After years of what I thought were good decisions, and what turned out later to be the worst sort of thinking, I had finally arrived at the conclusion that I was not intended to have a marriage in my life. I was 32, had two kids and three divorces in my personal dossier, and readily admitted that choosing men was not my forte. Unfortunately, men were not the only bad choices I had made. Instead of staying in college like my parents had BEGGED me to do, I chose to drop out just a semester before I would have graduated. I chose to chase pipe dreams
instead. Except to ME, they weren’t pipe dreams, they were genius. (Ah, to return to the naivetÃ?Â© of youth!) I pursued a small business I was sure would be lucrative. That cost me my credit rating. I started a career of management with a small convenience store operation. Before long, I was heading a district. I chose to run back to my home state, blaming a divorce for cutting ties with all the small successes I had achieved. Now, I was 32, footloose again, and taking stock of what goals I had, and what standards I chose. The inventory was pretty dismal.
To keep the bills paid, and honestly, to give myself some room to think, assess, self-evaluate, I took a job driving a truck. It paid well, and it gave me an excuse to escape all the day to day responsibility of my family. I hired that job done, money was no problem, and I ran. Literally ran. If there is one thing I can state with absolute clarity, at the ripe old age of fifty-two, it is that children do NOT store well. They tend to go on having needs, feeling rejected, and tugging heart strings that one cannot just put on hold. When I climbed into my escape machine, a brand new Peterbilt with a beer trailer behind it, I left a two year old son and a 13 yr old daughter with their grand parents and a part-time nanny. I told myself I was doing this for THEM. I lied. The most egregious lies we tell are the ones we tell to ourselves. I was running. Thank GOD for parents who realized that and allowed me to do so with the security of having the kids protected.
Back on the road, alone, taking the time to reassess and soul-search, I made the decision that I had to go back to college. I had to build a life for myself and the kids that didn’t rely on having a man in my life. I even promised myself that I would “use ’em and forget ’em” as I perceived men to do to women. I swore to myself that I would never again live with a man, or get married. I sat in a truck stop in Gary, Indiana, listening to my baby son’s third birthday party over the phone, from 1500 miles away, crying like a baby, and sure I had failed even at being a mom. His bicycle, which I picked up along the way, rode in the sleeper of my truck for weeks before I got home to give it to him. I was miserable, lost, confused, putting on a show of bravado, and falling apart inside.
Life on the Road
In one week, I had driven from Denver to Los Angeles, unloaded, reloaded, come back from LA to Denver, THREE TIMES. On the final leg of the third trip, I had slept about two hours during the entire week. I was leaving Barstow, CA, approaching the stretch of highway known to truckers as “Baker Hill”. I was falling asleep. As I would slip off to sleep, my foot would relax, and the truck would slow down and wander a bit. Fortunately, this particular stretch of the highway is fairly straight, because a curve would have probably been fatal. Another truck flew past me at about three times my speed. As he passed, the driver shouted on the CB radio, “Hey, Triple C! Wake up! Let’s go to the Mile High! ” Translation: “Hey, Wake up and let’s run together to Denver.” Obviously, he’d seen that my truck was from Denver. He was trying to help me stay awake. I started to talk to this person, and also tried to keep up with him, but with my substandard truck, I could barely stay in radio range to talk with him. Finally, after losing radio contact several times, he slowed down, and told me to try to catch up. Meanwhile, I was telling him that I was so tired, I could barely stay awake, and HAD to deliver the load in Denver by Sunday. This was 24 hours away.
