Our final destination would be the city of Phoenix and the two-bedroom condo in a dreamcicle colored condo complex called Anasazi. This would be the best homecoming of all. This would be the home we would make together, the home that would last us for the rest of our lives. Bernice and Garry: Journey West
Locale: Squaw Peak (as it was known in 1996 when Bernice and I first hit Phoenix). Since renamed as Piestewa Peak In honor of Army SPC Lori Ann Piestewa, the first Native American woman to die in combat in the US military, and the first female soldier to be killed in action in the 2003 Iraq War.
Imaginary conversation: (if Jeff Foxworthy were the clerk in the Circle K across the street from our condo in Anasazi)
Clerk: You’re going to do Squaw Peak in July and this is the all the water you’re taking? That will be $4.37 please. Thank you. Here’s your receipt and here’s your (Stupid) signs. Pray you don’t get trampled to death when you fall out.
Clerk: (not Jeff Foxworthy) You folks planning on doing a little hiking today?
Garry: Yeah, thought we might try Squaw Peak.
Clerk: You might be starting a little late for Squaw Peak. This time of year (July) most folks want to get started between 6:00 and 6:30.
Garry: (upon exiting the store) Guy doesn’t know what kind of shape we’re in.
Bernice: Looks like we won’t get to Squaw Peak until 8:30. (Taking a slug from her 16 ounce water bottle) We should still be ok.
Two hours later….
Bernice: (shortly after she slid down the bedroom wall onto her butt) Go get Ellie!
Garry: What’s she gonna do?
Bernice: She’s a nurse. Go get her.
Garry: What should I say is wrong
Bernice: I don’t care, tell her I broke my leg. Just go get her. (as I head for Ellie one door away). Heat exhaustion, tell her heat exhaustion.
In the years following, Bernice would do Piestewa Peak for breakfast. Ok, maybe lunch. She and a girlfriend would do a smaller peak, North Mountain, daily and would top off their week with the Big Kahuna.
Phoenix Rising August 1996
We are sitting on the back patio, drinking some Two-buck Chuck, all the rage at the time. Beyond the golf course we can see Camelback Mountain, bigger even that Piestewa Peak but just another of Bernice’s conquests.
Garry: You know, this whole desert thing takes some getting used to.
Bernice: How so?
Garry: Well for openers, the weather. There ain’t none. The sun shines everyday ad naseum. It never rains.
Bernice: It rains.
Garry: Okay, maybe once in a blue moon it rains like hell and causes flooding and idiots get stalled in big puddles they weren’t supposed to drive through in the first place. But that’s not rain. That’s a downpour. I’m talkin cloudy, rainy days. Days that make you want to stay indoors and work puzzles.
Bernice: We have stay indoors days.
Garry: Sure because it’s a hundred and hot in the shade if you can find any. I mean what’s the difference between summer and winter out here?
Bernice: Plenty difference. Summer it’s hot twenty-four hours a day. Winter it’s pleasant in the daytime and very cool in the evenings. Early mornings can be downright cold.
Garry: Ok, how about storms. Good old-fasioned thunder and lightning, winds blowing down powerlines, lawn chairs in the neighbors yard storms.
Garry: Know what the worst thing is? Those damned doves. That coo they have. It’s the most mournful sound I ever heard. Makes me feel empty as a drum.
Bernice: I don’t think it’s the doves, babe. I think you’re just homesick.
Mom: Why don’t you two have dinner together like every Wednesday or something.
Wednesdays sounded good to Brett and me so that became our plan. It was a good plan and we stuck to it all through Brett’s high school years.
Garry: (from his poolside perch at sunset over Anasazi) Are you sure you’re ok with my going back to see Brett through her senior year?
Bernice: Of course. As long as you behave yourself.
Garry: Meaning what?
Bernice: Meaning I won’t tolerate any backsliding.
Garry: (bemused) Backsliding?
Bernice: You know what I mean. Don’t go back to your bar life. And don’t be having any girls in our apartment (Clinton Township, MI) either.
Garry: Girls? What girls?
Bernice: Ok, girl. Don’t be flirting with Flo down the hall.
Garry: I’m down with that. Both counts. Straight arrow. Scouts honor. (easy promises since I’ve never seen a bar that could hold a candle to Metro Beach and Flo was 92 and smoked two packs of cigarettes a day.)
Bernice: And call me every day.
Garry: That could get pricey.
Bernice: Save your money.
Garry: Not exactly my long suit.
Bernice: Don’t I know. Three times a week then. Final offer. Take it or leave it.
Garry: I’ll take it. (pause) Thank you for letting me do this, babe. It means a lot.
Bernice: I’m not through here. I don’t intend to spend Thanksgiving alone. I expect to see your smiling face at my table.
Bernice Steps Out October 1996
Bernice: (Sitting on her patio with her coffee and crosswords, phone in hand) Hey birthday boy!
