Bay Minette, Alabama is not the town you live in. It's the city that's always in the way of you getting somewhere else.

It's the town you drove through on your way to the Gulf when you were first trying to get ahold of the girl named Darla. It was the first time you'd ever traveled together. You want to get her to the beach. You noticed the water tower and thought about how the wording was backwards. How in Iowa it would have been named the reverse way. Minette Bay. Bay of Minette. Then she started talking about how hard it was to feed the Schnauzer and about your Aunt and you forgot about it. She asks about your Dad and you change the subject. You tell her that he was an asshole and you are never making the mistakes that he did. Next week you will graduate from dental school. It's a sunny day. Every dream you have is a big one.

You stayed at a rental house on the beach and had blue crab and visited your Aunt and in the morning waves are crashing outside the hotel window.

She convinces you to move to Hartselle which is in Northern Alabama where her family lives. Her family has a house, three dogs and farmland. You get a fourth dog, a mop dog you name Curly, and you help form his knotted coat by grooming the rounded curls from the base twice a week like the book says. You can build a home there and her father manages a fishing business that you invest in and you start a practice.

Her father wears cardigan sweaters and says “That's the guy!” when you walk in and slaps your back.

You went back to Bay Minette and noticed the water tower again three times before she divorces you. Once was with the two boys, once was with Steven, and the third time was to pick up your Aunt's things and meet with the real estate agent to help sell her house.

Bay Minette is never where you are going. Bay Minette is inbetween where you are and where you are going to be eventually. It's halfway, or three quarters of the way, or an hour away. It's a change of direction, as well. From time to time you go to Mobile or the panhandle for investments, to build that dental practice empire. Interstate 65 is a lovely trip from Nashville through Alabama, around and over mountains. But at Bay Minette it makes a sharp turn. One way, east, leaves Interstate 65 for Interstate 10, the gateway to Florida that glides and skips above the Panhandle like a seagull looking for scraps. If you want to stay on interstate 65, you round Bay Minette like the tip of a dental scaler and pass right under that water tower to end up in Mobile and then to the Gulf and out to sea.

The first trip is on your way to Orange Beach and you play in the sand and grill hamburgers and hot dogs and it's very hot and Adam brings a live crab into the house in his shoe. You take Adam on a trip to a pharmacy in Suffolk with a brick storefront and terrible parking and concrete floors and you get him an orange Fanta in a bottle. On the way back to the beach he falls asleep on your lap in the car.

On the second trip you are taking Steven to the hospital for chemotherapy. The specialist the doctor recommended is in Mobile. Steven is pale for the entire trip. You stop for chicken nuggets at a fast food place. Steven notices the water tower too and then he vomits. Later you are cleaning the vomit that smells like the nuggets out of the backseat of the car. It takes all the napkins you can find to get the car cleaned and the smell still lingers even after you are at the hospital and you have Febrezed the car as much as you can stand. When she calls she tells you it was too soon to feed him those. She tells you about Adam and school and that his principal has called again.

Later after the divorce the boys move with you to Mobile so that Steven can be closer to doctors. Adam hates Mobile. He has a girl in Hartselle. He is eighteen and drops out of school and you hear from him on weekends sometimes. You tell him to quit wasting his life. He tells you he hates you. You are working and paying the health insurance for medications and radiation treatment for Steven and your mother in Iowa has a jar set up at the Marathon gas station where people can leave change to help even though you have asked her not to. She offers to let you move back to Iowa City.

The third time was winter and you were alone. The dental practice was sold in the divorce. It's all gone. You pass through Alabama in the middle of the night. You thought about taking the exit through Bay Minette to the beach because you had never seen a beach in winter time and for some reason it sounded like it could be different to be out in the water alone and how far could you walk out into the water and how cold would it be. But you missed the exit and kept going south and east instead of west to the Gulf. While you were driving your phone rings from Darla's number which is now a Miami number but you don't take the call. The next morning during the funeral the same number rings again and you turn it off in time.

Steven recovers from the cancer and she takes custody of him and you don't hear from Adam for awhile. Mom says why not move back to Iowa. You get an apartment in Nashville. You're able to work there in a clinic and it seems good enough. But in November the police call you and she has wandered out into the road in Mobile and can't remember her name and they need someone to please come pick her up from the hospital. You go to the hospital which has lineoleum floors and where they are playing light jazz in the entryway and a man in the TV room is on all fours, pounding his head against the floor, and she urinates on the floor in front of you and then tells you to take Steven away until she can clear her head a little.

Steven grows up with you in Franklin and you talk to her on the phone periodically at holidays and his mother is sometimes released from the hospital and sometimes not, but it is pleasant living in Franklin and work is good and Steven graduates as a salutatorian from high school and goes to college at Knoxville. You remarry the receptionist at the clinic where you are employed his senior year of high school. Her name is Claudette. When Steven graduates from college you start to make plans with Claudette to retire and she suggests Alabama which is where she grew up. This becomes your fourth and fifth trips to Bay Minette, first to look at the house that she finds online. It is red brick and has a porch. The second time is with the trailer and the sedan full of suitcases and books. You buy a rug and a couch and you're able to see the water from a bay window. You make a lot of plans.

Bay Minette is before and after. It's the town from before your divorce when you had both your kids, when you knew where Adam was. It's also the town from before Claudette develops stomach cancer, before the before the plans that change and then change again. You don't know any of that on your first, second or third trips through there, though. It'll end up being the town where the plans were made and the deed was signed to the ranch-style retirement house and the turtle shaped sign with the flag in the front yard that says “Slow!” got planted for no good reason you can remember at all. It's the town where Claudette dies, and after that Bay Minette is where you brought the boat and made eggplant parmesan for yourself and where grandkids came to and then when they stopped coming the place where you called and begged them to visit. Bay Minette is where they tell you that Steven has been in a car accident and they are very sorry and could you come by to sign the papers.

When you develop a cough one December, you get looked at in Bay Minette's small hospital and they take a look and a foreign doctor speaks to you rapidly and seriously and incomprehensibly and even as you die after several days there, still it is not clear to you, exactly, even as you are dying what it is exactly you are dying from.

You have always wondered what your last words will be. It turns out, for some reason, that your last words are to ask a very pleasant foreign nurse to please water the houseplants on the sill. She smiles and says she understands and clearly has no idea what you're talking about and you feel your insides pop and that's that for living.

A few days later Adam makes the trip down interstate 65 with a girl and rounds the fishhook bend away from the Panhandle and towards Mobile. The girl asks about you. Adam doesn't want to discuss it. But he tells her he's never wasting his life like you did. They are driving a red sedan and the windows are down. He is about to start working as an investment banker. He has cleaned up his life and he is not making any of your stupid mistakes. She is pregnant.

She says, I never knew my dad. I hated him because I never knew him. It's like he didn't exist for me. She says, can we stop and get a drink.

All of the sudden Adam remembers a long time ago, Orange Beach, blue crab. He makes a sharp turn that jolts the car. And he drives thirty miles out of the way breaking the speed limit the entire time and comes to a tiny pharmacy in Suffolk with a brick storefront and terrible parking and concrete floors. She waits in the car while he buys an orange Fanta and doesn't drink it. We came all the way here for that? she says. But he makes it to your funeral on time. He looks at your face and says goodbye and puts the orange Fanta in your casket under your arm when no one is looking.

As they leave the highway she notices the water tower in Bay Minette and points out that in Wisconsin, where she is from, it would have been named the other way.

October 02, 2020 23:45

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