January 17th, 2003

ledbetter tat


September 1, 1999

Billy was best man at his nephew, Chris’ wedding back in southern Illinois where his family lives and where he grew up. He had a bunch of stuff he wanted to bring back home so he packed up his Toyota pick-up and headed on the road. I packed him some food to take along the road, kissed him good-bye and he was on his way.

About four hours after he left, I got a call. His truck broke down in the middle of nowhere in Ludlow, CA. His AAA card was no good because there was no mechanic anywhere close. He needed a simple part for the truck and asked if I could bring it to him.

At the time, I was driving a black 1996 Mustang GT convertible with black leather interior. I never put the top down. I had a Wrangler in 1992; never had the top on and as a result got skin cancer on my nose. After the surgery, I lost my appetite for a suntan. The car had bald racing tires and problems with the cooling system. The temperature outside was triple digit.

I hopped in the car, went to Pep Boys to buy the $5.50 part and headed east. About an hour into the trip, the temperature gauge was on red. I turned on the heat full blast, rolled down the windows and found there was no relief anywhere. I was hunched over, fearing a tire blowout at any moment and sweating – big time.

I finally got to the Ludlow exit, pulled off and found a Bates-type Motel and a gas station with one guy there with no access to auto parts. Billy was sitting in his motel room with the door open waiting for me. When he saw me, he beamed and hugged me and said he could never thank me enough.

“Oh, yes, Guyster, there is a way you can thank me,” There was a way he could thank me. Almost every bad fight we had, Billy would retreat into the corner of “You don’t love me, you don’t care about me…” and I would then have to find ways of reassuring him that he was, in fact, loved.

“OK, from now on, every time you think I don’t love you, I will say one word and one word only. Ludlow. Because I am here out of love. Pure love. Love drove that fucking car and love is going to drive it back. So. Ludlow.”

He nodded in agreement, went out to borrow tools from the lone gas station attendant and fixed his truck himself. We went back into his motel room. It was dark and cool. We laid there in silence and then started to fool around. It was great being a fleabag motel room and we made the most of it. We fell asleep in each other’s arms. We woke up around 9pm, the sun had gone down and it cooled off outside. I didn’t want to drive back the next day in the heat so I kissed him good-bye and left.

Ludlow became shorthand for love in our home. Ludlow is one of the many words engraved on his memorial bench that sits under the tree near his headstone. Ludlow.
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ledbetter tat

Irony or Karma?

Yesterday, immediately after a particularly difficult therapy session, I got a call from a friend who I've just begun to know and he was in need. He had some kind of stomach condition that depleted his electrolytes and left him immobile. He lives quite a distance away (about 65 miles) and asked if I could bring him to the ER of his local hospital.

Of course I did. We got to the hospital and they immediately put him through a battery of tests. I waited in the waiting room for a while, read two of the three magazines (Time's year end issue, an EW I had already read and he third magazine was the Christmas issue of Family Circle - I passed on that one). When it was ok, I went in and sat by his side for a while. He was groggy and sick.

I sat there and I looked at him. I could not help but think (no, make that obsess) on the fact that had I taken Billy to the hospital 365 days ago, everything in my life would be different now. I imagined holding my baby's hand, telling him it was going to be ok, waiting while they did the routine surgery that would have saved his life and nursed him back to his old self. I imagined how happy we would have been had that happened. How our future would have remained intact. Had I taken action a year ago, I wouldn't have met this new friend.

I'm not sure what it all means if anything. I know the toxic nature of the "what ifs" but they do creep in and create their special brand of emotional havoc. But why, during this time, was I asked to do something I wish Billy had asked me to do a year ago?
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