He offered to buy me dinner if I could stay in contact until we got to Mesquite, NV. where truckers commonly stop at the Pepper Mill Casino for the buffet dinner. When I got to the Pepper Mill, this driver was sitting in the parking lot, and called to me on the radio to park next to his truck. We walked out to meet one another for the first time. His younger, Grizzly Adams-looking partner came towards me. He was perfect! But when he spoke, I knew immediately he was not my mentor from the radio. My mentor had a deep baritone voice. This Grizzly Adams had a voice like Michael Jackson. While I was still confused, an older man came from the other side of the truck and walked directly to me. His face was worn, leathery, and he was beginning to have a bit of a tummy. He was a big, bulky man, with huge scar-marked hands, a full, neatly cropped beard, and a cap that said, “When I die, bury me face down so the world can kiss my ass.” When he spoke to me, his voice melted me. It was deep and melodic and his smile was easy and genuine. He tipped his hat slightly, and said, “Ma’am! Pleased to meet ya’!” I had made a new friend.
We enjoyed getting acquainted over dinner, and had to watch the time so that we didn’t just sit and talk all night. I could already tell that this older guy was one of a kind, and that we were going to be friends. You just couldn’t help liking his open, genuine Andy Griffith kind of humor. His partner, Dan, was a nice quiet sort who mostly listened and ate while my new friend and I talked. My new pal was called “Twelve Gauge” but when I asked for the background of that name, he just smiled and shook his head. After staying as long as we dared, I got a shower, woke up a bit, and we set out for Denver.
By the time we got to Utah, I was falling asleep again. I couldn’t keep up, and I was weaving all over the road. Twelve Gauge suggested that he let his partner drive his truck, and he would come back and drive mine so that I could rest. I was desperate and accepted the offer. Although I did try to sleep, the conversation kept me thinking. I ended up sitting on the “dog house” next to this guy, trading tales of our bad life choices and the consequences all the way to Denver. In that conversation, I discovered that he was married, living on the road to avoid going home, thinking of filing for divorce. He was so buried in debt, he couldn’t afford to take a week off work, and his wife was home happily making more debt while he worked around the clock to make the payments. The kids were all grown, they were his STEP kids, but he had raised them all. He had spent most of those years working two jobs to keep bills paid, and also drinking heavily.
As is often the case, he got sober, and after a couple of years, found that his life looked much different from the eyes of sobriety. He no longer required guidance, and no longer tolerated things that he never even recognized before he got sober. By the time we reached Denver, and he parked my truck in a truck stop so that I could take over, we had both realized that we had a lot more to say. He asked me if I would have dinner the next evening, since we were both staying home for a few days. I declined. I told him, “If you get single, call me. But I think we better leave this one here for now. Thanks for all your help. I think I could like you too much. It’s not a good plan to even go there.” He thought for a minute, and agreed. He kissed me on the cheek and tipped his hat, and left.
I thought of this guy constantly. His nick name was “Twelve Gauge”, which he had finally explained was given to him because of his proficiency at goose hunting. What a special person. Just the few hours we had talked had convinced me that this could well have been my soul mate. The “older” assumption I had made about him was partially true, he was almost seven years older than I was. It seemed to me that he had already faced some of the self-assessments that I was currently facing. He seemed to just know my heart, even before I spoke the words. It seemed to me that if I could just bounce my thoughts off him, his experiences would have guided me through my own. That is how alike I felt we were. Still, he was married. I had already made that pact with myself, never again to let myself care about a married man. The only solution was to forget him. This dwelling on what could have been was pointless. I chalked it up to yet another of the good guys already married for life to some woman who had no idea what a treasure he was. I had met tons of them along the road. Meeting a variety of people is one of the many reasons I loved driving a truck. Still, “Twelve Gauge” kept popping into my mind all the time. I would see another truck from the fleet he drove for, on the road, and I just had to call out on the CB and ask if it was him. I found myself feeling ridiculous for asking total strangers in trucks like his if they knew him. Eventually, I made myself pass on that reflex to ask after him every time I saw an orange truck.
