PM. This meant dinner would be at 9:00 PM.
For two and a half hours, I tried to decompress. Baron advised me to brush my teeth, which horrified me. I brushed them for at least a half an hour. I sat in the bathtub for a long time, with Baron lying on the rug next to me.
“How’s my breath?” I asked him.
“Just like an angel’s”, he replied.
Like a little girl, I dreamed about Sugar. “Baron, you’re going to love her!”
“Yes, I know I will, Susan, I already do. Maybe we can ride her out of here…”
All the sudden, I felt so old inside.
“Baron, I’m not a kid anymore. I feel so tired.”
He looked up at me with soul-filled eyes.
“Susan, you are a kid. But you can’t act like one now, it’ll get you killed. Then what? You just keep going, Susan, don’t give up! I’d never forgive you, if you left me like that! Don’t go there, sister! I would haunt you forever!”
I knew he was frazzled and exhausted.
“Enough with the empty threats, little man, there, there, calm down.”
I was dressed and ready for dinner before my dad woke up. As his alarm went off, I told him I was taking Baron out for a walk.
After ten minutes of strolling down the lonely sidewalk, we headed back. I lifted Baron to the hood of my dad’s car and pulled out a cigarette. Baron and I mumbled back and forth about how miserable we were. Then we plucked each other up with dreams of happiness.
I tossed my head up and blew a smoke ring. It was a trick I did that Baron loved.
“Do one inside the other! Do one inside the other, Susan!” He was begging, grinning. Nothing made me happier.
All the sudden, I became aware of the lights in the windows upstairs. I watched his silhouette lumber from the bed to the shower. I watched him as he preened and dressed himself for the upcoming evening.
“MY GOD, Baron! Do you think everyone can see me and dad like that?! Oh my God!!”
“Susan, at this time of night, I don’t think so. Your dad always turns off the lights. Besides, it’d do him good to get caught, even if we both die!”
His boldness caught me off guard. “Are you serious, Baron?!! Then why don’t we just kill him tonight?”
“Beeeecause, Weeeeeeeee don’t want to get caught! Ya dig?!”
I sighed as I watched my dad disappear from the apartment. After I heard his boots stomp down the staircase, I carried Baron in my arms back up to our apartment. He pretended to be asleep as I shut the door.
I met my dad in the dining room at nine.
After dinner, I was a little drunk, but not too much. Wine did that to me.
Before long we were hanging out at some cheesy piano bar on the outskirts of town with the rest of the crew. It was almost 1:00 in the morning. I had already been served two bottles of wine. I was perfectly normal; this was a common evening for me…until I stood up.
That was when the bar started spinning. My dad grabbed for me before I hit the ground. As he pulled me to him my head swayed. There was no stopping it. I threw up all that red wine onto my dad’s new suede loafers.
I was bent over making pathetic noises, as my dad patted me soothingly, telling me not to cry. He had no idea I was stifling a gigantic burst of laughter. Not only had I soiled his shoes, but I also convinced him that I needed pity. I peeked up at him. He had a pout on his face and his shoulders slumped.
I had difficulty forcing the evil grin off my face. I was drunk all right, drunk with power! For the rest of the night I slept next to the toilet, while he slept alone with his unsatisfied boner.
Sometimes it was the little justices, the wrongs made right that kept me getting up in the morning.
How could such a magical, beautiful, peaceful place such as northern New Mexico become such a mental and spiritual killing field? Anywhere, even Hell had to be better than this.
Years later, I sat transfixed in a movie theater featuring “The Shining.” I could not believe that the story was fictional; they had to know that they truly captured the evil so immediately, so fiercely …so… intimately.
AND, they recorded it on film for all to see. I don’t think anyone understood just how real Jack was, but I knew. I had lived with Jack, only his name was Don. I came to believe that some creatures were genuinely born or shaped to destroy others.
The next day, my dad jiggled me awake. “Come downstairs! I have a surprise for you!”
I was still green from the night before. God, not another surprise. But wait! I had Sugar! All surprises came at a price, but I was so in love with her, I wanted to go see her immediately.
“Come on! I’ve got something to show you! And bring Baron!”
That was definitely a good sign, as far as good signs went.
After getting dressed, we lumbered down the hallway. Baron smelled food; he ran past me and went down the stairs to the kitchen. He was slobbering and waggling, which pissed me off.
