Chad M. Christensen

Boy With Shovel: Percocet, Kidney Stones, and the Old Apache Trail

Chad M. Christensen’s next Boy With Shovel column, about being in New Mexico with kidney stones and Percocet, exploring the local history and its trails.

 

I’m naked in New Mexico right now, which is a good thing. People need to be naked more often. Clothing was part of the fall of man according to Biblical gibberish. I’m refusing that encroaching narrative on our cultural myth. Faith, as I see it, is for the meek and silly. I’ve always preferred the more lucid-lizard-toiling-upon-the-stone type of approach. No more Kool-Aid for me, please. I had enough mind sodomy as a child for one lifetime.

Lately, I’ve been listening non-stop to Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” Mainly because I’m masochistic, I think. My four-year-old tells me it’s a good song, and I trust that. When you get too old, you can’t be trusted. I believe Abbie Hoffman was misquoted with saying something similar. Plus, Cyndi makes a cameo appearance in the film The Goonies, which in my mind gives her music credibility. I was two when the song came out. I’m not sure if I understand it, or girls in general, but I understand feeling good, and that’s what I feel right now sitting in this hot tub.

My wife and I have rented for two days the most expensive room at the Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort and Spa, just north of Santa Fe. We’re nestled right up along the cliff wall with the swallows and rattlesnakes. A fully private room with its own adobe fireplace and hot springs tub, along with all sorts of healing soaps and lotions that my wife tried her best to explain to me. I nodded and got naked. I was on my way to healing.

Last week before we left, I was having what I thought were back pains. It ended up being goddamn kidney stones. I pissed blood for three days but told my wife I was getting on the plane regardless. The doctor at the urgent care told me I should have gone to the hospital, but I had no time, I told her. “I have children.” They don’t care if you’re missing limbs or losing blood, they expect you to play with them and to make them SpaghettiOs. Screaming and throwing things does nothing but encourage them.

At one point, I was rolling around on the kitchen floor, and the four-year-old put a Lego figure of Thor in my hand, insisting that I battle him. He had the full-sized action figures of Ironman and Venom set up and ready to go. The odds were not good. “Not now,” I told him. “Daddy’s dying.”

The doctor was kind, and she obviously saw that I was suffering, so she gave me a generous prescription of Percocet. I nodded, smiled thankfully, and walked out the door. An opioid epidemic, indeed. Barely three days in New Mexico, and the script is almost gone—which is part of the reason I’m naked right now.

We went horseback riding near the Rio Grande earlier yesterday. “The Old Apache Trail” is what our guide said. I decided to put clothes on for that endeavor. Seemed reasonable. Riding horseback up out of the gorge and into the mountains is no joke. And it’s not a good idea to have any fleshy appendages hanging loose and flapping in the air. So, the pants and boots were on.

Our trail guide was a unique woman. I can’t remember her name, but it was probably Cyndi. She had the soul of a kid, yet I sure as hell wouldn’t try to wrestle her. She was definitely in charge, and I was happy for it. She loved her horses, but she took no shit from them or from us. Most of the horses had been rescued from bad situations, which I give her kudos for. She was doing it and doing it full throttle. She had a nice little place just off the highway with her boyfriend Antonio and a couple of well-minded blue heelers. There were elk skulls everywhere and an unreasonable number of hummingbird feeders. By noon, the place was buzzing with these tiny drones.

During our climb to the top, I felt like Strother Martin from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the part where he’s on a donkey just before he’s shot to death by banditos. We were in the middle of nowhere now, and it was only a matter of time before we fell to our deaths. The heat was brutal and constant. At one time, this mountain had been a volcano, spewing death to all the natives below. I quickly popped some more Percocet as she was showing us some of the stones and broken pottery scattered along the ground. She knew what she was talking about. This really was The Old Apache Trail.

At a lookout point, the view was both serene and terrifying. Large rocks cascading down to oblivion. “Some call this God’s country,” she told me. I nodded, then I looked down to see her dogs were running everywhere. “On the hunt,” she explained. “Jackrabbits, grouse, coyotes, elk, whatever they can scare up.”

My horse Edgar ignored the dogs for the most part. Edgar had a rather large skull but a pretty face. He had been alone most of his life, and I think he took offense to being forced to run this gauntlet trail ride. But he was putting up with us, and the dogs.

When we got back down to her ranch, we paid Cyndi and started wandering aimlessly along the Rio Grande. I thought about going for a swim, but the water was cold, and I feared I’d float downstream.

