I thought I would take a break from "Combustible" - while I am figuring out what we are going to hear from Donny over the next few chapters. I am almost sure there will be some surprises, some far-fetched "Forrest Gump-like" insertions of Donny into history, some touching moments, and at least one more explosion...Nonetheless, I will now share with you another story you may enjoy.
He frequently thinks back to the first words he said to his wife after officially tying the knot. Officially meaning, the state of Texas, on paper said he and his new bride were legally married. It only cost them $15.00 for the license and the Justice of the Peace, a thin scraggily middle aged man, he remembers, made the pronouncement in front of a witness, a stranger without a name, he could not remember.
He and his soon to be wife were nauseous as they approached the JP in his courtroom. The feeling did not subside as they exited the courthouse and climbed into the 1980 Chevy Malibu. She was a little beat up, the car; not the wife, white with a blue soft-top coating the sheetmetal top, that was the fashion at that point in history. She had a 305 cubic inch V8 with a four barrel Rochester carbeurator, the car; not the wife. The carbeurator required a rebuild every six months or so. The car needed new tires, it frequently over heated, and it looked like it had been through the people's revolution in some eastern bloc country. It was, however, the first vehicle he ever paid cash for, on his own, with money he made working at a boat yard in south central San Antonio.
"We ain't getting a divorce.", he said resolutely as he glanced at his new bride sitting in the passenger seat.
The drive back to Sheppard Air Force Base in Witchita Falls Texas must have been accomplished in silence. He doesn't remember anything else being said. But then, his memory for things in the past are not as complete as she would like some times. And as he looks back on his life, as he is wont to do sometimes, he thinks, "How did we get here?". He is not complaining, not at all, he merely is awestruck at how things have changed; how he has changed, and he truly believes that he does not deserve such a woman to share his life.
It was 1987, November-ish, the twenty first or twenty third, he never can remember because they were married the Monday after Thanksgiving that year, and Thanksgiving, like a precocious child plays a harmless, but frustrating, prank on him by changing its date every year. Some years he remembers the anniversary because Thanksgiving happens to land on the same date as that of 1987. But a majority of the time he misses it, not because he doesn't care but because that damn holiday keeps moving.
He was stationed at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio Texas. This was his father's doing, unbeknownst to him. While in technical training at Sheppard he had received orders to Hahn West Germany, had prepared himself to go, had put a for sale sign up in the Malibu, had gotten rid of the junk he would no longer need or be able to take with him. He remembers the day he parked his car at the far end of the base exchange parking lot in hopes someone needing a beater car would pay the $800 asking price. He had washed it, vacuumed it, and coated it in wax and after locking the doors he walked two blocks to the East to the outprocessing center to finalize his paperwork for relocation to Europe.
He entered the government office, painted door - government brown, painted walls - governement egg shell white, and approached the government front desk, metal, painted government grey, and introduced himself to the government employee, a civil servant, who not quite happy to be there, went through her motions, to work out the time needed for a full pension.
"Looks like you're going to Wilford Hall Medical Center, Lackland Air Base."
He, dejectedly, turned from the government automaton, and exited the building, painted government cream and brown. He walked the two blocks back to his car, removed the For Sale sign, and drove back to his dorm, now devoid of all posessions. He sat in his freshly cleaned and emptied room.
There was a knock on his door; he answered it. A call was waiting for him at the CQ desk. He went to the phone and in this very public setting took the call from his father. He can't remember the conversation, he only remembers that his father took great pride in pulling strings to get stationed at the "largest military hospital in the world." He was still at that point in his life where his parents directed him and he acquiesced, the same trait that has made him successful in his current business was a flaw in his character which kept him subservient to them.
Then something happened that, perhaps, gave him some reason for this sudden change in direction. What he considered interference from his father, somehow, over night, became something he would later call Providence. He met her.
To this day he can't remember their initial conversation, though it probably had something to do with Jim Morrison and witches. He can't remember much about their first date, or is it an amalgamation of several days in sequence that have blended into one? He remembers that it involved a somewhat embarrasing (for her) situation in the mall in front of the Nut Shack, a visit to the local cemetary under a full moon, and a Dairy Queen chili-dog and a pineapple shake.
A week later - again he can't remember exactly - after devouring a Pizza Hut Priazzo- do you remember those? The deep dish pan pizza with a layer of dough across the top, there is a website dedicated to this culinary feat- they sat in the Malibu. For some reason, he remembers her at the wheel, and he in the passenger seat. He's probably got that wrong. She hated that car. It was quiet, the left over pizza was in a to-go box, she looked at him.
