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  • Jules

The Final Colorado

There was no day that pulled Jude to the basement and the storage bins like the third or fourth day of winter break. Today, he'd find what he'd been looking for.


He was home because, in typical fashion, he was tired of being away from his home where he had control over his days and his food and his room. It wasn't because they weren't enough — Jude needed them to untangle himself from the sense that he had something to do. There would always be something to do, but if that was the case, certainly there wouldn't always be them. They might tire of his antics. They might stop asking him to come if they thought he'd just say he was busy again. He knew this enough to never refuse offers until this third or fourth day.


But today was that day, and that day stacked wintry sludge on each of the curbs in Bethesda. An awkward amount of sun poked through the clouds and stopped any serious snow from collecting. This meant plenty of walkers lined up on Briar Lane for a pleasant look at a holiday snow, only to find the sun-spanked sludge ruining their pant legs. Jude watched their expressions from the living room window and, being sixteen, found them unremarkable. There was not much that was remarkable to him now besides general inconvenience.


"Jude, honey, I'm headed out to walk Winnie — let me know if you'd wanna grab some coffee afterward," his mother said. "You can't avoid me today!"


The door slammed shut and Jude slid back into his chair by the window. This was another long, wintry morning for him. He was told to be "more present" by his therapist, so he spent the first few hours of his days watching. "If there's boredom in keeping to yourself, then perhaps you'll look outward," the therapist repeated. Maybe. He thought to call Ray or Marcus, then felt bad knowing he'd end the call saying he couldn't do anything today. Maybe he could finish the series on the 2010's and 2020's he'd started. There was also food to take comfort in. All of these things he'd enjoy if he started them, but he chose not to, and had no idea why.


There was one temptation that he never refused when he had the house to himself, though. Today was the day to roll through the storage bins.


Jude had ideas about why he was infatuated with the storage bins in the basement. There was his father, dead now for about seven years. Interesting things about him could point Jude in new directions when he felt directionless. There was also the occasional book or old record that made for unique decoration or bragging rights to friends or maybe girls. It seemed like everyone was searching for an unknown edge in his generation. The older ones seemed so much less concerned with having their interests be strictly their own.


What ended up pulling him down the stairs was a thumping noise. It was probably the washer, but he let himself believe it was something to investigate. Weird noises in the Bethesda house only intrigued him and he knew that no ghosts or spirits or whomever would care about him. Down the stairs he went.


The storage room was in the far corner of the basement behind a burnt orange door that didn't match the nice grey wood around it. It felt like a relic and signaled that it couldn't be anything but a place where old things were kept and not looked at.


The door was always shut, which allowed a vintage blend of old novels and cardboard bins to plunge into his nostrils. True, there was the world of old books on the right wall. This wall shot across the same sensation Jude got when he rifled the pages of a novel and breathed in the air that flew from it. He did this as a barometer of trajectory — guessing where a book had been, how old it was. Then giving up on finding out beyond his assumptions. His mom does it too.


Jude knew the reason for his fascination was his father now, though. He was honest with himself about it today. Sometimes he didn't accept this, unsure of whether the mystique of his father's past was worth wondering and frustrating about. He wouldn't find out how traumatic that death was until much later. For now, he had scraps of the past in a single room in a house with no one else in it. Hardly any belonged to his father and that presented another question: why were his things not even here? Was his mother trying to erase him? The search was the only way to know.


This storage room was the size of a standard bedroom and there were tall shelves on the left side of the room that went in rows. The shelves were filled with old bins and bags, split mostly between Jude's parents. The right side of the room was mostly bookshelves and records. There were a few stacks of journals and manuscripts — his mother's. His father's writings were what he wanted most, but could never find. Jude wanted to be a tornado here, throwing the nicely ordered bins around in hopes that his father might appear to reprimand him. He hoped wrongly a few times a day that his father might still one day be his savior.


Jude stacked two bins away from the leftmost aisle, hoping to start at the bottom left for the third cycle this month, and was arrested by the sight of a new box. Under a blanket there was a bin that looked different — it was plastic with electric gauze and said "STORAGE UNIT 477-B; BOX 36" on the screen. It was opened with stacks of old binders and a single, beautiful black journal atop it. The screen gauze shone through the dark room at Jude, who knew this must be from the place where his father's real private collection was.