“Oh come on, Susan!! Please, at least let me enjoy some food!!”
“You’re right, Baron, I’m sorry….”
My dad had cooked up a breakfast for ten people, pancakes, bacon, sausage, grits, fried eggs, toast, hash browns…
My stomach turned at the smell. My lack of enthusiasm was apparent.
“Come on, Suze, you just need to get something on your stomach, then you’ll be fine! This is the cure for what ails ya!
I sidestepped. “Ok, dad, but can I get a cup of coffee first?” Actually, I needed some hair of the dog…
“Why sure! There’s a fresh pot in the dining room, go ahead.”
I watched Baron take control as I went through the swing door from the kitchen to the dining room. I headed straight for the bar. I had to decide in a hurry: Tia Maria, or Kailua?
I chose the Tia Maria and poured a coffee cup full. I downed half of it and went back to the dining room, topping off my cup with coffee.
By the time I got back to the kitchen, I was able to eat a piece of toast and a few bites of grits.
My dad was still goochy-gooing with Baron, who was hopping around in circles for more bacon. I watched this exchange. I stopped in mid-chew. I couldn’t swallow. My cheeks were swollen with uneaten breakfast.
I looked at my father, he was not aware. I felt a deep, deep hatred settle inside me; one I hadn’t felt before. My father was a monster.
Baron took one glance at me. In mid-step, he stopped his clown dance. No matter how much bacon or sausage was on the line, it was time for him to scoot out of site.
My dad gobbled bite after bite, and swallowed it down with the rest of his coffee. As he wiped his face with a napkin, he leaned back and looked upwards. He began to chuckle as he gazed at the ceiling. He bent his head back down to his plate, and kept on chuckling.
“We-hoo! Now that was a good breakfast! Heeyaw! Hee, Heh, Heh heh! Sure was!”
I didn’t give a damm what he was talking about or thinking about, I just didn’t care. I was already headed back to the bar.
This time, I had two coffee cups, each I filled to the brim. One with Kalulua with a splash of cream and the other full of Wild Turkey. I drank half of the Wild Turkey, I didn’t give a damm. I poured the rest of the whole concoction in to a huge glass, went back and topped it off with a little coffee.
As I re-entered the kitchen I was ready for war, life or death, it didn’t matter to me.
“There you are, I’ve been waiting!”
I began looking for chef’s knives; I knew there had to be at least one or two in the dishwasher’s bin….
But, again, my Dad knew how to change my emotions, just in time.
“Are you ready to go see Sugar? She was delivered this morning! Are ya ready?!”
That’s all it took. My mind was back-flipped into dreamland. Baron crawled out from underneath the chopping table, went behind me and stuck his face between my legs.
You, know, Susan, sometimes I wish you’d shut the hell up…!”
Then my dad said: “I’ve got something else for you Susie; you’re going to need it to take care of Sugar.”
What? What? My mind did not comprehend and he saw my confusion.
“Come on, follow me, you’re gonna love it!”
Uh…Right, dad, ‘I’m always “going to love it”… like I’m supposed to know what love is…
I heard Baron, right behind me: “Yeah, yeah, like you know what anything is, you stupid motherfucker”…his favorite and reserved moniker for my dad.
Chugga, chugga, chugga. Like a chain gang…we followed him at a prisoner’s pace until we were out the back door and onto the sidewalk.
And there it was. My dad’s arms opened wide, grandiose.
“See? See”! Here it is!!”
And yes, there it was, my own truck, a ’57 Ford Pick-up with three on the tree and a push button start.
My own truck! No fucking way! I was ecstatic. Baron hopped in beside me.
My dad got into his car, and through the window he yelled, “Ok, let’s go! Let’s go see Sugar!”
I’d driven tractors and motorcycles since I was eight, it didn’t take long to get the truck in gear. As I followed my father, I was beside myself, and Baron was panting so much, he fogged up the windows.
Not once did I think of driving on past my dad, towards the road headed to Amarillo. I could have, but it was not a thought in my mind, I needed to see Sugar.
Just before outside of town, there was a small dirt road to the right. It was a bumpy ride and dad took it slow. After about a half a mile, a small cattle farm appeared.
Further on, there were three or four long lots separated by plank fencing. At the gate of each lot was a small open shed. It was a clap-board lean to, with a corrugated metal roof.
