I’ve planned to write about my love of Texas for a while now. It’s not exactly what you might think, though. Yes, I have a fascination with Texas that began way back when, the very first time that I watched Castaway. There is something about the film that speaks to the parallels in my life, times of isolation and solitude, pointing me in new directions, to change. And in this you could say that I’ve found Angel wings.
No, I don’t think that I’m Chuck Noland. And no, I don’t really look like Tom Hanks.
Back to the story.
Sometime soon after I saw Castaway for the first time I actually went to Texas, for the first time. The visit hardly warrants retelling.
This very first time was at a business meeting in Shreveport, La. One of the guys I was on the project with just ‘out of the blue’ asked if I’d ever been to Texas. “Well no, I never have been to Texas, maybe one day”, I said. Perhaps it was my thinly veiled Yankee accent that convinced he and my team-mates that we must make a late night run to a Steak & Ale house somewhere over the border. I had lived in the South for 16 years by that time, but had never affected any degree of Southern accent. Some of my vowels have softened, but “you can take the boy out of Ohio, but you can’t take Ohio (completely) out of the boy”. As we finished eating, he smiled at me, satisfied he’d done something extraordinary for me. “Now you can say that you’ve been to Texas.” I smiled, and said “thanks.” I had been inoculated. Or perhaps infected. At the very least I had eaten a good steak, washed down by a good cold beer. A Shiner Bock, I believe. There wasn’t anything mysterious about it, just a friendly gesture. I think it was just an excuse to put some steaks and a couple of beers on his expense report.
Technically, THAT was my first visit, though certainly not my last. It was not enough to set the hook. That was to come later.
In late 2011, I spent a week at a friends ranch somewhere in Texas. They are a wonderful couple, good people. Yeah, it sounds glamorous, extravagant. ‘Ranch’ is being generous, it’s mostly pasture, a lot of hard work in rough surroundings, very Spartan when it came to creature comforts. But I was a bachelor by then. Roughing it didn’t bother me, I was accustomed to it nearly as a life style. I had already spent years of weekends with grubby little Boy Scouts puking in their sleeping bags at night, washing their hands only when reminded, wearing the same pair of clothes for nearly a week while away at camp, etc. So I could hardly be offended by frontier-like amenities. I just needed a place to get away.
So… my divorce had been final for about 6 months, and I needed to get away from things for a bit. Yeah, I had wanted to do things right, treat my ‘Ex’ well, and had hopes that she would work with me on seeing the kids as much as possible, because Dads are important in a child’s life. It was not that easy. It was painful, gut wrenching stuff for me, confusing for the kids, and at times I needed to get far away just to clear my head. Some guys would have bought a Harley and socked her in the nose. I didn’t have the money, nor the temperament for that so instead I went and shovelled out horse stalls. I think I made the better choice. At least I slept well.
So, while at the ranch I slept in my sleeping bag, on top of a bed in the trailer, and I didn’t shower near as much as I would have liked (just like the Boy Scouts!). But it was good for me to see another part of the world, as I mentioned I just needed to get away. Still, a hot shower in a clean place would have been more than appreciated, it would have felt like heaven.
While I was there, I met a tall, dark, and very attractive woman who was a friend of my friend’s wife. Yep, a ‘friend of a friend’. That was cool. It certainly made the trip more enjoyable, the air was charged with a subtle intrigue. I wasn’t looking for someone so soon, and certainly not that far away. I still had my head up my A#$, as that is what happens to you after a divorce. At least it did to me. As a point of reference, I had four speeding tickets in the two years surrounding the time our divorce was final. I didn’t have but maybe 2 in the previous 36 years. But when you drive around with your head up your backside, thinking about how much you miss your kids, (did I tell them that I loved them enough? did I show them as well every time I had the chance?) well, it’s hard to read speed limit signs like that through the rain and the fog, when your mind is a million miles away held captive by such things.
I remember the first time that ‘tall, dark and beautiful’ and I met, very well. I was sitting at the kitchen table, talking with my friend when she suddenly walked in. Our eyes met, we smiled, and I thought “wow”. I stood up and shook her hand, like she was a business associate or something. She was drop dead gorgeous, and funny, I felt awkward. “Why are you nervous?” I thought. “Man, this would’ve been easier if she had not been sweet, and incredibly attractive”. “Yep, it’ll be tough duty to hang out around here now”, I thought sarcastically to myself. This was an unexpected pleasure that I wasn’t ready to handle.
The next morning, I discovered that I had made a dreadful miscalculation. My hosts either didn’t drink coffee, or didn’t think coffee was an essential part of life. Either way, my inner Gollum was about to be exposed for the nasty little troll that he was. My life, without coffee, is a sad tale indeed. A dark, frightful tale filled with Orcs, and dreadful beasts. Simply because I don’t have one freaking cup of coffee in the morning.
