She didn’t deserve to go out this way, but given her history, I should have known she would meet with a tragic end.
She came into my life nearly a quarter century ago, and while the story I told most people was that I found her at a garage sale, the ugly truth is that I stole her. I was part of a gang at the time, a gang of rough-and-tumble middle-class white kids who caused all manner of mayhem that nobody ever really noticed because we were utterly harmless. We would get our jollies by stealing cheap decor from model housing developments – flags, at first, the brightly colored flags on PVC poles used to attract the attention of prospective home buyers. But the flags were just a gateway – eventually we were emboldened to see what we could sneak out from the inside, and soon we would find small items to boost – usually things so minor no one would notice their absence – a plate, a cup, a vase; nothing of significant monetary value, and nothing that would constitute any major theft charge for which the statute of limitations hasn’t run out and is thereby unsafe to post about here. We were punks, sure, but we were soft, nerdy, unmenacing punks.
She was positioned in a tastefully designed model home in a new subdivision being built not far from where I lived, and from the minute I saw her, I had to possess her. She captivated me. It was obsession at first sight. So, when no one was looking, I picked her up and carried her out onto the patio, where I set her on the side of the home in the bushes, hidden from view, then came back after dark to claim her.
She was affectionally dubbed the Bourka Bee Goddess, in homage to the great stone head that is featured in the story-within-a-story of Stephen King’s psycho-fan tale, “Misery”. I don’t remember much about how we came to name her that, because those days were pretty much a blur of various drugs and alcohol. But she ended up with the name Bourka Bee Goddess, and it seemed to fit her well.
She would get positioned in any number of places in the ‘den of iniquity’ we called our apartment – on the floor by the couch, on an end table, under the Christmas tree – the Goddess had full roam of the place. It was a drab little apartment on the ground floor of a sprawling complex, and our living room window looked out onto the walkway where residents and their guests would enter from the street. They would walk by our open windows and be greeted by the loud music from the stereo – and if that didn’t get their attention, surely the smell of marijuana wafting through the window screen did. We were unbelievably bold and reckless, would leave the curtains open and hit the bong in full view of passersby, completely free of any concern over being observed. How no one ever called the police on us, I’ll never know. It was the pad where Monday night was Party Night – and so was Tuesday night, and Wednesday night, and so on…. The property management must have had to hire a hazmat team to eliminate the smells of weed, cigarettes, and stale beer in that place after we moved.
The Goddess was a good luck totem – or that’s what I told myself. She was respected and cherished, along with her illegitimate brother, Captain Toke. The good Captain was also appropriated via model home theft, quite possibly on the same night as BBG, although the memory is, quite understandably, hazy. Much like the king and queen on a chess board, the Goddess and the Captain moved very differently: the Bourka Bee Goddess moved often, in any number of directions and positions, while Captain Toke remained fixed on a table next to a lamp and a giant ashtray that was usually overflowing. He often wore round sunglasses and cast his eternally downward stare into the incense burner and other paraphernalia in front of him. When he moved, it was usually to another side of the same table on which he always sat. At Christmas, he was given a festive stocking cap to wear on his head, but otherwise, the Captain was a stoic guardian of our pot-fueled shenanigans, and was honored reverently but silently.
The two oversaw countless parties, thousands of drinks and cigarettes and bong hits, listened to hours of giddy, stoned laughter, and were constantly bombarded with “fresh” late-80’s alternative rock music. They held that space for a group of young twentysomethings who got together nightly to get their buzz on. It was what the TV show “Friends” would have been if Monica, Ross, Phoebe, Chandler, Rachel and Joey were all alcoholic drug addicts living in a cramped apartment next to a freeway.
The Bourka Bee Goddess and Captain Toke lived there until the end, when, in the last weeks of 1989, we moved out of the apartment and everyone went in different directions. The Goddess stayed with me, but the Captain – alas, I don’t know what became of him. All I know is that at some time over the ensuing three years, when I moved from place to place like a transient with huge hair and a black VW bug, Captain Toke went missing. All I have left of him is this Christmas photo, and I can’t help but think that he looks kind of sad in it, as if he suspected that we liked him, but we loved the Bee Goddess, for she got most of the attention.
She was with me when I settled down and got married, and at first she was given a place of honor on the hearth by the fireplace. She could fit in anywhere; that off-white color blended with any furnishing and her feminine charms were still appealing, and so she had a few years where she lived with a slightly more respectable (but just as equally stoned) couple. However, after a few years together, I and the woman who would eventually become my former wife, stopped smoking the weed, stopped drinking to oblivion, and grew up a bit. And as time went by, the Goddess lost her prominent space by the fireplace, and ended up moved further and further from the heart of the home.
