I think it was in early 1998, the night when I ran out of gas on Hwy A, just north of Belleville. I was heading home after hanging somewhere after work one night at Pizza Hut and all the gas stations within what I’d deemed to be a reasonable radius were closed. My tank was almost empty but I thought I could make it and as I puttered to a stop (just off my ex-girlfriend’s driveway of all places) I’d made it through only 11 miles of the 16 mile journey.
Now, Google says it’d only take 1.5 hours to walk the remainder in optimal conditions but on this night it was probably 10 degrees and blowing snow. In fact, it was a damned blizzard.
So there I sat, trying to decide my next move. I could have easily walked up to the nearest door to ask for help, but that must have seemed too easy or I must have been too proud, because I began rummaging through my car looking for extra layers to put on before setting out for Village Drive on foot.
Along the highway. In the dark. In a snowstorm.
By the time I finally locked the doors and began my trek, I’d doubled up my gloves via large woolen socks and wore several hats, shirts and scarves. Upon reflection, it’s clear to me that I failed on this night in so many ways. I failed to budget my time and my fuel. I failed to be even a little smart or safe as I failed to go just a little out of my way to ensure that I’d get where I needed to go. Piles of poor choices led me to that place; trotting along in the dark snowy stupidity with the wind burning my eyes while the warmth drained fast from my simple mind and scrawny body.
I was screwed.
Sometimes I think that I should not have made it. I mean, it’s obvious to me now that a trek in such shitty conditions would have left me frozen in a snowbank or clipped by some passing plow, but I did make it.
You see, a few minutes into my hike a van happened by. It’s damn near the middle of the night, and a freakin van drives up. In the middle of nowhere! The driver saw my car and then saw me and figured I’d probably need a lift somewhere. She was a guard at the Oregon Correctional Center on her way home from a late shift on a snowy winter night and she was right.
I needed some fucking help.
Fast forward almost 17 years and there’s a little part of me that occasionally stumbles upon this memory and thinks that everything I have today and everything that I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing since that night – from marriage to parenthood to…everything – may not have been possible if that woman had chosen a different route home that night.
I think about how lucky I am. For family, friends; things to love and hate; experiences to share and bitch about…everything.
As of late I’ve been pondering these mornings at drop off where I run into familiar faces. I’m floored when I see these faces that really throw me back. One, Joanna Susman, is an old family friend who my siblings and I grew up with all those years ago in this same old Madison neighborhood before my time with Belleville even began.
Another is one of my oldest friends; he’s a former Bellevillian classmate and a member of our close circle from 8th – 12th grade. Mr. Daniel William Yunker Gregory Daugherty.
Both of these people had a definite impact on my younger life but at one point or another, they both seemed to slip away into the haze. And then, after all this time, here we are, all of us walking our little children up to the doors of the same school that I loved so damned much when I was nine. Together again in such familiar ways and places. Fitting and natural, these things happen as is predestined, much like the night that woman happened upon me on that cold winter road.
These things rattle about when I fail to fall asleep before midnight. It gets closer to morning and later in the year, and I try to make sense of the past year and…well, everything that came before it. I build comprehensive lists and try to learn at least something from it all; forever pledging to drink and eat less, exercise more and to TRY to be a little more like someone worthy of all that I’ve been given.
This past year has been something. We lost a giant of a friend and it’s the sort of loss from which we’ll never recover. In fact, I dream about Jeremay Buol all the time. At first I thought they’d taper off, but he’s shown up at least three times this week alone and you know what? I actually look forward to them, these dreams. I really miss him.
This past year has been hard. What little faith I have drifts through me too fast. With no real religion, and with reason and meaning becoming more elusive with every passing year, the idea of some end -of-the-year reconciliation is starting to become something of an equally abstract ideal; just one more odd tradition the well-meaning me would regularly pledge to and subsequently bail on.
I’m an obnoxious loudmouth who complains too much (hell, if you’ve made it this far, good on ya – I owe ya one), but I’ve been so damned lucky in my life. Next year remains lost in the light and I’m positive that I’ll keep making the same promises while continuing to hope that as I grow older I’ll eventually grow wiser; that I’ll continue to be given yet another chance to do so as people pull up beside me to help me along…or to give me a lift.
Lord knows I need all the help I can get.
Remember that cold night when I should have died? Guess where that driver was headed before she came upon me? Village Drive, Belleville, of all places. MY STREET. She lived on the same damn street as Buol and I. What are the chances of that? What are the chances of any of this?
Buol would have turned 37 tomorrow. He was a guy who regularly picked you up when you needed help. He literally drove me all over this state and lifted me up and out of my sorrows more than a few times. Here’s to him on his birthday and from here on out.
Here’s to all the luck and for every chance we’re given; for every time we’re lifted up by friend or stranger, and for every opportunity we’re given to get together or to reflect and simply say thanks…