He remembers now, the first girl he was sweet on in elementary school. He found himself at a table with his sack lunch and the twenty-five cent carton of milk, surrounded by her and all her giggling friends. He was a sixth grader who, quiet, vulnerable, did everything he could to fit in. While nervous on the inside he attempted to emulate some amount of suave sophistication as he raised the carton to his mouth to take a big manly swig. But instead of pulling off the masculine and, to be hones, fairly simple task of taking a drink of milk, he missed and the white liquid poured down his chin onto his shirt and his jeans. The gaggle of young hens giggled and he felt his head was to explode in flame. That's how he felt in that car, in front of that Pizza Hut, on that night, when she asked,
"So, you want to get married?"
He is pretty sure he said yes. I mean afterall, six weeks later, after he had moved to San Antonio, she called and told him that she was being stationed in Utah unless made the 8 hour drive north on I35 and marry her on Monday. He made the drive; they stayed in a hotel; they got married; they sat in the car; he said those words "We ain't getting a divorce" and then he dropped her off at her dorm and he started the drive south to San Antonio. He almost made it back before the Malibu overheated. He pulled into the circular drive of the Hilton in Austin Texas. Took the bucket from the trunk and refilled the radiator with water from the hotel's impressive front fountain and continued on his way.
What he meant by those words and what she though he meant were probably two different things. He has the suspicion, that she thought he meant, "You are trapped- I am not letting you go." Fearful words for a newly wed to hear. He meant, though he may not have been able to express it so, at the time, "I am going to spend the rest of my life with you. I probably need to change and you probably will need to change. I am dedicated to being patient with you if you will be patient with me."
And change he did. A redneck by birth and raising - and not the good kind of redneck, the I'm going fishin' and drinkin' with my buddies, little lady, have supper ready for me when I get back so I can eat in front of the game kind of redneck- he found himself changing day by day and it made him very uncomforable. She got frustrated at times or most of the time. He realizes that these are the kinds of secrets it's okay to keep from one's spouse.
Two years later, still married, though not always happily it now seems to him, their first child came along. Then a year and a day later, their second. And then, by surprise their third son was born a year and a half later still. In spite of the benefits received by both of them being in the military, they were poor. They met with their first sergeant on several occasions to get help with their financial troubles. He was impressed by the fact they actually had a budget and were trying to follow it - a rarity it seems among those in their generation. That was her doing. He didn't have a clue.
He separated from the military under the delusional promise from his father that high paying jobs were there for the picking when he got out. They ended up in Little Rock staying with his parents while he looked for work. It was during this time he began to realize his new wife and kids were not only a nuisance to his parents but were treated like an invasion into their ideal fantasy of what their family should be.
"These beggars are of very high descent and swollen with the most baseless vanity; they have lived for some generations in a growing isolation, drawing away on either hand, from the rich who had now become too high for them, and from the poor, whom they still regarded as too low; and even today, when poverty forces them to unlock their doors to a guest, they cannot do so without a most ungracious stipulation. Your are to remain, they say, a stranger; they will give you attendance, but they refuse from the first, the idea of the smallest intimacy" R.L. Stevenson in Olalla.
They left. He quit his job and somehow, they found their way back to Little Rock. They lived, in the winter of 1993 with his parents again, but this time in their new much larger home. His parents did not belong there. It was in an upper middle class subdivision, a massive home with a wrap around front porch and a large back yard, flat, imminently manicured, surrounded by a privacy fence that bordered a horse farm. The Clampets had moved to North Little Rock's version of Beverly Hills. It was during this time, while he and his wife were working, she as a telemarketer, he at his father's lumber wholesaler business, that their children were introduced into the amazing world of TV - his mother's vision of what it means to be a babysitting grandma. The stay was becoming more and more uncomfortable with each passing day. One Saturday after hard manual labor all week, he descended the stairs at around 9AM, groggy, hair all a mess, unshaven which was always a source of ridicule from his family. Apparently he did not greet everyone with a cheerful, "Good Morning!" This set off a chain of events that to this day are very difficult to explain.
Is it rare that simple things become so blown out of porportion so as to take on a life of their own? He used to think so. But then again, in retrospect, he came to understand that, there are reasons why colloquiallisms like "Making a Mountain out of a Molehill", "The tail wagging the dog." "And having a cow" exist. In a particularly religious period of his life, he wondered if this what Jesus referred to when he said, I am paraphrasing, "we swallow camels and choke on gnats." Perhaps these instances, and the one I am about to describe for you, are not so rare after all.
They came to know it as "The Haagen Dazs Parallax."
The Saturday of the infamous "Good Morning!" incident for which he was soundly rebuked - "If you are going to stay in my home, eat my food, and use my electricity, you had better well say good morning while I am making your breakfast!" - she left went to work at the telemarketing agency. The stress was getting to both of them. He had offered to load the dishwasher after lunch, which, much to his surprise was incorrectly done, because, "mom and dad were not young any more and to place the steak knives with the sharp pointy end up could cause them injury. How could you be so selfish?" His sister, who oddly enough was 22 and still living at home, seemed put off by the fact big brother was back.
