When I arrived in Olympia, Washington, I did so on the heels of a heatwave I'd left behind me in Alderpoint, California. It was the summer of 1993, and I'd just completed my general education transfer certification at College of the Redwoods only weeks before. It was now August, and by my arrival in the early evening, the welcome damp and cool of the Pacific Northwest came as a soothing counterpoint to the otherwise hot and miserable few weeks I'd spent with my parents in Alderpoint.
I settled into the Melody Motel, the place where I'd decided to take up residence for the week while I looked for a place to live, a job, and an orientation to the next two years of my life as an undergraduate at The Evergreen State College. When I arrived at the Motel, I checked-in and was directed to my room. It was clean and tidy. The decor reminded me of the great television shows I once watched with my grandmother. You know, those shows from the 1960s that were once popular on the cable networks like the Nickelodeon channel. My room decor channeled the wood-paneled, formica, and avocado green and polyester backdrop of those shows. I found it comforting to be staying for a week in what amounted to me to be a show set from a bygone era.
On my way up from California, my mother had taken it upon herself to call her sister, Terry, who had recently arrived in the United States from the Philippines and was staying with her employer in a town not far from Olympia, in Hoodsport. When I arrived at the Melody Motel and checked-in, the manager already had a message for me. When he told me about it, I excitedly thought about the conversation I'd had with my mother earlier, thinking it was she who left the message for me.
After checking-in and paying for my room, $125 for the week, the motel manager handed me the message. It was written on bright stationary with Melody Motel emblazoned prominently at the top of the page. As I read the words, I felt my heart skip a beat. In prominent block lettering, the motel manager had written, "THIS IS AUNT TERRY. URGENT. CALL ME ASAP." The message also contained a telephone number and the time of the call, 3:35 PM.
I thought back to the telephone call I'd enjoyed with my mom and dad earlier in the day. I'd decided to push on through the Willamette Valley, up Interstate 5, arriving in Eugene, Oregon sometime around 2:30 PM. It was around this time that I'd called my mom and dad to let them know of my travel progress, and that I would be stopped at Eugene for a late lunch.
As I sat in my motel room, I thought about the message Aunt Terry had left me. While it was a Sunday evening, I knew I had so much ahead of me with getting a job and finding a place to stay, along with going to the College for an orientation. Classes would be starting in just three weeks.
I thought about my Aunt some more, recalling that my mother had told me how Aunt Terry came to the United States. She'd been hired by an older couple, to function as a live-in housekeeper. Remembering that she was living with her employers, I thought it would be inappropriate to call at this hour. It was now approaching 10 PM, so, I decided it would be best to get a good nights rest. I would call Aunt Terry in the morning.
* * *
As tired as I was, I was still given to habit. I had remembered to set my wind-up Big Ben clock before heading for dreamland. This trusty mechanical side-kick had been with me since my early elementary school years. I thought of this device, this mechanical alarm clock, as my friend. I found the sound of his tick-ticking and the sight of his florescent dial comforting, in the dark of the night and the wee hours of the morning.
When Big Ben sounded his trusty alarm, I woke from my slumber. I rose quickly and reached for Ben, pushing in the knob that would silence him. As I did so, I looked at Aunt Terry's note again. I'd placed it next to Ben. Then, I looked at the avocado green rotary dial desk phone that was also placed on the nightstand next to Big Ben and the note.
I recalled what the motel manager had said to me the night before about telephone calls, he said, "if you use the phone in your room, each local call carries a flat rate 25 cent charge. After that, you have a 25 cent connection fee for long distance calls and a 10 cent per minute charge after that. If you use your room phone, we'll settle up your bill when you check out."
It was time to call my Aunt Terry.
I looked at the message again, making sure I knew the telephone number before I dialed it. I picked up the old rotary phone receiver and listened for the dial tone. Since the telephone came with no special instructions, I simply dialed the telephone number.
After waiting for what seemed like an inordinately long period of time, about 30 seconds, the telephone receiver signaled a ringing telephone on the other end. A woman answered. I knew it was Aunt Terry. She sounded just like my mother.
She said, "hello?"
I answered, "Hi Auntie Terry, this is Orval, your nephew." I tried to sound as upbeat as possible.
She started crying.
I knew then that this wasn't going to be good.
Between her sobs, she said, "Orval, oh, I thank God for your call. You have to come get me right now. These people, they're monsters. They abuse me, Orval! Dear God, please help me!"
I replied, "Auntie Terry, of course I'll come for you. Mom said you're in Hoodsport. Is that correct?"
"Yes, Orval, please. Please, dear God have mercy for me. Please hurry. I am so afraid for my life, Orval!"
"Okay, Auntie. I'll be there. Just give me your address and I'll come now." Once she gave me the address, I ended the call, letting her know I needed to go to the bathroom and I would be leaving immediately.
