Sunday, September 25, 2011


Stratford, MO

I fell asleep with the sleeper berth curtains open and woke up sometime during the night. Not wanting to get up and close the curtains for fear I wouldn't get back to sleep they remained open, but a bright overhead pole light shone into the truck and made sleeping impossible anyway, so I finally got up and shut them. My eyes don't adjust to low light like they used to and it left me in total darkness. I could see nothing, even after I laid down again, which made the sounds outside seem louder. I could hear individual engines idling, hear a cab door open and close, hear cars sail down the expressway. I could hear mechanics bantering in the garage, hear the chattering of the night birds perched along the roof of the truck stop, hear diesel fuel flowing into the tanks of the trucks at the fuel islands.

How strange, I thought, but what was most strange was that no one sound was louder than any other. Bigger sounds didn't drown out smaller ones. Closer sounds were the same as those far away. and I began to hear a rhythm in the sounds. They were keeping time with one another, as if the sounds were all listening to all the other sounds.

I could hear voices then, familiar sounding ones, voices I had heard earlier, throughout the day. My dispatcher talking about a loaded trailer I was supposed to pick up tomorrow morning, the bald man with the mustache I had bought coffee from sometime in the afternoon, and the waitress who had waited on me at the truck stop restaurant this evening. She was home now, but I could hear her, still. She was singing.


I've been thinking about Isaac. Cousin Isaac. Isaac was more like my farmer uncles than any of us, usually grinning, slow talking, and he always seemed to be embarrassed by something, something known only to himself, some humorous thing. When I do a dumb guy's voice, it's cousin Isaac's voice, and I can do it pretty well. I can do it very well, in fact. I may not be like Isaac, but I am like Isaac, too.

Isaac lived with cousin Georgina and with Aunt Mary and Uncle Warren at the old home place, and when we would visit we would tease Isaac and play tricks on him. There was an electric fence around the barn yard and we touched it with sticks and then gave Isaac a rusty nail and told him it was OK to touch the electric fence with it. We played kid's tricks on Isaac. Isaac once cried, but then not long after he cried he was grinning again, looking slightly embarrassed, as if he knew some humorous thing that only he knew.

"Watcha readin," the waitress asked as she wiped down my table and laid a plastic coated menu down, making it difficult to pick up when it stuck to the moist table.

I was thinking about Isaac, and looked down at the open magazine. "It's about the Boycott, Divesetment and Sanctions movement," I said, and when it was apparent she didn't know what that was, I continued, "to try to force Israel to stop discriminating against the Palestinians." She still didn't react. "And stop murdering them and stealing their land."

"Oh!" she said, looking around.

After a pause she said, in standard waitressese, that she'd be back in a few minutes to take my order. I knew what I wanted so I set the menu down and watched as she bussed tables in front of me, along the back wall of the restaurant.

"Are you getting ready to take off?" I asked when she returned. When it looks like they are getting ready to get off for the night I like to give them the tip before they leave.

Yea huh," she said. "They're sending me home. It's been slow all night."

We didn't speak again until I was almost finished, and she was making the rounds filling coffee cups. She filled mine and set the pot on the table but kept her hand on the handle.

"Do you get depressed?" she asked.

It was a strange question to get from a waitress. Any question, any conversation with a waitress, is unusual, and this was a personal question, too. Did I look depressed? Was she was going to get a little personal satisfaction by bringing it to my attention? I smiled as best I could and said, "I stay depressed. I'm never not depressed."

"What do you get depressed about?"

What is this? Waitresses seldom want to chat. For one thing they are too busy, but it's also because they keep some distance between themselves and the truck drivers, and they are good at doing it. One technique is to address you as "Honey," or "Sweetheart" right away, placing that kind of terminology, and the uses for which it might be used, in another context. It moves everything into a context that is more lighthearted, less serious, and one that they control.

