The title and parts of the story were inspired by Tim McGraw's song "Everywhere".
But ever since you said good-bye
I've been out here on the wind
And baby you would be surprised
All the places you have been
(Everywhere by Tim McGraw)
It's tough to drive with both double vision and tears in your eyes, so I pulled my truck onto the shoulder of the country road. Just because my life sucked, was no reason for me to kill someone. The double vision was caused by alcohol and the tears by abject sadness. What could have caused me to drink as much as I did and brought tears to my eyes? That's the story I will tell here.
My name is Woodson Allen Connor (Woody to my friends and to most everyone else too), and I'm 24. I'm pretty much just an average guy but right now I was a mess. My story began in my junior year of college.
I met Jessica in my Poly Sci class. She was very pretty, in the girl next door way. I would never have had the nerve to do more than just nod and say hello, but she approached me. Apparently she enjoyed my debates with our professor.
In my mind, this guy was somewhere left of Karl Marx in his political beliefs. I was about three steps to the right of John Wayne. You can see the problem. There wasn't one class period that we didn't butt heads and apparently Jessica found this extremely funny.
"You really let old man Johnson have it tonight," Jess said to me. "Hi, I'm Jessica Hampton."
"Yeah, I know. I mean nice to meet you," I stammered. I'm not the smoothest guy around women. "I'm Woody Connor. He deserved it; him and his totally off the wall radical ideas," I preached.
Jess was laughing at me. She calmed me down with, "Take it easy, I'm on your side. I understand your ideas and agree with you."
I couldn't resist repeating what I had said in class. "If you take money from the people who are working hard and give it to the ones that don't work, two things happen. The non-workers won't do anything to help themselves; they will just sit and wait for more hand outs. The hard workers will stop working as hard. Why bother if the government is going to take what they earn and give it to the non-workers? In the end the whole country suffers." I stopped and shook my head.
"There I go again. I'm going to have to learn to save my preaching for Sundays," I laughed at myself. Somewhere I gained a little nerve and said to Jess, "Would you like to get a coffee or drink and talk some more?"
"I can't, I have another class. We could met at the student union, this evening though. How about 7:00?"
"Great, see you there," I answered.
That meeting was the start of the most amazing time in my life. Jess and I talked until they threw us out at closing. She and I just seem to fit, you know? Jess was tall for a woman at 5 feet 9 with auburn hair and blue eyes
We started going out on actual dates every week or ten days. That soon developed into more dates until we were spending almost every evening and some days together. It was either her apartment or mine; most of our nights were spent together.
We told our friends that it wasn't financially sound to pay rent on two apartments so we decided to move in together. I don't think we fooled anyone about our reasons to live together. I know it sounds hokey, but I don't think any two people were ever as happy and as much in love as Jess and I.
Our families lived within 100 miles of each other, so we used the spring break to meet and spend time with the two families. My dad and mom loved Jess from the start and her family took me into their hearts right away. Her family decided that since I belonged to Jess, I belonged to them too.
My family felt the same way about Jess. Both of my brothers and my sister wanted to know what kind of drugs I was giving Jess to get her to love me. My siblings think their hilarious; very funny guys. Jess and I started to talk about marriage and kids; it was just a matter of picking the right time.
There is a soliloquy by a character in one of the Greek Tragedies, I don't remember which one and I paraphrase it here. He says that the Gods don't want man to be too happy. If men are too happy they won't have to pray to the Gods for anything. So the Gods will take steps to make sure that a man doesn't get too happy. That must have been what happened to me.
We were at my parents and Jess realized she had left her lap top at her mom and dads'. My dad and I were going to play golf one morning and Jess decided to drive back and get her lap top. It was about a two hour drive each way and she should be back around noon. About 7:00 the next morning Jess kissed me good bye, told me she loved me, and left for her parents'.
It was two o'clock and I was getting a little concerned about Jess. She should have been back by now. I tried her cell several times but the calls all went to voice mail. I had called her mom around 1:00 to ask what time Jess had left. Her mom told me Jess had left around 10:30 and should have been there. Now I was really beginning to worry. I tried Jess' cell one more time; it was answered by a voice I didn't recognize.
