Justin Herrmann
How Dolly Parton Ruined My Life

Me and my girlfriend June were in Nashville last week, ex-girlfriend now I should say, but I remain hopeful what she's doing is phase or a fling and she will come back. We both had the weekend free, well I just lost my job at the Little Ray's cookie factory outside Paducah, but she took the weekend off to cheer me up. I got a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon for the road and we drove to Nashville. Why not Murfreesboro, or Clarksville, or even down to Chattanooga? I wish we went anywhere but Nashville. But she said, hey, let's go to Nashville, so we went.

We rented a room at the Rock-Ola Motel down on Wallace Road and I drank a beer and watched David Lee Roth make a nice bluff with pocket two's on the Celebrity Poker Tour while she showered and shaved her legs and armpits. She has beautiful armpits. I should have told her that.

I had another beer and then we drove downtown. We planned on going to a few bars and maybe grab a bite to eat, but we only made it to one. It was a tiny place off 2nd or 3rd or so, near where we found a parking spot. Maybe it was called The Black Lung, or maybe that's what June said it should've been called. There wasn't much to look at in the place. Men, mostly old-timers, sat at the bar and in pairs at a few wire-spool tables. The bartender was a heavyset guy in a black sleeveless shirt. His armpits were as unappealing as my June's are beautiful. We might have left — I wish now that we had — but we noticed a band setting up on what was really more boards and pallets than a stage, and somehow I already had a beer in my hand, either from June or by instinct, so we stayed.

I was glad to be spending time with June in Nashville. And it was nice of June to want to do something to cheer me up, though truth be told, losing the job felt like a blessing minus the bitter sting of being removed from the building by security. But there had been something on my mind for a couple weeks. Something that I couldn't shake out of my head. Something that made me think June had another reason for taking me to Nashville. I thought maybe she had something important she wanted to tell me. Something, you know, that I might not actually want to hear. I thought she might be lubing up my nerves like that time she took me to that Rush concert before telling me that she broke the pipe that my buddy Mikey made from the head of a cigar store Indian.

The thing that I couldn't get out of my head happened a couple weeks before when me and Mikey were drinking Pabst in the basement. June came down. She said she was looking for the iron or the cat or something. I saw Mikey looking at her belly. Truth is she had been getting a little fat in the belly. But let me tell you, I honestly think that can be a sexy thing on a woman. And then Mikey said to me, "Jesus, she's not pregnant is she?"

It made me uncomfortable, him staring at her belly like that. So I asked her to go to the store to pick up more Pabst and some of those cheddar-filled pretzels. But after that I couldn't get the idea out of my head. And then she decides to go to Nashville all of a sudden. What's a guy to think?

June sat us at one of the wire-spools near the band. They didn't look like much. A guitarist, a fiddle player, and a chick with an autoharp. They didn't even have a drummer. I had been a drummer in a rock band when June and I met. She liked rocker guys, but I'm not going to say she was a groupie. She was the kind of girl usually reserved for lead singers. Hot. Like my buddy Mikey says, like-a-pussy-glued-to-a-building-on-fire hot. You should know my buddy Mikey. He's a lead singer. The kind of guy who sticks nails up his nose and waxes his body hair. The kind of guy who would build a pipe out of the head of a cigar store Indian. A natural entertainer. I left my band when I got a promotion at the cookie factory and had to start working weekends. Like I said, June always liked rocker guys, but I guess that shows how people change.

The band played what I figured were cover songs. Not that I know many country songs, but they sounded like things I've heard. The girl with the autoharp sang. She wasn't bad looking, maybe a little horse-faced, but not bad. She had a killer voice. Could hit high notes like Axl Rose. So we sat there and listened and had a couple more beers. At first, I took that June was drinking as a good sign that she wasn't pregnant. But then I thought it was just as likely that she was pregnant and she was drinking to make me think that she wasn't. I had no way of knowing for sure. Then she wanted to talk about what I might do about work. When has responsibility ever been my thing? Could this have anything to do with her being pregnant? She said her brother could use a hand putting shingles on roofs until I could figure something else out. I told her maybe I'd start another band. Maybe I'd play drums for this country band. It's time for a fresh start, for something new, I told her. I'll admit I was drunk.