Earlier in my truck driving days it annoyed me, either because of its effectiveness, or because, in most instances, I didn't even have flirting on my mind, and it annoyed me that they assumed I did. Sometimes I would say something like, "I'm not your sweetheart." Or, "You don't even know me. Why are you talking to me like that?" Which would startle them, and I eventually stopped doing it. Let them be annoying. I tip what I tip, anyway, whether they annoy me or not. Annoying people have to make a living, too. They have kids who need shoes and food, too.

"I don't know," I said to her. "It goes back to my family, I guess."

She stood there with her hand on the coffee pot and looked quickly at me and then away.

"Yea," she sighed, looking at me again, "you don't get to see them often enough, being on the road all the time."

"No," I said, "I see them too often."

"Ohhh," she said, and after a pause, "Well that's just sad," she said. "That's not depressing."

I didn't know if she was making a distinction between sad and depressing or was just contradicting me, and I didn't respond.

"My family, we're close," she said, "But I know families that are not. One of my girlfriends doesn't like her family, at all. She goes and sees them at Christmas, and leaves the same day."

"We get along OK, I guess," I said. "We don't argue or fight. It's my older brother mainly. I just can't deal with him, any more. To him it's like we're still kids and I'm supposed to defer to him about everything. I can't say anything that he doesn't know already. And then my Mom's boyfriend's family. It's like being at the zoo."

She laughed. "Oh, like the monkeys?"

"More like wolves. Lions, man-eating lions. Carnivores."

She smiled.

This was very strange. Not just that we were having an actual conversation, but that I was telling her what I was telling her, and I now realized that she had said nothing about herself. I paused, in case she wanted to finish cleaning up, but apparently she was done cleaning up, or was not in any hurry.

"I’m tired of people talking about depression," she announced. "They'll say about someone, 'He suffered from long term depression,' or 'He was plagued most of his life with bouts of clinical depression, and so on. It’s not depression that most people suffer from. It’s not depression. It’s sadness.

"It's our clinical culture," she went on. "Everything has to be defined by people who have a stake in the definition. Calling it depression makes it a defect, and they have the cure. There’s something wrong with you. When in reality a person who suffers from sadness has lots of things right with them. They have better than normal perception. They see what’s going on and they understand what it means. Their conscience is working fine, their empathy, their sensitivity are in tip top shape. And unlike people who are not sad, they are honest. When everything sucks, they do not suffer from the defect of being able to pretend things don’t suck."

I sat there somewhat stunned. I had never heard a waitress talk like this. I have never even conceived of, let alone considered what she was saying. I had not heard anything like it from anybody.

I've had counseling myself, when I got out of the army and everything was happening too fast and I went up and talked to a guy at the county hospital twice a week. I sat in a chair and he sat next to me in a chair and listened to me talk for hours. I was glad to be out of the army, but everything had changed in the 2 1/2 years I stayed in Germany. The sixties were over. It was the disco era. Everything that happened was something new to me. I stayed in my bedroom a lot, listening to my music, and kept my shoes lined up under the edge of the bed like I'd done in the army. And then I wouldn't be tired enough to sleep and I'd go out and get in my car and buy a 12-pack of beer and come back in the morning and pass out in bed.

My eyes had long since adjusted to the light filtering into the sleeper berth and several times I had thought it was getting daylight out. Sounds came in from the outside, but they seemed disjointed now, a shout, an air horn, raucous laughter, the engine in the truck next to me was idling too high and drowned everything else out. The longer I lay there, and the more apparent it was that I wouldn't be getting any more sleep, the more my anxiety increased. I had slept for maybe an hour, or two, before the light coming into the sleeper berth woke me. Now my dinner had digested and I was ready to go, but I had to lay there and try to get more rest. It was going to be a long day's drive in the morning.

So I lay there. And listened to the sounds. The light coming in got brighter. I rolled over and put the pillow over my head, but although the noise diminished I could still feel it, feel the earth vibrating with the pulsations of truck engines all around me. Suddenly, over it all, from somewhere in the distance I heard a scream. All the sounds stopped, and I could hear a woman's soft crying. And now a taste crept into my mouth, a warm taste, salty and also sweet, the taste of tears, and sorrowful, and I buried my head deeper into the pillow.


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