When Ashley and I first embarked on our journey together, I suspected that in short order I would get tired of her company. I wasn’t being pessimistic, but I had always been on my own to a large degree. Growing up, my school schedule was in a bit of a conflict with my mother’s work schedule. She was often sitting at the desk naked applying makeup when I got home from school, getting ready to go out on another nights work. And while she would stop in and check on me from time to time, I typically wouldn’t see her until the next day when I got home. After leaving the house, I had been by myself in college, and I had been trucking solo ever since.The thoughts of my impending boredom with my new reality didn’t surface much after my initial assertion. They would occasionally cross my mind only when the seasons would change, or something else would bring to the forefront the amount of time that had passed since we met.
There was absolutely no rhyme nor reason to the two of us. Any standard of measuring the ratios of probable success or failure would have likely predicted a disastrous outcome. Vegas would have given us odds similar to those awarded to the local wife beater preparing to step into the ring with George Foreman. We were a study in contrasts. She had grown up in the country on farms with large houses and sprawling acres, and I had been raised in a motel in the city with single strip parking and a foot wide expanse of grass to play in before reaching the sidewalk. Her choice in music was country or gospel, and I loved Rock & Roll. Time would pass at a more pleasurable clip for her when she was staged behind a book. I, on the other hand, could lose myself for an entire day hopping from flick to flick at a movie theater. If you wanted to see that woman chow down hard, then your best bet was to find a good fried chicken joint. I never met a surf and turf that didn’t have me wanting seconds.
The Devil’s imp has called his bride to put her with child. Will he let your child live, little girl?Stephen King’s ‘The Stand’
All of these differences however seemed to mesh nicely together for the two of us. She was concerned with keeping her figure, so she only wanted her chicken about once a week, which satisfied me. I enjoyed a few of her favorite Country songs, and she took quickly to some of my Rock. But one of the biggest differences that can often doom a relationship resulted in her nickname. I was a smoker, she was not. And let me tell you, this woman was positively obsessed with ashes. She hated them with a passion. Can you imagine that? I never heard her complain of the odor, nor did I ever see her waft a stray puff of smoke away from her face. But on 3 separate occasions that I can recall, she set my trash on fire by dumping the tray too early after I had extinguished a Lucky Strike. There was nothing on this earth that bothered her more than ashes in an ash tray. She would dump it at her first chance (or sooner) and wipe the bottom clean with a napkin. Even if I awoke in the night and reached for a square, she would wait a few minutes after I was done, then get up and dispose of the remains. It didn’t take a week for me to start calling her “Ashes”.
Not long after she had been dubbed such, she decided that I needed a nickname myself. I know it sounds silly, but that excited me. Since my first name was a one syllable affair, nobody had ever tried to shorten it for me. The idea of a CB Handle had crossed my mind, but I had never bothered to pick up a radio so I had never settled on one. It took her a couple of weeks to pin a tag on me, and I was probably driving her as nuts as she was me in anticipation. She would come up with an idea, then toss it out just as quickly as she had introduced it. “It just doesn’t fit you” she would say.
One day we were sitting at a truck stop just west of Houston, and I thought it would be fun to watch the drivers go by and make fun of their stance in the drivers seat. There are a few basic styles of seating, and every other approach is a variation of the original three. First, you have the “Clincher”. You’ve all seen this guy before. He couldn’t possibly ride any higher in the seat if there were a corn cob perched on the tip of his ass. He grips the wheel hard, and never looks away from the road in front of him. Then there is the “Old Hand”, the tired pro who knows what he is doing and could care less about style. He sits upright, but relaxed, gripping the wheel in a casual yet alert manner, and offering a wave to each driver he passes. The last style is the “Pimp”. You know this guy for sure. He drains all of the air out of his seat, and pushes it back as far as the frame will allow. He rides low and stretched out, leaning forward with one arm to steer and flashing a peace sign at any driver who doesn’t flip him off for being such a prick. He is all style and no substance, and you better hammer down and get around him as quickly as you can, because from where he sits he can’t see shit other than his hood and the side wall of his sleeper.
Ashes was in stitches as I pointed out each style. We would watch a driver walk out to his truck, and I would try to guess the manner in which he would approach his positioning before he pulled out of his spot. I was knocking them down left and right. Once I had milked all the entertainment we could possibly get out of this little game, we headed back out on the road. She looked over at me, observing my style of driving. “What do you call that?” she asked. I told her that she had a better view of it than I did, so she should break it down and give it a name.
