Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentine's Day: A Personal History

On my way to Florida.  I delivered my load to Sherman, Texas, on Tuesday morning, and then went on down to Dallas to put the truck in the shop there for the oil change and some other things that needed to be repaired.
Last time I was in Dallas, the wait to get in the shop was 72 hours, so I figured I'd have some down time there. Well, when I got there, the wait time was down to 18 hours. I had thought about going up to see my good friend Billy Day, but it didn't work out.
It was time for my DOT physical (which all truck drivers must have), so I was able to get that done yesterday morning (Wednesday). Everything went well.
The truck was out of the shop early in the evening yesterday, so I told Schneider I'd be ready to go this morning. I went about 7 miles from the Schneider Operating Center in Dallas, to Desoto, Texas, to pick up a load from a Wal-mart distribution center that is going down to Alachua, Florida, to a Wal-mart DC I've been to several times. Plenty of time on the load, and the miles are decent. It's drop-and-hook on both ends (which means I just pick up and drop the trailer; no live load or unload), so that's nice.
Even nicer is that I will be passing close to where my Daddy lives in Florida tomorrow. He is in Atlanta with work this week, but is leaving tomorrow, so it's possible that we can arrange to meet each other en route and see each other. I hope it works out.
I may also get to see my good friend (also Terry's good friend), Van, who lives in Live Oak. Van is a friend I've known for a long time (since about 1982); we are both from Rome, Georgia, and we both went to college (along with Terry) in Dallas. Van also went on to seminary, and graduated from the same school as Mike Huckabee (Southwestern Seminary in Forth Worth), but they went there at different times.
Books and movies on the road.   I haven't written about what I've been reading or watching lately, so I thought I'd throw that into this entry. I'm always reading several things at any given time, but I usually have a couple of books that I'm more focused on than others, most of the time something fiction and non-fiction.
I recently finished the excellent sequel to the novel which serves as a sort of namesake and inspiration (thanks to Terry) for this blog, and enjoyed it thoroughly. I also read a collection of four novellas, Different Seasons, by Stephen King. Very good. The stories that served as the inspiration for the movies The Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me are from that book. My favorite novella in the collection was “Breathing Lessons.” Excellent recreational reading.
I'm currently reading The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, which is anything but recreational reading. It's really a philosophical treatise in the form of a novel. I'm enjoying it, and it's provoking lots of thought, as all of Rand's writings (fiction and non-fiction) are apt to do. It was published first in 1943, and the story is as relevant and prophetic today as it was then – perhaps more so.
As for movies, I have been able to finish the last 2 movies of the Spiderman series, and enjoyed them both. I will say that the first two movies were excellent, and the last one was merely so-so in comparison. Special effects were amazing, so for that reason alone, it was a worthy watch.
Currently have the movie Elizabeth cued up, but haven't started it yet. Looking forward to it, though.
I've watched some other stuff, but I can't remember what they were right offhand, so that speaks for itself, I suppose. :-)
One night earlier this week, I was able to catch one of the episodes of the excellent PBS series from the 1980's about the civil rights movement, Eyes on the Prize.  I've seen the whole series, but it's been a long time, and I enjoyed the episode I did see. After seeing that, especially as someone who grew up in the South and saw the vestiges of that sad legacy closely at times, I am amazed at the transformations that took place, and I am sympathetic to the anger and impatience of many African-Americans who still feel the residue of injustice on every level.
Valentine's Day.   First of all, if you have someone in your life with whom you have celebrated this special day, I hope you enjoyed it and were able to renew commitments to all that this day represents.  I don't technically fall into that category, but while I was driving today and listening to all the talk on the radio about this day, my mind wandered to thoughts of my own Ghosts of Valentines Past.
And, as sometimes happens in this blog when something is on my mind, I thought to write about it somewhat. Feel free to peer over my shoulder as I do so.
M. H.   1971. Trenton, Georgia. I was in kindergarten at the First United Methodist Church. I had several friends, I'm sure, but the one I remember from that time is M. She was a little younger than me, a few months, maybe, and she was small of frame, a head shorter than I was (not saying much at five years old). She had brown hair, short, not even shoulder length; brown eyes that swallowed the world.
I don't remember how we became friends, barely remember anything about those days.
But she was the first girl I ever kissed and to whom I uttered those three words “I Love You”.
We were friends into first and second grade. I used to walk to her house to play regularly. She had an older brother (who was in third grade or so at the time) who used to tease us unmercifully. We usually played board games, but I don't remember what they were. I have a flash of her mom serving cookies and milk to us out in a room that had been converted from a garage.
The only other image from those days is this: one day, maybe when we were in first grade, we were, for some strange reason, standing in the front of my house (had she come to my house that to play? I have no memory of it. Just this moment that is still magic to recall.). We face each other. I look down into those brown eyes (do you still have those lovely brown eyes somewhere in this world, M.H?), and said, from my heart, though I had no idea what it portended: “M.H., I love you.”
