sludgo’s Mile Markers: Mile 13

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It was late. Early, actually. Starless and subzero. Christmas Eve, 1984. Snow sparkling under the streetlights and crunching under my boots as I trudged from my apartment across the finger-drifted lot to my garage. Screeched open the overhead. Unlocked the ‘B. Dropped down into the familiar little black bucket. Had to slam the door hard to get it closed. Twice. Reached around and unclipped the battery-tender. Slid the shifter into neutral. Pulled out the stiff choke. Twisted the key a quarter-turn. Listened for the click-click-click of the fuel pump. Listened again for it to stop. Pumped the gas a couple times. Heard another couple of clicks. Gave a harder twist of the key and the ‘B startled awake with a sharp bang of protest, then fired and held.

I messed with the choke for a second until I hit the sweet spot and the motor settled into a nice smooth cold-idle. Only a couple of frosty minutes later and it started coming up to temp. I smiled. The cardboard-in-front-of-the-radiator thing the Oldsmobile Man told me about really worked. Sometimes Dad Knows Things. Imagine that.

I opened the heater valve. Clicked the fan toggle. A short chatter from the blower, and the cabin started to warm. Clicked the headlight toggle. Everything lit up around me, submerging me in tones of soft, white Smiths and warm, yellow Lucas. Eased back the choke and the ‘B settled into its burbly, poppy, cheery-tenor idle. Always kind of soothing. I started to feel a little buzzy. All the fumes maybe. Didn’t care. Needed to chill. Bundle of Nerves.

She was in Dickinson now. Had been since the blustery-grey late-September day she moved out. Doing great. Good For Her. Making nice money as an X-ray tech. Found a nice little apartment. Bought a cute little Corolla. Yellow. I hated Yellow. Told me her radiologist boss was handsome and young and single and drove a 944. Yellow. I hated her boss.

sludgo's Mile Markers: Mile 13

I didn’t want her to move, Period. Especially clear across the state. But she sat me down in the apartment that day and told me she had to do something. That she’d finally realized it was up to her to make some choices about us–about her–because she didn’t think I ever would. Said she was worried I wasn’t growing up. Still had my head in the clouds. Feet too. Said she was frustrated I hadn’t touched the grad school apps she’d gotten me forever ago. Said she thought I was phoning-in my last year by taking easy-cheesy classes that didn’t matter. Said I needed to be spending more time in the lab studying stats for my qual exams and less time in the club playing tired old songs for drunken old men. Said I needed to get my focus back. Start thinking seriously about the future again. Our Future. Or she had to be Done.

I bristled. Told her I thought she was being pretty harsh. Pretty unreasonable. Selfish. Told her that things had changed in my world since we’d met however many years ago. That I wasn’t interested in getting tied down to anything anymore. That I’d actually been thinking about taking a year off before grad school. Maybe two. Maybe three. Maybe skipping it altogether. We’d just have to see. Told her I had the rest of my life to do the College Thing and the Career Thing and the Marriage Thing and the Family Thing and that the Music Thing was looking good Right Now. Had a Passion for it. Made me Smile. Was making decent money playing in some clubs. Doing some recording. Making connections. Knew the guy who promoted the Cooper show at the Fritz and I gave him my tape and he dug it and said he’d give it to Alice and… You never know. Could happen. Lots of things could happen. Told her I was thinking about maybe heading to LA. That she was welcome to come with. That her real choice was to stay with me and maybe be a Somebody someday or move to Dickinson alone and definitely be a Nobody every day.

sludgo's Mile Markers: Mile 13

Her ice-blue eyes shocked open wide and teared-up then hardened and narrowed and seared into mine and she hissed out her sincere thanks for making her choice so much easier and turned on heel and slammed the door and that was that.

And I was Fine with it. Her loss. I knew who I was. Where I was going. Besides, it might be cool. To be single again after so long. Have some Freedom. Do what I wanted, when I wanted. Not have anyone to worry about. Not have anyone worrying about me. To be out at night, late, and not have to call someone to check in to let them know I was okay or to just crash at a friend’s place and not worry about someone getting crabby because they wanted me home instead. To listen to Skynyrd in the morning while I got ready for class as loud as I wanted without worrying about waking anyone up. To drink out of the carton. To leave dirty laundry all over the place and not have someone barking at me to run a load or two before the Health Department shows. To have cold pizza and warm beer for breakfast and Frosted Flakes for dinner without anyone saying a word about it. To skip a shower. To watch wrestling at midnight. To never dust. Always leave the seat up. Never make the bed.

sludgo's Mile Markers: Mile 13

Yup. I thought it might be cool. Bachelor Paradise. And it was. And I’d had three months of it. And now the ‘B was all warmed up. And I reached deep down into the pocket of my parka. And felt the little square velvety box. A Christmas present I had to deliver. With a Question I had to ask. I took a deep breath.

Next Stop: Dickinson.

Peaceful travels…

sludgo

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