He felt imprisoned; in his house and in his head, and each day the walls moved in a little tighter until the claustrophobia began to squeeze the final memories of living out of him like blood from a sponge. People would tell him, “You’re retired. Man, you’ve got it made. Free from the rat race, do whatever you want.”
His wife was the bread winner now, and he was the servant; to her, to the kids now teenagers, to the dog, and to the cat. He would clean-up their messes, and do the chores, and feed the pets. An HGTV fanatic, his wife was constantly hiring contractors to redo “stuff”; refinish the cabinets, retile the floor, swap out the curtains, change the counter-tops… She could afford it, and he would stay home and baby-sit the renovations; a servant to the house, the next Winchester Mystery House, he thought.
He went about his days with a boa constrictor wrapped around his body, gripping until he couldn’t breathe. But on those days when he was an inch away from giving up on life, he would break free and escape; to his place, the place in which someday he would live, the place in his dreams.
It was a small house on the Nevada desert, off the grid, yet only a twenty-minute drive to Las Vegas. It had two bedrooms, one bathroom, and a porch on which he would sit in the evening and stare out over the desert. It had a parlor with a large widescreen window from where he could see the lights of the strip. He had a motorcycle, a hybrid for street and desert riding. In the afternoons, he would strap his guitar to his back, cycle over to the strip, and earn a simple living playing in the casino lounges.
“Did you pull the weeds out of the garden like I asked you to?” His wife’s voice startled him from the dream, and the drone of the TV news trickled back into his head like water finding its way down a rocky hillside.
“Yeah” he said dryly. He sat in a chair in the newly remodeled family-room; his wife’s most recent and precious project; a work of white. White carpet, white chairs, white vases; she even found a white TV. Behind his back, she looked at him with disgust.
He ventured deeper into the desert in the days that followed. With tall leather boots to fend off rattlesnakes and scorpion stings, he’d drive his motorcycle across virgin acres of cacti, yuccas and desert lilies where he’d build a fire and sleep under a panoramic dome of stars. On one of these treks, he brought cans of florescent spray paint and, surrounded by eleven-foot tall cacti, he began to spray: orange, pink, violet, and amber. Like an urban graffiti artist tagging a highway underpass, he made the desert his own.
“What the hell did you do!!!!?” His wife’s voice literally rattled the vases in the family room, now painted in florescent shades of orange, pink, violet and amber. He sat in his usual chair staring at the TV news. She moved in front of him and screamed into his face, “I SAID, what the fuck is wrong with you!!!!” But he wasn’t there anymore. He was gone.
Years passed. The wife, kids, dog and cat advanced unscathed along their respective paths as paved by destiny.
A small crowd of “alternative looking” people, you know… tattoos, piercings, ripped jeans and leather, loiter outside the Apache Hotel on the old Las Vegas strip. Arriving on his motorcycle with a guitar strapped to his back is a thin man with white pony-tailed hair and a denim vest draped over a black t-shirt displaying a skull wearing a top hat. His skin bears the weathering of days and nights spent under the desert sky. The crowd follows him into the lounge. They’ve been waiting for what felt like a lifetime to hear him play.