A blend of the usual butterflies and a sunken pit filled his stomach before he could seize upon the journal. He always had this hesitation that maybe he shouldn't be here, shouldn't be rummaging through another person's personal things. And he came to the same conclusion as always, quickly: if his father had a problem with it, he ought to show himself. So the pit filled up and the butterflies dispersed and he grabbed the journal.


This journal was one of those physical copies before the standard holo-journals that one might keep in the 2040s. All Jude could do was smile at it, feeling the book push time through his eyes. It was black and hardbound. The only thing telling it apart from an old almanac or encyclopedia was its lack of embossed title. He realized all the answers he wanted could be in there. He looked up, not sure of what he was looking for.


Jude opened the journal at the halfway mark, hoping to launch into the middle of some exciting episode. He wanted to soak in uncertainty and be forced to find all of the meaning of his father from scratch. But when he opened, he saw blank pages. He flipped back a few, then a few more, until he reached the first scribbled words. There was his dad's handwriting — sprawled and in a hurry, not quite as inventive and well-built as the stuff of his that Jude read on screens or holo-books.


Jude found his way to the dedication page: "Near the end, pardon me."


And then to the first page: The Final Colorado.


Jude grimaced, and Colorado flickered through his mind. There was his mother sitting in his father's lap, and his siblings throwing pillows around the cabin. There was a film on the holo-cast that they enjoyed together that his brother was yelling about — boring, BORING dad! Then there was his father, hugging him in his arms so tightly that Jude said he needed to get some water and slipped away.


It had been a long time since Jude cried, but he let streams of it flow here. He wanted to scream he was sorry to who might hear him. He hated himself, that he couldn't bear an uncomfortably tight hug that day. He couldn't bear the idea that wriggling out of that hug led to seven years of wanting nothing more than that stifling hug back, and receiving nothing but the urge to search the basement.


And so he sat just as alone as he'd ever felt that year. Two deep breaths, a pause, and then his eyes to the page.


***


The Final Colorado


I don't want to address the title of this entry. In fact, I reject it. It's fantasy. What's real is only here, below what you're reading now. This is not the last vacation or anything like that, honey. This is one of many trips our family will take here, and it's off to quite the start.


We're on the outskirts of Vail Mountain, in a cabin called La Cuervo. It's summer — we were last here when it was freezing, mid-30s, and now temperatures are at a more normal 80-something for Colorado in May. I remember when it was much cooler. But now we take refuge from the heat with smoothies.


The heat didn't stop us from hopping in this perfect little hot springs on the back bowls of Beaver Creek mountain. I remember this mountain so well, even without the snow on the slopes to plot out which run is which. I can see it all still. I'm excited to take you guys back here on those runs.


Soon I'm gonna make sure each of the kids has their dream meal, but not before calming Percy down about this movie. It's The Game Plan (how could you not fucking love The Game Plan!), which seems right in his wheelhouse. But Jude and Diana seem to be the only people interested, besides you honey.


I should be honest about who I'm writing to — it's you, and it's always been you. I love you as much as I did when we saw each other by the Madison building after all those years, and thought well, there could be something here. Or however it went. We talk about it all the time, but we won't be able to talk about it enough. That's what these pages are for — I just wish I could give you enough of them to last you a lifetime. I wish I could give you a lifetime.


But right now, you're across the room with Diana and you two are laughing. God, if I could just hold you two forever. Angels.


I'll remember two nights ago for the rest of my life (ha), when we all made pizza together in the ultra-modern cabin kitchen. You and I laughed at how very not-cabin it all was. We remembered cooking in much shabbier conditions, trading meals to finish while the other took the late train back from overtime. I held you and we watched the three lunatics almost bonk their heads on that wooden-glass counter.


I've never seen Jude laugh like that in my life — towering over Percy and D, floating around with his fake monster voice and that giggle. I wish I saw more of that. I don't know where he is now, and what he's thinking, but I hope he's as at peace as he was that night. Or even as at peace as he is now, loving this movie and the Rock. Crazy he's still kicking. Jude would've loved that guy in the movies we grew up with.


