Mar. 16, 2017

Driving Through the Fog

Butch loved being a truck driver.  When he was 14 years old and a family friend hired him to ride along and help him unload at grocery stores he was hooked.  Over the years, he drove in most states and hauled nearly everything you could imagine.  When we were living in Louisiana, he hauled chickens.  Every night he would liberate one of them along the road.  It was sort of a Robin Hood moment.  He prided himself in being able to load and unload more freight than anyone else.  If you ever had him help you move, you could see that in action.  Watching him in that world I was always amazed.

He had a wonderful strategic mind and could figure out how to get the most in a trailer while keeping within the laws regarding how much weight could be on each axle.  Once, when our oldest son complained that algebra was a waste of time and no one really needed it in real life, Butch used loading trailers as an example of how you use algebra in real life.  When this son began learning subtraction, he struggled with the concept of “taking away” when the numbers just sat there.  Butch got out the silverware and the two of them used it to show what twenty-four take away eight literally means.  In the same way, Butch drew a rectangle signifying the trailer and lines for each axle.  He then indicated the maximum weight allowed on each axle, the maximum allowed on the trailer, and the weight of the freight to be loaded.  He told our son this was a perfect example of how those “x and y problems” worked.  Given that Butch never took algebra and could easily load trailers perfectly without lifting a pencil, it was amazing to realize that he was solving algebraic equations in his head intuitively.  I had always known that he was smart, but his undiagnosed dyslexia prevented him from demonstrating that intelligence in ways the school system understood. 

Most of the time we were married, his employers allowed guests to ride along occasionally.  I road with him on trips covering most of California, parts of Nevada, and one trip into Oregon where we broke down and were trapped there for days.  I even tried to help a bit when I was younger.  I remember once he was sliding cases of little jelly cups to the back of the trailer and I was stacking them on a pallet.  One of them caught, rolled several times, opened, and pelleted me with containers of jelly as they flew everywhere.  When he was working for a company that sent him to Los Angeles and back twice a week, being gone Sunday to Thursday, I would sometimes meet him in Brisbane on Tuesday and spend the night in the truck before he headed back to Los Angeles for the second loop.  Our sons spent an occasional day with him during the summer.  He even took my mom with him one day when she came for her summer visit and I was too busy with work and school to spend much time with her.  My uncle in Texas had always wanted to be a truck driver.  When they were visiting one year, Butch took him on a trip.  He talks about it to this day.  Butch loved having company and was entertaining and funny the whole time.  I can’t look at a diesel truck without remembering him like that.  I find myself looking into the cab of trucks from the last company he worked for as if he might be in there.  That was hard in the beginning.  Now it makes me smile to remember that part of our life together and the wonderful and complicated people I both met and heard about from him.  That was one of the first signs that I was turning a corner on the mourning process, feeling comforted by those stories rather than sad. 

Once, as we drove south down I5 toward Los Angeles, we drove for miles in the valley fog.  There is such a panoramic view of the world from inside the truck, that driving in the dense fog was very unnerving.  Without realizing it, I kept leaning forward trying to see and would suddenly find my head nearly bumping the windshield.  That panoramic view of nothing was so strange.  Suddenly, as we drove far enough up the grapevine to break free of the fog, you could see everything.  I felt myself taking a huge sigh and slump back in the seat as if we had narrowly escaped a collision. 

Becoming us without them is a similar experience.  In the beginning, it feels like driving for miles and miles through dense fog for the first time.  We are blinded by their loss.  We are forced to go painfully slowly. It takes a tremendous effort just to move forward.  No matter how much we want to hurry the process, grief, like fog, has its own timetable and is oblivious to our desperate desire for it to end.  Stopping in the middle of the road is as dangerous as driving too­­­ fast. The sadness, like even the worst fog, slowly burns off; the sky begins to clear.  There are patches of sunshine as the visibility improves and you can finally see ahead.  All at once, quite by surprise, there are bright, clear days where there is no fog at all. The weather changes with the seasons.  If there is fog at all, it is rare and only patchy.  The days consist mainly of blue skies and warm sunshine.  It is easy to see what was all around you in the fog but was just out of view.  We know that the seasons promise more fog next year.  But having weathered that first year with zero visibility, we are never in unknown territory again. We know two things now that we didn’t know before. Even the worst fog lifts and our clear view is restored for part of every day. And, there are far more days of sunshine than fog. 

Just try not to bump your head on the windshield as you strain to see when the fog is especially dense.