|By: Paul S. Cilwa||Viewed: 2/21/2020
||Topics/Keywords: #18-Wheeler #BigRigs #Schneider #TruckDriver #TruckDriving||Page Views: 250|
|An entry from Alternate Roads: Paul S. Cilwa's Truck Drivin' Journal|
Saturday, March 29, 2003
The load from Del Monte was to be delivered in Phoenix, which meant this was the last load for Lloyd. However, we had to go through Fontana with it; and my truck was scheduled for a "PM" — Preventive Maintenance — session at the Operating Center there.
My previous PM had been a disaster. Performed in Des Moines, the mechanics had managed to break things that had previously been fixed. Today's was a "B" PM, supposedly for minor items; but I had a list of fourteen things to repair. And I didn't have a lot of hope. By this time, after a string of PMs in which there were usually more things wrong at the conclusion than there had been when I drove in, I didn't have a lot of faith in these repair efforts.
The PM started in the morning and was scheduled to be completed by 6 pm. I explained to Lloyd that this wasn't likely to happen, but we had to wait until they officially extended the completion time, to get a motel room at company cost. I settled at a table in the cafeteria, with my laptop plugged in, and read my email and wrote. I expected Lloyd to position himself in front of the TV in the theatre room, as he usually did in truck stops. However, a few minutes later, I glanced out the window and saw him walking across the pavement, in the company of two men, to their truck. They were team drivers from Seattle or Portland; I had seen them in the OC before but never suspected they were gay. Lloyd, however, had apparently seen something I hadn't and arranged to "hook up" with them.
I continued to work on the laptop. An hour or so later, Lloyd returned, grinning like the cat who ate the Chevrolet. "Have a good time?" I asked.
"Yeah!" he said enthusiastically. "They might give me a call next time they're in Phoenix." He shared other aspects of their time together, supplying far more information than I really wanted. On the other hand, Lloyd shared so little with me that I didn't want to seem judgmental now. I could only pray, silently, that they had played safe. I didn't ask, since it was too late if they hadn't, and anyway these were all grown men and I was not their mother.
I had to keep reminding myself of this. I was not Lloyd's mother. Even though he lived on cookies and candy, I did not rebuke him or point out how his diet could only worsen his HIV status. Even though he left with strangers to do God knows what, I said nothing. It was a real challenge for me. Inside, I want to be everyone's mother. Only the knowledge that it wouldn't be good for me or anyone else keeps me from attempting it.
Hours passed and, every time I looked up, I noticed Lloyd speaking with a different person than he'd been talking to before. I wondered if he was flat out asking everyone if they were gay or interested, or if he had some other "line" that worked for him.
I have never developed a line. I married my wife, Mary, when I was just twenty. She and I had gone steady as seniors in high school. So, I never had the experience of the "bar scene" or of picking up anyone, male or female. I never learned to "play the field". Through the years, I've gone to a gay bar or two; but I always feel like an idiot and wind up leaving after fifteen minutes or so. I always thought I would like a bar like the one on TV's Cheers, where "everybody knows your name." The problem is, no one's going to know your name the first time you go in. And any place, bar or not, that already contains a close-knit group of friends, is going to be a tough place for a newcomer to fit in.
Besides, I don't really like to drink.
At 6 pm, I checked at the desk and found the completion time for the truck had been moved to 2 am. That was our cue. I located Lloyd, stuffing yet another phone number into his pocket, and told him to get his things together for the shuttle ride to the motel. "But, I've got a date," he protested.
"Well, either tell him to pick you up at the motel, or make sure he knows how to get you to the motel afterwards. 'Cause this is the last shuttle for the evening, and you can't stay here without me." That was because Lloyd wasn't a Schneider employee. He didn't have a driver ID.
Lloyd wound up riding to the motel with me. He tried calling the date from the room, but the men—it turned out to be a "date" with two guys—had gotten a load assignment and had to leave immediately.
I had no idea there were that many gay truckers.
