Sunday, January 04, 2009

my home flooded (spring of '85, i think), i needed a place to stay, and my friends in north liberty offered their land; this was where i had gotten the stepvan in the first place. my good friend s.c. lived with his parents on this land; they had an old volkswagen graveyard but mostly a woods, an open pasture, a house where the parents lived and a set of vans, trailers, and other abodes where s.c. himself lived when he wasn't traveling around. it was no problem for him to reinstate that stepvan on his land, and install me there; his parents, who were sweet, and whom i'll always remember very fondly, made a simple request: that i behave properly as long as i lived there. it wasn't as if they wanted me to simply behave properly while i was on their property; it was more that, as part of their community, their family, etc., i should refrain from alcohol, drugs, etc. being in graduate school and all, i was busy, and not of the partying type, so i agreed. but i didn't reckon with my own spirit; i ultimately found it impossible to live up to my own conscience. i wasn't good with authority, even when the authority was my own expectation, or my own restraint. they never said a word to me, never any reproach. but i had trouble living with myself, when i couldn't keep my own word.

thus i started looking for another place, and this time landed in a small farmhouse not too far from solon iowa; another friend, s.h., already lived there, and welcomed me, made a room for me. a farmer who lived nearby owned the land; it was about six or seven miles from iowa city, northeast; the gravel road was unnamed, but was one of those where everyone drove about 80, and occasionally came upon huge monstrous farm implements taking up 9/10 of the road, staring down from way up there, in a small glass window, a friendly, unassuming neighbor. the gravel roads were treacherous all year round, especially in winter, but one could go off in a ditch just about any time, the biggest danger being not being noticed, for hours, or even days, as people whizzed by not especially watching.

the drive into town from this farmhouse was especially beautiful, past dvorak's farm, a number of old farmhouses including another that i lived in once, occupied by another friend p.s.; dingleberry quarry road on which there was a beautiful swimming hole; and many and sundry other beautiful sights. the corn on the rolling hills looked different every day, and i'd watch it with amazement; it was also incredible to me that this was known as highway 1; it had no tourists, yet was in all its changes one of the prettiest roads i ever had encountered.

finishing graduate school slowly, i kept up work at the university as long as i could, but finally took a job in cedar rapids, working at a social agency that ran a house for vietnamese refugees. these were young kids, 14 to about 17, or age unknown, who, because of their family's being on the side of the usa during the war, had become refugees; had had a tormented trip through the years; were basically still looking for any remnant of their family that they could find; and, were not entirely comfortable with life in the northern winters. they were quite resourceful; one made a slingshot once, shot a sparrow, killed and ate it; others went fishing over the rapids the city was named for, without, of course, the cultural concept of "fishing license"...that's where i came in. it was an esl job; i worked with the schools; i learned a bit of vietnamese, enough to see where they had problems, and i helped with their schoolwork, and keeping them on track. they were good students, conscientious, but weak in english; i was busy. like most teenagers, they tended to stay up, every night. often, they were playing cards.

the drive to work and back now took me through a different patch of country, and i noted the way the smell of the city (corn syrupy) moved with the wind, over the swath of land southeast of the city where i was always driving. eventually i was to move to cedar rapids, to spare the commute and work a while, but that was short-lived, as i got married and moved to korea in june of 1986, as soon as my fiance, who i now refer to as my first wife, graduated. in cedar rapids i lived in 7th avenue i believe, but i can't remember exactly; i could perhaps find the place if i could return. but a flood this last year (2008) has pretty much cleared the deck on the whole center of the city; the house itself could be gone. it wasn't much.

i liked the city; after living in countryside on all sides of iowa city for many years, and in the tiniest of towns, c-r was truly more of a city, more even than iowa city, and quite different, culturally. at the same time i tried to integrate my refugee teens into american culture, i found myself having some culture bumps; for example, in c-r one doesn't walk on the "don't walk" signs.

in some ways, i was very eager to enact my plan, which was to use my degree to teach english in various places around the globe, starting with korea. my first wife, before getting married, was all in favor of travel, and agreed to go along to korea, the first stop. in many ways i was entirely sick of iowa, all the various small towns, the lack of opportunity, the limits. but i'd miss my daughter, who was now eight, and whom i'd kept every weekend, her entire life. no matter where i was, solon, north liberty, c-r, lisbon, mt. vernon, west branch, or in a van by the river, i'd come, get her, take her home for the weekend, read books or go places, eat lucky charms, whatever. i couldn't take her with me, but also, hanging around, seeing her every week, i couldn't really bring her up either; i had no say in what she did or how, and this was hard on me, especially as she got older. no matter how i put it, it doesn't sound right; but, i had to do it. the time came closer, and we began to prepare her for the inevitability.

i leave out the personal stuff also; i'll only say that, from this point for the next ten years or so, decisions were mutual; though it had been my plan, to go abroad, to get out of iowa for a while, to have this career, it now became our plan, to go abroad and to embark on a life together. i'd skipped a year after graduating from college (82-83); then skipped another after getting my MA (85-86), not to mention the six i'd skipped before i was able to actually get back to college (74-80); now, after all these years, it was time to be responsible, work & pay of student loans. but this would happen abroad; i was traveling too. a good arrangement, if i could pull it off; i was excited. i left my car with s.c., let go of old homesteading tools, such as a wood stove, chain saw, and sundry other things, prepared to get married, and got visas and plane tickets for korea.


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