"Hello, who is this? Is Jess there?"
"My name is Julie, I'm an E.M.T. This phone was on the seat of the wrecked car."
"Wrecked car? Was Jess in an accident? How is she?" I rambled on.
"Wait just a second," Julie said. Another voice, a male, came on the line.
"This is Officer Thompson of the state police. Who is this please?"
I identified myself and asked again about Jess. He informed me that Jess had been in an accident and was seriously hurt. The officer said a drunk driver had forced her off the road. They were transporting her to the hospital. He gave me the info on where and which hospital.
"Is Jess alright? How badly was she hurt?" I had to know.
"Mr. Connor, she was hurt very badly. The doctors will do everything they can, but you better get to the hospital ASAP," the policeman told me.
I yelled at my dad to tell him what happened and ran out to my truck. My dad tried to get me to wait for him but I was already in my truck and moving by the time Dad got to the front door. I believe I broke every speed law ever written getting to the hospital. It still took me over an hour to get there.
I ran into the emergency room, asked about Jess, and was directed to ICU recovery. The nurse there told me Jess had just come out of surgery and I could see her in about twenty minutes. I was pacing back and forth in the waiting room, with tears running down my face, when the nurse told me I could see her.
Jess' face was unmarked except for a small scrape on her forehead. If it wasn't for all of the tubes and wires attached to her, she could have been sleeping. The nurse told me she was resting comfortably and should wake up any time now. No sooner had the nurse said that, than Jess started to stir. I went to the bedside and held her hand as she woke up.
When she opened her eyes I said, "Hiya sweetie. I love you."
Jess smiled at me and then looked around. She asked, "Where am I? Is this a hospital? What happened?"
"Whoa kid, one thing at a time," I told her. I explained about the accident, where she was, and told her she would be fine. Jess looked less worried as I talked to her. I told her to take it easy and rest.
"I am tired, maybe I will just rest for a little," she said and then fell asleep again.
The nurse had brought a doctor into the room and I started to ask all the questions you would expect. The main question being, "Will she be alright?"
The doctor faced me and explained, "Mr. Connor, I really shouldn't be telling you anything. You are not her next of kin and aren't even family. However she woke up on the way to surgery and kept calling for you. Miss Hampton has a lot of internal injuries. We have done everything possible at this point.
"She'll be alright though, won't she?"
"I just don't know Mr. Connor. She has a ruptured spleen and other injuries. I hate to be insensitive, but her chances are 50-50 at this point. We will just have to wait and see."
Going back into Jess' room, I pulled a chair over to her bed, sat down, and held her hand again. I was still sitting there an hour later when my dad and mom came in. Before I had time to tell my folks what was going on, Jess' parents came in. The doctor returned and filled everyone in on the situation. I just sat and held her hand. He told us it would be sometime before we knew anything and suggested we get some food and some rest.
Both sets of parents tried to get me to go eat and relax for awhile. My answer was the same to both of the families, I WAS NOT LEAVING JESS, PERIOD. If she woke up I was going to be there for her. My mom and dad and Jess' parents went to get something to eat and to relax for a few minutes.
While they were gone, Jess woke up. I had fallen asleep holding her hand; she lifted her hand and stroked my head. That woke me up and I was very excited to see her awake. She smiled at me and it reminded me of the smile she gave me when we woke up together in our apartment.
Jess stroked my face and said, "I love you so much. Never forget that."
She closed her eyes and died.
I didn't know what to do. I think I mentally went away for awhile. The nurses and a doctor came in and started to work on Jess. It was no use. She was gone. By the time the families came back to the room, I was already in my truck getting away from the hospital.
That's what I meant when I said I went away for awhile. I began to notice my surroundings about three hours and 180 miles later. I had no idea where I was or how I got there. At a crossroad was a small tavern, I decided to stop and get a drink. I hoped it would help me to understand or accept the destruction of my world. I know it all sounds very melodramatic, but I was in pain. My world had ended with Jess' death.
