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A Million Little Pieces Of My Mind

Gary, Indiana

By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 7/22/2024
Occurred: 1/21/2003
Page Views: 350
Topics: #18-Wheeler #TruckDriving #BigRigs #Schneider #TruckDriver
Karma can be stickier than Gorilla Glue.

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Is there a hidden pattern to our lives, or it is all meaningless?

Carl Jung, the psychotherapist, believed in a force he called synchronicity. He didn't want to use the word coincidence since, for most people, that word is synonymous with random and partnered with meaningless. Jung pointed out that, for two-dimensional beings living on the surface of the ocean, the movement of the waves would not be perceptible to them—yet would have an effect on their lives, nonetheless. He suggested that, if there is a multidimensional reality to the Universe beyond the three spatial and one temporal dimensions that we know about, it might only be perceived through the existence of synchronicity, the coincidence of events in time in such a way that they have great meaning to the percipient, and extreme unlikelihood of having occurred at all.

Why, for example, have I not had to drive in the snow since October? I'm not saying this is an example of synchronicity, not yet—there is no great personal significance to the fact. I'm not afraid to drive in the snow and, in fact, did drive in it last October when I went to Canada. But, since then, it's always been ahead of or behind me. As I drove from Albuquerque to Atlanta a few days ago, the year's great winter storm had been five hours behind me. But I didn't see a flake. And even that storm cleared up as I received my work assignment to bring a load of Kimberly Clark paper products to Indianapolis.

My current trip has gone pretty smoothly, in fact. Although, yesterday morning I got a message from Larry, my STL, to give him a call at my earliest convenience. The combination of a cell phone and a sense of curiosity is an expensive one. Even though I was roaming, I had to know what the request was about, so I called.

I'm sure you have a good explanation, he began, some kind of tragedy that held you up over the weekend, but the computers are not…well, just tell me. Why are you so far behind schedule?

What do you mean? I asked. I thought I was doing just fine.

You've got 650 miles to go before you get to Indianapolis, he said. You can't possibly be there when you're due in the morning, so when do you expect to be there? Late afternoon?

Larry, I'm fine, I said. I should be there at 7:15 local time, like I'm supposed to be.

Oh, he said, then stopped. Well, okay, maybe you're better than I thought you were… His tone indicated that this was unlikely.

What's the problem? I asked. I've got the rest of my ten hours to drive, then take an eight-hour DOT break, then back on the road till I get there.

All righty, then, Larry replied, doubtfully. Safe driving.

I know what he was thinking. I'm sure I'm not the only driver who has had breakdowns, bad tractors, weekends at weigh stations. (I might be one of the few who demand something be done about it.) Still, there wasn't anything likely to go wrong with this trip. The load was light; it had been weighed and was within legal limits; the trailer was in good shape and the tractor was running without problem. And, as I said, the snowstorm had cleared and Indiana was now in the middle of a high pressure zone. It was cold, but clear.

It was a bit of a stretch. I wouldn't want to drive that many hours every day. But I did make it to the consignee on time. A lumper (and I wasn't too tired to note he was very cute, with blond hair and mustache and low-cut T-shirt revealing blond, curly hairs over a broad chest) unloaded the truck for me while I napped. Soon my next work assignment came over the Qualcomm: A pickup in Wisconsin…followed by a delivery of same in Phoenix.

After almost two weeks in the east, I was going home!

I needed fuel, though. And the best place for that, according to my laptop, would be at the Schneider Operating Center in Gary, Indiana. Which is why I now found myself heading northward on I-65, heading there.

I had been to Gary one time previous: In 1961, when my family made its first major vacation, from our home in Vermont to Arizona. We had spent the night in Gary. But that's not what the name brought to mind as I drove. It was later that same year, when we moved to Florida, that I met someone named Gary, who influenced my life in a major way.

Whatever you do, my Mom warned my sisters and me, don't talk about the Civil War! I was in the first months of fifth grade, and didn't know there'd been a Civil War. It sounded like a poor idea to me. And don't talk about slaves, or colored people, or Yankees or Rebels. I had no idea what she was talking about. The last time she'd been in Florida was in the 1920s, and whatever had inspired these fears, she had clung to them.

And now we had moved to her childhood haunt of St. Augustine, Florida, and I, being a ten-year-old sponge, simply absorbed all these warnings without question.

