Monday, July 26, 2004

PART 21 - Weathering the storm

I recently visited the Hard Rock Vault in Orlando, FL. This wondrous place is a treasure trove of rock memorabilia. Walking tours are given on the hour. I was enthralled, and when I was sure no one was looking, I lovingly caressed the crotch of Jim Morrison's leather pants.

Riders on the storm
The Doors

Riders on the storm
Riders on the storm
Into this house we’re born
Into this world we’re thrown
Like a dog without a bone
An actor out on loan
Riders on the storm

There’s a killer on the road
His brain is squirmin’ like a toad
Take a long holiday
Let your children play
If ya give this man a ride
Sweet memory will die
Killer on the road, yeah

Girl ya gotta love your man
Girl ya gotta love your man
Take him by the hand
Make him understand
The world on you depends
Our life will never end
Gotta love your man, yeah


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

6:45 AM. An ungodly hour to awaken when you are on vacation, in my opinion. Luckily, I was awake when the phone rang; I had been holding a vigil next to the phone all night, listening to a torrential downpour outside, waiting. I snatched up the receiver as soon as I heard the beginnings of a trill.

"I'm downstairs in the office. Let's go," he announced and hung up. As quietly as I could, I stood up stiffly and started walked toward the motel door where I had placed my suitcase the night before. Tiffany stirred. "Are you sure about leaving?" she mumbled, half asleep.

"Yeah, hun. I'm sure," I whispered. I hugged her goodbye and stepped over a few sleeping lumps on the floor. Reaching the door, I grabbed the suitcase with one hand, and opened the door with the other, momentarily blinded by the sun glimmering off the wet parking lot. Stepping out onto the walkway and quietly pulling the door shut, I slipped my sunglasses on and glanced down at the parking lot. And there he stood, waiting for me. I felt my stomach flip - too much alcohol, too little sleep, too much bullshit, and somewhere, believe it or not, a thrill that he had actually come down here for me. For ME. On my terms. Everything was going to plan, he was holding his position and my friends were blissfully sleeping, undisturbed.

As I made my way toward the stairs, I glanced down at him standing next to his truck, a huge black Dodge Ram. His pride and joy, he had just purchased it a couple months before. Even with my sunglasses on, I could tell something was amiss. There were two wide rows of exposed metal on the hood of the truck cab, front to back. Peeking over my sunglasses, I saw that the paint had been literally scraped off down to the metal, seemingly with some kind of industrial-strength ice scraper. I couldn't imagine what happened.

It was a less-than-joyful reunion, no running and jumping into his arms, no giddy kisses. He waited for me, not moving a step from his position, hands dropped to his sides. I approached him slowly and carefully, as you might approach a wounded wild animal on the side of the road. Wordlessly, he took my suitcase from me, threw it into the back of the truck, and turned to me again, arms outstretched, his face contorted in pain. I stepped into his arms and felt them wrap around me, squeezing me tightly, then I felt his body nearly collapse against me. We stood there, he and I, in a wordless embrace. Finally, stepping back from him to meet his gaze, I was shocked. His eyes gaunt, with dark circles underneath, he looked like he had dropped weight, he seemed . . . defeated. Glancing down, I noticed what appeared to be paint splatters on his light blue Adidas warmup pants. Red paint splatters. Seeing the question on my face, he let out a long sigh and said, "Long story . . . let's go get something to eat."

Over large cokes and steak club biscuits from Mrs. Winners (his favorite), he began to recount his trip down, as I struggled to steady my queasy stomach:

Seems that he was in somewhat of a frenzy to get on the road after we spoke. He threw a few things in a duffel bag, took a quick shower, grabbed his appointment book to call a few clients the next morning and took off. The first few hours were uneventful, except for his 80+mph streak down 75 south. He was making pretty good time when he stopped and filled up near the Georgia/Florida line; even with the rain, he calculated he would be at my motel by 5:00 am.

About an hour after that stop, he was traveling a small 2 lane road (a shortcut) and found himself behind a farm truck with a very large hog in the back. The truck was a flatbed, with wooden sides that evidently could come on and off. He noticed that the truck seemed to be hopping momentarily, and just as suddenly, he saw one of the farm truck tires peel off of the rim and come flying toward his windshield. He jerked the wheel to the right to avoid the blowout remnant, and in doing so, found himself still right behind the farm truck, which had also veered right to avoid oncoming traffic. All of the bumping and swerving had jostled the poor hog off of its little hoof feet, and it lurched against the wooden sideboard, smashing through it and bouncing onto the highway.

Stunned, he stopped his truck and got out to assess the damage. He had a flashlight, and was shocked to see that the hog was still very much alive, squealing to high heaven and running around in circles, bleeding. The farm truck driver and his helper were standing on the roadside, helpless, watching the scene unfold. They were young guys, probably hired to transport the hog to market on their rickety old truck, and had no idea how to recapture the hog.