The first drink didn't help, nor the second, nor the several after that. I kept seeing and hearing Jess say she loved me and then she was gone. I had been at the bar for about two hours when the bartender told me to leave my keys on the bar. He felt I was too drunk to drive and he said he would call me a cab from the nearby town.
I went to the restroom and as I was washing my hands I noticed my image in the mirror and was shocked. The reflection I saw was not the same one I usually saw; I had changed. I looked different but what was the difference in me? I was still the same 6 foot, 180 pound dude with dark hair and blue/grey eyes, but I looked like a shrunken version of myself.
But the eyes were the biggest change. They were mostly grey which happens when I get angry or stressed, but the real difference was that they looked haunted and dead. I came back to the barroom and as the bartender turned to call a taxi, I left, jumped in my truck, and burned rubber down the road.
About ten minutes later the double vision, my crying, and my thoughts of others made me pull over onto the shoulder of the road. I turned off the truck and just sat there, hurting. I didn't know if I could stand this pain in my heart. I must have passed out.
My first thought was, where am I? It was daylight, around noon I would guess. I had pulled off the road about 10:00 last night. I thought it was the sunlight that had awakened me and then I heard the tapping on my truck window. I turned and there was a police officer knocking on my window. When he saw that I was awake he asked me to get out of the truck. I wasn't far enough around the bend to disobey the cops.
"What are you doing here son?"
"I just parked here last night because I was getting sleepy and thought it best not to drive."
"Sleepy or too drunk to drive? I got a call from the Crossroads Tavern about a young man that was drinking heavy and took off when Sam asked him for the keys. You fit the description."
I looked him the eye for a few seconds and said, "Yeah that was me. I didn't want to give up my truck and didn't know where to have a taxi take me. So I boogied. I got this far and decided I shouldn't be driving and pulled over. I must have fallen asleep or passed out."
"I wish everyone would think like that after a drinking binge. You look like hell, but you seem to be sober now. You got some I.D. son?"
After looking at my license the office said, "Well I can't arrest you for D.U.I. since I didn't see you driving drunk." He smiled at me and gave my license back. "You're free to go son, but stay off the road when you have been drinking. You hear?"
"Yes sir," I answered. I was free to go, but go where? Home didn't feel like a place I wanted to be right then and going back to school was not an option. Maybe I should just follow the road west and see where I end up.
I know that I didn't need my family, Jess' family, and all our friends trying to console me. The last thing I needed or wanted was their good intentioned sympathy.
I stopped at a truck stop just before getting on the interstate to head west. Eating breakfast, I knew I had to call my parents as they were probably worried about me. When I made the call, my dad answered the phone.
"Hi Dad. It's me."
"Are you okay? Where are you?" He sounded relieved to hear from me.
"Yeah, I'm okay. I just had to leave; I couldn't stay after Jess died." I started crying again. I was sure he could hear me as he was silent. He waited for me to go on. "Sorry, can't seem to get over the fact that she is gone."
"Where are you and when are you coming home?" He asked me.
"It's not important where I am right now and I'm not coming home anytime soon. I need to be by myself for awhile Dad," I replied to his questions. "The last thing I want is people being nice and saying how sorry they are and all that stuff. I know they will mean well, but it will just eat me up. You understand?"
"Okay son. I think you need to be here with people that love you, but I can understand your feelings. Is there anything you need or want?"
"Tell Mom I'm okay will you. I don't want to talk to her right now. She will just start crying and asking me to come home. I just can't stand that right now. Also, call the Hamptons and let them know I'm okay please. One other thing Dad, don't send anyone to look for me, okay?"
"Okay, Woody. You mom is going to be hurt that you wouldn't talk to her. Are you sure you can't talk to her?"
"You're right, but talk to her before you put her on the phone will ya? I know she's worried about me, but I don't need to be mothered right now." He told me to hold on and I heard him talking to Mom. She came on the line.
