Bed of Rose's: Jack_Strawbyjack_straw©
Author's note: Recently, my friend Dynamite Jack challenged Literotica writers to spin a yarn based on the Statler Brothers' song "Bed Of Roses." I have decided to take him up on his challenge and write one for the Holiday contest.
If you've been keeping up with the some of the stories that have already been released, you have a general idea of how the song goes. A lonely young man finds love and purpose thanks to a prostitute named Rose, and her legacy is a man, in every sense of the word.
I'll be honest; I am not a fan of country music. As my pen name suggests, I am, and have been for most of my adult life, a dedicated Deadhead -- that is, a fan of the Grateful Dead -- and I am a rock-and-roller all the way.
However, one thing the Dead taught me was an appreciation of a wide array of musical styles. If you listen to their music, you will hear a variety of influences, ranging from blues to jazz to country. More importantly, they taught me not to disdain styles that I may not like, such as country.
So while I may not personally like the music of the Statler Brothers, and others in the country genre, I respect their songwriting talents and the integrity of their performances.
And, based on the lyrics, "Bed Of Roses" appears to be a song of deep meaning, worthy of the efforts of such talented writers as DJ, DG Hear and Josephus. I can only hope that my contribution to this series remotely approaches the quality of their stories.
^ ^ ^
Christmas was just a few days away, and I was taking my son and daughter to the mall to do some shopping.
My wife had shooed us out of the house, because she had some gifts to wrap that she didn't want us to see. And, too, I get little enough time alone with my kids, so the chance to accompany them on a shopping trip had plenty of appeal.
As always at this time of the year, my thoughts were drifting back to my past. It was a Christmas many years earlier when my life had changed abruptly.
It was in that frame of mind that I turned into the entrance to the mall and noticed the couple standing out in the cold.
If you live any place with a significant population, you've seen people like them. They stand on a busy corner with a cardboard sign that says something like, "stranded, need help." Or maybe they have on a worn Army coat and the sign claims they're a, "homeless Vietnam veteran, please help."
They usually look pretty skuzzy, and most folks turn away muttering something under their breath like, "get a job."
This couple was no different. They looked to be somewhere between 25 and 30, but it was really hard to tell. Life on the road can age you in a hurry, and make you look far older than your years.
The man was lanky and dressed in a dirty jacket, with dank, stringy hair falling over his shoulders out of a beat-up cowboy hat. The woman was also skinny, with a long braid that hung out of a stocking cap and ran halfway down her back.
The word you'd use for him was slimeball, and the word you'd use for her was skank. They looked like they were strung-out on something or other.
I looked over at my 16-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, and she saw me checking out the couple. She rolled her eyes, because she knew what was coming. She looked back at her 13-year-old brother, Jo Jo, and they shared a silent smirk.
They'd seen this show too many times before, but I couldn't help it. I pulled into the parking lot at Office Depot, and told the kids to sit tight, that I'd be back in a minute.
I pulled my jacket tight against the wind and walked across the street to where the couple stood.
"How ya doin'?" I spoke as I approached them.
"We've been better," the woman answered.
"I'm sure," I said. "Where you guys from?"
"Ohio," the man answered.
"Long way from home, aren't you?" I said.
"We're trying to get to Florida, but it ain't easy when you ain't got a car and you ain't got no money," the woman said. "And I thought it was supposed to be warm down here."
"Sometimes it is, but, hell, it's December, and we aren't that far south," I said.
In fact, Tupelo, where we live, is about the same latitude as Atlanta and Dallas, and it can get awfully cold during the winter in those climes, and it can get mighty cold here, as well.
The difference to me, and the advantage Tupelo has over my hometown of Wichita, is that the cold weather doesn't persist. You may have bitterly cold days, but you'll also have January days when the temperature hits 70 and stays there for a few days. And by the end of February, winter is just about done.
"You two got any family?" I said. " Anybody who'll miss you come Christmas?"
"We got a few," the man answered tersely. "Nobody I'm interested in spending any time with, though."
"My dad," the woman said. "But he'll be drunk as shit by noon on Christmas, and my sister'll probably be fucking my brother, or some other family member. That's how she gets her jollies."