The band started playing "I Will Always Love You." Now this song I recognized because me and June made out to it in my Ranchero on our first date almost four years ago. I looked over at June and thought about that night and these white and gold knee-high boots she wore, and how sexy she looked and how lucky I felt. Those boots must have taken me twenty minutes to unlace. And I wondered if she still had them somewhere. Then I see there is this other lady up on the stage and I don't know where she came from. Believe me, if she had been hanging around the bar when we came in I would have noticed. She's the kind of lady you notice. And this wasn't the kind of place with a dressing room or backstage. Maybe she had been hanging around in the pisser. She was older, with a big chest, but good looking for her age.

I wasn't sure then, but I'm sure now. It was Dolly Parton.

So June and I were at the table closest to the stage, and Dolly Parton and this slightly horse-faced girl were singing a duet of "I Will Always Love You." Now, I am embarrassed to admit this next part. Dolly was staring right at us while singing, giving this look. I even checked behind us to make sure it wasn't someone else she was singing to, giving this look to. I've been around enough bands to know what those kind of looks mean. So I told June, "You better be careful, Baby. Dolly is up there giving me the eye. She's old but she's still got the it." Knowing what I now know, I sure feel stupid for having said that. But who knows why we say what we say? When you're in love, when you're intimate, you say things.

After the band finished their set, I bought the horse-faced girl a beer and told her I thought she was good. I told her about how I was a drummer and I was looking for a group to join.

June came over and put her arm around me. She said, "I don't know, I don't think your red-leather-tiger-striped pants and double bass drum would go very well with this kind of music."

"Shit, June," I said. "I'm talking business."

"Oh, I'm sorry," she said. "You're talking business. That must mean it's none of my business, right?" She's like that. Has a clever comment for everything. Smart girl.

So I walked her over near the pisser for a little privacy. And that's when I said it: "Baby, what's this all about? Just tell me. Are you pregnant?" And I remember that look on her face. That look has been burning in my head ever since. It was a mix of I want to punch your teeth out and something else. Maybe disappointment. Maybe acceptance. I've seen a lot of her looks. I thought I'd seen them all. But that was a new one. And then she turned and went into the pisser. I knew she was upset, but still I called after her, "Baby, when you're done in the can, grab me another beer, will you." Who knows why we say what we say.

I went back to talking to the horse-faced girl. After a while I saw that June was sitting with Dolly. They were doing shots together. I wasn't worried. I figured, hell, she could use another woman to talk to right now. She could use some time to calm down a bit. I was glad she was talking to Dolly instead of any of the back-haired hicks hanging out in the joint. I've dated girls like that. Girls that would hang all over the fattest, most tattooed, most likely just out of prison guy in the bar to make you jealous. That's one of the things, one of the many many things, I love about June. She wasn't into putting on a show.

Me and the horse-face girl had another beer. She told me her name was Roxy and I gave her my number. I told her I was available anytime. I told her I was free to travel. I told her I was versatile.

I figured June would've been calmed down by then. And that we could go back to the Rock-Ola and make love, and then maybe drink champagne while we watched the sunrise together like we used to do in the back of that old Ranchero, or something nice like that. Something as sort of an apology for what I said. But June was gone. Roxy said she saw her and her friend, she was talking about Dolly, leave together. I asked her if June looked upset when she was leaving. She said no. She said she would keep in touch.

The band played another set and I waited for June. By then a couple of weathered-looking ladies appeared in the bar. One of them was dancing close, over in a corner with a guy whose arms were as thick as my legs. I realized that is the kind of thing I never did even once with June. I kept waiting. I waited for June to come back. I waited until the bartender with the unappealing armpits said I couldn't wait anymore. And then I waited in the parking lot until the sun rose.

Things have been bad for me since June left. I can hardly eat. I can hardly sleep. I realize that I am going bald and getting fat. I realize that I will never be that lucky again. But I still have hope. She has to come back. Something has to be done about her stuff. What kind of woman would leave her cat? Sure, Dolly Parton has money, but money can't buy everything. Money can't buy that pink and brown afghan that her grandmother knitted. It can't buy the picture I have on the nightstand of her as a little girl on her daddy's farm, shirtless, feeding a can of beer to their pet pig Earnest. She has to come back. For her stuff if nothing else. Maybe then I can tell her everything I should have told her before, about how she has nice armpits and how I like her belly. About how much I love her. And maybe it won't be too late. Maybe she will give me one more chance.

I spend most of my time these days sitting in the basement drinking Pabst with the cat, writing songs for June. As a drummer, it's the kind of thing I'm new at. Mikey tells me that the songs have potential.