“You’re smack dab in the middle of Pimp and Old Hand”, she observed. “Your seat is low, but not to the ground. It is back, but just enough for comfort. You have both hands on the wheel, but one is stretched out much higher on the wheel than the other. You lean forward, but you’re not really stretched out. You’re halfway between Pimp and Old Hand. You’re…” at this point she cut out and broke into playful laughter. I paused in anticipation, expecting the worst. “You’re Half Cocked.” And so it came to be that my shiny black Kenworth found itself in the graphics shop in Fontana California getting “Ashes” airbrushed in pink on the jump seat door, and “Half Cocked” in blue on the driver’s.
I know that when an 18 Wheeler passes you on the highway it looks like a monstrosity, but when you live inside of one of these things it can get pretty small rather quickly. You pair off the wrong couple in one of these bad boys, and it can go south in a hurry. I’ve never been great at keeping track of time, so I had no idea how long we had been together when I awoke one morning to find balloons taped up all over the inside of the truck. They were everywhere. You couldn’t even see the walls of the sleeper. For the life of me, I can’t imagine how she did it all without waking me, but when I awoke, I thought I had died and gone to heaven and heaven had turned out to be a strip club in one of those towns in Nevada that was so small you wouldn’t be surprised to see a sheep in a garter trot out next. I would never say anything to hurt Ashes’ feelings, but it was the most goddam horrific thing I had ever awakened to. She was sitting in the jump seat with her legs crossed, smiling with apprehension. I gave my best attempt to smile through the nauseating swirl of colors that surrounded me.
“Have you ever had a birthday party?” Before I realized it, I had almost begun to tell her about a party I had attended when I was 12 where I had accidentally jerked off on some girls tits, but I caught myself. “No. Not one for me.” Ashes had grown up in foster care after her parents had died when she was 6, so she hadn’t ever had a party either. This information still didn’t explain the vomit of colors surrounding me that was threatening to give me nightmares.
“Do you know what today is?” I may not be a morning person, but even I could follow this line. “Yea, it’s your birthday” I replied. She giggled at my feeble attempt to act as if I knew something that she probably hadn’t even told me. “No, baby. It’s not my birthday.” I should have let it go at that, but my brain was desperately searching for a reason to attach to the decorations that were causing it to begin to ache, in an attempt to isolate the cause and eliminate all chances of such an incident recurring. “Is it my birthday?” This escalated her giggles into a full out laugh. “No!”, her eyes were watering at this point. “It’s our birthday.” My mind was still struggling. “We were both born on the same day?” Now she was in tears, and relayed her idea around fits of laughter.
As it turned out, she had been on the truck with me for one full year on that very day. She decided that this deserved a celebration. And since neither one us celebrated our individual birthdays, we would call the day our birthday. This was fitting enough, since it was the birth of our relationship, so every year on the 4th of August, we would celebrate the birth of our journey together. We had 3 more of those celebrations, and fortune had smiled upon me. This birthday would be the last one that included the balloons.
We made it all the way to April of our fourth year without ever having a fight. And no, I don’t mean no big fights. I mean we had never once argued. That winter had been a particularly brutal one, and spring was late getting to the party. We woke up in the middle of Kansas one morning, and it was the first day suitable for short sleeves. Our summer clothes were in a storage box under the bunk, so I told her to climb up into the passenger seat while I dug them out. I was struggling with the bunk, trying to hold it up and empty it’s contents simultaneously when I heard the most god awful retching sound coming from the passenger seat. She had tried to turn her head to the door, but before she could make it she had vomited all over the dashboard.
I was immediately concerned with her well being. I wanted her to lay back down for a bit, but she decided it would be better to go into the bathroom and cleanup. By the time she returned to the truck, I had the mess cleaned up and the smell was completely gone.
She spent most of that day in the bed, and we hardly talked. I just chocked it up to her being sick, but it did make me feel a bit lonely. My jokes that usually got a hearty laugh now barely elicited a halfhearted smile. She seemed completely lost in her thoughts, and the time that she spent in her usual perch riding shotgun was occupied with counting the telephone poles as they flew by. I began to think that she would rather be out there with them than in here with me. We didn’t cover that much ground that day, as I wasn’t in the mood to drive. I had planned to make it all the way to Denver, but I ran out of energy in Colby so we stopped there for the night.