I was saddened by the bitterness I heard in these two. I wish I had a family to despise the way this girl apparently did hers.
I sighed as I realized that there was nothing I could do, except what I had come to do. I reached in my back pocket, pulled out my wallet and took out a hundred-dollar bill. I folded it twice and put it in the woman's palm.
"Look, there's an inexpensive motel about a mile from here, the Skyview Inn," I said. "I know the manager, and he's probably working the desk. Tell him Jack sent you, and he'll let you have a room. It's a bit of a no-tell motel, but the heaters work and the beds are firm. Go on, get out of this cold."
The woman smiled for the first time, and, surprisingly, her teeth seemed in pretty good shape.
"So, Mr. Married Man, how do you know the beds at this motel are firm?" she asked, nodding at the ring on my left hand.
I looked off in the distance, and I guess the pain in my eyes showed, because the salacious smile died on her face.
"There was a time when I was where you are, and I found a home of sorts there," I said. "Look, I've got to go. Go on now, it's cold and you look like you're going to go into convulsions from the way you're shivering. Oh, and do me a favor, and call your family on Christmas. You may hate their guts, but they're still your family. I wish..."
Then I turned away, so they wouldn't see a big, strong guy like me cry. Once I regained my composure, I turned back, shook their hands, wished them luck and walked back across the street, back to my children, two of the three most important people in my life.
Elizabeth looked over at me with a look of supreme puzzlement and a little disgust on her face when I got back in the car.
"Daddy, why do you do that?" she asked. "Every year at Christmas, heck, every time you pass some vagrant like that, you stop and give them money. Those two looked like they were dripping with disease. And you shook their hands. Yuck!"
I looked over at my daughter and just stared. I love her more than life itself, and most of the time she's a sweet person.
But she is 16, and occasionally, she shows a touch of the teenage bitch. I honestly don't know where she gets it, since my wife Kathleen doesn't have a bitchy bone in her body. Maybe it's just the school environment she's in.
"I think it's time I told you my story," I said simply. "When we get home, plan on sitting down with me for about a half-hour. This is very important, and you need to hear it."
She looked at me funny, because I had never once intimated that I had the kind of past that I'd had. Kathleen knew all about it, but I'd made her promise not to say anything to the kids until I felt like they were old enough to understand it. It looked like that time had come for Liz.
We put the encounter behind us as we went to the mall and got some shopping done, then had lunch at the food court. We had an enjoyable day, although I was a little quieter than usual, thinking over how I was going to approach my daughter.
We returned home to the rich aromas from the kitchen. Kathleen and I were going to a potluck Christmas party at the home of a close friend that night, and she had a casserole in the lower oven and a custard pie in the upper oven.
Kathleen is a wonderful cook, and it takes a committed exercise program for us to maintain a reasonably trim physique.
I kissed the back of her neck while she stood over the kitchen counter whipping some fudge. She shivered and looked back at me seductively, the way she always did. After 22 years of marriage, we still express a deep and abiding love for each other. But her face took on a serious cast when I whispered in her ear.
"It's time for Elizabeth to hear the story," I said, and I told her about the encounter with the homeless couple. Kathleen nodded and said she'd leave us alone. Then she turned around and kissed me.
"Good luck," she said.
"It'll be fine," I said.
I called Liz down to the den, turned on the Saturday NFL game for background noise then sat down on the sofa next to her.
"Sweetheart, you know me as a father, a husband, a well-respected businessman, a dedicated Christian and a pillar of the community," I began. "Trust me, I wasn't always that way. It's just by a quirk of fate that I ended up here, and it's thanks to a remarkable woman I met here that I became the person I am today."
In spite of myself, I felt my eyes watering, the way they always did when I thought about Rose.
"Her name was Rose Madison, and she made a man out of me, in every sense of the word," I said.
Elizabeth snuggled up to me as I told her about Rose and how she changed my life...
^ ^ ^
My given name is John Strahan Jr., but I've been called Jack all of my life, to distinguish me from my father.
When I was young, in junior high and high school, I was called Jack Straw. I was 13 in November of 1972 when some of the guys I was hanging out with at the time talked me into going to a Grateful Dead concert at the convention center in downtown Wichita.