One of them came up with the inspired idea to grab a large hammer from behind the farm truck seat and commenced to smacking the huge hog in the head with the business end in an attempt to knock him out. In so doing, the hog turned on the fellow and began to try to bite and trample him. Slipping on the wet pavement and fearing for his life, he started screaming and continued to smack the hog in the head with the hammer, and at some point, the hammer twisted in his hand, and the claw end poked one of the hog's eyes out. The hog squeals were deafening, and not being able to stand watching their stupidity or the hog's torture anymore, my hero went to his truck, grabbed a loaded .38, and felled the hog with one shot behind his left ear, execution style. The blood blowback spattered his pants and jacket, and the hog fell over, dead.

He then turned his attention to the two geniuses, who by this time were trembling in fear, probably of the hog AND him. When he saw that his truck was unharmed, other than a cracked headlight lens and some residual hog hair stuck to the grill, he said his goodbyes and left the idiots there with their 500 pound slab of wasted bacon.

Disgusted, he drove to the next major exit and pulled into a truckstop to try to clean up. Even though he got the stink eye from the cashier as he walked through the convenience store with flecks of brain matter and sticky blood spattering his clothing, he wasn't stopped or questioned by anyone as he made his way to the men's room to wash what he could off. His jacket was pretty much a loss, and he blotted his pants as best he could.

Outside, he proceeded to drive his truck over to the carwash bay. There were 2: one for 18 wheeler trucks, and and automatic one for everyone else. The large bay was occupied, with a few trucks waiting, so he pulled up to the automatic wash, deposited the coins, and drove in. As he rested there, waiting for the cycles to run, he heard an ear-splitting screech. He jerked to attention, not knowing what was going on, when he realized that the carwash mechanisms were pressing down and gouging the hell out of the roof of the truck. He attempted to open the door, to no avail. Not knowing what else to do, he put the truck in drive and gunned it, leaving most of the hood paint behind.

I stared at him, incredulous. I was too stunned to laugh. I was too sickened to eat, and I wordlessly handed him my steak club biscuit, which he wolfed down with shocking speed. When he had finished the last morsels of that, he wiped his hands clean, turned to me, and took my hand. I was still visualizing the one-eyed hog when he began to speak.

"Rita, I have had to fight for anything I have ever wanted. I spent my life trying to build something better for myself. I wanted the best for you, too, and I put off what I wanted so that you could finish school and grow up a little. And I got screwed for being the nice guy. I'm not willing to put my life on hold anymore, and I'm not willing to be alone anymore." Reaching into his pocket, he withdrew a little ball of tissue paper, carefully peeling it away to reveal my ring. Still holding my hand, he slipped the ring on my finger, and with complete sincerity, he looked into my eyes, and said the words that I had always hoped to hear. "Rita, please say that you will marry me."

Speechless, I nodded yes. At that moment, every problem seemed to fall away. I wanted to start my life with him, I was filled with love for him, and the feeling of success was intoxicating. I had made it. We had made it to the top of the mountain, and we both were ready to yell to the world, "We are getting married!"

I stepped out to call home. My mother answered. I told her that I was fine, that he had come to Florida, and that we had decided to get married. I heard her crying, and begging me to come home first, and asking me to promise her that I wouldn't do anything until we came back home. I made that promise - I wanted to have a wedding, and I needed time to plan.

We spent a few days in Florida visiting his sister and relaxing. It was a nice break, and we were blissfully happy. Arriving back home, we stepped into a shitstorm. At the forefront of it was my dad. "What in the hell do you mean, you are getting married? Are you crazy?" This caused some confusion for me, since he had been the one to divulge my whereabouts. In his mind, he was worried for me, and had divulged my location knowing that I would be quickly retrieved and brought back home to safety. I don't think he ever thought about any other outcome, and he was completely undone that things had taken this twist.

"You can kiss your car goodbye," he announced, taking my keys from me. "Same for your college tuition. You think you are grown up? Let's see how grown up you really are," he challenged, so angry that his hands were shaking. In a show of solidarity and strength, I was escorted to the local Chevy car lot the next day to choose a new car that was financed and delivered by my betrothed. My father was absolutely livid.

Meanwhile, my mother began to help me plan a small ceremony. I found a sweet white dress on a clearance rack. I ordered a cake. Two weeks later, I was taking my vows in a small ceremony of my family and a few close friends. His family was noticeably absent. Weddings in their family happened at the justice of the peace in private. Not one member of his family was in attendance. Not one of his six siblings, neither parent, not one cousin. They had shied away from coming into Atlanta from their little town, and they all felt that they had nothing appropriate to wear, and they all felt that they would have been an embarassment to him. The disappointment on his face was unmistakeable, and my heart ached for him.

After the ceremony, he and I went to the trailer and changed out of our wedding clothes. We had not made any honeymoon plans, he said that our trip to Florida had cost him as much time as he could spare. Plus, he had been offered a position as a fireman in his hometown, and he had to be at work for his first shift the next day. He was busy assembling his uniform and shining his shoes as I looked forlornly at my dress laying in a heap on the bedroom chair.

As usual, I had won the battle but lost the war - yet another milestone of my life had transpired with as little fanfare as possible.

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