And, six years old, planted as passionate a kiss on those upturned lips as I could muster, and drew her close into my encircled arms.
From there, memory fails. What happened next? What did she say? I only know that we were not in the same class for second grade – and we sort of lost what connection we had. And after second grade, I moved away.
Oh yes – I do remember one thing about that first, and innocent, but faithful, kiss: my best friend, who lived across the street from me, Charles, happened to be in his front yard when the Kiss That Shook The World occurred. I had not noticed. Indeed, how could I? My world was those brown eyes.
“ I'm gonna tell.”
“ I don't care!” My arm around M's shoulders in protective defiance. Us against the world.
Screen fades to black.
K.W.   1973. Fairmount, Georgia. Third grade. A teacher (who was very pretty in her own right), Ms. Gamble. Not Miss Gamble. Ms. Gamble. Why do I remember that?
I remember even less about this time, but I do remember K.W. Playing on the playground, chasing each other. Liking each other. Different than M. and me – no declarations of love, no kisses of devotion.
I mostly remember another boy, and our vying for her attentions: Timmy. I remember one day at recess in the spring chasing him down, angry at him for some imagined offense I can't remember, tackling him, and holding his arms down on the ground. The only time I remember doing anything like that.
And K. standing nearby, half hidden by the oak tree she was peering around.
And her heart-rending verdict: “ Allan, you're nothing but a bully.”
Far from the declamation of the hero status I sought from her.
The only other thing I remember is that we moved after third grade, and I remember feeling awful that I wouldn't be able to tell K. good-bye, wouldn't see her the next school year. Thinking about how I wish I could go out to a local camp, where her father was the manager (or whatever they would have called it) and where she lived, to see her before we left.
Happy Valentine's Day, K.W., wherever you are.
(She is probably married to Timomy.)
Zoe [not her real name.].   Fast-forward to the summer of 1980. Rome, Georgia. I'm 15. Between 9 thand 10 thgrades. Church youth camp, somewhere in Alabama (my first). The previous summer, I'd had an awakening of faith that was to chart the course of my life for most of the next 25 years. Very active in my church and its youth group.
Because I worked in the bus ministry of the church, I hadn't really gotten to know many people in the youth group, which in those years numbered over a hundred kids.
That summer, I met several friends who were to form the core of my associations all the way through high school, and beyond. Among them was Zoe.
She was younger than me by a little less than two years. I don't remember how we met or started our friendship (though, by then I had started journaling copiously, so I know those memories are written down in journals I have), but by the end of that week of camp, I was smitten.
My favorite memory from that first youth camp is on Thursday night, the last night of camp, standing around a campfire, singing. Zoe is to my left. My eyes are closed in the reverence of the moment. I feel a hand reach for mine, and that became all the world I knew. Zoe's hand in mine.
But, alas, Zoe's affections were directed towards someone else: a boy named R.
But, over the next few years, we became best friends. We'd go out, but never on “dates” -- well, we did double-date several times, but we both had others for dates.
But the flame that was sparked at that campfire never went away for me.
I feared, though, that if I ever pursued it, the magic of our special friendship, a treasure to us both, would evaporate, a casualty of a thing God had not intended, to my grief.
One of my favorite memories of those days was when I was a senior in high school. Zoe was in 10 thgrade, and we were both active in the Drama Club together. Our production that year was a musical, “ Sock Hop”. I got to play a guy named Spud. Zoe played my old girlfriend. So, for a moment, on the stage, I got to pretend.
I was planning to go into the ministry, and so, when I graduated from high school, I moved away to Dallas, Texas, to go to school. But Zoe and I wrote to each other often, and our friendship remained strong.
Christmas 1983. I went to Georgia for the holidays.
One of the people I saw was Zoe. We went to lunch one day. And we started talking, as we always did, about anything and everything. At one point, I joked about asking Zoe out for a date. I don't remember why (but the memory is preserved in my journals somewhere from that time), but at one point, I confessed to her that I had always secretly liked her, but didn't want to spoil our wonderful friendship.
She had felt the same way, she said.
What? Was I really hearing this? Something I had dreamed about so often for the four years I'd known her?
The rest of that Christmas may well be the most magical time of my life.
Then, life interrupted. I had to go back to school in Dallas.
But, we stayed in touch, our friendship still a rich treasure, made even more beautiful by our accidentally discovered affections.
Zoe was the first girl I can say that I was in love with in a way that was more than just a childhood crush. I fully expected and intended to marry her at the right time. It was all I wanted.
The spring of one year – not too long after that magic Christmas, but I can't remember exactly how long – probably 1985 – I called Zoe.
“ Hello.”
“ Hello.” Something sounds different. What?
“ Allan, I've got something to tell you.”
“ Okay.”
“ I'm engaged.”
My heart's world fell into a million pieces, and nothing but an empty void remained.
“ Praise God! I'm happy for you.”
“ What?”