We all dropped some acid and had the time of our lives. Early in the show, they played "Jack Straw," and when they hit the climactic coda line, "Jack Straw from Wichita cut his buddy down," we all about freaked out. From then on I was Jack Straw from Wichita.
The fact that I was taking LSD at the age of 13 should tell you something about what I was like as a kid.
My folks just didn't have a clue how to handle me. Dad was originally from California somewhere and Mom was from Texas, and they settled in Wichita when Dad got out of the Air Force. He was a machinist at the Boeing plant and she was a nurse.
I had a sister, Beth, who was four years older than me, and she was everything I was not. She was nice, quiet, smart and straight. I was smart enough, but I wasn't quiet or nice, and I definitely wasn't straight.
I smoked my first cigarette when I was 9, my first joint when I was 10 and by age 12, I was a full-fledged, longhaired doper. My folks yelled at me and tried grounding me, but I just ignored them and snuck out anyway.
Nothing they did stopped me from doing whatever I wanted, especially after I sprouted to my adult height of 6-foot-1, several inches over my dad's size.
I hated junior high, but, strangely enough, when I started my sophomore year at Southeast High, I kind of liked it. Oh, I still didn't have any use for class and teachers and homework, but school was where I hung out with my buddies from the street, who were all a little older than me.
Things were kind of motoring along until I was 16 and a junior in high school, when something happened that completely changed my life.
It was a cold Sunday in January 1976. Beth was a junior at KU, heading into the spring semester after the winter break. She normally would have driven her own car back up to Lawrence, but during the break, the engine had thrown a rod, and she'd had to leave the car at home until Dad could get the money to fix it.
So around 9 o'clock that morning, Mom, Dad and Beth packed up the station wagon with her belongings and set out. I had no interest in going with them. The idea of riding in the back seat of my parents' car and listening to Dad's country music for five hours had no appeal to me.
Besides, I could hang out and get stoned and play my rock-and-roll music at full volume without any interference from my folks. The three of them gave me a hug and off they went. Dad said they expected to be back around 6 o'clock.
Throughout the afternoon I had a few buddies over, and we got pretty ripped, then around 4:30 I sent them home and began to air out my room. I used a bong, which didn't produce a lot of smoke, but I didn't want there to be any chance of Mom and Dad smelling anything.
By then, we had sort of reached an uneasy, unspoken understanding. They didn't ask or complain about what I did when I was out cruising the streets with my friends, and I didn't smoke pot in their house -- at least not where they could tell.
Well, 6 o'clock came and went, then 7 o'clock, and I didn't hear them returning. I fixed a can of soup to eat and paced the kitchen, getting a little worried. When it got be 8 o'clock, I found the phone number for Beth's dorm and reached her roommate. What she said sent a trill of fear down my back.
"I haven't seen them all day, and I'm starting to get worried," the girl said. "I expected them around noon."
I promised Beth's roommate that I'd keep her posted, and told her they probably just had car trouble.
Inside, though, I knew something bad had happened. I knew Dad had to work the next morning at 7 a.m., and he was about as reliable as they come. I didn't think there had been any car trouble. He was a machinist, and he kept his car's engine in tip-top condition.
Sure enough, a little after 9 o'clock, the doorbell rang and I answered the door to find two Highway Patrol troopers on the front porch. I knew without saying why they were there.
I had long developed the hippie's disdain for cops, but I have to say those officers were a Godsend. They were compassionate, and the older one held me while I cried.
The Kansas Turnpike winds its way from Wichita to Topeka and Kansas City through the Flint Hills, an isolated series of craggy ups and downs.
The weather had turned bad, they had run into an unexpected bit of sleet, and Dad had hit a patch of ice on a fairly steep sloping curve. The car had spun out of control into the path of an 18-wheeler.
Just like that, my parents and my sister were gone, and there wasn't even much left to bury. Neither of my parents had any life insurance, and the pension money from Boeing all pretty much went for the funeral expenses.
Of course, I couldn't afford any kind of headstone or cemetery plot, so I had what was left of them cremated. Dad had never bought the house where we lived, simply rented, so I had to move out, and it didn't take me long to lose track of their ashes.
