In every life a little rain must fall and sometimes the rain falls too heavily on parched ground and triggers a flash flood.
Our story is one of loss, but loss is a broadly defined concept. I once thought that losing all of my possessions would be an awful tragedy from which I would never recover, but I would gladly give away everything that I ever have or ever will own to be where I am at this very moment.
K and I left Salt Lake City on Friday, August 13th, 2013, to start our new adventure. After spending the night with a longtime friend in Rock Springs, we set off to make it to Sidney,NE that day. The winds were very strong in Wyoming and we felt a bit of sway, even though everything had been meticulously re-packed and our equalizer hitch was secure. We made it through rain and wind to Laramie and started up the last big mountain before exiting Wyoming and heading out to the plains of Nebraska. At the top of the pass, an 18 wheeler flew past us as we crested the hill, and a 45+ mile an hour wind gust hit us on the trailer tail and set the trailer rocking. Although we were still cresting the hill at around 50 mph, I applied the trailer brakes to eliminate the rocking and nothing happened, except that the rocking now started pulling the van around the road. K said that all would be ok and I told her that it wasn't; we were going to roll and to hold on... I aimed for the wide median and prayed that no one was behind us. K kept repeating that we would be okay. I braced my arms on the steering wheel and did the best I could while the wheels were touching the earth. Once we started rolling, I looked over at the center of my whole world, in case it was my last moment on this earth. She was holding the panic bar with her right hand and reaching for me with her left. Her eyes were closed tightly against the inevitable... I prayed to God to please keep us safe and in that moment, I knew that I would survive. I don't know how, but I knew that I would be okay. I concentrated on watching K and praying for her safety.
We rolled two and a half times and slid deeply into the soft earth about 25 feet on the passenger side, before finally coming to a rest in a shower of dirt, glass and assorted debris.
I shrieked K's name and swallowed my heart when she answered, I'm okay... but you have to get out first since you're on top."
In a panic to get us out of there quickly (too many car chase movies with dripping gasoline and explosions running through my mind), I release my seat belt and am reminded of the inconvenient laws of gravity as I land solidly on top of my beloved K. "Ouch". Ever the calm one in crisis. I am trying to stand up on the broken glass of the side window without stepping on her or jostling her too much, in case she's injured. I am missing my right shoe and glass is cutting into my bare foot. I have also lost my glasses. K tells me to calm down and relax, we are going to be fine- nothing is going to blow up. I manage to maneuver to the backseat and stand up where the rear driver side window used to be. The two people who are running towards us start screaming at me and asking if I am alone. I tell them that my partner is also in the car and to please help get her out. Two people lift me down to the ground after I climb up on the rear seat.
As they start to extricate K, I look around and see a pile of rubble where my home and life used to be.
Everything I own is rubble and in my mind, my cats are all dead, but I turn and see K being helped to the ground and it it the happiest moment of my life and, despite the fear and shock and sadness of what just happened, I will never, ever forget the feeling of that moment as long as I live. She touches the ground and we run to each other and hold on for dear life.
More people stop and the police arrive. Somebody has found Scooby and caught him while he was running away. Someone else saw Neighbor run off. We piece together a crate and put Scooby inside. Digging in the rubble, we find Kit and Norm holed up together next to a trailer wheel covered in a pile a debris. Miraculously, everyone survived this devastating crash, I still don't know how it's possible. Sadly though, after three days of searching in our rented U-haul filled less than a third full of our remaining belongings, we left Wyoming without finding our precious friend. My only condolence is that he is the most likely of all of our cats to survive on his own until rescued. We called both the Laramie and Cheyenne shelters almost daily for five weeks and emailed them both photos and descriptions of Neighbor, in case he was found. In the end, at least we all survived for a chance at another day.
So, bruised and beaten, we drive back to Salt Lake two days before our 20th anniversary, which also happens to be our scheduled wedding day. Three kitties strapped into two rickety crates between us, we drive our rented u haul to K's parent's house, where we spend the next month licking our wounds and reclaiming our lives.
We were able to find another RV, this time a Class C motorhome, that we liked and was within our modest price range and we made all of the selfsame preparations from before and then we hit the road before either of us could lose our nerve and chicken out.
To say that the trip went smoothly would be a bold faced LIE... As before, the fates seemed to conspire against us: another accident in the same pass (sadly- this one was fatal) closed the road that we were so dreading to drive for several hours, putting J's frazzled nerves on sizzle.. The fateful pass was traversed without incident but J noticed a 'sponginess' to the tires on the downhill pass. Since the flooding in Colorado closed the southern freeway from Cheyenne, the rains had started flooding the river banks as we crossed them so we stopped at a discount tire center that graciously consented to stay open until we arrived. In the pouring rain, we were informed that all 6 of the drive tires that had been inspected three times before we left from SLC (once by K's dad and the other two times by various shops) were from 1990 and 1999 and must be changed before we drove another mile, because they were starting to separate. The guy didn't even care if we went to Sears instead, we MUST get new tires immediately. Since it was also 6:15 on Saturday, no one could even order tires until Monday morning. We were allowed to park in their lot and they even left us the water hose to await Monday's tire truck.
