Last night, I couldn’t sleep. This is not an especially unusual situation for me. Sometimes I’ll sleep for an hour, wake up, and that’s it.
Other times, I can’t get to sleep at all. Not that it occurs often, but when it does, my wide-awake-full-ness usually has something to do with a gathering storm of thoughts. On those occasions, it’s as if a connection or important point is swimming just beyond my reach.
That’s how it was last night. Three people were on my mind.
All three are very cool guys, about my age, and despite having known each of them for more than forty years, none of the three have ever met the others.
They are aware of each other, for at one time or another, I have included each of them in at least one of my books. Who are they, you ask? Gene Myers, Kevin Perkins, and Roger Luker.
Yesterday afternoon, with an extra half hour to spend, I stopped in to say hello to the guys at Paradise Marine in Gulf Shores.
Situated on the corner of Highway 59 and County Road 8, the beautiful business and property are owned by Gene (page 10 in The Noticer) Myers.
It was almost closing time. Gene and I were situated on the high cushioned stools in the accounting alcove—an area near the cash register, directly between the massive showroom and equally huge garage.
Gene is a fairly big fellow. His salt and pepper beard adds to his large presence and even though I’m a guy, I’ll admit that Gene is good looking—in a Kenny Rogers sort of way.
Furthermore, he’s smart and witty which makes him the perfect conversational companion with whom to kill a half hour. Gene, along with every other person at the dealership—including his sons, Travis and Jarett—are the reason Paradise Marine has been the BEST on the gulf coast for many years.
Anyway, there we were yesterday…Gene and I jabbering about kids or fishing or dogs or whatever it was, when a guy burst through the door and yelled, “I need help!”
There was no, “Excuse me,” or “Hey, how ya doin?” It was just BOOM! And there before us was an anguished man in his mid-thirties, breathing hard, getting right to the point.
Had there been an accident? Was someone badly hurt? Had a child been lost?
We didn’t know.
Gene was off his seat in an instant. “What’s the problem?” he asked.
“Arrrgh!” The man made a seriously strange noise. Clenching his fists, he crossed his arms and hugged himself as if he was in pain.
“Sir?” Gene said and glanced at me. Now, I was off my stool too. “Hey Mister! Sir, what’s wrong?”
What was wrong? Well, it all came boiling out of the man at once. “I’ve been to that #%@#*% marina in Perdido three times today,” he raved. “And my boat battery is STILL not firing!”
There was a moment of silence. A pause, if you will. I glanced to my left and saw Gene’s jaw drop by a fraction as his head raised. Then, his eyes narrowed just the tiniest bit. “Your battery is dead?” Gene asked carefully.
“Yes!” The man replied, literally wringing his hands. “Right. Yes! The battery is dead. My boat won’t start. This is the worst day of my life!”
With that declaration, Gene relaxed. Sinking slowly back against his stool, he looked at me with the corners of his mouth twitching. Despite his attempt to maintain a straight face, a full-on grin was taking shape.
Me? I only raised my eyebrows, but it was enough to prompt a chuckle from Gene. The man appeared confused by Gene’s reaction.
Please understand…Gene was not rude. He never laughed in the guy’s face. It was more of a soft, fatherly, head-shaking, rueful kind of chuckle…the kind that went perfectly with what he said next…
Gene pushed away from his stool and reached out as he closed the few feet separating him from the distressed newcomer. Gene gently grabbed the guy and draped a big arm across the man’s shoulders as he steered him to a mechanic.
Gene laughed a little harder and kind of shook the fellow as they walked toward the garage. Then he said, “Awright. We are gonna get that battery workin’ one way or another. And we’ll do it fast. But I gotta tell you, ‘Dude…if this really is the worst day of your life, everything’s gonna be straight downhill from here!”
I waved goodbye to Gene and walked to my car wondering about the perspective of someone who might consider a weak battery the epitome of a horrific experience.
The worst day of his life? Seriously?
It was just too weird to contemplate, I thought.
So I didn’t.
* * * *
About an hour later, I heard from Kevin (Baseball, Boys, and Bad Words) Perkins. I knew Kev had qualified for the Alabama State Championship in Sporting Clays. Unfortunately, he had arrived earlier in the day at the shooting center in Mobile to find his 20-gauge unusable.
Despite the case in which it was housed, the Beretta had been bounced in the trunk of his car, shearing a piece from the gun and making it unsafe to shoot. He didn’t have an extra. And Kevin was only entered in the 20-gauge competition.
I suppose an occurrence of that sort might have pushed another person over some imaginary edge, ringing alarm bells and alerting everyone within hearing distance that this was “the worst day of his life.” But no.
Kevin simply used another 20-gauge. It belonged to a competitor who had brought an extra one.
And Kevin Perkins won the state championship.
With a borrowed shotgun.
* * * *
It won’t take long to tell you about Roger (Return To Sawyerton Springs) Luker. Our parents were best friends. Roger and I were born a month apart in May and June of 1959.
During the years, Roger and I have gone through predictable periods of life. There were months when we talked every day and there were years we touched based with a Christmas card. But when we got together—whenever we got together—he was “Roge”, I was “Ange”, and it never seemed like a lot had changed.
That was true when Roger married Carol and it was true a few years later when I married Polly.
When you know someone and love someone, it can seem as if time has stopped.
If I allow my mind to drift—even a little bit—I can see Roge and Ange riding horses or shooting minnows with a BB Gun or having a carnival for the neighborhood kids and charging them a dime to get in.
I remember that not long after my parents died, Carol and Roger came down and stayed with me for several days. With the $2,500 insurance money I had received, I purchased a trailer. This was about a year before I had to sell the trailer to pay bills…about a year before I lived in a tent, then ditched the tent and lived on the beach. In any case, Roger and Carol stayed with me, loving and encouraging me, in that nasty trailer.
Eight years later, I married Polly. Roger and Carol already had two children. By the time Polly and I had kids, they had moved from St. Louis to Atlanta. And they’d had another child.
Roger’s children are now grown. Mine, it seems, are, too. Almost anyway. So, in reality, I suppose, things do not stay the same.
Last night, when I couldn’t sleep, I walked out into the front yard and looked at the stars. I thought about Polly. She was, I knew, sleeping soundly, unaware that I’d even slipped outside.
I looked at the stars again and Carol came to my mind. It’s been several weeks now since she passed away.
Her ordeal seemed to last so long and end so suddenly.
As I went back inside, I thought about Roger. Polly and I want to firm up a date for him to come down and visit. Maybe, we are hoping, he can bring, Jack, their youngest, who is still in college. They won’t have to stay in a trailer this time…
I turned out the carport light and eased up the stairs. Looking down the hallway to our boy’s bedrooms, I said a quick “thank you” that they were in and safe, then I moved into our bedroom and climbed into bed beside Polly. She never woke up.
Drifting off to sleep, I thought again about my friend. I had talked to Roger earlier that evening and he was, as the saying goes, “doing as well as can be expected.” He had eaten dinner, he told me, and was about to watch a movie. We talked about Carol and both of us cried.
We also laughed.
And you know what? As many times as Roger and I talked…as often as I spoke to Carol…touching base through diagnosis and hospice—through however many days and months it has been since this all started or ended or whatever is really happening… I have not—not a single time—heard my friend or his beautiful wife Carol, refer to any day they had together as “the worst in my life.”
The truth should be obvious:
Every day—every one we have left—is precious.