This is a guest post by Joe Buttry, Steve and Mimi’s middle son. At Mimi’s invitation, he and his wife, Kim, are sharing a “2 Roads Diverged” view of their recently completed trip:
The completion of our trip was certainly bittersweet. It was so multi-faceted that it is almost hard to quantify. It alternated between fun activities with people who are important to me and a goodbye to my father. If you have followed any of our journey, it is clear he was always near the front of my mind. He has been since late 2014, when he was diagnosed with his second major cancer. Not always in a sad way. Doing something that he would have enjoyed and taking a second to acknowledge that is not something that leaves me sad. Most of the time when I think of him it is with a smile.
Early on in our trip, my mother asked me if this crazy-ass road trip was a direct response to Dad’s death. (My words, not hers) It was hard for me to answer that with total certainty. There is no doubt that the last 2 and a half years have been transformative. It has been said that you aren’t a man until you lose your father. I don’t know that I feel more like a man (or what that should feel like), but I am certainly changed. In a way, everything is a direct response to his death. I guess I felt like I was in danger of stagnating. And this trip, which was really Kim’s idea, got me off the couch before I got trapped.
I have a clearer idea of the things I want. Traveling is one of my favorite past times, and I work in an industry that allows for a lot of it. But I have always avoided it. I have allowed that to become a hard line. When I travel, I want it to be fun, never work. (Maybe if Kim and I could travel for work together we would do it, but not for now) The irony of Dad’s tendency to not only travel extensively but live tweet every delay is not lost on me. He loved his work and took great pride in it, and so do I. I am fortunate to be able to make a good living without having to get on a plane. I also don’t do my work for the money. I do it because I like it and it is fulfilling. (I mean, I totally wouldn’t do it without the money, but I try to keep money out of my work decisions. You know, like a poor artist who could make a lot more but doesn’t because they do their work “because they like it”. When this decision comes to roost, please donate to my GoFundMe.)
I also have a clearer idea of what I don’t need. Kim and I have started looking for a smaller place. We don’t live in a large house, by any means. But it is bigger than the two of us need. We just spent a month in about thirty-six square feet. We can make due with something smaller, and a smaller mortgage would allow for more travel and less work. (No. I’m not saying a tiny house. I just lived in thirty-six square feet for a month with no toilet. I need more than one, normal, non-composting toilet located in my house, not in a truck stop.) I want to be able to dedicate my free time to endeavors that I want to take part in and as little time as possible cleaning rooms I don’t need and never really use.
I have seen what it truly is to be there for someone. Kim has been there for me. My mom was truly there for my dad. When it was hard, Mom was there even more. She put her needs on hold and dealt with his.
That is the kind of support that I got from Kim. This was also the most stress I’ve been under during our relationship. Kim was always there for me. And there were times when she was thrown into the deep end with little warning. She put my needs in front of her needs. She shouldered the weight of our responsibilities when I needed to go and help take some off the shoulders of my family. In the aftermath of his death, she was a source of strength when I needed to be steadied. She sacrificed her own time with my dad to say goodbye to make sure that I had all the time I could. She was in the room with my mom and I when he took his last breath. She was truly there to do whatever could be done to help, and some of what was asked of her was very hard.
I am tired of writing about myself. That anyone ever found this anything but self-aggrandizing is a little strange to me. It started as a cool way to honor my father, but then people read it. (not a ton, still waiting on a book deal. Not really. I am very ready to not write for a while.) That was cool, but it meant I had to keep writing it. Dad wrote with such ease. I don’t know if that was natural talent, or 45 years of experience. I imagine it is some of both. What I can tell you is that I don’t have one drop of that ease. Such advanced concepts as picking one tense and writing in it allude me. If it wasn’t for my mother’s diligent editing these posts would barely be in English. I’m not joking. On the last post, she congratulated me for how few tense changes there were.
As Dad’s cancer progressed, he started to write letters to my brothers and me. My favorites were the ones where he listed his favorite movies or books or songs. In that vein, here is my soundtrack to my trip.
Tom Petty-You Wreck Me
It’s lame to say that this is Kim and my song, so I won’t do that. Even though it totally is. The line that puts it on this list is
Should I go down
If I stay to long
In trouble town”
Rescue might be a little strong, but I could have seen myself wallowing a little bit. This trip and this blog kept that from happening. Our history with this song runs deep. We danced to it at our wedding. We danced to it when we saw Petty at Red Rocks. We dance to it in our kitchen. We dance to it with our unwilling dogs. I really hope this marriage works out for many reasons, one of them being I like this song and a divorce would probably ruin it.