“ Well, I want what God wants [no I didn't], and if that's his plan for you, I'm happy for you [but I wasn't, not at that moment, not until much later].”
“ That's not the reaction I expected.”
Our conversation ended. And, as well, the special friendship – the most special I've ever had with a girl/woman besides my wife Charlotte -- but her story comes later.
It took a long, long time to heal that broken heart. And, I think the capacity of my heart was diminished for a long time. Of course, it took much longer because I cloaked my feelings in the guise of submission to God's perfect will.
S.    1993. Chicago, Illinois. I was working and living in full-time ministry at JPUSA, an intentional Christian community in the Uptown neighborhood on the near-north side of the city. West Wilson Avenue.
In May of that year, S. expressed an interest in getting to know each other. So we did. In JPUSA parlance, dating is called “ happening”. As in, “S. and Allan are happening.”
We became good friends. I thought I fell in love.
I ended up asking her to marry me. She said she'd have to think about it. That was all the answer I needed. We ended things.
My heart was broken, but not nearly so much as it had been with M. I wrote about it in a poem from that time that I insert below, if you care to read it. Not good poetry, but at least this time I didn't hide my feelings. Or not as much.
“ The Breaking”
I said: “I love you.”
She said: “I'm not so sure.”
Part of me died
as the bottom fell out
for a one-way slide
express trip down
goin' out of my mind.
Grief and anger
vie for expression:
why couldn't she
receive my affection?
Emotions all awry--
my love was misplaced;
from my heart the cry:
“ was it all a mistake?”
What do I do
with this love I have now
all tattered and torn,
a worthless vow?
Life goes on
dragging me behind
as I fight to get her
out of my mind.
Healing and wholeness
seem so far away;
but I must hold on
to words you say:
“ Don't give up;
don't be afraid:
my purpose for you
won't be delayed.”
I choose to give you
the pain I bear;
I choose to hope
and reject despair.
Thank you, Father
for your love so true;
please help me
to trust in you.
Charlotte M.     Not long after S. and I broke up, I started dating Charlotte, who also lived and worked at JPUSA. We had met early in 1992 when we both shared the overnight shift at the homeless shelter JPUSA operated.
I had a huge crush on her after that, but she ended up getting engaged to someone else in the ministry, and, as before, I figured that was God's perfect will, so who was I to question it? (I've made up for all that lack of questioning in the last few years, though. Ha ha)
For that reason, when S. expressed an interest in me later on, I was open to it. I reasoned that if I couldn't have what I originally wanted, and viewed as the best, I would be content with whatever God ordained. Such was my life in those days.
Anyway, Charlotte's engagement ended, my relationship with S. ended, and we happened to be working in the same office at that time, not 10 feet from one another. We became best friends (though casual friendships were not encouraged at JPUSA), and eventually, started “happening.”
We became engaged, and in March of 1995, got married in Florida, where we had moved.
I had found the true love of my life. Charlotte was the woman I had been waiting my whole life for.
We enjoyed, from the standpoint of anyone who could observe us, a wonderful and happy marriage.
But there were underlying problems, old wounds, silent and unsung, that began to cripple our union after several years. And when, in 2001, I became ill, violently, suddenly, many of those things that were lurking beneath the surface of my own heart, and our marriage, were let loose in tornadic force.
Our marriage, sweet and precious to us both, was a casualty of that turbulent time.
Tomorrow, the day after Valentine's Day, will mark three years since our divorce was final.
We are still friends, have always been friendly, and we, each in our own way, still love each other. We don't talk often, but when we do, it's enjoyable for us both.
I have not believed in the notion of there being just one right person for another in a long time, but if there were such a thing, Charlotte was truly that for me. The love of a lifetime.
I still miss her some days. Including today.
Happy Valentine's Day, Charlotte. Always.
I include below a poem I wrote for Charlotte on Valentine's Day several years ago, before the bad things got so bad. It is my favorite poem of all that I've ever written.
"Knowing You"
Sometimes when I look at you,
when you turn just so,
I know that I knew you
before we were us.
Memory fails to recall
where I have seen your face,
now more familiar than all
I have known before.
Then, past memory's
bounds, in night's visions
glorious, my eye sees
you, whom I have known,

And I know that I have loved
you in my dreams,
while waiting for my beloved:
you, my chosen one.
So, until next time . . . Happy Valentine's Day . . . keep the wheels rollin' . . .


Unknown said...

Found your blog and you are quite the writer. I'm finding more and more baby boomers going into the trucking world in their 40's and 50's. My husband, after 30 years at his company decided to fulfill his life long dream of driving OTR. I was more than happy to retire eary and go along for the ride. It' been a wonderful adventure so far, to which I hope one day to write about. Check out our blog when you get a chance.
May you continue to have a safe journey!

Allan Mills said...

Thanks for your comments and kind words. Glad you found the blog, and I'll be looking at yours when I finish this comment.

Good luck on the road. I have been in ministry, worked as a stockbroker, and I can say that I am loving what I'm doing right now, and the lifestyle I'm living, as much as anything I've ever done. Hope it's the same with you two.


Marty Phillips said...

sorry to here about that my brother. I will keep you in my prayers. Keep on truckin' Marty