Welding Together the Broken Pieces
July 27, 2013
Grand Island, NE
Glancing over my shoulder, he winced and noted, “Not much scares you anymore, does it?”
I had crested yet another hill, and as we stood talking with one another while I balance my bike with one foot on the curb lining the main thoroughfare in Carroll, IA, a semi passed beside us.
“No, not really. Not at this point,” I replied. My girl, sleeping inside the trailer, likewise, seemed to be oblivious to the traffic. By this point, she had taken to complaining only when we reached upward to 50 m.p.h. on the longer downhill ascents.
By the time I had reached Chapman, NE, she had been spared those hills now for several long but quick miles, and it seemed as though while we were consistently increasing our altitude, the road itself appeared to be relatively flat.
The worst of the trip was behind us.
“You passed our construction site near Vail (IA). You gotta lotta guts, girl,” he said when we met again at the convenience store a few miles further up the road.
“As a woman, aren’t you afraid to ride alone?” another man asked when my girl had stubbornly insisted upon sitting on his feet while he rested near his own touring bike at a park in Clinton, IA.
I often met with these types of questions and observations, responding, “Following the recent Trevor Martin case, with my dark tan I am perhaps safer than a male would be.”
“Did he really just to that?” she exclaimed.
As I sat visiting with the cashier outside the convenience story in Chapman, for the first time on my trip, I was afraid because I was a woman.
He had sped into the parking lot and quickly pulled into a space in front of the store, but after catching sight of us sitting on the curb at the side of the building, he threw his pickup into reverse, squealed his tires, spun around into the gravel road leading to the side of the building, ran over a parking barrier, and screeched to a halt right in front of us.
He jumped out of his cab, and as his bare feet hit the ground, he stumbled.
“Where you headed?” was quickly followed by, “Where do you sleep at night?”
The town I was in had one main road in, one main road out, and it was already dark.
I had nine miles before I hit my destination, Grand Island.
After evading the first question and explaining I usually camp, he noted with a drunken slur, “Hell, girl, you just missed the campground,” adding suggestively, “but my girlfriend and I wouldn’t mind taking you there, if you know what I mean.”
I politely declined.
The cashier had said little once he had jumped out of his car, and after his comment, she quietly got off the curb and walked into the convenience store. He followed, informing her he needed another pack of cigarettes with the authoritative voice a “regular” assumes at a convenience store.
After he left the graveled section of the lot with his purchase, throwing up a cloud of dirt, she quickly came back out, told me where she lived, and added, “My fiancé is going to pick you up and take you there. You don’t need to be on the road with him around, and you sure as hell won’t be safe at any of the campgrounds.”
A few minutes later when her fiancé arrived, for the first (and last) time on my trip, I accepted a ride to the next town.
“I was in the Army until I was dishonorably discharged after two-and-a-half years,” he informed me on our way to their house.
“You saw action, then?” I asked.
“Nope. I had spent several years looking for my father when I received the letter from his life insurance,” he responded as my tears welled up immediately.
“I am so sorry,” I quickly added.
“This one had a body from one year with a hood from another model,” he explained.
As we sat on his front porch waiting for her shift to end, he showed me pictures of all the vehicles he had rebuilt.
“Where did you get the pieces?” I asked.
“I find them in the junk yard,” he responded.
“Where did you learn to weld?” I asked.
“Kinda like everything else in my life. I taught myself,” he told me, adding that shortly after his father died, his mother and a brother did as well. “A few families took me in for awhile. But I moved often as a kid, and now I can’t seem to stay in a single place for long.”
Our conversation had come in bits and pieces, frequently interrupted by interjections from their children who had been introduced as “hers” and “mine.” I asked, “Are there any ‘ours’ yet?”
“No, we have enough to make a family combined together,” he said.
After a few more interruptions, I asked, “Why do we wander? Why do we find it so easy to walk away from everything rather than stay and fight for what we really want?”
I had explained that I, too, had moved often as an adolescent and had also lost parents at a young age.
As the phrase “Train Up a Child” mingled with “We can’t take,” echoing loudly through my head, he paused, unable to answer, the same empty response I have when I ask myself the same puzzling question.
After a few moments, as angry tears streamed down my face, I was finally able to answer my own question: “I guess it is easier to walk away than to have someone take it from you.”
“Every relationship has baggage,” he stated one day as we sat watching the sunrise while overlooking the lake. In a world of broken pieces, broken marriages, broken lives, the statement seemed cliché.
While I waited patiently for my stubborn girl to ease her old, scarred, arthritic, formerly abused and now misshapen body into the trailer yet one more time on my journey, I couldn’t help but think, “It isn’t a matter of how much baggage one has going into the relationship, but how well those in the relationship are willing to help one another carry their combined load, and how creatively they are able to piece together the brokenness to create something new.”