Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A Story to Tell

We all have one, I've been told.
Each of us has a compelling story that relays our experience, our truth, in a way that is unique to us. A story that entertains, engrosses, informs; perhaps one that inspires. A story which, when told, will gain us entry into the hearts and minds of others and plant something there.

But all such sayings have exceptions, don't they.
I've known a few dull souls I wouldn't believe you could wring a good story out of anymore than you could out of a rock. There's this guy I once worked with, selling encyclopedias at the North Carolina State Fair, who was one of them.

This guy - let's call him Larry, I really don't remember his name - he was a real lump of a guy. Big and dough-faced; quiet and stiff, he was the guy we'd all forget to ask along when we went for lunch or a beer. We weren't intentionally excluding him; it's just that we'd forget he was there. It's a wonder he ever sold any books, but every now and then he'd make a sale to one of those people who really wanted a set but just didn't want to have to put up with any sales talk or pressure. And Larry - any one could tell with a glance - was safe that way. There really wasn't any personality there that you'd have to deal with.

Maybe it sounds mean, but I just couldn't imagine that a guy like Larry would ever have anything interesting to say. Even if he did, how'd you ever get it out of him? He seemed so isolated in his stodginess that he wouldn't know or care if another human being was trying to reach out to him.
That's just how much of a lump he was.

Which makes it all the more surprising that we talked that day, and that he said what he said, that did what it did to me, I cannot deny. It's not like I was trying to be friendly, or draw him out. How many ways can I say it: I never believed there was anything in him to draw out. I guess it's that it was the end of a long day of standing on our feet,  trying to draw mooches into the booth, hit the quota that would make the travel and the motel and the greasy fair food worth being on the road for so long.

And maybe it was that - being on the road - that got him started. I really don't remember. But he got started talking somehow, and when he did, the talk became him. It wasn't interesting, really; it wasn't bonding or anything. He talked like the lump he was, no disparagement intended. That's just the truth.
And I listened. To every word. Because he had a story after all.

"I used to be a truck driver, back when I lived in Minnesota, before I come here, because my daughter is here with the grand kids. I drove cause the driving didn't bother me. I don't mind it. Not a bad job. Just long hours. But I don't mind. It's just drivin. And the pay's okay. And it's just you and the road.

"Bonnie got sick and went into hospital. I stayed home at first. We didn't know how bad it was, really. and they kept saying they wanted to keep her awhile longer. So finally, Bonnie says I ought to just go back on the road, because no sense in me just sitting around with her all day in the chair beside her bed, watching the tv, which was tiny and didn't have a good picture, nor good sound, so you really couldn't even hear it. I might as well be sittin in my rig she said. Bills was still gonna need payin. So I says okay and pick up a load, going to Georgia. But I'd come right back, I told her, and I did come right back.

"And when I got back, she was worse. Way worse. Cancer, of course. I stayed, and I thought everything would be just fine. I think she did too. But she kept getting worse. And then they put her on more drugs, but it didn't help. And then she lost consciousness, just like that. I didn't know, and I don't think she knew, that we'd never even get the chance to say goodbye. The last thing I remember her saying was to switch of that television, cause she was ready to try and sleep. And she never came to after that.

"And then she was dead. Just two days later."

Larry didn't say anything for awhile, and I didn't say anything either. It was like his talking, and the quiet of him not talking, were the same sound, just flowing together.

"I got up after awhile. After just sitting there with her. And I went and got my rig and down to the office, and had them sign me out a load. It was for Oregon, and I set right out. A day and a half. When I dropped it, I picked up another load, to Cheyenne, then another one to San Diego. They didn't have the limits then, and they only cared if a haul was too slow, so nobody said anything. I couldn't sleep anyway. From San Diego I caught a load to St. Augustine, then back to Amarillo. Then North again, but I didn't take any loads for Minnesota. Anyplace else.

"I don't remember sleepin. What passed for it wasn't sleepin at all. Wasn't restful. The buzzin in my head would get loud and I'd lay down in back of the rig long enough for it to go away. Then I'd drive.
I'd just drive.

"North Dakota. Down near Dallas, back to Cheyenne, and that same haul to San Diego again. I took a load to Cleveland, then New Hampshire, back to Cleveland, then Seattle and back down to San Diego. I remember it so clear, like I was building something, and each trip added a piece to it, like another strip, another layer. Everytime I dropped a load, I picked another one up. And I'd drive right away, at least an hour or two, before I'd stop to lay my head or for something to eat. And I'd drive again, as soon as I could.

"Two weeks. Two weeks before I started to come out of it. I was in eastern Washington, in the desert there, heading east for Idaho. Early morning, and the sun was coming up. And all these colors started coming up out of that desert. It surprised me. And I thought how Bonnie would've liked that. She would've said something about it, about how pretty it was.

"And then I thought about it, and I figured it was time to go home, to see after Bonnie."

That was it. That was Larry's story. He never changed expressions all the while he spoke. And he never said anything else about his wife. But I never heard grief and loss expressed in such plain words before.

Yes. Everybody's got a story.