|Some people seem to be able to remember the most intimate details of 'firsts'; the date of the day of their first kiss with the person they would marry, what the person was wearing when their lips first touched one another, the weather, what song or tv program or movie may have been playing in the background when two sets of eyes set upon one another and then drifted, hesitant and yet persistently towards loving, impassioned climax. |
But not me. No, the only thing I remember and still live for is the sparkle of her sweet blue eyes and the brightness of her teeth as her lips part like curtains revealing the satisfaction in her smile. I don't have any memory of when the last time was in which this happened, remembering only that it did.
What I do remember is why. This is our story.
Ten didn't seem as hard as it was to contemplate some eleven years or so ago. But four years after the night of our first contact with one another, my wish-want girl was as far from a possibility as I could have ever imagined.
In the summer of '86 at the age of twenty-something, I called a long time friend with whom I'd attended high school, asking if it would be okay to come up on my day off to spend an evening with he and his fiance (something I would do on occasion about every two or three months). Sometimes he would arrange a game of cards, or we would go to one of the local bars and listen to whatever no-name band happened to be playing in the area at the time, or simply hang out at their apartment talking and partying. Of course he said I was welcome, as we were almost like brothers having shared many adventures together of one kind or another. He told me to stop by where he and his fiance were working when I got to town.
Greg worked as an evening line cook at a motel/restaurant, and his fiance waited tables on the same shift so I knew they would probably be getting off work around 10 p.m. or so. When I arrived, they were already off, closing early due to a lack of customers. He, his fiance, and a few of their co-workers were sitting in the Trolley Car having a few drinks after work. I'm not the type who feels particularly comfortable in the company of strangers, but having known Greg for so long and trusting him without hesitation, I felt little uneasiness sitting down at the table with them and the other unknown faces.
One of the people sitting with them was a nice looking, easy on the eyes, young woman wearing a motel uniform. She had blue eyes, long, straight, brownish-blond hair the length of which reached to the middle of her back, and a nice, conservative figure. Apparently, this girl worked the front desk of the motel portion of the property. After an hour or so, Greg and his fiance suggested we all go back to their apartment, inviting the front desk girl to join us. I left my vehicle in the parking lot of the motel and rode to the apartment with Greg and his fiance. The other girl followed in her own vehicle.
At the apartment, we spent some time talking, popping aluminum pull tabs, and listening to music. After about an hour or so, Greg suggested playing the game "Password". Greg seemed to have developed a liking for interactive games probably after the popularity of Trivial Pursuit. During the latter years of high school and even into our early twenties I don't remember him liking games per se, but then during that particular period of our lives those types of activities weren't exactly at the top of the list in terms of excitement as far as the two of us were concerned. I did enjoy playing a lot of board games with another high school friend, but Greg and I were more into partying.
By the time we began to play, the girl and I had developed enough of a rapport to feel comfortable being a team in competition against Greg and his fiance. When either of us, she or I, gave a clue word the other would almost every time guess the password on the first clue. I sensed something was happening, but I really wasn't sure what exactly that 'thing' was. It was as if we were of one mind, and it was almost magical because I had never in my life experienced this 'thing' with any other woman. We played for about an hour or so when the girl said she had to leave. I asked her if she would mind taking me back to the motel to pick up my car. She said okay, drove me back in her Pacer Wagon, and dropped me off. I bid her farewell with the usual complimentary parting, and said goodnight. I returned to the apartment, crashed out, and left the next day to make the hour drive to the community where I was living at the time.
As I said previously, about every two or three months I would get a yen to go visit Greg because he was the closest in proximity of my long time friends. For the ten or fifteen years out of high school, my friends were the most meaningful part of my life. A part to which I clung as if losing them would leave me adrift on the uncharted waters of life. They were my safe harbor where I could go when I wanted to just get away for awhile. Since the night I met the girl with the Pacer, my visitation with them wasn't the only thing I was hoping to enjoy.