So instead, we opened a bottle and slowly made our way up the canyon back to Ojo Caliente. That evening I had some issues with the adobe fireplace, and smoke filled the room. After that, everything went dark.

 

I’m naked in New Mexico right now, which is a good thing. People need to be naked more often.

 

This morning my wife explained to me that checkout was at eleven, no exceptions. I was still naked in our private hot springs. I told her they’d have to drag me out of this tub screaming. I figured there’d be a scene with the maid, some hair pulling would be involved, which would spill out to the parking lot with lots of shouting and horrified guests. Then I’d run frantically to our rented Jeep and drive away, dust and gravel flying everywhere as the poor maid, overwhelmed with distress, called the sheriff’s department.

But instead, I’m leaving the room under somewhat peaceful protest and have resolved to getting drunk in their wine bar. It doesn’t matter anyway. The Percocet is nearly gone.

We can still use the main facilities for the day, so my wife is lathering herself up with mud to linger like a lizard in the sun. I’m tempted to join her, but instead, I end up complaining to Sean, the bartender, about the unreasonable check out time.

“I’m not ready,” I tell him. He nods and tells me not to worry.

“Ojo Caliente is a state of mind,” he explains. “You can take it with you.”

“Interesting,” I respond. “Tell me more, Sean.”

He starts rattling off the history of the place, which I can see is written on the back of the menu. It’s almost word for word. But he eventually strays from the storyline and begins jabbering on to me about jackrabbits. Apparently, it’s his spirit animal. I nod and then casually mention peyote, which flusters him a bit. He reaches down and grabs the bar rag and begins dabbing the sweat off his face. After some minor coaxing to calm him down, he reveals to me that yes, it is around, and he knows where it can be found. He tells me he has a house near Carson and that peyote grows in abundance there. I remembered the town. We drove through it on our way to the trail ride. There were no houses in this town, only a small post office and an old sign promising a grocery store.

When my wife returns, I convince her that I need to see the desert one last time, preferably near Carson. She’s reluctant at first but can see it’s important to me, so we get in the Jeep, put on some Cyndi Lauper, and head west. “Maybe we could live out here,” I suggest. “Lots of space. Good people.”

At the junction near Carson, she pulls over, and I jump out and wander quickly into the desert. There are bushes and cacti everywhere. At this point, I realize I have no idea what I’m looking for. I was not steeped in the peyote tradition. Psilocybin, perhaps. But not peyote. This plant is foreign to me. I stop for a moment and begin to take a piss. This is it, I think. There’s no chance. I sigh and start to stare aimlessly into the vastness of the place. The sky is a stunning deep blue, and it appears as though it’s trying to swallow up the landscape.

Everything is quiet at first, but then suddenly there is all this rustling around me. I put my cock back in my pants and look around. There’s dust swirling up everywhere, and all the bushes are shaking. As I squint my eyes, I can just barely make them out—fuckin’ jackrabbits. I’m surrounded by hundreds of goddamn jackrabbits, and they’re all darting back and forth in some sort of mating ritual. Jesus—Sean’s spirit animal is talking to me. And just like Sean, they’re speaking goddamn gibberish. I wave my hands all about, signaling them to let me pass.

When I get back to the Jeep, I tell my wife I had a vision and that we needed to go back to Ojo Caliente. “It’s not safe out here on The Old Apache Trail,” I explain to her. The children can wait. The job can wait. There was something urgent that needed to be fixed.

We have no problems getting another room. The woman at the front desk just smiles and asks for a credit card. As I search for my wallet, I feel three tiny round objects lingering in my front pocket. Dear God, I think, dear sweet merciful God.

As soon as I get into the room, the clothes come off. I take a pull off the bottle I had neatly stored away in our bag, pop the three tiny gifts, and then slowly, ever so gently, slip back into the water.

And so here I am, completely healed, floating naked in God’s country. Above me, the cliff swallows are swooping violently at one another as the blue sky quietly reaches down with indifference. I’m not sure I’ll ever leave.

 

Chad M. Christensen

Chad M. Christensen lives in the Ponca Hills north of Omaha, Nebraska, and is the managing editor of the WSC Press and the co-director of the Plains Writers Series. He stole his MFA from the University of Nebraska and teaches writing and publishing at Wayne State College. Find him stumbling on Facebook & Twitter.

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