We settle in for an uneventful weekend without power, so we entertain ourselves with candles and glow sticks until it is time for bed. The rains have been pretty steady and we fall asleep with the pitter patter of raindrops on the metal roof- one of my favorite sounds acquired over the last year. Around three am, I awake to a torrential downpour, and not just on the roof.
Every window and skylight vent is pouring rainwater into the RV- it is running down the walls, the bed is soaked, as is the couch and large puddles are starting to form in the center of the carpet under each vent. We grab beach towels, pot and large bowls in an attempt to staunch the flow. The storm continues to rage outside and I sit down one one of the two relatively dry chairs and start to weep. I am overwhelmed and it's just too much to bear anymore...
We gave up everything tangible for this trip- our home of sixteen years, all of our major possessions, our car, scooter,etc. We nearly died and lost what little possessions remained, including a beloved companion; we missed our wedding day and we've experienced nothing but trouble with this new RV, despite having it meticulously checked out prior to departure. Now we are stuck in Cheyenne with no friends, family or even a dry place to sleep. It seems that the fates would rather I die than marry or see my family ever again. I feel like a failure for being unable to provide K with with even the tiniest bit of warmth, safety and comfort and I say as much to her. Bleakness pulls me down into a pit of despair from which I fear I will never again emerge, and I sob helplessly. K sits beside me quietly, stroking my hair and face but saying nothing for ten minutes, as my breakdown runs its course.
Spent and exhausted, I finally calm, but inside my head a thousand questions are spinning, unanswered. K finally speaks, "Even if we are homeless and sleeping in a box, it's okay with me as long as we're together. We'll get through this even though it sucks. It simply can't stay this bad for much longer. Things have to start going better at some point. Nobody on earth makes it to our age with this kind of bad luck. Regardless of how bad it feels right now, we aren't doomed! Besides, I would rather be soaking wet and cold WITH you then warm and dry WITHOUT you."
She then suggests that we look for a bank building with one of those portcullis type drive thrus. Maybe we can find one tall enough to park under. I am looking out the window towards the strip mall behind us and I see the Lowe's back there- Don't they have a huge lumber loading area with that kind of awning? We pull up the steps and I hop behind the wheel and we take off like a shot. Sure enough, there's a huge, covered pass through. It's now six am and we pull up, shut down and crawl into our few dry blankets for a couple of winks.
Someone knocks on the door at 830 and I get up to meet the sweetest, young lesbian that they sent to check on us. I explain our situation and that my wife and I just need a few more hours of sleep before we come inside and spends loads of money to fix our problems. She laughs and assures me that there should be no problems with us staying where we are since it's Sunday and raining and unlikely to be busy. I catch another two hours and get up to assess the situation. We pull out the bedroom window first, figuring if we only get one done, it should be the one that will keep us dry while we sleep. My casual "loads of money" remark proved to be prophetic- elastomeric caulk is $11 per tube and we used eight tubes for the windows alone. For the roof vents, we ended up buying a similar polymer waterproof expanding spray and used that in conjunction with the caulk.
Each window had to be removed and all of the original putty sealant scraped off before being cleaned, caulked and reset. Each window took approximately one hour and the entire roof took about ninety minutes. Although the caulk is waterproof and can be applied wet, the instructions said to give it as long as possible to cure before subjecting the project to the elements- at least three hours was recommended. Since rain was still falling steadily, we milked the portcullis until the last possible minute. our friendly lesbian had gone home a few hours before and her replacement was less than thrilled to have us parked under his awning, despite the $250 we spent in his store. He finally chased us off despite our please to allow us to stay long enough for the caulk to cure. Luckily though, the repair held in the rain.We drove to a nearby truck stop for a meal (not having eaten anything in more than thirteen hours), a hot shower (blessed be!) and a laundromat for our soaking bedding, towels and clothes.
Fed, clean and dry but exhausted, we headed back to the tire center around 9pm to await Monday morning.