I don't remember exactly if I had asked Greg or if he had called, but the next time the Pacer girl and I saw each other was over at the apartment of Greg and his fiance to play some poker. I've loved the game for many a year remembering having played (without money) the night of my junior high graduation party. I remember being very nervous in her presence, even though I was delighted that she had joined us to play cards. I hardly spoke a word to her the entire time we were playing. The card game broke up pretty late. I soon came to realize shortly afterwards, she was going to stay in the apartment for the night, too. I already had what little I had brought with me in the guest bedroom. I asked her if she would prefer to sleep in the guest room instead, and I would crash out on their couch. She said she would prefer to sleep on the couch. I didn't want to make an issue of it, but felt somewhat guilty that this girl I really liked was going to be sleeping on a couch when she could have been sleeping in a bed. Again, we bid each other goodnight and went our separate sleeping ways. When I awoke the next day, she had already left the apartment.
The next time I saw the Pacer girl was at the wedding of Greg and his finance in the summer of '87. She was one of the guests at their wedding. My shyness managed to get the better of me during the reception period after the ceremony, saying little to this girl while we both attended the unification. I really liked her, but I just couldn't think of anything to say to her. However, there was also one other caveat to my inability to make conversation. I was in a quasi-relationship of my own at the time. The nagging reminder was ever present whenever I thought of the Pacer girl. Even though I knew my involvement with the woman I was currently with had no future, there was a sense of honor to which I felt I must be faithful. I was also acutely aware of my own directionless work history. I didn't want to pursue someone else and drag them into a relationship which had no future especially when I liked the person so much.
I didn't see the Pacer girl after the summer of '87 for about two years. When I would go to visit Greg and his, now, wife, I would ask about the Pacer girl periodically over the two year period. Shy and reluctant as I was to speak to her, on July 4th weekend in '88, I hunted down a florist which happened to be open and made arrangements for a bouquet of gladiolus (they being my favorite flora) to be sent to her at work hoping the arrangement would convey a sense of missing her presence when visiting my close friends.
At some point after the summer of '88, Greg told me the Pacer girl had a boyfriend, and she was planning to marry. I was to put it mildly, disappointed, but, liking her as I did, hoped she would be happy and wanted to wish her the very best should I see her again prior to the nuptials.
In late '88, my life became more eradic. I left the apartment I was sharing with a roommate who also worked where I worked (I worked days, he worked nights so it was very amicable) and moved back to my home town.
I tried working a couple of jobs, but I just couldn't get back into feeling at home in a place where once home felt like home. About six or so weeks after returning to my home town I left to go back to the area where I had been the previous five plus years. My girlfriend let me move into her home in early '89.
I worked for four different employers in '89. I also watched the relationship I had been involved in for four years disintegrate with seemingly little indifference. She didn't want to 'put-out', but apparently she didn't want to ask me to leave either for an entire year. I guess the two hundred dollars I was giving her a month had some significant appeal.
A good friend of mine passed away at the age of thirty. His pancreas burst, he went into a coma, and shortly thereafter, he passed away. For some reason, as I neared what I felt must be a fateful age together with a life which seemed to be a never ending succession of one failure after another, I decided I'd like to have a party before the odds of that particular year would surely do me in. I called my long time friend Greg and asked him if we could have a poker party at his apartment. He said he didn't think there would be any problem since he knew a number of people who enjoyed playing. He also mentioned the Pacer girl was no longer engaged, so I asked him to see if she would like to come to the party, too.
In attendance at the party were several people whose acquaintance I had made, mostly those with whom Greg and his wife knew as co-workers. (One of which an older woman who seemed to enjoy needling me about the ridiculousness of my fear for an age I would very soon be turning. One night, months after the party at another game of cards, the woman flipped me off because of something I said. I then replied rather pointedly, "I can't imagine being that hard up." I guess she took it personally because ever since the comment she has had little to say.) The Pacer girl also made it to the party. I was rather pleased initially, but throughout the course of the night, she displayed an underlying hostility which confused me. I was so taken with her, and yet, I was so disoriented by the aggressiveness with which she would address me. It was like talking to a totally different person inhabiting the same body. She was drinking, but then we were all drinking so I didn't really think this could be the cause. With the exception of the Pacer girl's curt directiveness, I enjoyed the evening.
