My guess is that if you heard Bob Edwards say your name to ten million public radio listeners while you were taking your morning pee in a plastic hose, your heart would stop. It wasn’t that big a deal to me. That’s the truth. After what’s happened the last month and a half it almost felt like the start of another normal day.
Actually the day started about ten minutes earlier when the radio clicked and Bob said, "Good morning! President Clinton travels to Philadelphia today, the start of an eight-state campaign swing for Democratic candidates in next week’s Congressional election. I’m Bob Edwards, today is Monday, October 31, and this is NPR’s Morning Edition."
Bob’s theme swelled up into the trumpet fanfare that tugs me out of sleep at the same exact second of every weekday morning. Every single one. I cling to the habit by making sure the alarm stays set at 5 a.m. on the dot, the same as when I was logging.
Once years ago, on a soaking cold April morning as we drank burnt coffee in the Company truck and waited to see who’d make the first move towards a chainsaw, I was actually dumb enough to mention that I woke up to public radio every morning. For years after that nobody on the crew called me Jack...I was Ballet Boy, then for a while just "Double-B." Wouldn’t surprise me if a few comedians around town still call me that.
"The murder trial of anti-abortion extremist Paul Hill for the shooting of a clinic doctor gets underway in Pensacola today, while Israel begins reopening Gaza Strip border crossings today that were sealed after the Tel Aviv bus bombing." But I don’t log anymore. Funny how this works, but in order to log you have to be able to walk, which I don’t do anymore either. The truth is getting up this early only lengthens a day that’s already too long.
I do it anyway. Some nights, the ones I stay up late writing, that leaves only four or five hours of sleep. Not enough. Doesn’t matter. With the way my life has turned out I can nap anytime I want, as long as the pain’s under control. If I want I could sleep all day long. Who could ask for anything more.
"Cowgirl legend Dale Evans is 82 today and today’s the birthday of Colorado Governor Roy Romer. He’s 66 years old. The news is next." Then came Carl Kassel’s voice, gentle and official, for six minutes; for me, still drifting in the last wisp of sleep, it was only a few seconds. Then Bob was back, listening to Cokie Roberts explain that if Republicans could take control of Congress in next week’s election, Newt Gingrich would be the new Speaker. Now I was awake.
I reached over the edge of the bed for the hose, slipped it under the blanket and started peeing. That’s when Bob said my name. "Since becoming the first critical victim of the alleged ‘eco-sabotage’ designed to stop logging in the Pacific Northwest, John Gilliam, Jr. has been recuperating in his family home in the tiny town of Lewis Falls, Oregon, with a 24-hour security detail buffering him from media and public attention."
Okay, when I said this was a normal way to start the day maybe I exaggerated. I doubt if anyone could get used to this stuff. "Yesterday Gilliam made his first public comments in weeks. He told the Alternative Radio Network he doesn’t think the FBI’s main suspect in the incident is the right man."
Then three sentences came out of the radio that gave me the weirdest sensation I’ve ever had. They came in my voice. I lay there, the hose still warm in my hand, hearing myself say something I never said. I mean, I did say all the words but I didn’t say what they had me saying. If this sounds confusing, maybe you’d like to see how sharp you’d be after listening to your words twisted into small-minded drivel for millions of people to hear as they shave or boil eggs or dress their kids for school.
I could write down the words, supposedly my words, right now, but they wouldn’t mean anything unless you knew what led up to them. The point is I’ve been fooling myself by thinking this might blow over and let me go back to being nobody. That’s not going to happen. Not when every bozo out there with a videocam or laptop thinks they know my story well enough to tell the world. They don’t. Finally, finally I get it: the only way this story gets out into the world, and I mean the real story, is if I tell it myself. I have to.
It won’t take much work. I just have to organize what I began writing in my spiral notebooks the first day I could sit up straight in the hospital. I had no plan. All I wanted those first few days was a steady task for my thoughts, a task to consume them so they couldn’t hurt me more than I already was. I absolutely knew that my mind had to keep moving since my body couldn’t. I knew that if I didn’t move I could end up like Fife Burgess, who used to be the sunniest guy in Lewis Falls.
AND VERY FUNNY. One of the best memories I have from way back was the time Fife Burgess went bass fishing with Dad and me up at the reservoir that the Company used to stock above town. I was probably four or five. Fife and Dad got to talking about this new Forest Service timber cruiser who’d just moved to town from college up in Corvallis. The Lewis National Forest has had a ranger station in the middle of town since before I was born and other than the Company they’re about the only employer around.
Fife thought this new guy looked like Dudley Dooright in his green khaki uniform, all pompadour and chin. He’d come to Lewis Falls single and childless. Fife started running through the options for female companionship in Lewis Falls and what this guy must have thought of each one until both Fife and Dad were laughing so hard I started thinking about what I’d do if they fell out of the boat. It was the only time I ever heard Dad laugh out loud.