Eventually, like a fading movie starlet reduced to doing infomercials for skin care products, the Bourka Bee Goddess was relegated to the outdoors, where she became a piece of yard decor. “Garden Art”, I told her placatingly as I set her among the nasturtiums and columbines. She rested in flower beds and became accustomed to dirt, rain, and snails. She went unnoticed, and moved only when we changed residences, where she’d be given a new position in a new flower bed, with new dirt and new snails.
When I moved out, I took only those things that I would need – my heart couldn’t see myself ever decorating a home again, and so I left a lot behind. The Goddess was forgotten, left in tangle of weeds and dead flowers that had stopped getting watered as my marriage fell apart and I no longer cared about such things as gardening and yard work.
One day, nearly a year later, when I was back in the land of the living, I was picking up my kids when their mom handed me some schoolwork and other kid-related documents, and asked me, “Hey, do you want to take the Bourka Bee Goddess with you?”
I paused, and thought about it. She was likely asking me because if I didn’t want it, it would go to The Curb (any unwanted items could be set out at The Curb and they would magically vanish by the next day – one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, after all). I didn’t like the idea of the Goddess being left at The Curb – if she needed to be “put down”, I thought I ought to be the one to do it. “Sure,” I said. “I’ll take her.”
My former wife came back out with the Goddess in her hands. She was dirty, but not as dirty as I expected – she had likely been brushed or hosed off when she was pulled from the flower bed and set aside pending a decision on her fate. I took her and held her in my hands, looking her over for the first time in years – the contours of her face, the almond shape of her eyes, the strange hair-handle by which she was usually carried – she had always looked like this, but it was like I was seeing her for the first time.
“This really is a bizarre piece of work,” I said, smiling and shaking my head.
“Yeah, but she’s been with you a long, long time,” my former wife said, kindly. “She was part of your life.”
Yeah, I thought. She was.
I put her in the back of my car and took her home. She sat on my patio for a few weeks, conspicuously, for I hadn’t thought of what to do with her yet and so she sat by my dryer, a silent observer of my laundry habits.
Then one day, inspiration struck: I would give the Goddess a makeover and make her my camp totem next year at Burning Man. It was the perfect destiny for her! She was, after all, a piece of art, and in all her whiteness, she was like a blank canvas – I would paint her, give her features some dynamic color and make her really shine, and she would once again take up a place in witness of wild revelry. The Bourka Bee Goddess would find redemption!
I killed her yesterday.
It was a stupid mistake, and so unworthy of her. As I was cleaning the exhaust vent for my dryer, I bent down to put the screened cap back over the end of the shiny silver duct that always reminds me of the foil cover of Jiffy-Pop stove top popcorn. The dryer vents into the flowerbed behind a large jade plant, and I had to contort myself to reach the cap without trampling the plant. I got the screen re-attached and stood up straight, taking a step back, and to the right, without looking.
I kicked the Goddess by accident, sending her tumbling on the concrete patio and snapping her in two. The sound was sharp and ominous, like the sound of a frozen lake cracking under your feet. And maybe I imagined it but I was certain the daylight dimmed briefly, just for a moment, as the two freshly broken pieces of her stopped rocking and were stilled. Her almond-shaped eyes – lifeless as long as I knew her – somehow seemed dead for the first time.
I stood over her, looking down at her broken form, my breath caught in my chest from shock and remorse when I saw what I’d done. I’d killed her, and it could not be taken back. I knelt and picked up the pieces, knowing she was in the realms of Humpty Dumpty, never to be put together again no matter how many horses and men I enlist to save her.
Did I deserve this, I wonder? Did I have this coming? Were we always destined to meet an end like this, given our lawbreaking beginnings? I can’t help but think of the bloody end that Bonnie and Clyde met in that bullet-riddled car when the law finally caught up with them. Sure they were criminals and deserved punishment, but they loved each other, and there just seems something wrong with killing an object of love. I felt like that is what I’d done.
Manslaughter, I’m sure that’s what you’d call it. It was an accidental death, so any guilt I have is mitigated by the fact that I didn’t mean to do it. Still, I think of what she could have been, how she was poised for a comeback that will never be, and I mourn the loss.
After all, she was with me a long, long time. She was part of my life.