Ken Gardzinski Months May-July 2000
For at least 5 or 6 days in a row I wore the Ken Gardzinski coat to work every day with my vintage cotton dresses and rainboot collection-- a ratty, torn, dirty navy blue zippered sweatshirt jacket. I was in the throes of a brand new insta-love. I, being a mentally ill woman, made a huge Life decision and gave up a new AmeriCorps job in Minneapolis to take Ken up on his word that we’d rent the farmhouse together and live there with my daughter Ginger and two dogs and fires in the woodstove and fish we’d catch and clean then fry up in the big old kitchen. I wouldn’t trade those euphoric days of promise for anything in the world—except the chance to do them again…
Ginger was six years old when Ken Gardzinski changed our lives. I could never forget the first moment I saw him—at the karaoke night in Tumwater Washington at that bar by the highway --Nickleby’s it was, I think…and as I stood there in a long dress with real shoes on, I saw across the room a man with a dirty yellow shirt on, his hair a halo of brown messy curls, his teeth shining like white, a face etched into my heart as if it was waiting to be discovered. I fell instantly in love. The next step, of course, was to meet the guy and talk to him.
Days walking around the empty lake cabins at Summit Lake…the curving roads, little houses appearing out of nowhere, mist hanging over pines and majestic evergreens, the lake like something in a fairy tale. Ginger and I would walk with our fishing poles, rainboots, hats, a little tin of live worms, and on the path down to the empty-house dock, I’d stop to peer into the slight windows of an old 1950’s camper. I wanted to live in there so much. A fire pit outside, fish frying on the old olive green campstove. I existed in a hemisphere of dreams. Everyone said I always looked sad.
I was sad. Even though I had taken a huge chance, a huge bet, a gamble like no other, and I knew I wasn’t gonna win, I just couldn’t let go. So even while I was struggling to hope it would turn out okay, I knew it wouldn’t and the sadness pulled on me like a huge fish caught on an unsuspecting hook—bait and fate. That’s what it was. And I just did not care. I needed to live in that.
Those days when Ken Gardzinski put his sweatshirted arms around me were unbelievable and irreplaceable. What would I give to go back in time and row in that Fourth of July boat on Summit Lake with him? To look up at a huge starlit black nightsky exploding with flowers and screams of color? A stream of blue poofing into red blooms, and there we were under that sky, two lost souls who simply couldn’t find a clear way to each other…he inherited smelly feet and I an inability to say aloud what I wanted, what I felt. The whole idea of everything dissolved away to the fact of a $695 rent due a month—all of my own. And what a path that led me down. Why did I always have to learn things the hard way?