This one is about how a simple decision, a mere choice, an action, can change the direction of your life and set you on totally different path.
It's the old drawn out series of connections: “If a butterfly flaps his wings in the Amazon jungle and scares a bird that drops a nut that hits someone in the head who jumps and avoids a poisonous snake...” That sort of thing.
A year ago today, I put down the APBA dice and set aside the 1991 baseball replay game I had started about a month earlier, filled the car's gas tank and before the sun even rose, embarked on the 554-mile trek to northern Illinois to meet a girl I had only spoken to by telephone for the previous month. We had talked about her putting her home on the market and I offered to help her prepare the house for sale by raking her yard, cleaning up the outside, doing whatever was needed.
There was no real intent by me other than to help someone I cared about. Romance? Are you kidding? My confidence level in that sort of thing always had me asking potential dates if they wanted to be my next ex-girlfriend.
She could use the assistance and I needed to get out. That was pretty much the entire motive. Since my wife passed away in 2006, all I had done on my own before was make a few jaunts to St. Louis some four hours away to watch Blues' and Cardinals' games. It was time for a change.
So, I made the decision. I offered.
Obviously, it was weird. A guy suggesting he drive that far just to “help” had all the markings of some episode of Dateline NBC. Reporter Keith Morrison would open the show about mysterious murders by stepping through my Illinois girl's neighborhood, “He was a nice guy who wanted to help,” Morrison would say. “... Or was he?”
But she made her own decision after some brief thought and she accepted, and I headed north.
I arrived in her town shortly after 3:30 p.m., registered with the hotel and called her. She was still getting ready and was a tad late. I watched the end of the Florida-Tennessee football game and waited.
At 5 p.m., she was still getting ready.
At 5:45 p.m., she called and said she was fixing her hair and I could come over in 10 minutes.
At 5:50 p.m., I waited in her driveway for her to come out.
At 6:03 p.m., she came out and I was promptly smitten.
We drove to Wal-Mart and bought toilet seats for her home on our “date.” Despite that blissful first venture, I first felt she didn't like me that much and that I was pretty weird. (Actually, I was weird. I was pretty exhausted from the drive, extremely nervous like a junior high school kid on the first date, way out of practice for even commencing with small talk with a woman and totally out of my league in class. I had about as much chance impressing her as I had of winning a Pulitzer Prize at the newspaper where I worked). I thought I'd clean her yard the next day and then head home, defeated but at least having the chance to have seen Lake Michigan.
But then, I made another decision. I didn't give up. At least I'd have a friend, I thought. And I soldiered on. I decided to stay for the entire five days I had booked the hotel.
The decision worked. After our Wal-Mart venture, we ate at a Cracker Barrel and then she showed me around her town. The following day we went to church and the lake and then watched for a lunar eclipse that night. It was cloudy and we never saw the moon disappear, but I did see love begin to appear slowly.
During the next 10 months, I drove up there 16 times. She sold her house, we moved her stuff out, I hauled her cats down here in May and on June 7, she and her dog moved in with me.
It's been tough at times. The first night we were together, ants invaded the dining room and kitchen, doing a conga line from a patio door to the bowls of cat food. A week later, my air conditioning unit went out which is not a good thing in the steamy climes of Arkansas. Last month, I got sick and ended up in the emergency room with a massive renal infection. Doctors took a CT scan to see if my kidney was trying to crawl out of my body and they pumped morphine in me because of the pain. The bill for that li'l folly is going to be fun.
But it's also been great. We watch Cubs' games on television a lot. We've binge-watched the game show Family Feud and Naked and Afraid to the point of tired hilarity. We play a Trivial Pursuit game we found at a flea market. We cook dinner together and we make bets on where her dog will poop when we walk him around the neighborhood each night. This is my life now.
I still find time to roll the APBA games, albeit at a much, much slower pace.
A year ago, other than noise from the television or the occasional blast of music on my stereo, I had lived in silence for more than 10 years.
Tonight, one of the cats is in heat and yowling like a banshee on crack. The second cat is chasing the first cat around the house. The dog wants to go for his nightly walk and the washing machine is chugging like it does on most days. There is noise in my home now. Blissful noise that signifies I actually have a life. A year ago, I was resigned to the fact I would be alone.
Tonight, I realize how one minute decision, one sudden thought, can change everything and make everything better.