When I got to my truck, I unlocked it and seated myself on the driver's side. I pulled my map of Washington State out of the glove compartment box and then searched for Hoodsport, Washington. I knew it was on the water, as I'd remembered my mother telling me so in an earlier conversation. So, I looked along the water's edge, along Puget Sound. There it was, Hoodsport. Then, with my finger, I traced the route from Olympia to Hoodsport. It did not look like a long drive.
* * *
The drive to Hoodsport took about 45 minutes. The little white house where my aunt was staying sat on the edge of an embankment overlooking Puget Sound. Parking was easy because the house was located at a bend in the road that allowed for a very spacious turnout between the house and the lane.
I got out of my truck and began walking to the front door.
As I neared the house, I stopped abruptly as I heard and observed my aunt rake the front door open, slamming it backwards into the inner hallway. The momentum from her hasty exit resulted in her tripping, falling forward into the graveled drive.
I could see she'd been crying, mascara was streaked across her face. Her hair was disheveled, with bits of it appearing plastered to her face, neck, and mouth. The whole of her demeanor was indicative of having been attacked, and she screamed for me as she fell into the drive.
"Orval! Help me, dear Lord, help me get away from this place!"
"Auntie Terry, let me help you." I knelt and assisted her up, dusting the dirt that had ground into her denim pants. She was also wearing a hooded sweater, and her undergarments were visible in her current state of dishevelment.
"Oh my God, Orval. Thank you for being here. Help me with my bags," she commanded. Heaving and sobbing heavily, she quickly retrieved three enormous nylon bags from just inside the front door.
As I moved the bags to the back of my truck, another person emerged from the house, and then another. Both persons appeared to be of an advanced age. One of the persons was male. The other was female. They were both using wheelchairs.
I noticed for the first time that a short ramp was fitted to the bottom edge of the front door, making it easy for the two of them to wheel in and out of the house.
Of the two who were using wheelchairs, the woman spoke first. She said, "Terry, please don't go. Terry, please, we need you so much!"
Then the man spoke, "Terry, we are sorry for anything that we did. Please, please don't go!" The man was crying.
Aunt Terry looked at the two of them. Continuing to sob, she replied, "you are both horrible people. I can never forgive you for what you have done to me!" And then, sobbing and wiping more of her mascara across her face, Aunt Terry quickly made her way to the passenger side of my truck, slamming the door and locking it as she seated herself within the cabin.
I looked at the two people in their wheelchairs. I said, "I don't know what happened here. This is my Aunt."
I motioned towards the truck.
They were now both crying.
I didn't know what to do, so I said, "look, again, I don't know what happened here, but I gotta go."
The woman looked at me. As she wiped away the tears in her eyes, she said, "God bless you."
I raised my hand as if to say goodbye and quickly walked back to my truck.
When I got into my truck, Aunt Terry was clearing the makeup off her face. She'd stopped crying and she appeared to be cleaning up her face in order to be able to apply more makeup.
She said, "thank you, Orval. Are you taking me back to California now?"
I said to her, "we're going back to my motel. Auntie Terry, did mom explain to you why I am here in Washington?"
Aunt Terry replied, "well, I know you're here for school, Orval, but I need to go to California!" With that, she began to cry again.
I said, "Auntie, don't worry. We'll figure this out." This seemed to satisfy her as she quickly wiped away the tears and began to apply her makeup.
Then, without asking if I would mind, she lit up a cigarette.
When we arrived at the Melody Motel, I brought my aunt to the front office in order to check her in. She walked into the office with a cigarette in her mouth. As she did, the manager looked up and said, "Ma'am, you're going to have to put that out. This is a 100% smoke-free establishment. Guests are not allowed to smoke anywhere on the premises. Thank you."
To this, my aunt shrugged and said, "let me finish it." She continued to smoke the cigarette.
The manager said, "lady, take it outside, right now, and put it out. Thank you!"
Aunt Terry replied, "I'm almost done. What is the big deal!?"
I took Aunt Terry by the arm and gently led her out the front entrance. She said, "what? You're going to let that asshole push you around?"
I replied, "Auntie Terry, I've already pre-paid for the week. I need this to work out. I have to find a job and a place to live this week."
"But what about getting me to California? Don't you give a damn about me? What the hell are you good for!?"
"Auntie Terry," I replied. "I need to look at the bus schedule. What I can do for you is I can get you on the Greyhound Bus to San Francisco."
"I don't want to go to San Francisco! I need you to take me to Benicia where I can live with our cousin!"
Benicia, California is located in the East San Francisco Bay area.
"Auntie Terry, I will work on getting you a ticket to San Francisco. We can have our cousin pick you up there."
She threw her cigarette onto the ground in front of me. I stamped it out.
"Auntie, can we please go back into the lobby and get you a room?"