That has always preyed on my mind, the fact that I have no place on this earth where the memory of my family can be recognized. It's like they never existed, especially considering there wasn't much family to mourn for them.
Dad had a brother and sister in California, and Mom had a sister living in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. They did all come for the memorial service, but I balked at the idea of going to live with any of them. I didn't know them, and my thinking was that I wasn't willing to leave my comfort zone in Wichita.
After I was forced out of my house, I moved around some, living with friends here and there in different areas of the city. I quit school and tried to get a job, but I wasn't willing to cut my hair or give up drugs.
Hell, drugs and alcohol became my refuge. When I was blitzed I didn't have to think about the awful way my family had died. Ever so slowly, over the next year, I gradually parted with anything valuable I owned, selling it to make money to buy drugs.
By the time 1977 rolled around, I was pretty much living on the street, and I decided that Kansas in winter wasn't a good place to be homeless. So I packed up a backpack, stocked up on some speed and a bit of weed and hit the road. I was headed for someplace warmer.
I had a friend who had moved to New Orleans, and I headed in that direction. I spent some time there, but it was a nightmare. I'm ashamed to say that I was pushed into doing some awful things there to make money. After the third time of selling my body to some man, I couldn't stand it and left.
They say you're either gay or you're not, and I'm not. To this day, the memories of my letting those men do what they did to me almost makes me retch. I vowed when I left New Orleans that I would never subject myself to that again, and that I would never return to Louisiana if I could help it.
Now, I was no virgin, far from it. But I'd never been in love, not even close, and my idea of sex was a blowjob or simply sticking my cock in a girl in the back seat of someone's car, pumping hard for about five minutes, shooting my cum in her, zipping up and moving on. In other words, "wham, bam, thank ya, ma'am," was my mantra.
Before I knew it, Christmas was right around the corner, and I was really feeling the blues.
Although my folks and I had never really seen eye-to-eye, and even though Beth and I weren't close, we still enjoyed close family times at Christmas. It was the one time of the year when we all set aside our differences and came together as a family.
I had gotten shit-faced drunk the previous Christmas, so I wouldn't be quite so haunted by the memories. It didn't work too well.
By this time, however, I had run out of money for drugs or booze, and I was more concerned with simply eating. It had gotten so I would panhandle at truck stops or on the sidewalks in city centers for a few coins or a buck or two to buy a hamburger, and I wasn't above rummaging around in dumpsters.
I found myself in West Memphis, Ark., one day in mid-December that year, and I was looking at the big Mississippi River Bridge with some longing. My life had no meaning, no purpose and I was awfully close to simply walking onto the bridge and jumping off.
But I couldn't do that. Regardless of my despair, I had too much will to live to do that. What being homeless and having to beg for meal money did do was cure me of my rebelliousness, and cut my teenage ego down to almost nothing. I learned humility on the streets, and it was a valuable lesson.
Once I determined that I was going to live, or at least die trying, I thought that getting someplace warm might help. I was fortunate enough to catch a ride with a trucker who was headed for Birmingham.
I had no interest in going to Birmingham, but after looking at a map, I decided to go with him as far as Tupelo, then turn south on Highway 45 and head for the Coast.
He was a kindly fellow, and bought me breakfast. On the road, he talked softly and confidently about his relationship with the Lord, and how it sustained him through some tough times.
I just kind of half-listened. It was the same spiel I'd heard before. I had no God at that point. God, if he even existed, had pretty much abandoned me, left me forlorn and alone.
All too soon, we were in Tupelo and I was back on the streets.
At first, Tupelo was a pretty unforgiving place. There were no rides to be had and precious little money to be begged. I wandered the streets of the town, sleeping in alleys and trying to stay away from the cops.
It was Sunday, exactly a week before Christmas, and I was standing on the main drag, a block down from the First Baptist Church. My little cigar box was open and I was holding a hand-written sign saying I was hungry and begging for help.
A well-dressed man who looked quite rich walked by with his wife and college-aged daughter, and for some reason I kind of lost my head. The gnawing pain in my stomach had become so acute that I was really desperate.