"Woody, are you okay? Are you coming home?" Mothers are all the same, they want to help their child when he's hurting.
"I'm okay Mom, really. Don't know when I'm coming back. It may be awhile. I will call you guys just to let you know how I'm doing. Don't worry, I'll be okay."
"Okay, honey. Remember we love you and are here for you. Come home soon." I could hear her crying as she hung up. I was crying too.
Okay, talked to the folks and let them know I wasn't hurt or dead. Now what? I finished my breakfast and on the way to my truck I saw a help wanted sign on the garage side of the truck stop.
Why not, I thought? I'm a pretty fair jack leg mechanic and know something about diesel engines; maybe I should stick around for awhile. The man in the office looked up as I entered and I asked him about the job. He was the boss, name of John Price.
He and I talked for about 30 minutes and after the question and answer period, I left the office with the job. I was going to be his grunt in the garage. He told me I would be doing oil changes, injector cleaning, and washing the trucks. Anything I could do or learn would be my duties, plus whatever else he needed to be done. Works for me.
My compensation included the use of a 2 bedroom trailer behind the garage to live in. I also could eat 3 meals a day at the diner. After a few days eating at the diner, one of the waitresses expressed an interest in getting to know me better; very much better.
I wasn't ready for that; there wasn't room in my heart or mind for any woman other than Jess. The work wasn't that hard but there was a lot of it. I was putting in 3 to 4 hours of overtime a day. John asked me to work most Saturdays too. It was okay with me; it kept my mind too busy to think about Jess.
I had been there for about 3 months and the work was becoming routine. That was a problem; the less I had to think about on the job the more I started to think about Jess. I began to see Jess as I washed a truck or at night sitting in front of my trailer. It was time for me to move on; I needed something new to keep my mind occupied.
John came to the garage on a Saturday just to check things over and to give me a break if I needed it. That was the morning I told him I was leaving and I gave him a month's notice. He was sorry to see me go, but understood why I had to leave. He and I had talked before and he knew my story.
One month later I was driving west again. Passing through Kansas, I got a job with a widow who needed help harvesting her spring wheat. I didn't know much about wheat, but I could drive and repair the machinery that was used to do the harvesting.
The widow was Diane Harness; she was about 40 years old. Her husband Rich has been killed about a year ago. He was driving a tractor on a hillside and it tipped over. Rich was thrown and the tractor rolled over him. Diane had twins, Joy and Roy that were a little younger than me, about 20. They were hard workers, but the farm needed another hand. That was me.
The job was only supposed to last for about 3 weeks but I stayed on for 2 months. After the wheat was in, there were machines to repair, maintenance around the farm, and the fall crop to plant. Again, I was kept busy. The only bad point was that driving the combine across the fields was not too challenging. Once you got the basics down, it was just keeping a straight line. After a few days, I began to think of Jess as I was driving. I would see her just in front of the combine as I was driving. That was the hard part.
I lived in an apartment over the barn. It was clean, comfortable, and free. Joy's boyfriend, Charley, wasn't too happy with me living and working so closely with her. I had never thought of Joy as anything but a hard worker and a friend. Joy and I had become close; she was almost like a niece to me. My mind wasn't ready for any kind of romantic thoughts right now.
I told Diane that I would finish out the month and then I was moving on. She and I had discussed my situation and she understood why I had to leave. My last night at the farm we all went into town for dinner as a going away party for me. We went to a bar and grill that also had a dance floor and live music. After dinner we stayed to listen to the music. I didn't want to go to dinner, but Diane had been good to me and I was grateful to her.
Diane finally got me on the dance floor for a couple of numbers and Joy just had to dance with me too. That's when Joy's boyfriend, Charley got jealous. I guess he thought I was cutting in on his girl. Charley walked over to us on the dance floor.
"Just what do you think you're doing Woody? Trying to steal my girl is what it looks like," Charley challenged me. "Why don't you get your hands off her and get going?" He put his hand on me and tried to push me away from Joy.
Joy jumped between us and told him, "Don't be an ass, Charley. We're just dancing, that's all. This is a good bye party for Woody; he's leaving tomorrow."