Even though the Pacer girl hadn't been as pleasant as I had hoped, I was still very taken with her, and I felt I had to find some way to know if there was ever a chance we could find mutual understanding beneficial to both of us. Talking was obviously not my strong point. I sat down one late night and started writing. On my next day off, I drove over to the community I've dubbed Magic Town, and delivered, along with a bouquet of gladiolus, "Bubbles", a series of observations with some twists intended to give the reader pause to consider alternatives to some seemingly obvious realities.
In the winter of '89, about a month or so after the last party, I went up to visit Greg to play some cards. He and his wife had moved from their apartment and into a two story house. At some point during the course of the evening the Pacer girl came over to their home. Once she made mention of the piece I had written and delivered to her, she started talking to me. I, strangely lacking the shy nervousness which had consumed me every time we were in the same room, began talking to her. Incrementally, we would see one another again and again at the home of Greg and his wife because I would travel to Magic Town about every two weeks instead of every couple of months.
Two other significant events happened which finally brought the Pacer girl and I together. Greg, his wife, and some of their friends were going to go to Vegas over the Christmas holiday season. I asked them if I could stay at their house while they were gone with the intention of spending more time with SJ, the Pacer girl. It was okay with them especially since the end of December of '89 had seen very frigid temperatures for that time of year. Pipes breaking from the severe temperatures were happening enmasse. SJ and I spent three very wonderful evenings together just talking and hanging out.
Greg decided to have a New Year's Eve party on the last day of 1989. Another friend and old high school classmate came down from Kansas City to join us all for the evening. SJ showed up sometime after her shift ended around 11 p.m. Before midnight, she and I had slipped away to the upstairs of the house, and spent some time in an impassioned embrace. The only party we were interested in for the entire evening was each other. Our lips seemed to engulf one another for so long that time had no meaning, yet our clothes never left our bodies.
Around the end of January of 1990, after being laid off and collecting unemployment benefits, I moved in with SJ. By the second week of February, I had found employment. We married in March of '91. I'm still working at the same place after shortly having moved in with SJ, and she is still working at the same place where we first met some fifteen years ago.
About six weeks prior to our tenth anniversary, the performance of the carburetor on SJ's Pacer began to deteriorate at an accelerating pace. Never being particularly handy with a wrench, I prefer to let someone in the automotive business do the maintenance chores when it comes to repairs. SJ's Pacer needed a new carburetor or so we were told. I thought a tune-up would be adequate, but I had put my faith in the folks who had been taking care of our vehicles for about two years, and they said otherwise.
We got the carburetor put on, but the car just didn't seem to run any better. About a week later, the mechanics decided the first carburetor was bad so they put on another. Still, the car didn't run any better. Approximately three weeks after we had the old carburetor replaced, the automotive repair business which had been taking care of our repair needs closed its doors due to the lack of business during the December period in the winter of '00.
Now what!? SJ's Pacer ran no better than the day we first took it in to be repaired, and we had spent over two hundred fifty dollars pretty much for nothing. We took the car to another, albeit less desirable, mechanic. I had to literally call the automotive parts dealer where the first carburetor was purchased and ask them to verify the carburetor had been purchased from them, and then, ask them to honor the original warranty even though we didn't have the receipt. AutoZone was extremely helpful and very thoughtful with regard to our current situation. On a Saturday, about four weeks after the original repair, I was standing at the counter of AutoZone picking up a third carburetor. On the following Tuesday, SJ and I went to pick up her car.
Charlie, the owner at the second repair shop, didn't look real pleased to see us when SJ and I walked into his shop to pick up the Pacer. When he finally got around to tallying our bill, the first thing he said to SJ was, "You're going to have to find a new home for your car." He then told us her car was running only marginally better, and the transmission was going out on the Pacer.
Well that was just great. Now up to over three hundred fifty dollars of OUR money for HER car, and the Pacer is about to need another transmission, the fourth in about three and a half years. Unbelievable. The original transmission lasted seventeen plus years, but THREE successive rebuilts can't manage more than three and a half years! I had had it with that damn Pacer Wagon! The replacement parts were unbelievably high because of a lack of availability, and when we could find them then we had to find someone with enough competence to replace them properly. I told SJ flat out, "Sell that damn car!"