Sugar was in the first lot, she saw me right away. I got out and ran, with Baron right behind me. Sugar hugged me like a long lost friend. I hoisted Baron up onto her back and they introduced themselves. I was in a dream. I was in heaven!!
Dad walked up with Jim, the owner of the place. He was a kind man and after meeting him, I knew I had a good place to get away from Dad.
I went back and cuddled on Sugar. I pulled some Twinkies out of my pocket. She heard the crinkling cellophane and went “Huh?”
Twinkies became her favorite treat.
Dad called for me, so I gave Sugar a long hug and a kiss.
As I closed the gate to her lot, I noticed a strange odor. It was sweet, but also sour and metally. Then, from a distance I heard the most awful sounds. It sounded like murder.
Dad was handing Jim money for the first months rent. “Susie, I’m paying for the first month, but after that, it’s your deal, got it?”
I was confused. “Uh, sure, Dad, no problem… hey, dad, what’s that smell?”
Jim stepped in quickly. “It’s mighty nice to meet you, Susie. I’m sure you and Sugar are going to be fine here. Don, I’m headed back to the house. Call me if you need anything.”
As he trudged away, I saw a sadness that I had not seen in any adult, since I’d arrived in Raton.
Baron hopped into my arms in one leap. The noises were getting to him too.
My dad turned to me, “Well, Susie, I guess you should see life as it is. You grew up on the farm, now you’re gonna see what happens after….”
Again, a turn in my stomach left me weak-kneed. What the hell does he mean? This can not to be good!!
“Come on. Let’s take a ride in your ‘new’ truck’!”
We went bouncing down the dirt road. A half a mile further, was a sharp turn to the right.
I made it just before crashing down an arroyo, what people in Oklahoma called a ditch.
I straightened the truck out and drove a little further down the road. Soon I was in site of a gigantic building, much like an over-over-sized barn, but different.
That’s when the smell of fear overtook me, a mixture of sweat, urine, tears, and blood. A heavy cloud above was a reddish-brownish color.
“See that big building over there? A friend of mine owns that. It’s a swine slaughter house.”
I went numb when I heard the word “slaughter”.
“Come on, you need to see this, you need to see what life and death is really like.”
I started whimpering. “Dad, I don’t what to see! I don’t want to know!!”
“Too late for that, Susie.”
For the first time, Baron growled at my dad, but dad chose to ignore him as I zipped him up in my jacket.
He clinched my jacket at my neck and started hauling me from the road, towards the building. The smell and noises became stronger and stronger. Now, Baron was whimpering.
As we reached the building, I saw a huge wooden ramp that led up into a barn opening, at least twenty feet wide and twenty feet above the ground. I slipped in pig shit as my dad hauled me up the ramp.
“Hey Joe! Joe!”, my dad hollered.
A man appeared at the top of the ramp just inside the building. The squeals were so loud; he had to yell even louder, back at my dad.
“Hey, Don! How are ya! We’re still playing poker at Woody’s tomorrow night!?”
“You betcha. Joe! Hey this here’s my daughter, Susie! I came to teach her a few lessons in life!”
We had reached the entrance and I looked at Joe. The sound of his chuckle was almost worse than the sound of the mayhem below. I instantly hated him, his grin was thin, his eyes were dark and they danced a lot; they were so threatening.
“Well, Miss Susie, this’ll be quite a lesson for you!”
My father handed my shoulder over to Joe. Joe began to lead me down planks, high above the maze of gates below. Pigs were prodded forward along the floor.
Then Joe pulled me closer to the doors where the pigs entered.
“Watch this!” He said, excited.
WHAP! I watched a pig fall after being struck on the head with a 2 by 4 by one man, and then shot by another man with a small .22 caliber handgun.
I pulled out of his grasp and began running, as fast as my wobbly legs would go. They were like jelly; I was running through a nightmare.
As I reached the entrance, I started down the ramp, but my dad’s arm stuck out and dropped me.
He lifted me by the front of my coat; his face was all I could see. For the first time, he spoke to both Baron and me.
“Remember that bacon and sausage you ate this morning? Well here it is. Here’s where it comes from…and don’t you forget it. Life is life until you die.”
He dropped me hard and ambled down the ramp.
Without turning around, he held hand to his mouth and shouted to me.
“Come one Susie, let’s get home!”
All I could think was, “Why did they have to hit that pig? They were going to shoot him anyway, why hit him first?”