Garry: (remote control in hand, searching for a University of Michigan football game) It’s not my birthday. It’s your birthday.
Bernice: It’s our birthday month, remember?
Garry: (finding his game) Right. I knew that.
Bernice: What you doin?
Garry: I was about to watch a U of M football game.
Bernice: Well, turn the sound down and talk to me.
Garry: (Obliging) Ok, there you go. Just you and me now baby.
Bernice: You and me and the football game.
Garry: I won’t look. I missed the kickoff anyway.
Bernice: So, what you been up to.
Garry: Up to no good whenever I get the chance. You?
Bernice: Oh boy, where to begin. I’ve joined a hiking club. Great group of gals. Guys too. I’m in a book club with my new best girlfriend, Ellie. I call her Walking Ellie so I don’t mix her up with my sister Ellie. Walking Ellie’s in the hiking club. Boy what a hiker! Let’s see, oh and I’m ushering at the Civic Center. Don’t like the set up much. Not like Detroit. They insist on paying me so they can tell me when to work. But it gives me a chance to explore downtown. What else? W Ellie and I go to movies in the afternoon. I love that. Then I go to Anasazi affairs with sister Ellie. Bunch of old folks, but we have fun. The rest of the time I just hang out in the pool with my Building Eight neighbors. We really fill up the pool. Such talkers! I guess that’s about it.
Garry: That’s it? I thought you were going to stay busy while I’m gone.
Bernice: You funny. (pause) I miss you like crazy.
Garry: I miss you too Sweetie.
Bernice: You do? You sure? You don’t sound too excited to hear from me.
Garry: (turning game off) I miss you all the time. Especially at night. The apartment feels so empty. I really get the blues when one of our shows comes on TV. Miss sitting on the couch holding your hand. Miss snuggling with you to get us off to sleep.
Bernice: I’m sorry. Sometimes I get scared that you won’t be coming back.
Garry: I’m coming back for Thanksgiving. I already booked my flight. I’m coming back cause you’re the best thing ever happened to me. I’m not gonna let that go.
Bernice: (trying to sound like the brave girl she had been all her life) Ok Sweetie. I’ll be waiting for you.
Bernice: Garry, guess what. You know I told you I was going to try out race walking? Well I did and I won a meddle.
Garry: Did you race walk or power walk?
Bernice: Oh race walk. The are very strict. If you break form they disqualify you.
Garry: Wow, a medal. That is so cool. I’m really proud of you.
Bernice: Thanks. You still running?
Garry: You bet. I’m doing Masters Track and Field. I’m on a team. You remember the Motor City Striders, the long distance club I belonged to awhile back? Well they have a track team and I run the 400 meters. We go to this indoor college track and race every Friday. All comers. They put us old guys in with the kids. I haven’t won a danged thing yet.
Bernice: You will. If you get in really good shape you can race walk with me. You won’t beat me though.
Garry: I might.
Garry: I’ll cheat.
Garry: I’ll never get out of here. Between packing and trying to sell your furniture I can’t keep my head on straight.
Bernice: You having a tough time, Sweetie?
Garry: I am. Unloading this furniture is a real pain.
Bernice: Well, sell what you can and give the rest to Goodwill. But don’t wait too long. Maybe Brett can help you. Don’t get discouraged.
Garry: Brett will have to help. I’m giving her the couch and the home entertainment system. She may not want them, but I’m going to store them in her mom’s basement.
Bernice: (after a long silence) Are you really coming out here?
Garry: What in the world would make you think I wasn’t.
Bernice: I don’t know. Sometimes I just get the feeling you aren’t coming.
Garry: I came out for Thanksgiving, Christmas and spring break didn’t I?
Bernice: I know but that’s not the same as coming out here for good.
Garry: I am coming out there for good. I’m coming out there for the rest of my life. It’s all I’ve thought about for nine months. You just be ready for me. I’m gonna want to hug you for a week at least. Ok?
Bernice: (Sounding small and far away) Ok, honey.
There is a cool breeze on the patio and Bernice and I have been planning our birthday month celebrations. All of a sudden Bernice interrupts the flow.
Bernice: Oh wait. There’s something I’ve been meaning to show you. (She scurries into the house and in minutes returns holding a book of some kind)
Garry: What you got there?
Bernice: I’ve got this lovely diary that Ellie (sister) gave me right after you left to go back to Detroit. I want you to look at it.
Garry: Sure. (I take the book and see the inscription on the inside front cover) “You are starting a new life. Use this book to record your adventures.”
Bernice: Wasn’t that sweet of her?
Garry: (Hesitantly) But Sweetie, there is nothing in it.
Bernice: Oh yes there is. Look at the very first page.
On the front page in her quaintly irregular handwriting was the one and only entry in the diary. It read simply,
“This has been the best year of my life”
Over the years I have often wondered how much or how little I contributed to the best year of her life, being absent for most of it.