If we all had stickers on our trucks, I was starting to realize, truck stops would have more rainbows than a Gay Pride Parade.
Sunday, March 30, 2003
The shuttle from the motel to Schneider didn't leave until late morning. So, after nervously counting the dwindling cash reserve in my wallet, I reluctantly invited Lloyd to have breakfast with me at the IHOP next to the hotel.
Schneider no longer uses the dreaded Days Inn I had stayed at during training. They now used a La Quinta that was a dozen times nicer. The downside was that it hadn't occurred to me to make a reservation; and they only had one room left—and that had one, king-sized, bed. "It's really big," the clerk emphasized when she checked us in. "You won't even see each other."
Straight men seem repelled by the idea of sleeping in the same bed with another man, and I've never been able to understand why. If you're really straight, wouldn't it have all the eroticism as sleeping with your dog? Warm and furry, but no sex. If I were a single straight man, I would always want to sleep with a straight pal, every night. If I were a married straight man, I would send my wife to her own room so I could sleep with a furry buddy. In fact, from all the complaining I hear straight women do about the men they sleep with—they snore, they fart, they steal the blankets—I bet straight women would really rather sleep alone, or with other straight women pals.
Which I guess really goes to show I just don't understand the whole heterosexual lifestyle at all.
Now, gay men, on the other hand, don't have an irrational reluctance to sleeping together. We may, however, have a rational preference to not sleep with a particular person. The clerk didn't know we were gay, and had no idea what issues we might have. She was just eager to rent her last room.
In the end, though, it was just like she said: The bed was so large I was barely conscious that anyone else was in it. Except that once, I half woke to find that someone was holding my hand. It was Lloyd. It was only for a moment, as if he were making sure I was still there. He then retreated back to the eight-inch slice of bed he'd claimed for himself.
So, in the morning, Lloyd and I wound up sitting in a booth at IHOP, waiting for our breakfasts to be served and talking as if we hadn't seen each other since the previous evening. I was determined to have an actual conversation. This would be our last day together, and I had had enough silent meals with him. Especially after watching him talk to virtually every other driver in the Operating Center.
"So," I said. "Do you have any brothers or sisters?" That seemed like a fairly innocuous question.
"Not exactly," he replied. He still responded to questions with exactly enough information to avoid being rude, but not enough to encourage further conversation. This time, though, I would not be thwarted.
"'Not exactly?'" I repeated. "Most people either have siblings, or they don't."
"Oh." I hadn't known this. My ex-wife, Mary, was also adopted; and I'd seen some of the latent trauma adoption can include. "How old—?"
"I was less than one year old when my parents adopted me," he answered.
Our meals arrived; the waitress put a plate of bacon and eggs in front of me and something similar before Lloyd. At least, when I did buy the food, Lloyd ate healthily. I continued with my questioning. "Do you know anything about your biological mother?" I asked.
"She was mentally retarded," he replied.
"Wow." That was a heavy load to bear. To know one's parent was challenged, especially in an area as nebulous as mental capacity, must have haunted him from the day he found it out. Every time he didn't understand a math question or forgot an answer, he must have wondered if he hadn't inherited some of his mother's challenges. "How about your father?" I asked.
"He was a truck driver," said Lloyd.
"Ah." Could that explain his attraction to this career? Or, at least, the men who share it? "So, you might have brothers and sisters," I suggested.
"I have one brother and one sister," he said. "But I don't know who they are."
He went on to explain that he had been the youngest of the three siblings, about nine months old, when the state had judged their mother to be an unfit parent and taken them all away, to be adopted by different parents. Suddenly, the whole thing snapped into focus for me. Lloyd, an infant in his crib, crying and crying for his mother's attention—and being ignored. Never picked up, never held, never cuddled; just a bottle shoved in his direction when the crying became too much to ignore. No wonder he had no idea what love was. No wonder he ran from man to man, desperately trying to find—something—that he'd never had, and probably couldn't recognize. Trying to fill the void with pleasure, because that was all he knew how to achieve.