We went in to have dinner, and they had a special that was bound to cheer her up. All-you-can-eat fried chicken. She ate like a horse. She was halfway through her second order when I decided to test her spirits with a joke about our waitress. I was approaching the punchline of the joke, so I paused for effect, but I never got it out. Without batting an eye, she jumped into my pause and said “I’m pregnant.”
I stopped in mid sentence. To this day, I don’t remember what I was thinking or feeling in that moment of disclosure. I don’t even remember the joke. I don’t have to remember what I said, because I just looked back at her in stunned silence. A smile began to push at the corner of her lips. She repeated her statement. “I’m pregnant. WE’RE pregnant. We are going to have a baby. We’re going to be a family.”
I continued to look at her in stunned silence. I had a numb feeling all over my body. My mind went back to when I was a child, and my mother on 2 occasions had sat me down and told me that she was pregnant. The first time it happened, she had run down a lists of pros and cons to having a little brother or sister. I didn’t hear 90% of it. Like now, I had sat there stunned, thinking of what this meant. I would have to share my bed with it. It would eat my food, and drink my Cokes. My mom would be it’s mom, and it would take much of her time.
Life was much simpler then. My brain was able to quickly find a solution for the problem. “I’ll starve it out”, I had thought to myself. “I don’t care if I have to be the fattest kid on the block, I will eat every ounce of food that comes through that door and starve it out.”
But my mother had been a loving and considerate woman. When I had thought she was forcing this on me, she was not. We were making a decision together. She valued my input, and when I expressed my opposition to the idea, we decided together that she shouldn’t have it. I was young and at her mercy and she gave me a choice. Furthermore, she most certainly did not go foisting the kid on some man. But I was not young anymore. I was not insignificant. Who the fuck was this bitch sitting across from me now to say what “we” were going to be? How dare she just assume that we are in this together without even asking my opinion! How fucking rude and demanding. Didn’t she remember where she was when I found her? I could have sliced her throat and dumped her in the trash like the two bit truck stop whore she was, but I didn’t do that. I took her in. I took care of her. Every stitch of clothing she owned, every morsel of food she ate, and every dime in her pocket… it all came from me. And what thanks do I get for my efforts?
I didn’t even realize that she was sitting there waiting for a response until I heard her say “Well?” impatiently. In an instant, everything had changed. This woman that I had taken in and shared all that I have with had turned on me without warning. It would be a cold day in hell before I went along with this. She could hitch her way back to Texas and work the old lot again for all I cared. It would teach her to make decisions with another persons life. Let her raise the kids off the callouses on her knees and the cum showers across her back. If it was good enough for my mother, it was good enough for her.
“Are you ok?”
I tried to get my emotions under control. My manner reflected a calm demeanor, but my words did not. I pushed my chair back, and fumbled in my pocket for some money. I tossed a $20 on the table to cover the meal. I leaned down and looked her in the eye. “You selfish fucking cunt.” I turned on my heel and stormed out of there. The store was a blur as I made my way through it searching for the exit. A good trucker always has an internal sense of where his truck is parked, and I found my rig instinctively. I opened the door and climbed inside, not even taking my shoes off before laying down in the bed.
I have no idea how long I was there alone. The sun had called it a day, and settled in over the grain fields to the west without telling me goodnight. I was lost in my thoughts, staring at the roof of my sleeper when I heard the passenger door open. The light from the parking lot showed her face as she climbed in, revealing the tired looking skin that had been hiding underneath of her makeup which had all been washed away. Her eyes were bloodshot, and she kept them low to avoid contact with mine as she climbed in. She removed her boots, but left her clothes on as she slid into bed beside me, settling in with her back turned towards me.
So many times we take our lives for granted. We think that our day to day existence will continue on without change. We treat the small decisions as if they were large, and the large ones as if they have no consequences. All of a sudden, we find our world turned upside down, and we become like children, afraid of what this new reality might hold in store for us.
I turned towards her, and I put my arm over her shoulders. I don’t know what made me do it. Perhaps it was the anger that had built up and burst out of me in front of her, or maybe it was the new light I had seen her in, but I know that I did not give it any thought. If I had, things might have gone differently, but I found myself doing it before I even realized what was happening.