The Road Revisited

Follow Me Around The United States!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Happiest Man in the World is Happy Because the Tumor was Removed.

I couldn't get the idea of throw-away children out of my head. Ramen didn't help, even Rainier cherries didn't help. I sat down to read some Least Heat-Moon but quickly realized that is not exactly the cure for the blues. Lonely girl on the road reads book by lonely guy on the road equals lonelier girl on the road. I was trying to mope in secret, behind my car, when the bearded man from across the way came over, one of the card players I'd given the peaches to. "Hey, uh, would you like to come play with us?"

How could I refuse an Uno invitation? I couldn't. No one can. "Sure! Thanks!" I called with a big grin.

I took a seat at their picnic table, which was covered with the awning from the fifth wheel. "I'm Bill," he said. "This is my wife, Julie. And this is her brother, Mike."
I shook hands with each. "Hello, I'm Jessica."
"Sit down, we'll deal you in!"

"So where are you folks from?"
"Spokane," Julie said. "We just tried to get away for the holiday weekend. We've been here since Thursday and we'll probably leave tomorrow."
"That's a nice little jaunt, huh? It must be nice to live so close to the outdoors."
"Oh, yeah, we love it. Bill drives a school bus so we get a pretty good break in the summer. We raised our kids camping."
At that moment I had no choice but to play a Skip. "Sorry, Mike. It's the only yellow I have."
It was obvious that Mike was a little slower than normal, but his blank face held kind eyes and I liked him. "It's okay," he drawled.

"Hey, can I get you a beer?" Bill asked. "I've got a couple of Coronas."
"That'd be great, thank you!"
As he went inside, Julie played his turn for him. "I can do that, I'm his wife," she joked.
"How long have you been married?" I asked."Twenty-six years." She smiled proudly, as well she should.
"Jeez. That's amazing."
"Yeah, and it's not easy, either." Bill emerged with the beers and she called, "Isn't it, hon?"
"Isn't it what?"
"Hard work being married so long?"
He let out a guffaw, a high-cadenced swoop of a laugh that I loved. He did it often. "Oh, yeah, yeah, of course. Hard work."

It wasn't a subject I was ready to let go of. "Why? What does it take? I'm twenty-five and all my friends are getting married and I still don't know what they mean when they 'hard work'. Hard work, like, picking your battles? Hard work, like, settling for something you hate in the name of love? How do you draw the line between standing up to your spouse but not being a doormat? That seems like the hardest thing in the world!"

They laughed. "Calm down!" they teased.
Julie explained. "It doesn't mean being a doormat at all, or settling. Never settling. It just means being patient, and willing to work out problems. Sometimes things come up that neither one of you can control and it's just a matter of not taking it out on each other. Or being patient when there's an argument. You can't just storm out and say, 'I'm done!' You won't get very far doing that. And it has to be mutual. It can't just be one person working hard and the other not at all. That's when you get into doormat territory."
"Oh, yeah, that's no good," Bill chimed in, laying down a red seven. "It's about working together, not just working."
It was good advice, but it was still like trying to explain a rainbow to a blind person. If you have no frame of reference, where are you?

"That's great what you're doing," Julie said at one point. "Bill got to drive cross-country last year for work, all the way to South Carolina."
"Whoa! That's a hell of a long way to take kids to school!" I joked.
"No, we were just transporting the busses," Bill said, laughing. "The company asked us if we wanted to go and I said, 'Sure!' It sure was interesting to see all that country."
"How long did you take to drive it?"
"Four days."
I nearly choked on my beer. "That's it?! Did you see anything at all?"
"Oh, yeah. But we were on business, y'know? We couldn't really take our time."
"That's a shame. Still, I'm glad you got to do it."
"Oh, me too."

I loved spending time with them. Mount St. Helens came up at one point and I asked, "Do you remember exactly where you were when it erupted? Like 9-11 or the Kennedy assasination?"
"Oh, yeah!" Julie exclaimed. "We sure do! I was in the hospital giving birth to our daughter! I was lying there in the room and my mother was with me, and Bill came in and said he heard it on the radio."
"Was there ash everywhere?"
"Oh, yes. We still have some. Most people who live around here do, in jars and things."
"Were you scared?"
"I was mainly worried about the baby breathing the ash. But we all came out alright."

We played and played. I've never had so much fun playing Uno before (my apologies to my beautiful cousins, of course.) Bill and Mike regaled me with tales of old cars they'd owned, and their fathers had owned. Julie explained their family tree so well I could draw it myself if need be. The last drop of dusk sank into the earth and they fired up the propane lantern, making our faces glow a shade of light green. Eventually, we put the cards away and just listened to the river rushing below and the coyotes calling to each other. "Aren't you gonna pitch your tent?" Bill asked.
"Eh. No." I glanced at what little sky was visible through the treetops, navy buttresses of cottony cloud with no stars in sight. "It looks like it may still rain. Or what if that hail comes back, y'know? That would suck. So I'll just stay in the car."
"Where in the car? In the back?"
"Oh, god no! All my stuff's in the back. I just try to put the driver's seat back as far as I can. Which isn't very far but it's better than a flooded tent."

"When do you go back to work?" I asked Bill. Julie and Mike had gone inside to clean up and get the beds ready.
"A couple weeks."
"Do you like your job?"
He spoke quietly, passively. His eyes lost their sparkle for a moment, dull in the green light of the lantern. "Yeah, it's nice. It's something I can do even though I'm disabled."

I thought he was kidding. He was tall, broad and fit, with happy eyes and a fantastic laugh. I chuckled, teasing, "Oh, come on! You're disabled? I don't believe you."
I was waiting for his trademark crack of laughter but it never came. "No, really," he said. "I'm disabled."
I wiped the smirk from my face. "Oh. How so?"
"I had a brain tumor about ten years ago. I used to be a mechanic. That's why I did so much work on that old Barracuda I was telling you my father-in-law owned before he died. But after I had the surgery, the state said I was disabled and couldn't work, at least not on cars."
"But you can drive a schoolbus?"
"Yeah, since I have all my wits about me and it's not manual labor or anything. There's no lifting, things like that.""Rowdy kids in a moving vehicle are less dangerous than oil changes?"
"I suppose so. But I still work on friend's cars. I get my fix of engine things. And I do like driving the bus, I like the kids."
"How did you find out you had the tumor?"
"I kept having headaches. All the time, really bad. So I went in for a cat-scan."

Julie had come out of the camper by this time and was listening. Bill continued, "The doctor called and said I needed to come in. He wouldn't tell us over the phone."
"It was New Year's Eve," Julie added. "We went in and he told us it was a tumor, and would need to be removed. I asked the doctor, 'We're supposed to go to a party tonight, is he allowed to go to a party?' He said, 'As long as he doesn't get drunk and fall on his head.' We were clueless. We weren't sure what to expect or how much it would change our lives."
"Were you scared?" I asked them.
"Of course," Julie said. "But we got through it. It's just like what you asked earlier. We got through it because we didn't take it out on each other, we just worked though whatever it threw at us."
Bill nodded, staring off into the trees. "Yup. Just hard work and patience."

That night as I was falling asleep in the driver's seat I wondered just how far Bill and Julie had been pushed, and how long it took them to recover. But just like rainbows and blind people, it's something I may never know.


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