We have sex education in most schools, now. What we don't have, is love education. I'm not sure that's a subject that can be taught. It may be it can only be experienced. But, without it, one would be emotionally frozen, because every other emotion is built on the foundation of a mother's love.
And, by the time he was adopted, it was too late. He had needed the kind of attention at one month, at two months, at three months, that wasn't considered appropriate to give a healthy one-year-old. How could his adoptive mother understand that he was not healthy? She may have needed to feed him, to get his weight up; but she would have had no way of knowing he still craved the completely undemanding love he'd never gotten months earlier.
She would have insisted that he help be dressed by putting his arms through his sleeves; that he give up his bottle; that he sleep alone in his crib no matter how much he cried. Those are normal things for a one-year-old, but only when the underlying foundation of mother-love has been developed. And, in Lloyd's case, it had not.
We returned to the OC and found the repairs to the truck, finally, completed. We immediately took off for Phoenix. I was delighted with the truck. They had managed to fix problems that had been outstanding for months and the many PMs in between. The clutch plate, for example, which had given me problems since the truck was first assigned to me, had, it turned out, literally been installed upside down. In this PM it had been replaced. The radio, which had never successfully played cassettes, had also been replaced, and the new one played books-on-tape perfectly; so I would finally be able to take my home cassette deck and amplifier back to the house. The truck now rode smoothly; before, if you'd simply been holding ice, vodka and strawberries while riding, you'd have had a frozen Daiquiri within fifteen minutes.
The various dings on the truck remained, of course. The chips of fiberglass that exposed raw metal, the chunk of plastic missing from the driver side window, the scratches on the bumper were still there. But they didn't affect the truck's ability to run. In a way, they're like badges of honor. They provide a history. This isn't a new, untried, unripe piece of machinery. It's a truck. It's been places. It's survived.
It had taken many attempts, but finally my truck, the "Eric Idle", was fun to drive.
Of course, as well-running as Eric Idle was now, it will still need another PM in 20,000 miles. Trucks don't stay repaired. Neither do people. That's because life isn't about being "fixed" and remaining so. It's about the journey itself; and the journey batters and bruises us, scars and scares us. Life is about getting patched up and setting out, once again, upon the road for more battering and bruising.
It's about learning to not fear the battering. It's about learning to trust the efficacy of those periodic repairs.
And about appreciating, rather than fearing, the scars.
In Phoenix, Lloyd's friend met us at the drop yard and we spent forty minutes extracting his things from my truck. There were still two bags of clothing he hadn't needed; several bags of canned dinners and cookies and candy; several packages of sweetened juices. He had, as I had thought when we first loaded all this stuff, seriously overpacked.
He'd spent three weeks in my company, weeks in which I made no demands of him, expected no discipline (other than to be at the truck when it was time to leave), allowed him to eat what and when he wanted, to sleep when he wanted. Even, thanks to the drapes separating the front of the cab from the bunks, to be alone when he wanted. Though I didn't always know where he was, exactly, he always knew where I was. He knew that, short of sex, if he needed a hug or a pat on the back, he could count on me to be there to give it.
I hadn't known, until today, what the source of Lloyd's underlying issues had been. In fact, before he got in the truck, I'd thought he was "just a guy with HIV." Now I knew differently. And, inadvertently, I had provided maybe the best therapy for him. Previously, I used the phrase "I was not his mother," but in fact, by providing food, warmth, non-sexual touch, and freedom from demands, I had supplied what the mother of a newborn is supposed to supply…and what Lloyd's had not. And I had done so without knowing it.
Once again, the Universe has amazed me with its infinite ability to put things together that need to be, exactly when they need to be, and for as long as they need to be. Oh, some might prefer the word "God" but, for me, there is no difference. Whatever one calls it, the worlds and suns and atoms come together in unending variety and seeming chaos, only to inevitably make sense.
It is possible, then, that this journey had been one in which the repair of Lloyd's own psyche might, at least, at last, begin. And one in which I might have learned, at least, at last, the efficacy of repair.