The Tragically Hip-Bobcaygeon
This one made the list after the fact. Sure, it’s a song about a girl. But the imagery is very clear and when I think back about the sky in Moab, I think about Gord Downie’s description of the stars in this song.
“It was in Bobcaygeon
I watched the constellations
Reveal themselves one star at a time”
Downie is also a victim of cancer. He has a non-curable brain tumor. (Why do you guys read this shit? It’s a constant downer.)
Ryan Adams-Lucky Now
This melancholy song about getting old starts out with lines that speak to me.
“I don’t remember
Where we wild and young
All that’s faded into memory
I feel like somebody I don’t know
Are we really who we used to be”
Kim and I are not nearly as much fun as we were in our youth, and at times it feels like we have left all of the fun behind and turned into boring adults. (Because we totally have.) I can tell you a way (maybe not the best, but A way) to fight that feeling is to say “fuck it”, build a bed in your car and travel for a month.
This song encapsulates the depressing-ass mid-thirties ennui that could lead a person to do something like we did. Our life was everything we ever wanted, yet we were not satisfied. It is also just a killer song, even if hipsters are actively trying to ruin the Replacements.
Butch Walker-The Dark
The whole album Afraid of Ghosts is Butch Walker’s ode to his father who he lost to pancreatic cancer. There are 3 or 4 songs I could have chosen. He has spoken about his father, who was in failing health before his diagnosis and how after they found out about the cancer, it changed. His father, who everyone thought would be fine, was now different. Not a fear, or anger, but as if he knew he had a limited time left. I saw that same change in my dad. The stubborn, determined fight of the lymphoma gave way to a man who didn’t fear whatever came next.
This song is about the feeling of riding a motorcycle and feeling his father beside him, but I’m not cool enough for that. If you listen to it, just swap the word “bike” for “homemade camper”.
“I’m just riding
I’m running away
Heat from the engine
Digging in my thigh
Into the dark
With my father at my side”
This was the song Kim and I blared as we headed into Jackson, Mississippi. It sounds like Jackson was harder on their relationship than it was on ours. We just drove through. It was kinda boring.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers-Room At the Top
This is a song about embracing escapism. I don’t know if this trip is about escapism or about plowing into your hurt with reckless abandon. I certainly think that the decision to do this blog was born from a desire to come to terms with Dad’s death. (So why not do it episodically so everyone can read along!) The person whose point of view this song takes is in a good place for the night and not going to give that up.
“I’ve got a room at the top of world tonight
And I aint coming down”
This song also includes my favorite Mike Campbell guitar solo.
The Refreshments-Down Together
Kim and I don’t see eye to eye when it comes to music. The Refreshments are one of the few things we agree on (especially in terms of “what driving music is”) and this song kinda captures the playful teamwork that makes our relationship good. It’s also a happy song, and this list could use a few of those.
Biz Markie-Just a Friend
Sometimes when long rides got boring we made up songs. Mine tended to be based on this song. Kim usually used “Copacabana”. Why Barry Manilow? She had no idea. This was a clear win for me. The whole thing was gross. I will deny it if anyone ever asks.
Bob Dylan-Trying to Get to Heaven
Aren’t We all?
Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers-Your Name on a Grain of Rice
This is a real bummer of a song. It’s pretty clear that it is about a girl, but most songs are. I feel ok co-opting it for this. It hits the sad moments of our trip on the head.
“I see the sun settin over America
I’m tryin to leave my darker side behind
Feelin my way down a blue desert highway
Wish my rear view mirror could tell me a lie”
Butch Walker-Closer to the Truth and Further From the Sky
This song is really only in because of the imagery.
“And the static singes the speakers like a thousand hymns of inspiration
And the road just winds through the canyon like
A big black snake headed for salvation and
I’m getting closer to the truth, and further from the sky”
I have been on that road and felt as though I was headed to my salvation. I think that the uncertainty I felt towards dealing with the loss of my father eventually gave way to action. Some action. Any action. It would have been easier to do nothing and let a wave of depression or hopelessness run over me. Instead, I decided to go and look for what I needed. I didn’t find it, because it doesn’t exist. I probably knew that at the beginning. But riding on that road, the big black snake headed for salvation, I knew that it wasn’t on my couch in Las Vegas.
Enjoyed your blog posts, Joe. Glad you are home safe, but will miss the good stories of your journey. You are a wonderful writer and I truly hope you will find another outlet for your talent that we can all once again enjoy.
Our family has known your family since 1980 when we moved into the other half of the duplex on 50th street. Thanks for sharing this road you traveled. Good luck in your future plans.