I stumbled out the next morning, thinking I’d have to make a 15 mile drive to McDonalds for a cup of watered down “McCoffee”…yuck. But here she came, holding out a steaming hot mug of freshly ground French Roast. She was a vision from heaven itself. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes. “Where have you been all of my life?”, I thought. Wow. The first sip felt so good going down, it must be what an addict feels when he finally gets his fix. My dopamine spiked, and I quickly returned to my normal, less dangerous self. She had, in one swift stroke, found the chink in my armour and tamed my inner beast. All too easy…
The week sped by quickly, with an endless number of stalls that needed cleaning, horse feed that needed hauling, work that needed doing, and coffee that needed drinking. I found time to talk with my friends, and with “Tex” (as one of my friends calls her), in between the chores. And she was interested in talking with me too. We developed an easy rapport, you can just tell when you have met someone who understands the way that you think, that sees things the way that you do. It doesn’t happen often for me, and when it does I like to keep in touch with that person. I thought about this, but she was in Texas, I in Alabama, and under different circumstances this could turn into something. Yeah, very interesting and definitely someone who I’d spend more time with if we lived closer. But let’s face it, in a practical sense, this just ain’t gonna fly. I prayed about it a few times, and didn’t hear much. I thought that meant “move on”.
Work was crazy, my friend on the ranch was begging for more help, and so I decided to take a week off early the following year and head back out to lend a hand. And yes, in the back of my mind I was thinking about ‘Tex’. The chances were slim that I’d see her again. But within days of deciding that I was going back, I emailed her and let her in on the news, on the off-chance that we might have dinner once while I was there.
I was pleasantly surprised when she told me that she was planning to head out for that entire week as well, and asked if I minded. Of course not, though in the back of my mind I knew this could be no coincidence.
This second visit began pleasantly enough. She was so bothered by the condition of the trailer that she spent an entire morning cleaning it up before my arrival. I walked in as she was finishing up. The place shined, she had worked very hard trying to make the place comfortable for me. I was very touched by her efforts. We gave each other a nice little church hug, and smiled. And once again, we found more time to talk in between chores than I would have thought. We spent evenings talking about all sorts of things, people we knew in common, books we had read, current events. She was smart, self-effacing, and very interesting. Add to that funny, and I found myself beginning to think about her in ways that a 50-year-old man should have outgrown by now. I didn’t allow myself to think too far down this road… she was in Texas and I was, usually, in Bama. It became increasingly difficult to keep my head on straight as the week wore on. I prayed, and survived.
That week flew by, we had discovered a rare friendship, shared a lot of laughter, and our perspectives on religion, government, the world, life. Yes, in another time and place, we could be dangerous together.
In the nearly four years that have followed, I’ve been to Texas multiple times , she to Alabama, and so it goes. We have found ways to stay in touch, to be a part of one another’s life. It hasn’t been easy, I wouldn’t have believed it had someone told me. But she is worth it.
A year and a half ago, an old business associate called me out of the blue. We had stayed in touch, talked regularly, and so it wasn’t unusual for him to call. This time was different though. His company needed someone to do the some of the things that I do. And it was the company that I had most wanted to work for, doing the job I loved most. The problem, he said, was that the job wasn’t in Alabama. I’d probably have to move. Hmm. I just didn’t know about this… I’d lived in Alabama since 1998, and in the South East since 1989. Though it would be the answer to a number of prayers.
My job had become increasingly difficult. I was the Daddy-Rabbit, the one that made things happen, that made sure we posted a profit, found new projects to keep cash flow positive, and made sure my people were engaged and empowered to do what they did best. In the last year I was often at the office by 5:30 am, and didn’t get back home until 6 pm. Yes, I loved what I did, but working like that is not sustainable. Not if you aspire to having a personal life.
My friend and I talked several times over the year that followed. I sent a resume’, eventually had several interviews, and then he asked me to meet him for breakfast the next morning. He said that I WOULD have to move. “Chuck, you may not want this job, you’ll have to leave Alabama for sure, you’ll have to move.” Long pause. “Probably to Texas.” I smiled. “Really? Tell me about Texas…”
When it was all said and done, he was close, like hand grenades and horseshoes. “Probably to Texas” has put me just one state away, a little over 4 hours away from my sweetheart. Doing what I love, near the one that I love.
I’m farther away from my kids, my friends, everything that I’ve known for the last 20+ years. One of my buddies told me, “You don’t seem to be afraid of an adventure. Most people hate change, run from it. You seemed to grab this as you ran past it, you seem ready.” It’s called taking a year to think about it, pray about it, and get ready for it.
Yes, I was ready. I heard something back in 2004 that I couldn’t get out of my head. It called me to adventure, to suffering, to growth and change. I heard something more in it. Most of the time it didn’t make sense.
Now, sitting here and looking back, I understand a little of what was happening so long ago. I was being prepared for a journey I’d have otherwise been afraid to take. I was becoming conditioned to a level of change I’d never have embraced otherwise.
Like Chuck in Castaway, I’ve been sent somewhere I’d not have chosen. But in this adventure, I also have found Angel Wings. In Texas. Chuck didn’t understand why that box spoke to him, why it was special. All he knew was that when he finally saw those wings again, he had to follow them.
I get it. I really, really get it.