"Good thing he is leaving, it wouldn't be healthy for him to stay around," Charley boasted.
"Charley, I don't want any trouble. Joy is a friend, that's all," I explained.
"Friend my ass, you're trying to get into her bed, you drifter," he accused.
"That's a lie. You've no call to talk about Joy like she is anything but a lady. I suggest you apologize to her."
Charley made a big mistake then, he threw a punch at me. I blocked the punch and knocked him down. He was more surprised than hurt and started to threaten me as he was getting up.
"Charley, your mouth is writing checks your body can't cash. Back off. I'll leave, like I said I don't want any trouble."
Of course, Charley's pride had been hurt and he wouldn't back off. Things got ugly after that. He swung at me again and apparently I snapped when Charley hit me. The next thing I knew there were three guys pulling me off of him.
I released a lot of the rage and pain I was carrying due to Jess' death, but I don't remember what I did. Charley was chewed up pretty bad, but wasn't seriously hurt. The sheriff showed up, but the witnesses all said I was defending myself. After apologizing to Diane and Joy, I didn't wait around for morning. I left that night.
Again I was heading west, not knowing where, but heading west. I worked at garages, farms, truck stops and even a catfish farm for the next year. The call of the wild was answered and I worked in Washington for two months for a logging company.
It was too wet and rainy up there for me; that's why I came back after only two months. The money was fantastic, but you have to be a drunk or a duck to enjoy the weather.
Every two weeks or so, I would call my folks and let them know I was alive and well. Each time I talked to Dad, I made him promise not to come looking for me. I wasn't ready to go back home. Not yet.
I still saw Jess just in front of the lights of the truck as I drove the highways or across an open field at sunset or in the orchards at the end of a row of trees. In Washington, she was with me on the inspection trips I made of the trees to be cut. That was another reason for me to come back south.
A little aside here: When I said I saw Jess, I didn't mean I actually saw her. I wasn't hallucinating; it was just that in the quiet times I thought about her. I thought about her a lot and she was always in my heart. As I thought about her, I would see her in my mind's eye. I would relive and remember out time together. It was wearing on my soul.
I decided to leave Washington and drive south along the coast. I had gotten as far west as I could go; I was at the Pacific Ocean. I choose to travel the secondary roads most of the way as it was a great way to see more of the country. I was traveling along U.S. Route 101(Pacific Coast Highway) just north of Astoria and saw a vintage 69 Camaro on the shoulder of the road. The car's hood was up and a little smoke was coming out of the engine compartment.
I slowed down and noticed a woman and a small child standing in front of the car. Without thinking about it, I pulled off the road and stopped just ahead of the smoking car. I got out of my truck and walked back to the front of the Camaro to offer my help to the woman.
The woman was very nice looking and I would guess at least two years younger than me. I later found that she was 22. She was about 5 feet 8 with a slender body. The child had to be her son; the family resemblance was easy to see.
She looked a little frightened as I stepped toward her car. "Hi there, having car trouble I see." I said, trying to put her at ease. I didn't get any closer to her. "My name is Woody Connor; can I help you with your car?"
"I don't know what's wrong with it. It sort of shuddered and then stopped and smoke started coming out from under the hood." She looked like she was trying not to cry.
"Take it easy, Ma'am. I'm a decent mechanic so maybe I can get it going for you. Worse case, I can drive you and the boy to the next garage. They can get the car towed into their shop for you."
"Well, I don't know," she muttered in scared voice.
"If you don't want to ride with me, I can go to the garage and have them send a tow truck for you. I hate to see you and the boy waiting on the side of the road, is all. Maybe we won't need a tow, let me look at it."
She nodded and stepped further back from the car. I waved the smoke away and looked under the hood. The problem was very clear; the main radiator hose had a large hole in it. The engine had overheated and stopped; the leaking coolant caused the smoke.
"I can fix this good enough for you get to the next town, it's supposed to be about ten miles. I'll follow you to the garage to make sure the car doesn't stop again. The garage can put a new hose on in a few minutes and you'll be on your way."
