Buy the Book Monsoon Madness
Odd Signs
poetry, short stories and opinions
Buy the Book!!  Monsoon Madness.

by Gae Rusk

A beautiful little college town named Tahlequah sits in northeastern OK in the southwestern Ozarks as they flatten out to prairie and desert that doesn’t end for fifteen hundred miles at the base of the eastern Rockies. I spent most summers there between the ages of three and fourteen.

There’s a lot of the old Tahlequah still around, thank god. A lot of the old buildings and old trees still exist, thank god. Some of the buildings were new when I was little, but they’re older now. Some of the newer new may not age as well, but people will build what they want.

Luckily, the college of Northeastern OK State is still gracious with age. A creek winding onto the oldest part of the campus has crawdads in it. Nearby houses constructed of blonde flagstone look like square palominos. Long ago some eccentric OK resident built a blonde flagstone turret on that creek; an old rock stairway still goes right by it if you’re walking to and from campus. I walked that way almost every day one summer, and I touched the turret every time I passed.

My parent’s friends, Jack and Zula Belle Dobbins, grilled us at least a thousand meals over all those Junes, Julys and Augusts, while my brother and I played with their three sons. Zula Belle had a glorious and powerful voice; she actually had her own show on early OK television. Jack was a coach for Northeastern; he and my dad met playing basketball there in the late 1940’s, early 50’s.

Today the college gym is named for Jack, our three playmates are judges and golf pros, and Zula Belle has passed on and now knows more than all of us together. My brother is a very successful litigator, and I? I am as I am partly because of one particular summer we went to live in Tahlequah.

That year I was probably twelve, gangly and unenlightened and athletic. Even in the Ozark’s sultry weather I was so active that I wore sweat rings around my neck and wrists like jewelry. We rented a house off campus up past that flagstone turret. It had a badminton net up in the back yard, and I became badminton champ, mostly because no one else was motivated to put in hours practicing serves on hot OK days. Just me.

That was the summer I contracted some kind of meningitis and was so sick I wanted to die, but I couldn’t quite manage it. I was just swimming like usual in the campus indoor pool when I was attacked by a skull-crushing headache. Because I’d been playing normally and had displayed no signs of illness, no one paid much attention until I dragged myself out of the shallow end and hurled blood in the locker room and couldn’t stop moaning.

They tell me I was different after that summer, more different than after other OK summers of growth and change. It’s likely true. I do know my head hurt so bad when I was sick, part of my brain up and died. The part that took over had a different personality.

Even then I could tell I wasn’t the same. I kept thinking I knew things I’d never learned. I began to have reoccurring dreams that I still don’t understand. I wasn’t athletic after that headache, that’s for sure, and I’m not sure I was ever again as likable.

We went back to OK sporadicaly after that summer. By then, both my parents had earned their masters from years of summer sessions at Northeastern. We moved to California and settled between the only two east-west running mountain ranges in North America.

The few quick visits I’ve made to Tahlequah since then, I’ve made time to walk the old part of campus. It’s usually humid, no matter what time of year. I wipe sweat from my face and neck as I walk, and I wonder who I would have been otherwise


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