It was several years before she died. In the Christmas package from Austin was (among other things) a little red wind-up AM-FM radio with a solar panel for recharging. I’d always wanted one, and there it was. She must have known or guessed right since she knew me.
A radio for someone in the boonies used to be a precious thing before you just picked up your phone and watched TV. When I was living in my eight-by-sixteen handbuilt shack in Arkansas in ’71, I had a small transistor radio—that’s what we called them then—I’d bought in high school years before. I was so proud because I’d earned the money for it working after school folding ladies’ blouses at Mays Department Store in Massapequa, NY, and no one else I knew had such a thing. How this one followed me to the Ozarks is a mystery, but there it was. I’d stand there in my hut, freezing and stamping my feet, and listen to a station out of Fayetteville. My favorite song was “Maggie May.” To this day it takes me back to wet snow, the smell of rotting oak leaves, and enfoldment by surrounding woods where I was the only one around for miles.
As it turned out, I didn’t use the little red radio from Teresa all that much. I had the Internet for news and music, after all. But I took it with me when I camped and kept it on a shelf here, just in case. A couple of months ago I dusted it off and set it where I could see it, who knows the reason why. Two days ago it snowed again and gloomy clouds hung low like they still do. The frozen mud and isolation of el Norte settled in like truth and gave me pause. I placed the radio in the kitchen windowsill, where it might pick up a little charge, and this morning turned it on. All alone at home, I tuned it to an Alamosa, CO public station ninety miles away. The sense of deja vu was palpable: my sister, Arkansas, the winter, all the rest. A Roy Buchanan guitar solo crackled through the speaker while the battery ran down, and then all was still.
I’ll leave it there switched on. When the sun comes out again, the battery will charge, and slowly, quietly at first, the radio will come to life again, all on its own. Are people like that, do you think? When something greater than us reaches down and touches us, do we come back from the almost-dead and have another chance? Or do the years we missed corrode us so we drag the rust around forever?
I still can’t think of her without the tears. When I left Austin in May of ’75, I was so fucked up and drama-ridden, I’d forgotten to say goodbye. She came to the door the day before, her eyes all red from crying. (She’d baked some cookies to take with me on the road…) I see her now, and I could sob all day.