I used some duct tape to wrap the hose and cover the hole. I started the engine and used the water from my cooler to refill the radiator. The Camaro lead the way and I followed them to a service station that did repairs. The shop said it would take a couple of hours to fix; they didn't have a hose for a 69 Camaro and would have to have the hose delivered.
"Can I drive it the way it is?" She wanted to know.
The mechanic said she couldn't drive it very far. The tape wouldn't hold the pressure and would split. "You would be stuck on the road again," the mechanic told her.
"How much is this going to cost," she asked.
The mechanic gave her an estimate. She just shook her head and said she would have to take her chances. Apparently she didn't have the money. Her son had been waiting and tugged at his mother's skirt and told her he was hungry. She told they would eat when they got to grandma's house.
"I never did get you name," I said. "Like I said before I'm Woody Connor."
She seemed a little flustered and answered, "I'm Kimberly Reynolds and this is my son John Jr."
John spoke up and said, "I'm four years old."
I smiled at John and said, "Look Mrs. Reynolds, I wouldn't feel right letting you try to drive that car. Let me pay for the repair. I can also get you and John something to eat."
"Thank you, but no Mr. Connor. I couldn't repay you for some time; I just can't allow you to spend the money."
I looked at her for a couple of minutes. Kimberly looked like she was at her breaking point. She didn't know what to do. Car needed repaired, son hungry and her too probably and all alone on the road. I talked to the mechanic and got him to give her a better deal and paid him.
Kimberly saw me pay the bill and objected, "I can't let you do that Mr. Connor."
"Mrs. Reynolds, with all due respect, that's my money I gave him. I earned that money and no one will tell me how or where I can spend it." I gave her a big grin and picked up her son.
"What are you doing? Put him down," she ordered me.
"John and I are going across the street to the cafe and get something to eat. We are both hungry. You can join us, if you want." I started across to the cafe and got half way across the street before she caught up to us. In the cafe after ordering, she told me again she wouldn't be able to repay me for awhile. I told her not to worry about it right now, just eat something.
I handed her a card with my name and my parents address on it. "Mrs. Reynolds if you feel you have to pay me back. This is my address, when you get to grandma's you can send the money there."
She took the card and started to make promises about repaying me. I held up my hand to stop her; I tapped the card and told her when you can. No hurry.
"Why are you doing this, Mr. Connor? I mean we are strangers," she wanted to know.
"There are three things I want for helping you Mrs. Reynolds," I told her.
Now she was suspicious. "What three things?"
"First: You call me Woody, Mr. Connor is my dad. I call you Kim or Kimberly. Second: Tell me your story. What are you and John doing here with little or no money?" I waited for her to answer.
"You said three things," she said suspiciously. She still didn't know what to think about me.
"The third thing: Don't repay me, pay it forward. There was a movie a few years ago that gave me the idea. Instead of repaying me, sometime in the future you pay it forward and help someone else who could use a hand."
"Okay, Woody and Kim it is," she said with a big smile. "I think pay it forward is a good idea also. My story huh?"
Kim told me her husband John Sr. had been killed about eight months ago. John and Kim were living in Kermit, Texas. He and his brother owned a small drilling company. There wasn't enough work for a small company so he had been working as a rough neck on an oil rig outside of Midland.
There was a blow out on the rig and he and two others were killed. It was a wildcat operation so there was no insurance. She stopped to dry her eyes and gather herself. I had worked at a drill sight on an oil rig, so I understood what she told me.
She said things were rough financially at home, but she was making ends meet working as a waitress. Her husband's brother Randy got it into his head that Kim should remain in the family and marry him. Kim didn't think so, but Randy didn't want to take no for an answer. He wouldn't leave her alone and she had no family of her own to help her, so she ran.
"What about the police? Can't they help you?"
"The sheriff in our area is a hunting buddy of Randy and so is our Police Chief; neither would help me. In Texas, women don't have a lot of legal clout, at least not out in the boonies where we lived."