So, imagine my reaction when, walking to my new school, I was met by one of my new classmates outside the fence. Are you the new boy? she asked.

I guess so, I replied.

She nodded in grim satisfaction. So, she queried, are you a Yankee or a Rebel?

My breath froze. Mother had given no advice on what to say if someone else brought up the forbidden subjects. Neither, I answered finally. I'm from the planet Krypton.

One can only get away with that sort of thing in fifth grade. Although I'm pretty sure at least some of my former classmates might still think I came from another planet.

I was faced with about forty new faces and it took time to get them straight. One was a young man named Gary Drake. Our relationship started out well enough. If allowed to do so, I preferred to remain in the classroom during recess. It was more fun for me to draw or write than to try to play ball. Gary saw me drawing something and said, You should talk to Tommy Tutten. He's a really good artist.

So, I made an effort to talk to Tommy. He was a good artist, much better than me. His drawings were beautifully shaded in pencil; mine were more comic book style.

But then I blew any hope of continuing a friendship with Gary.

I overheard our teacher telling Gary that his grades were low and he wasn't trying. I certainly wasn't intended to overhear this, and, having done so, should never had indicated I had. But I was in fifth grade! What did I know? But the energies that shape our lives will not be denied. One day shortly after, Gary and I were again alone in the classroom and I brought up the subject of his grades. His grades! I didn't even do it nicely. I could have offered to help, for example. But I did no such thing. I insulted him, baited him. For some reason I thought this would help galvanize his desire to learn. I have no idea why I thought that; had my mom ever tried such a method on me? I don't even know why I thought it was my duty to fix him. Maybe it's a trait of people from Krypton.

All I know is, I made an enemy that day. And, the next day, Gary challenged me to a schoolyard fight.

I had been in a sort-of fight once before. I was in first grade, waiting for the school bus, and an older boy—probably third grade—started pushing me into the path of oncoming cars for no apparent reason. I grabbed hold of his sweater, so that when he pushed me, he was dragged along. That rather spoiled the fun for him, and he abandoned the attack.

At home, I told my parents. My father was plainly pleased, but my mother was not. No boy of hers was going to be involved in a schoolyard brawl! It didn't matter to her who had started it or what the consequences might have been had I not defended myself. Mother lived in a simplistic, black-and-white world. Fighting was wrong. My father, trying to hide his proud grin behind a stern expression, immediately agreed with her. So that was that.

Now, here I was, about to be drawn into another of these forbidden battles.

At lunchtime, Tommy was sent to fetch me. I followed him to the back of the schoolyard where the nuns never went. I had no idea what to expect. We didn't own a TV; I didn't even have the example of Beaver Cleaver or Ricky Nelson or Opie Taylor to draw on. There was a small crowd of boys waiting for me. Gary was already there. He pushed me. Someone else had sneaked behind me on hands and knees; I fell over him and landed on my butt on the hot Florida coquina shells. I got to my feet and was pushed again. I was not going to hit Gary back. That would be fighting. I couldn't stop what he was doing, but I didn't have to do it back.

On the other hand, I didn't have to stick around for it, either. I saw an opening and took off, running. My house was just about three blocks away. I raced to it, my feet seldom touching the pavement. By the time I got there, I was so out of breath I almost threw up. I told my mother I was sick and had to stay home for the rest of the day.

The next day I dreaded going back but couldn't convince my mother I was still ill. All the kids knew that I had run from a fight and made sure I knew they knew it. I kept a stoic demeanor, refusing to discuss the matter. Gary didn't hassle me the rest of the school year, partly because I stayed inside during recess and went home as quickly as possible after school.

But, that summer, I discovered the evil I had put in motion wasn't over. I bumped into Gary at Woolworth's one day. I greeted him pleasantly, but he actually punched me right there in the store! Management quickly evicted us both; Gary's mother showed up and she dragged him away before he could finish the fight. I spent the rest of the summer at home, leaving only in the company of family.

And I dreaded the start of sixth grade. The idea of going back to the same building with Gary every school day filled me with the deepest horror. My nightmares were of taunts, schoolyard fights, runs for home. My appetite waned. I had headaches every day. But it was the sixties; no one asked me what was wrong and it never occurred to me to tell anyone.

Finally, the September day came. And Gary was nowhere to be found. He had transferred, it turned out, to public school. I had worried myself sick over nothing.