Parallax is a displacement or difference in the apparent position of an object viewed along two different lines of sight.
This physical phenomena of the universe had soaked through the warp and woof of that household, so that it was dripping onto the floor, soaking through the floorboards and into the foundation. The mold growing there has caused permanent brain damage to the occupants of the house on Falcon Drive - luckily for she and him, they got out soon after.
She finished her shift of calling people at dinner time to try to sell them things they didn't really need and took her own sweet time getting back to the house. He, to this day does not really know the specifics of what she was thinking everynight at she made her way home. Another one of those secrets wives keep from their husbands, perhaps, the planned death of in-laws without at all making them a suspect in any murder investigation. This fateful day, though, as if by design, she stopped and bought a quart of Haagen Dazs ice cream and took it home and ate it in plain view of his sister.
The furor this caused can not be overstated. It was obvious to him that he would need to decide, there, once and for all, which he would choose. It pained him that he was even in that position. The resulting family meeting, for which, strangely enough, she was invited was a venomous, vituperative, and vile proceeding worthy of alliteration. Accusations of wastefulness because how can you dare to enjoy yourself with expensive ice-cream when you are living with mom and dad? abounded mostly from his sister, who we recall was living with her parents at the time as well. The air was thick, hatred abounded. It was passed from person to person around that living room like the old childhood game Hot Potato. No one sat on the plastic wrapped furniture; they all took positions in the safest corner of the room they could find, his mother, father, and sister on one end by the kitchen island, him and his wife on the other next to the gawdy blue and white tiled hearth surrounding the fireplace that was never used. When he realized that reason would not prevail, in a fateful moment that would forever change the course of his life, he made the decision. And for the first time, his father, mother, and sister should have seen a man emerge as he stood up to them, defended his wife against them, and told them how it would be if they wanted to continue to have a relationship with them. Instead, they only saw an arrogant, self-righteous, ungrateful, prodigal son and that has been the relationship between he and his parents since.
Shortly thereafter, God smiled on them, and he found work in New Orleans. The weekend before he was supposed to leave, his father drove him to the bank. His father always liked to trap his children in a moving vehicle while he preached at them about how they neglected their mother, were heathens because the entertained evolution as a viable alternative to the creation story, how they were irresponsible, or how they were democrats, or how they failed to meet his salary expectations for them all. This was no different. He didn't know where his father was taking him until they pulled into the bank parking lot and stopped at the teller windor. His father withdrew $750.00 to give to his son. His son said "No Thank you Dad." His father looked at him with his icy blue eyes, slightly tinged with a glaucoma that will eventually take his sight, and thumped his pudgy middle finger into his son's chest and said, "You ain't getting another penny from me. I'm doing this because your mom told me to."
There is so much more to tell. Perhaps the adventure that starts when they arrive in New Orleans will appear in a later edition. For the next 15 years they did not speak to his parents. They made the occasional trip back to Little Rock to visit, but it was done with care and not too often. When they did visit, it was only to sleep, as they always planned a full weekend and usually took the kids with them on their tours. Asking grandma to watch babies she did not love was too much to ask.
She's followed him around the southeast without complaint. She's made him a home, homeschooled the three boys, knows when he gets paid and how much he makes - something he doesn't know himself. She put up with my crazy parents and had faith in him when he had to make those decisions to "Leave and Cleave" as told in the scriptures. She is a gourmet cook, she supported him with her talents in the kitchen, and became something of a phenomenon, when he went insane and quite work. She loves her children more than she or he can express.
The story started in 1987 and a quarter of a century later he wants to make sure she knows something. He's being very serious when he says this.
She asked what he would do if she passed away before he did. I am not sure she believed me when I said, "I would pay off the debt. Quit work, load a pack on my back and walk until I died too. Because life would be meaningless without you."
I've not always been the husband I should be...but I want you to know that you have always been the woman I've wanted. I can't think of anyone else I would rather struggle through this life with. And, after 26 years, I think we've realized it's just going to be a struggle. And, I really haven't given life without you much thought.
Chances are, I am going to miss our anniversary again this November. That damn holiday keeps moving on me. So I am sending this to you now.
I am proud to call you my wife. I am proud to introduce you to the people I know. I brag on you at work - you truly are somewhat of a legend in the minds of my acquaintences - they can't wait to meet you. And you still make me feel like a schoolboy spilling milk down my chin...and for good measure:
We still ain't getting a divorce- translation- I wouldn't know what to do with myself.
Patt, the next 25 years are yours. Do as you please and know that I want nothing more than to provide you that. Afterall, you've been supporting, encouraging, and loving me all this time.
I will now confirm the worst kept secret in the universe. Men are born stupid and unless their trajectories are intercepted by Divine or Wifely intervention, they remain so. But, if you find a man who tries hard...keep hold of him. Sheer effort, I hope, compensates for much...