A month or so after we met, I arrived home to my apartment for a weekend break. The kids were at my parents’, 150 miles away, and I intended to grab something to eat, shower, and take my car to my parents’ house. Almost as an after-thought, as I passed the answering machine, I pushed the play back button. As I went about unloading my bags, and organizing my things, I heard one message after another of little interest. Then, I heard that voice. “Howdy! I called four or five times while I was home last week, but you never called back. Leave me a message at dispatch.” I grabbed the phone, totally forgetting the pact with myself to forget the guy, and called his dispatcher. I gave my mother’s number for a call back, and instructions that I would be there in four hours, and would stay for three days. When he hadn’t called back, I left a second message, assured by his dispatcher that he had received the first one as well. When he had still not called back, just before I had to go back to work, I left a last one. I thought he must have only intended to see if I really meant the things I told him, so told myself I should just let it go. I could say I tried.
For the next two months, I did a fine job of not allowing myself to ask after him, and even gained some inner composure about him for the most part. I did leave a few more messages for him, but when I got home the next time, and there was no message from him, I let it go. Almost four months after our first and only meeting, I was walking out the door of a truck stop in Ontario, CA with a friend of mine. The man who held the door for me was Twelve Gauge. We recognized one another at the same second, and were then blocking the doorway while we began talking, both at once. He asked me to come eat dinner with him. I was on my way out the door, on a schedule. I couldn’t stay. His face told me he was sincerely saddened. We talked for a few minutes, and found that both of us had been missing messages from the other, dispatchers were not delivering them. We agreed to stay in touch, and I had to go. Now the entire process of putting him out of my mind began anew. For the next month, I ran like crazy. I kept hearing Twelve Gauge telling me what a trashy truck I had, and how I should go to work for his company, and run team with him. He had told me on and on that I should “quit that one horse company and come drive for some real money.” I was seriously tempted. But my instincts were telling me it would be a mistake. In the end, my conscience won, and I resisted the temptation to make yet another bad choice.
One evening, a month or so after our chance meeting in Ontario, I arrived home to spend the weekend. My mother and the kids had just gotten to my apartment, and I sat down to relax and talk for a few minutes. I pushed the play back button on the answering machine and it played out a procession of inane messages from sales people, bill collectors, a few friends, and then, in the background, while listening to the three year old recounting his first days in pre-school, I heard THE voice in the answering machine din. I quickly turned up the volume, and replayed the message. He was laughing at my recorded message, “You know who I am, and you know what to do. Wait for the beep, and speak!” Through his laughter, he said, “Hey, there, Ma’am! I am just callin’ to let ya know that I am now officially single, and officially lookin’ for a co-driver. If you’d like to apply, call my dispatcher, Bob. Ball’s in your court now.” My mother was staring at me. I was laughing hysterically. The kids were backing up, as if I had lost my mind.
On Monday, I called my boss and made an excuse to stay home for a few days. I then called the company where Twelve Gauge worked. I discovered that the personnel man was the former head of a company I had worked for. We knew one another. I explained that I wanted to sign on with them, but would only consider an assignment to run with Twelve Gauge. My friend said, “You know he’s married, right?” I said, “Not anymore.” He asked, “Does he know you are applying?” I said, “No, but please don’t tell him. He’s been bugging me for six months to do this, and I want to surprise him.” My friend thought a minute, and then he said, “This could be a good thing for both of you. He’s had a pretty rough couple of years, and so have you. I hope it works out.” He did the paperwork, and called me a couple of days later. He asked if I could be at the yard by 3am to meet Twelve Gauge. It had been snowing all over the west, and Twelve Gauge was on his way from LA to Topeka. The dispatcher said that he had driven 5200 miles by himself, and they wanted to have him drop his trailer, sleep a few hours, and take a different load to New York. For him to be able to take that load legally, he was going to need a second driver. I called my boss, quit my job, and at 3am, I arrived at the company offices to wait for Twelve Gauge.