I thought it was over; and yet, I still wasn't completely free of the monster I had created. The next summer, we moved to a house a half mile from St. Augustine beach. One day I was at a hamburger shack with my pal, Ricky Martin, when Gary showed up again. Ricky's presence may be why Gary didn't attack me again. But he wanted to. The next time I see you, he said, darkly, I'm going to kill you.

As a fifty-something man, I now understand a whole lot that I didn't as a kid. One of the things I've learned is the existence of karma. People tend to find each other in lifetime after lifetime, to complete lessons that weren't finished the first time around. A seemingly minor trigger can start a vendetta. The real issue lies lifetimes back, unremembered by the conscious mind. Gary's grudge against me had now gone way past anything reasonable for the very real insult I had given him. But karma ensures the threads of our lives would remain in close contact.

I didn't see much of Gary in the next few years. Being old enough to drive kept us from bumping into each other on the sidewalk, I guess. And in 1967, my relationship with Gary seemed to end permanently. He was killed in a car crash. I don't know the details. I know I struggled for years with the guilt of being relieved at the news. Bad news for his family, obviously; but now I would be able to shop or go to the beach without fear of a sudden, humiliating confrontation.

And yet, the threads of our lives would continue to intertwine.

Months after Gary's fatal car crash, my grandfather died. He and my grandmother had moved to Florida with us after my father's death. Grandpa was buried in San Lorenzo Cemetery, at the time the only "white" Catholic cemetery in St. Augustine.

And they buried him next to Gary Drake.

San Lorenzo isn't that big a cemetery. Surely they had some sort of logical order in which new graves were filled. It's not like a resident could move out. Surely other Catholics had died in the intervening months. How was a space reserved next to Gary's grave? How did it come to be filled by my grandfather? I can't answer these questions with logic. I can only observe that these relationships are preserved by some force too subtle to explain. Call it synchronicity. Call it what you will. Just don't pretend it's meaningless.

Gary's gravestone contained his name, and birth and death dates. And a phrase: We Loved Him So. My Jesus Mercy. His parents, broken by the loss of their beloved son, had requested that extra inscription. Obviously, the Gary they knew was one I had lost the opportunity to know.

When I wept for my grandfather, I also wept for the Gary I had only known briefly, the one who had introduced me to Tommy Tutten because we both liked to draw. Somehow I had triggered an issue that effectively killed that Gary for me, long before the Gary, whose parents loved him so, lost him to a car wreck. And now, every time I visited the grave of my grandfather, I would also be visiting Gary's.

I fueled up at the Gary Operating Center, then hurried on my way. I wanted to make New Berlin, Wisconsin, before I ran out of hours. It grew dark, and very, very cold. It was -9°F according to an electronic sign I passed. It would be legal for me to idle the truck and, in fact, necessary for survival. I would be warm enough.

I decided to get some dinner at a truck stop along the way, since I knew the drop yard where I was heading would have no facilities. When I saw there was handy Internet access in the restaurant, I brought in my laptop and connected. I decided I would look up Tommy Tutten. I hadn't thought of him in years. Remembering Gary had brought him to mind, as well. He, too, had left Cathedral Parish School for public school. After graduating from high school, he had become a popular local musician. He and I once sang an impromptu duet on a cable access TV show. Maybe he now had a web site or email address listed. But the only two hits I got were from the local newspaper. It seems he had gotten a job there as a graphics designer. But, on April 8, 2001, he was swimming at the beach when some kids lost control of their raft. He swam out to retrieve it, but suddenly seemed to be in some kind of difficulty. He drowned.

I was stunned. I didn't know. We hadn't been the closest of friends, but we had been friends nevertheless, with art and music in common.

If the world is a random place of meaningless occurrence, then perhaps the patterns we see are there simply because we humans superimpose patterns on everything. That's what the atheists tell us. I can't imagine what an atheist's world is like. It must seem so barren compared to the rich metaphysical tapestry I perceive all around me. All the threads of all these lives, interwoven in such a way that no other interpretation can be reasonably suggested. Here's Gary, my nemesis, buried next to my grandfather; and there's Tommy, who thoughts of Gary led me to look up on the Internet, and who died on a date of particular significance to me.

You see, Tommy drowned on April 8th.

My birthday.