"I don't want to stay here. This place is a dump!"
"Auntie, this is what I can afford, okay?"
She looked at me in a way that communicated extreme disgust. When I think about the look she had on her face, I think about the look I have on my face when I’ve accidentally stepped in something nasty, like excrement. Eventually, I got her back to the lobby and I got her a room. When I checked her into her room, I reminded her about the entire facility being smoke-free. She rolled her eyes at me and closed the door in my face.
When I got back to my room I telephoned my parents. I explained to my mother that I'd gone to Hoodsport to pick up Auntie Terry and that I had her with me at the Motel. I did not want my mother to worry about her sister, so, I did not explain what I had experienced. I let my mother know that Aunt Terry wanted to go to Benicia. She knew which cousin to call to pick up Terry. We ended our call with the understanding that I would call her with the information about the Greyhound Bus and when our cousin should expect Terry.
Then I looked up Greyhound in the local yellow pages. When I telephoned the local Greyhound station, I learned it was only a few miles from the Motel; and that the bus ticket could be purchased for Auntie Terry just before the next bus departed, which would be at 10 AM the next morning.
After speaking with the Greyhound agent, I lay down on my bed.
I was exhausted.
When I woke I could hear loud voices outside my room. Day had passed into early evening, and I could see the lights of a police cruiser arching through my motel room window. When I looked out, I could see my Aunt Terry and the motel manager. They were engaged in a heated discussion.
I hurried out.
The police officer was about to intervene when I inserted myself between my Aunt and the motel manager. He bellowed, "this lady has been smoking cigarettes and I want her out of here!"
Aunt Terry replied, "you know what, asshole, I'll tell you where I'm going to put my next cigarette. It will be up your ass where the sun don't shine!"
The police officer then spoke to my Aunt. He said, "ma'am, I'm going to need you to get your things and leave the room. Do it now, please."
My aunt looked at the police officer and began to cry. She limply slumped to the ground, placing her hands on her face. She continued, "I've been in this country for a month and all I get is abuse. I was abused by my captors. I was abused by my mother. I was abused by this asshole motel manager and now I'm being abused again. God, why do I have this life?"
With each statement, Aunt Terry got more and more worked up. The police officer looked at her and he looked at me. Then he said to me, "can you handle this?"
I replied, "yes, officer. I can take care of my aunt." Then I turned to the motel manager and said, "Sir, if you let her stay with me in my room, I will see to it that she doesn't smoke."
The manager looked at my aunt who was now lying on the ground, face up towards the sky. Tears were running down her face in long spidery tracks of mascara and with each sob her chest lurched violently in an almost disconnected staccato-like rhythm. He said, "yes, she can stay, but only if you promise me she isn't going to smoke another cigarette anywhere on the grounds of this establishment."
"I promise, sir. I promise." With that, the motel manager looked at the officer, nodded, and returned to his station in the motel lobby.
The police officer looked at my aunt one more time before saying, "you take good care of your aunt, son. She needs it." He then turned and got into his car. Seconds later he was gone.
I looked around the parking lot. There were at least a dozen other motel patrons standing about, looking at my aunt on the ground. I took a tissue out my pocket and dabbed her eyes with it. Then, I helped her to my room where I lay her on my bed. Shortly thereafter, she fell asleep. It was at this point when I went back to her room to get her things.
When I stepped into her room, I observed she had not smoked in the room. She had only been smoking outside in the parking lot, just outside her room where I found evidence of nearly two dozen cigarettes. I took the cigarette butts and flushed them down the toilet in her old room before moving her enormous nylon bags to my room.
That night, I sat in the chair next to window.
I watched my aunt sleeping, peacefully.
In the morning, I took her to breakfast and then on to the Greyhound station where I purchased a ticket and got her onto the bus. While I was there, I confirmed when her bus was expected in San Francisco. Then, once I got back to my motel room, I telephoned my parents. I spoke with my mother, telling her when our cousin should expect Auntie Terry in San Francisco.
My mother said, "Orval, she wasn't any trouble, was she?"
"No, mom, she's been through a lot. I was glad to help her out."
After the telephone call with my mom, I went out to the newspaper stand in the lobby of the motel. I picked up a copy of the local newspaper, The Olympian, and started looking through the help wanted section for a job and the section for house shares and places to rent.
Later that afternoon, I drove out to Lacey, Washington, the town adjacent to Olympia where I found a great house share for $200 per month. I put down a deposit with the understanding I would be moving in at the end of the week. Then, the next morning, I went to the College where I found a part-time job working in student services.
Several days after moving into my house share in Lacey, Washington, I signed up for a student orientation at the College.
Over the course of ten days I rescued my aunt, found a place to stay, found a job, and oriented myself to a new life, a life I would lead for the next two years as I completed my bachelor's degree at The Evergreen State College.