I walked inside the dispatch office, got the papers on the trailer we were supposed to take, and asked if someone would let me know when Twelve Gauge got there. The dispatcher looked a little confused, but said, “He’s parked outside the door in the white pick-up. He said he’s taking a nap.” I walked back towards the door, and the dispatcher yelled after me, “Bob said not to tell him we had a co-driver for him, so he doesn’t know you’re coming.” I had to laugh. This would be an interesting announcement. Surely, his expression should tell me if I had made the right choice this time. I knocked on the driver’s window of his pick-up. He didn’t move. I knocked harder. He lifted his head, and then fell back to sleep. I tapped with my keys on the window. He sat bolt upright. The sleepy fog appeared to be refusing to clear. He stared out the window at me for a full minute. Then he rubbed his eyes and looked again. I was laughing at him. He fumbled with the door handle, and blinked when the door came open, “What are YOU doing here?” I handed him the papers, and told him, “I have been assigned as your second seat for the trip to New York.” He whooped like a kid, jumped out of the seat and grabbed me, hugging me so tightly, I could barely breathe. After holding me for a couple of minutes, he leaned back, looked deeply into my eyes, and said, “It’s the right thing, I promise.” I hadn’t voiced my insecurities. How did he know?
He was like a kid, full of energy, talking a hundred miles a minute, telling me about the bad snow, the treacherous wrecks he’d seen on his way from LA. He chattered and laughed, all the while, helping me to transfer my gear to the truck, hooking up the truck to the new trailer, and even while we checked in with dispatch and pulled out. For the first hundred miles, we were in non-stop conversation. There was so much to say. We had both been leaving messages for the other, but neither of us had gotten our messages. He thought I was ignoring him, I thought he was just deciding to stay in his marriage. We had both given up. We had both never stopped thinking about that flicker of magic we both agreed we saw in one another. After a couple of hours of catching up, he finally went to bed, and we began the process of switching drivers every five hours, to get to New York on time. In New York, we found ourselves with an empty trailer, on a Friday night, with no promise of a job until Monday morning. We were told to go to New Jersey and we could park our truck there, and spend the weekend.
By Monday, we had forged a lifelong union. For years, all the other couples we met who drove trucks as a team would be telling us how they couldn’t wait to get a few days off to get away from one another, or they would be showing us pictures of the separate vacations they took. Through all those years and other couples, we would always look across the table or the room at one another, neither of us ever understanding why. We spent the hours on the road collaborating about the things we wanted to do together with our time off. Neither of us could imagine anything we could do alone not being better if shared together. We lived in the cab of a truck, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for a month at a time, and when we got three days off, we played golf, took the kids camping, went on car trips to events like concerts, family reunions, the idea of wanting to be apart never occurred to either of us. I was right. For once in my life, I listened to my instincts, and they were right. This was my soul mate. And more, much more. I firmly believe that there is only one perfect mate meant for each of us. Most people never find theirs. They marry other people who are compatible, think they have the brass ring, and die never knowing the difference. I have met other people with that special magic between them, and I find that I recognize the tone in their voices, the way they respond to one another in conversation, a myriad of give-aways. I have long since realized that God had NOT forgotten me, he was simply preparing me. So that when I finally found the place I would ultimately belong, I would recognize it, and grab the proverbial brass ring. As my Dad would have said, “Oh ye of little faith”.
I sit here writing this, almost 20 years later. I can tell you that meeting Twelve Gauge was the beginning of my trek though life with the RIGHT goals and decisions. Making the decision to go to work with him was the best of all the gambles I have made in a lifetime. We were together sixteen years when he had a massive coronary one night. He died before they could get him to a hospital. It’s been quite a while but I don’t think I will ever again feel that I am complete. I will be eternally grateful to fate, God, Karma, whatever you attribute good fortune to, that I found him, and I had the privilege of being the person he chose to share his last 16 years with. Those sixteen years were the best ones of my life. And NOW, I can say with conviction that I will never marry again. The children of Twelve Gauge, including the 6 yr old who now bears his name, (my first grand son, born six months after Lon died) have all filled my world with so much LIFE, and Lon’s foot print in my life was so complete, I cannot imagine ever opening that world to anyone else. I’ve taught my kids never to “settle”. Hold out for those things that just feel “right”. Trust me, it’s worth waiting for. Timing is everything.