“The Road to Tucumcari”
December 25, 2014
Edna was still crying as they pulled out of the driveway and headed in the direction of Clear Lake where she and Don would spend a couple of days celebrating Christmas with their family.
Trey did not stand in the driveway to see his parents off. In fact, he hadn’t moved from his seat at the edge of his bed, since the one-sided argument with his father. Trey was beyond arguing and that really steamed his dad. It took just about everything the man had to keep from driving his fist into his son’s face. What a mess. Everything was so wrong.
Two hours after his parents left Trey headed north in the opposite direction his parents had taken. The plan was to drive until the snow stopped him. He envisioned himself leaving his Jeep Cherokee to walk through a wood and sit beneath a tree.
Some pompous fool had assured others that freezing to death was a pleasant way to go. You just go sleep and don’t wake up. Trey had spent way too many hours sitting quietly in the deep snows on the side of the mountains and hills of Afghanistan to know that the moment of death might be relaxing, but the part about getting there was sheer torture.
But he did love the silence. Loved it enough to want to experience it just one last time. Only this time he was prepared to skip right past the torture stage.
Before leaving the house, Trey had scribbled a note to his Mom. He wrote: “Mama, I am so sorry that I mess things up for you and Dad. For everyone. And, I’m so sorry for always saying how sorry I am. I know enough to know that I’m broken. To help me get fixed I’m taking a little drive to someplace not here. I’ll be back in a few days. Please, don’t be mad at Dad. He tried as long as he could. Thanks for always praying for me, Mama. I know your prayers go straight to heaven. I’ve given up on mine ever leaving the room. – I love you, Mother. Always will. T
The snow began to fall around Amarillo. Trey pulled into a Valero to gas up. He had seen enough of Texas to realize that he needed to head west for a while. If not he’d likely end up in a snowdrift somewhere in the Oklahoma Panhandle. Not exactly where he wanted to join his friends. He wasn’t long into New Mexico before noticing a half buried post wearing a green highway sign which read: “Tucumcari 18.” He liked the sound of that. Remembered once hearing a song about the town.
He soon realized that he would not likely reach town, so he pulled into the first inviting place he could find. It was an old Mom and Pop motel. He didn’t want a room, just some place might serve him a meal before taking his walk.
The light was on in the motel office, but the door was locked. He banged loud and long until the door cracked open enough to reveal the face of an unshaved, gruff-looking, middle-aged guy. “Whatta ya want?” the man said.
Trey asked him where the nearest café was, and the guy assured him that there wasn’t anything opened anywhere, including the place he was standing. “Would you consider throwing together a sandwich for me?” Trey said. “I’ll make it worth your while.”
The man tried to shut the door, but Trey used a bit more force to push the door open. Immediately the man reached into his pants pocket. He studied Trey’s expressionless face for a second and then walked behind the counter for a room key. He checked the drawers and poked around under the counter. Trey said, “If you’re looking for a key, they’re hanging on the pegboard behind you.” The man reached back, grabbed “Key 11” and tossed it to Trey.
“That’ll be $100 up front. Cash,” the man told him. Trey told him that he didn’t want a room, but he would pay $100 for something to eat. The man smiled as Trey pulled some bills out of his wallet. Finding some new confidence the man said, “Oh, and you’re gonna need to throw in your car keys.”
Trey turned to walk out the door, but the man warned him not to. Trey told him that he had to get a couple of things out of the Jeep. As he exited the office he felt fairly sure the man wouldn’t shoot him. And, the man apparently had the feeling that he shouldn’t shoot, ‘cause he didn’t. He did briskly shake his head in an attempt to make a creepy feeling go away. After which he said to no one, “What have I just stepped in?”
Trey opened the passenger side-door and reached beneath the seat for his pistol, and placed it into the huge inside pocket of his woolen jacket. He then picked up the partially eaten bag of Fritos between the two seats and then walked back to the office.
