Today is Independence Day! December 22, 2006. Something weird happened this afternoon in Ohio. It was my turn to drive after eating breakfast in Sardinia and sweeping out the trailer into the swampy muck on the edge of the parking lot. Until a few hours later, Vern and I had gotten along fine. Well, fine I guess for a partnership made in Hell.
He was a dirty, smelly trucker with a back-country wit and bad vibes. He seemed like the type who could hit a woman or some children and find justification for it. Vern’s diet consisted of driving all day long drinking coffee and then stuffing his 400 lb body with buffet food right before going to bed.
(and by going to bed I mean, talking on his cell phone to the various “girlfriends” he had across the country and farting all night) I had earplugs and Stephen King, but I could still hear him.
I’ve dealt with worse over the years, but never so close up and confined. Sleep was confined to an upper bunk the size of a coffin crowded with all my bags. Smoking was confined to every three or four hours whenever we could stop for something. My life was confined to the dark and narrow road that I somehow knew I shouldn’t be traveling.
Yes, it was a road that only lead to one place in one direction; a place called Dissatisfaction, U.S.A. – Population: too many.
The rain had stopped for a little while and picked up to a mist around 3 or 4:00pm Eastern. My driving was fine as long as I was going straight and in 9th or 10th gear. The hills were a problem and really got my nerves going and with the roads as wet as they were, a down-hill slope that I could coast down smoothly in a four-wheeled car, became a roller coaster of doom. I felt the end drawing near and somehow the feeling was so far away that I didn’t really care. I couldn’t care. I thought about not being afraid of death, how it would be just like waking up from a bad dream, but my fear of living like that bothered me. I’d be wasting a perfectly good life and causing Shawna and the others to lose a part of theirs. Yes, something was wrong with the picture and although I didn’t know how wrong at the time, I knew something had to be done that wasn’t going to be easy. The real hard decisions usually end up being a hell of a lot easier once one’s mind is made up. I suppose I’d considered pulling the plug a time or two while driving that 75 foot death machine down the gray, cloudy, futureless track in South Central Ohio, but the little voice in my head that warns me about the outcomes of certain “bad” or “risky” situations started talking about the cost and complications of doing things my way.
My way is simple really. Life is more than getting pushed around and yelled at, more than money, or the way certain people think of you, and more than trying to be a “somebody” in a world full of mannequins, robots, and actors. In reality, I hardly ever have the balls to do things my way. I only fantasize and imagine it in all its glory and marvelous simplicity. So when I asked if I could pull over somewhere and take a break, and Vern said NO and that we had to get past Cincinnati and that if I’d calm the FUCK down or stopped being so FUCKING nervous and drive. . .after that my decision was easy. That was my breaking point. The point of no return, when it’s better to keep going in that direction than it is to turn back. He didn’t know it then, but he was going to L.A. alone.
I wasn’t done being scared of the road, but I felt something click in place just then that turned my nervous fear into anger and fierce concentration. He wasn’t going to slap me around anymore. After all, I was the captain of that ship now and he’d do well to consider that before yelling at me while steering this vessel through the rain and traffic of the Cincinnati outskirts. My eyes were clear, hands were tight on the wheel and I was getting that Hellbound truck to “MY” destination any way I knew how. So what if I ground a few gears, or waited too long to clutch? It’s better than steering all eighteen wheels off the edge of the next bridge isn’t it? “Are you afraid of death, Vern? Have you made your peace with the divine and holy creator?”
Well, I hope so because I’ve been there and have felt the life being ripped out of my body. I’ve experienced my death already. I’ve been to the void and fought and clawed my way back just so I could be in this world and in this truck. I’ve seen another way and compared to that night in Ohio, I would have welcomed that vision with open arms and a sigh of relief.
Anyway, I pressed on around the loop of 275 and made the exit onto 71/75 South. A little way back, around the time I’d made my mind up, we came over a small hill and off into the Western horizon I could see a yellow/orange strip of sunlight on the other side of the thick gray clouds. Vern said something like, Hey look we got some sunshine. It had been cloudy for at least four days straight and I didn’t answer him, but thought to myself that it was truly over. . .that was sign enough for me and I knew I was going to drive toward it and my destiny. It only lasted for a minute or so before darkness drew upon the valley and closed the cover. Just a few more miles, just a few more white-knuckle minutes before I was free.
Not much was going through my head in the last thirty miles except for what I was going to do and the strange sensation that it was the “right” thing to do and that somehow everything would work itself out. I could get a motel and eventually get a cab to a Greyhound station. Either way, good or bad, my life was changing. I was making a powerful decision that would alter the course of events. I was doing something that normally I would just think about and then back out of when I realized that this was “the real world” and I had responsibilities. I couldn’t just strand myself in Northern Kentucky with hardly any money and no definite way of getting home. . .without a job. . .just two days before Christmas.