Jude would've loved a lot of things, and I'm worried he's not loving enough right now. He's quieter — you've noticed, you told me. I see a lot of me in him, but I was never that quiet. I just want him to be okay. Remember how much Bowie loved him? That dog couldn't help but lick Jude to death and collapse next to him just to count his breath. Remember bringing Bowie home? God, I love you. I want decades more with you. I want decades more with Jude.


We had a moment tonight, and it's probably what got me writing. I was playing the Schimmel in the living room tonight and I played those first four chords from "Hey Jude" nice and slow, waiting for his ears to wrap them up and connect them to his first year with us. I heard the quick footsteps echo and there he was, letting the smile drag his mouth corners up to release can we sing it?


So we played "Hey Jude," just like I used to for at least half the nights of his first few years. You used to get so pissed about it! Same song all the time, just like your alarms, you'd say. You were right, like you always are. But you enjoyed the first bit of it tonight, smiling there with D before you helped her shower.


And so we played "Hey Jude" and I couldn't help but cry near the end. You probably didn't hear. I thought about Jude growing up — I thought about him and a guitar or a piano, without a father, without a sense of where to go. I fucking hate that thought. My voice cracked when it should've been soaring through naaaaa naaa naaa na-na-na-naaaa.


He looked up at me and was horrified — he doesn't often catch me crying, funny enough.


Dad, are you okay??


I wanted to crawl into his small arms and tell him the truth. I wanted to tell him I didn't mean to lose myself, but that something was going to happen. That he'd have to pick up more slack than he could ever, ever carry. I wanted to lie and say that it was my fault. And in that moment, I fucking needed my dad.


All I could say was it's all good, buddy. Let's finish it, you start. I gave him a firm smile that showed I was okay, maybe that I was just happy, and he billowed out the naaaaas for me.


We finished and I wrapped him up so tight and told him I loved him more than anything. You've got big shoes to fill, Mr. Oldest Kid. You know you've gotta run this world Jules!


I just wrapped him up. I didn't want to let go. Nothing could pry me from our baby in that moment, other than him — he wriggled out of my squeeze and went hey, I've gotta get some water. He scurried away and I understood, I think. Probably hard to take a hug that tight. But I just sat there and sobbed, honey. I thought that maybe he saw how weak I really— 




SLAM.


Jules had to shut the book. He was wingless and legless and soulless in this moment. His poor father lost one of his last hugs because he needed water. He lost his father's embrace over some lack of perfect comfort. Jude's decision to break that embrace was carving a watermelon of a hole in his stomach.


He shut off the lights and swayed a bit with his staggering feet. He made it up the stairs, and there was Winnie, the wonderfully smiley dog that could run up to him and know when not to jump up. Winnie gave him a look that reduced her smile, at least that's what Jude saw. And then his mother saw him.


"Jude, hon, where were you?"


Jude knew what he looked like in this moment — he could imagine a child of his own in the future, one he would do or wreck anything for, staring at him with eyes that could no longer hold the oceans behind them. His bottom lip twitched and his eyes squinted and he let out a single whimper, and looked down to hear the supersonic pitter-patter of the wood floor that his mother soared across.


She wrapped him up. He loved her more than anyone alive, but he felt hollow.


"Honey, honey. You need to tell me what you saw, I need to know you're okay."


Jude's body was wrapping itself over his sadness, like it had for so many years. The grief his father left him was one that took years to craft an auto-pilot for, but it kicked in now. Remove the feeling altogether and grief can't touch you — he remembered that line.


"I'm okay, mom," he said. "I just needed a hug. I just want a hug."


His mother stayed there hugging him for at least a minute. He wouldn't be the one to let go. Winnie was the culprit, panting and smiling up at them wondering what could be wrong. His mother looked down and smiled, sniffling the tears away before they could come.


"Hey girl, what do you want now?"


Jude took two deep breaths and looked back outside, out at the world that looked much snowier than it had an hour ago. He saw an old man walking a peppy golden retriever and two kids hurling snowballs at each other. He decided to call Ray and made a promise to himself that he wouldn't stay at home today.



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