There he found the man standing behind the counter just as he had left him, but this time he was pointing a small caliber pistol at Trey. Trey discerned just a tad of nervousness from the man’s stance. Nothing in particular, just something he had picked up on over his short life.
“I need you to slowly hand over the gun you got from your Jeep,” the man said. Trey reached into his pocket, pulled out his keys, removed the Jeep key from the ring, and laid it on the counter. “Okay, now the gun,” the man said. Trey kept looking deep into the man’s eyes. Didn’t even drop his stare while in one fluid motion, he pulled the 1911 45 Colt from inside his coat. The man did not react, other than to shake. “What the— No need for that,” he said.” I was just trying to protect myself. I get held up a lot here.”
Without diverting his stare away from the man’s eyes, Trey said, “I want you to hand over the 22, and then tell me where the guy is who really owns this place.”
The man placed his pistol on top of the counter and then assured Trey that the old couple was okay, that he hadn’t harmed them. “I just threatened to shoot you if they made a sound.”
At that very moment, an old man peeked from behind a doorway. “I’m okay, sir. My wife and I are fine.”
Trey told the robber that he would let him keep the $100 he had given him, but he insisted he return the money he had stolen from the couple. The man told him that he had actually not gotten around to that, and the old man standing in the doorway backed his story.
Trey swung his hand out as if introducing the man to the door. The man took his cue and left with no hesitation. He climbed into the Jeep and headed east.
After hugs and a thousand thanks, Sid and Janet Taylor escorted Trey to the kitchen. “I heard you tell him you were hungry, she said.
Trey didn’t know what he enjoyed more, the feast of leftovers or the company of strangers. He did little talking, but listened to the life and times of Janet and Sid. They were so pleasant to be around. Trey could actually play the part of himself. No need for a mask.
He didn’t recall actually seating himself in the cushy chair in the living area, but that’s where he was when his dream became too real. He woke in a fright and found Sid practically lying across him while Janet calmly assured him that he was all right.
After about a minute, Trey calmed a bit, and then began to cry. Between sobs Trey apologized to Sid. “I’m so sorry. Mr. Taylor? Did I hurt you?” Sid assured him he had not. After a couple more minutes Trey assured his hosts that he was much better. “I need to, uh, go outside for a little while,” he said. “That’s what I do when I get like this. Y’all please go back to sleep. I’m fine. I’m so sorry. I didn’t think I would fall asleep.”
Janet took Trey’s hand and led him to the couch, and instructed him to lie down. Sid brought in a quilt and laid it across the boy. “No, please don’t do this,” Trey said.
“Shhh. Close your eyes, son,” the old woman told him. Trey didn’t argue. The next sound he heard was a prayer. Janet prayed for God to remove the pain from his mind and to send it away forever, and to let the boy sleep. She then began singing “Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling; calling for you and for me…” Trey only managed to hear the first part of the song before falling asleep. There would be no thrashing around, no dreams… just the sleep of the blessed.
Trey called home the day after Christmas. His mom cried upon hearing his voice. Trey shared a bit of his story with his mother, but mostly chose to listen as she told him how much the family had missed him. Everyone asked about him. Daddy even mentioned him in the Christmas prayer.
Trey told his mother that he was going to stay with the Taylors for little while. That there was a VA hospital in Albuquerque and he planned to add his name to the waiting list for counseling. Before hanging up, he asked his mother to thank his dad for mentioned him in the prayer.
The Oklahoma Highway Patrol found Trey’s Jeep in the panhandle of Oklahoma just south of Liberal, Kansas. Clarence Stang was identified by his prints which were found all over the interior of the Jeep. Mr. Stang was never located, though. Trey hoped that the man was all right. He even whispered a short prayer for him. The saying of the words didn’t feel natural, but for the first in too long he actually imagined getting better. Mrs. Taylor told him that he was their Christmas miracle.
The real miracle for Trey was that he would have many more opportunities to sit in the wood and listen for the silence that can found in falling snow.
Merry Christmas to your family, from the Hayters.