From the Book 'The Search for the Perfect Woman'
An Ongoing Weekly Series!
This week's Rusty Goat Story
The Great Escape
"How's my most favorite girl in the whole world?"
"Hi, Daddy! I'm gooood! What are you doing?"
"Oh, I was thinkin' about heading off to the mountains of New Mexico in the morning. Wanna go with me?"
"YES! What time are we leaving?"
"I'll be there to pick you up around eight...be sure to tell your mom!"
"Are we going to go horseback riding?"
"Now why else would we go to the mountains?"
She was eleven, she was my best buddy in the whole world...and she was my most treasured gift ever. Haley lived in the city with her mom...and I may have failed to mention this before, but I tried to stop by and see her every time I headed that way. I could see a lot of her mom in her...everyone else said she was a carbon copy of me. I hoped she had gotten only the best of both of us...from what I could see it seemed to be the case. My baby girl was perfect in my eyes and I'd double-dog dare anybody to tell me otherwise.
We headed out the following morning with a tent, sleeping bags, an ice chest full of Dr. Peppers, and a sack filled with Pringles and Spam...and lots of goodies.
The two of us chattered for the first hour, catching up on the two weeks that we had been apart. When a field of sunflowers loomed ahead of us, we pulled over and I took pictures of Haley standing in the middle of the field...I didn't need pictures, I knew that moment would stay fresh in my mind for a lifetime. We crossed the state line and my usual complaining about New Mexico roads took up a good five minutes. Haley occupied herself with the camcorder.
"Are you going to film the entire trip?" I grinned and she smiled.
"No, just till the battery goes dead."
Another hour into the trip and my child was making a list of all the things we should do once we arrived at our destination. She'd inform me everytime she thought of something else. The cell phone on my hip vibrated and I fumbled with it and squinted to read the text. Haley took it from me and read the message aloud,
'Where r u at?'
I glanced at her and asked, "Who is it from?"
I nodded and smiled. Haley knew who Jacy was. She had seen her picture on my Facebook page and I might have mentioned her once or twice...or a hundred times. My daughter was typing a response.
"What are you telling her?"
"Just that we're in the middle of nowhere in New Mexico." she replied as she sent the message. Another text came back.
"Are there any bears yet? Why did she ask that?"
I laughed and shook my head.
An hour and a half later we had arrived in the mountains and after the required hour drive around to see if anything had changed since our last visit, we found a camping site and pitched our tent.
The next day we headed out on a hiking adventure. Our goal was to reach the top of the mountain we were camped upon. I secretly hoped my girl would change her mind well before we reached the top. There were deer everywhere and I was positive we had a picture of every one of them. Eventually we came to a fork in the trail and I paused,
"I think we should go this way." pointing at a trail sloping down an incline."
"Dad! That goes down! We want to go up!"
I grinned. It was worth a try. Somewhere during our adventure, Jacy sent another text,
"No bears, psychos, or lesbians?" Hmmm, she was keeping tabs on me, I thought to myself.
The following morning we reviewed our 'to-do' list and prioritized it, Haley fitting everything into a tidy, well organized schedule. We would head out to the Indian Reservation first and rent a paddleboat and tour the lake, feeding every duck and fish that came within the sound of our voices. Later we'd ride the go-carts down in the village and take in a museum or two. We would by-pass the horse races and the casinos...Haley's decision, not mine, but we would pencil in a stop at the old Indian Trading Post. We were able to squeeze everything on her schedule into one day which left the following day dedicated to riding horses. We hit our sleeping bags early that night to rest up for a full day on horseback. Just as I was drifting off to sleep, a text came in...it was Jacy checking up on us yet again.
We rose bright and early Friday morning and eagerly drove toward the stables on the edge of town. This was always the highlight of our trip...riding horses through the mountains. We approached the shaded stand where a cute little twenty-something year old cowgirl smiled at us,
"Hi y'all! Are you wanting to ride today?" Haley nodded. "Do you want the one hour trail ride or the two hour?"
I hesitated and Haley looked up at me waiting for me to respond when a booming voice from behind me interrupted,
"Rusty Steele? Is that you?"
I turned around and eyed the big cowboy and stuck my hand out.
"I was beginning to think we weren't gonna see you this year!" He winked at my daughter and turned to the cowgirl,
"These folks just want a couple of horses. They know what they're doin'. Let's fix them up with Banjo and Kazooie."
Within a few minutes the two of us were making our way toward the top of a mountain overgrown with hundred foot pines. A cool morning mist hit our faces. The only sound to be heard was the clop of the horses hooves and an occassional twig snapping underfoot. We spent the entire day following the trails through the mountains and probably saw a hundred deer and both of us swear that black spot on the top of a mountain surely must be a bear. In my opinion...and I was sure in my daughter's, this was the perfect way to spend time with each other. 'It just don't get no better than this,' I thought to myself as the evening sun sank below the mountain just as we made our way back to the stables. That evening two saddle sore cowpokes decided to head into the mountain village and rustle up some bar-be-que at the cafe. It was during our meal that another text came in from Jacy...she hadn't missed a single day yet.
Saturday was 'going home' day and we both hated to see it come. We packed up our tent and loaded up the truck, then decided we'd stop at the creek that ran through the village for just a minute. We parked on the side of the road and walked across a footbridge to the other side of the creek. There were people wandering up and down the trails and kids playing in the icy cold water. Haley waded right in and started looking for a special rock she could take home with her. I found my special rock. It was about five wide and five feet high and perfectly flat on top. I climbed on top and sat there watching the crystal clear water rushing down the stream. Haley had found a couple of boys and was chunking rocks at them. They promptly returned a few in her direction. I watched and decided it was harmless fun. The object of the game was not to hit the other opponent, but to 'splash' them with your rock. I laughed as I watched the kids get sopping wet. I returned my attention to the water below me, wondering where it eventually came to a resting place. In all the years I had come all the way to New Mexico to sit on this rock, the water had never stopped running. I pondered the notion of having myself creamated when the time was right and having my ashes poured into the water at this very spot. I figured when the time came it really wouldn't matter if I wound up in this creek or just blowing across a west Texas pasture on a windy day.
"Hey Child-of-mine! Let's load up and head out!"
My soaked child and I piled into the pickup and decided we'd make two more stops...McDonalds for lunch and the gift shop on the way out. An hour later we were letting a really bad meal settle while wandering a crowded little store with other tourists, most of them from Texas, searching for just the right momento to remember our trip by. Haley finally decided on a mood ring and a braided bracelet. We checked out and headed toward the front door. I pulled the door open and came face to face with the bluest eyed, ponytailed girl I had yet seen in those mountains.
"Jacy!" It was all I could get out...I was speechless.
Her eyes were just as wide as mine as we stared at each other for a moment. I looked down to see her child, and a woman I figured was her mother standing behind her. Haley pushed her way through the open door to see what the holdup was.
"Oh! Haley! I could tell you are your father's daughter anywhere! you look just like him!" Jacy gave the girl a giant bear hug and when the two stepped back, Jacy's daughter and Haley stood and stared at each other then embraced as if they had been long lost siblings. Finally Jacy thought to introduce me to her mom and the group of us chatted for a few minutes. I eventually looked at Jacy with a questioning stare.
"You said we could come to the mountains...we did." She paused and smiled, "Been here since Wednesday."
I didn't ask why...to this day I have no clue why.