The tire truck won't arrive from Denver until sometime Monday afternoon, so we ask to plug in so that I can work uninterrupted while we await the tire truck. The truck arrives early afternoon and they begin installing the tires while we work inside. $1200 later, the new tires are installed by four pm and we get on the road but the rig still doesn't feel right. The slightest breeze makes it sway precariously , even though we are crawling along the interstate at fifty miles per hour, are not pulling anything and no longer have any possessions to cause excessive weight on the vehicle. We creep slowly across Eastern Wyoming and Nebraska until we get almost to Lincoln two days later and I decide that I can't go any further until I figure out if something else is wrong (Please note that we spent $2000 between two different repair shops in SL to make sure this beast was road worthy- shocks, battery, alignment, carb, ball joints, everything). We found a local tire shop that checked our steering (very tight, especially for the age of the vehicle - 33 years) and then informed us that the valve stem on the interior tire has been ripped off and there has been no air in that tire since we pulled out of Cheyenne two days ago, hence the swaying from one tire carrying too much weight on one side. Fortunately, the tire is sound after being pressure tested -the valve stem is replaced and we are once again on our way.
Now, everything feels just as it should, although I still drive no more than fifty-five at any given point, still overly sensitized by fear and superstition.
We begin to feel that fate is somehow keeping us from getting married, as we still planned to do at the halfway point of this trip. We missed our appointment for our wedding and had been calling the judge for the last month and had never been able to leave him a message since his voicemail was always full. We knew that our marriage license was waiting, but we didn't know if there would be anyone in Iowa available to marry us once we arrived. With the way the trip was going, we didn't even know if we would ever actually make it to Iowa, much less to our ultimate destination. We slowly and fearfully crept our way across the plains in the ever present high winds that had plagued us since we left Utah. The winds died as we entered the Des Moines city limits and not a single gust was felt or the next two days in the city. Not taking any chances, we found what we thought was the courthouse and prepared to spend the night in the parking lot. Not a breeze fluttered as we opened every window in the 87 degree balmy evening. a steamy (and not in the good, naughty way), fitful evening followed and we awoke early; sandy-eyed and grumpy from the heat and lack of sleep. Today was Thursday, September 19th, 2013- exactly one month after our 20th anniversary, and also the last day of the week that weddings are performed. If we did not find a judge or minister today, we would either make the decision to continue on- unmarried, or arrange to stay somewhere until Monday. I needed to plug in soon, as my laptop battery was running low for work. Additionally, the judges would only perform ceremonies from 8am-930am and from 3-4pm, so we had a very small window of actual time to make this happen. We washed and dressed and went into the courthouse at five after eight, only to find out that we were not at the courthouse, but three blocks away at the same address South instead of North.
Into the RV we go, sweaty palms and nerves frayed. "Where the hell is it? I hate this stupid GPS, this bitch is trying to kill us, I swear she is!"
We find the hall of records and (miraculously) a parking spot for our 26 foot beast (side note- our RV is a 1980 Dodge Beaver that we wittily named Justin- get it? Justin Beaver...), run up to the third floor, pick up our license, get directions to the actual courthouse another five blocks away, and run back out to Justin. K tries the judge one last time, and (Kismet!) he answers!!!!!! Yes, he got our message about the accident and ,yes, he remembers us and ,yes, he is currently in his chambers and ,yes, he will be happy to marry us if we hurry over there right now!!!!
You know those high-speed chases where the awesome car jumps over some ridiculous hill in San Francisco somewhere, making the jump with flying sparks? Yeah, those guys don't know shit about stunt driving. Try that crap in a 26 foot, three ton, 33 year old RV sometime. K is in the back with our wedding clothes and accessories while I Evil Knievel the crap out the speed bumps. Again with the miracle spot, we run to the courthouse, up the (non-air-conditioned) stairs and into the blessedly cool sanctum of Judge Baxter's courtroom like two sweaty, pudgy dervishes. We sit down breathlessly and wait... and wait... aaaand wait....
We can hear him in his chambers on the phone (not surprising since he hasn't cleared his Voice Mail for the last month) and we take the time to arrange our wedding attire and cool off. We both still entertain nightmares of him coming out and telling us that he doesn't have time or we are somehow otherwise out of luck, but he doesn't; we stand before him and two (randomly selected from the hallway) witnesses and we get married...
Married. Actual, real- life grown up, not pretend, make-believe married. Not domestic partnered. Not civil unioned. MARRIED. MARRIED. MARRIED....
I am hot and tired, I have a scratch on my forehead from the damn cat jumping on the bed last night. I am hungry and kind of homeless and I really need a shower. But I just married K. She is my wife and I am hers. I am humming, "Sadie, Sadie... married lady.." from Funny Girl.
I am legally married to the only person that I've ever actually wanted to be married to. I am in awe. I am at peace. I don't really know how to explain it, but I want everyone in the world to feel the way I feel at the moment, at least once in their lifetime.
I'm no longer hot or tired or hungry. I am floating on wings back to the hall of records to file our legal forms and get our marriage certificate, which is pretty, in pink and blue.
Of course the story isn't over, but this seems like a good stopping place for now. We will bring you all up to speed in small bites over the next few weeks. Thanks for your patience and blessings and well-wishes!!!