Monday, April 29, 2013

1. Maybe next life...

Part I :: Distraction

...that's what I said, out loud, as I surrendered my hands in front of me. With both palms pressed firmly into the steering wheel, I took a moment to observe my blackened fingers and the finger-less gloves that still hid my ring. I wrapped all ten fingers around the wheel and resolved to move on. Doing so uncovered the brushed platinum and diamond that glistened behind the windshield. It was late fall and the sun shone through the lightly leaved branches in pieces as I pulled away from the curb.

I'd been engaged for a couple of months, but hadn't seen him in awhile. The driver who's route this was had been back to work. Though, since his condition was less than stable, I found myself again delivering in Ignacio for days or weeks at a time. I never knew for sure when I'd get the route, which is nothing more than the nature of driving for UPS.

I had made a habit of parking my truck across from the El Amigo Restaurant during my lunch break. I typically packed a tuna, egg & Swiss cheese sandwich with Gatorade, and ate in my truck. If there was a rug or roll of upholstery to be delivered, I'd sometimes even lie down on the diamond plated aluminum floor in the back and nap using the package as a pillow.

I would aim for being parked across from the restaurant between 11 and noon. A local told me that Joe, the retired driver of 30 years, ate lunch at El Amigo every-single-day. He told me in such a way as to indicate that I, too, should be there everyday. Well, neither my pocket book nor waist line cared for the idea of eating at El Amigo daily. But handing over packages while parked, now that, sounded really good. 

Ignacio is a rural town in SW Colorado. There are stops that require over forty miles of driving in the country with, sometimes, miles of washboard dirt road. It's nothing like some routes in places like Montana (I hear), but getting rid of just one of those packages by parking in a familiar spot could make my day a lot less hectic. I was happy to park across from El Amigo, and the locals appreciated it. Although, the real bonus was when old Joe would pound on the side of my truck with his fists (nearly scaring the pee out of me, and especially if I was napping), and help himself in and to my packages. He'd often times take a few, oh you know... for nieces, nephews, son in-laws, aunts of someone, a neighbor, or someone's grandma, etc... and for those he didn't take, he'd draw maps on. I loved that route, Joe, and all the people I delivered to.

Needless now to say, people usually knew where to find me and when. Even had I not chosen to appease the informative man, catching on to the normal whereabouts of any given UPS driver isn't rocket science. Not only is the big brown truck hard to miss, the driver usually follows the same path each day. When she also happens to be 23 and blonde, some seem to notice the route even more.

I was sitting in the high driver's seat with my feet propped up on the lower part of the dash. I had finished my lunch and was enjoying the conflicting warmth of the heat absorbed by the package car, and the chill of the fall drafts allowed in by less than airtight seams and the passenger side door being open. I had on my browns (in slacks, not shorts), a white undershirt and my light jacket. My stepped bob was clipped back on both sides. The early nineties white Dodge that I always kept my eyes peeled for pulled up in front of me, and parked along Goddard's curb. I heard it, of course, before I saw it and my heart began to pound. I could feel it everywhere and I began to fidget. I watched him get out and look right at me, as he made his way in between our trucks to the sidewalk. That smile, for Heaven's sake, does he have no shame?

Gabe sashayed, in a way that only country boys can, to the passenger side of my package car. He grabbed the handrail as he put his right foot on the bottom step; still smiling. I stood and made my way across the cab to greet him. He was on his way to (or from) some job (surely), and couldn't help stopping though he'd missed lunch. On occasion, we would treat one another to El Amigo. This was exactly the unexpected sort of encounter I'd grown to crave and look forward to when I was delivering in Ignacio. I never knew where he'd be or when. He had me at a total disadvantage.

We exchanged "how've you been" conversation for a few minutes, while I wondered if he could see right through me or if someone had told him. It didn't take me long to realize that he didn't know. His eyes sparkled and danced with humor brighter than ever. I couldn't do it. I couldn't tell him that Patrick and I were engaged. He made his way back to his truck, patting the hood of mine twice as he stepped out into the street. I closed my bulkhead door and sat down. I watched him drive off as I turned the key in the ignition.

Why couldn't I tell him, and why did I hide my hand? What were my eyes afraid of betraying as they shifted to and from his face? What could all of it possibly mean? I would ask myself all of this later. But for now, the idea of another life was comfort and rationale enough. Worse was that it wasn't over. Something that had never started, still wasn't over. I'd have to tell him. Or maybe someone else would. The anxiety of when and how it would happen was even heavier as a result of today's procrastination. It was only noon, and I had miles ahead of me.

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