Now we were in a spot. SJ needed reliable transportation, and I was not about to put up with getting up earlier to take her to work any longer, or take off work to pick her up. Plus, we just didn't have the money to get her something else. Had it not been for a rather large gift from a family member, SJ might now be a few pounds lighter from a daily trek to her job or have learned to like driving my beat up ol' pickup.
Four days after we got the bad news on SJ's Pacer, I called a dealership in the next community (about ten miles away), told them how much we had to spend, how much we needed for trade-in value on SJ's Pacer, what we'd like to get, and what was wrong mechanically with the Pacer. I said, "I don't care what it looks like just as long as the car is mechanically sound. I don't want to have to replace motors, transmissions, or anything else on a vehicle for quite some time." Two hours later, a salesman was standing next to a '95 in our driveway. He let me/us have the car to test drive until SJ got off work. He in turn drove the Pacer back to dealership where he worked.
Around four-thirty on that Saturday afternoon, SJ and I were sitting across from the salesman at the dealership signing the necessary paperwork prior to finalizing the transaction. An hour later we were driving away as the latest owners of the '95 which Larry, the salesman, had driven to our home earlier in the afternoon. I was not only happy with the purchase of a newer vehicle, but happy that finally, after all the nonsense with SJ's car, it was GONE!
SJ, however, was devestated. She knew it was just no longer reasonable to keep repairing a car which by all standards should be owned by someone who could take care of the car without having to drive it on a daily basis. But the decision to part with the Pacer was too sudden, and she never was given the opportunity to come to terms with the need to part with it before getting a newer one. I pretty much forced her to part with it quickly. For three days after we got the newer car, SJ moped around the house as if there had been a death in the family. She even left work rather unexpectedly the day after we bought the car saying she just couldn't force herself to smile and talk kindly to the guests staying at the motel where she worked. SJ loved that damn Pacer.
I told Larry, after trading the car in, I would put the word out on the web to let people know of its whereabouts. I contacted and joined one website for the sole purpose of letting other Pacer enthusiasts know about the car, and its condition. I spent a couple of weeks answering emails with people as far away as Canada trying to find a good candidate to buy the car, hoping someone would want to try and restore it. I gave all the information I could, but after two weeks, not one person had inquired about the Pacer. I knew because I had called to inquire as to whether there had been any inquiries.
I had a love/hate relationship with the "midget hearse". I liked driving the Pacer because it handled well on the road, had a tight turning radius, and its wagon capacity came in rather handy for hauling a number of items which wouldn't have fit in another type vehicle (prior to the purchase of the pickup). But I hated all the trouble it would cause us from time to time especially with the number of transmissions we had had to replace, and the expenses associated with the repairs. Slowly, I began to realize the Pacer wasn't just a car, it was so many more things.
SJ bought the Pacer brand new and was its only owner. She was driving it when I met her. We used it when we got married. It was the ol' reliable when we would make trips back to my home town. It was the car which brought Beary home the day we picked him up from the animal shelter. It was the car Beary loved to ride in, even sitting behind the wheel when we would leave him to go into the grocery store or some other business. It was the car which took Beary to the very same shelter to have his body cremated after he was put to sleep. It was the same car which brought Beary's ashes home. The car seemed to be an icon of sorts for the whole of my relationship with SJ.
After the first anniversary of a couple's unification, the tenth anniversary is supposed to be some sort of milestone, or so it was always my impression. Ten years ago, I started buying savings bonds with the intention of using them to pay for a weekend at the Big Cedar Lodge outside of Branson, MO, to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary. We didn't make it.
Like I said, I had been checking up on the Pacer over the course of the two weeks it was no longer one of our taxable assets. For our tenth anniversary, I decided to buy the Pacer back from the dealership. Happy Anniversary, Slovey.
SJ has her Pacer Baby back. It just sits off to the side of the driveway a few yards from the garden collecting bird droppings, and the dreams of its original owner to someday drive it, hoping to occasionally enjoy the sight of fingers pointing in the car's direction from unknown passing faces, "Look! Its a Pacer!"