The section of I-35 in southern Iowa is a lonely place. It was cold and dark and besides April and I in my little Corolla, we were the only people in sight. We pulled back onto the highway and began the hunt for an all night tire repair place.
It took us about five minutes to realize that those places didn’t exist, especially in rural Iowa.
We did manage to see the glow of a repair garage about 20 minutes down the highway. It was one of those filling stations that you see in movie from the 50s – small shop on one side equipped with harsh fluorescent lighting and large expanse of glass that slopes out toward the pumps to eliminate the glare from headlights, and a couple of service bays on the other, dark and empty after a long day of repairing the vehicles of normal, non tire-blowing-in-the-middle-of-the-night people.
The lights of the little shop were on and as we got closer, we saw that someone was inside. I stopped and we got out together.
The man inside was a heavy set and middle aged with a spotted and greasy mechanic’s shirt named Stanley who after listening to my case just stared at me in a “you do know that it is late…on a Sunday” kind of way. I waited for his reply in an uncomfortable silence and did what I usually do in these types of situations, I started backing out and saying things like “oh, that’s okay, I’m sure the next town is just down the road…what? 75 miles down? Yea, well, I’m sure they will have more tires and if not, maybe some spare rubber that they can fashion into a belt like strap and attach it to my wheel. If that doesn’t work, I’ll just hold the old tire onto the axle until we get to Kansas. No problem, um, see ya.”
We were almost out the door when he called back into the garage. “Hey John, come here a sec.” John was a young kid, probably no more than 17 who came out and talked the situation over with Stanley. John went away and the man told us that he had gone into the back to see if they had a tiny tire to fit my car. He told us that they usually don’t have tires that small. Yes, this is farm country. They most likely didn’t know that cars this small, that were also street legal, existed.
John came back about five minutes later with a tire or at least it had the appearance of a tire. It was completely bald and looked as if it had just been pulled off the back of a rusted out trailer that had been sitting in a overgrown alley. He told us that this is the only thing they had and if they could get it on the wheel, we could probably make it to Kansas. But if they did, and I made it home, I should get a proper tire as soon as I could.
Hmmm. Nothing too concerning in those statements…apart from the “if I can get it on” and “probably make it to Kansas.” I looked at April for a second. She really was pretty, even in harsh fluorescent but she wasn’t giving me any help. I looked back at the man and said “do it.”
They pulled the car in and manged to get the tire on. It was noticeably smaller than the other tires but I was happy to have something that would, in theory, get us home. John handed us back the keys once we decided on a price which I was sure would be “how much you got?” but actually ended up being $20. We said a little prayer, got in the car and headed on home.
The ride for the next four hours was an interesting one. I don’t remember the conversations we had, but I do remember driving through the highways of northern Missouri and Kansas City and feeling the car lurch back and forth every time the weight of the car would shift from the three good tires to the trailer tire. April was asleep for most of this leg of our journey, I was quite nervous that we may careen into the ditch at any moment, so I kept my fears to myself and set my mind on home.
We pulled into Lawrence sometime between late Sunday and early Monday a little rattled and exhausted but alive and pleased to have made it back.
The next few weeks were a mix of fantasy and reality. I was with April as much as I could manage and therefore barely getting by in Physics and April was consistently late for Drawing I and often skipped that class to get her other classwork done – the classwork that she ignored while we spent every waking moment together.
We did so much hanging out that even our professors began to associate us as a couple. Our Drawing I Professor, Mr. G, would often come up to me when April would be late or skipping and would ask “Where is your partner in crime?” I would grin and say something witty and he would mumble something under his breath and walk away. I told April about these meetings and in typical April fashion, she would laugh and shun authority.
It finally hit home when Mr. G, after seeing April actually show up to class, presented her with an envelope. It had a picture in it that was taken by a campus newspaper photographer when he saw April and me skipping class to enjoy some warm weather. The class that we happened to be skipping was, yep, Drawing I. Our professor was the first one who gave us a copy of the picture. You can read about April’s impression of that moment in her birthday saga story here.
The highlight of those weeks between the end of spring break and the end of the semester happened one night as we were sitting in her 1987 Ford Thunderbird in the parking lot of my dorm. We had gone to Arby’s to grab some food because we were constantly starving, or at lease I was starving. Our conversation was fun and when some of the laughter died down I looked at April and said “I’m falling in love with you.” She responded with a sweet smile and a kiss.
Life was good.
My Dad was driving up to pick me up on the last day of our dorm’s end of the semester “move out week”. I had spent the last few days after finals packing up my stuff, cleaning, hanging out with April, and removing a large pencil drawn sketch my previous roommate had left on the north wall of my room. A sketch done as a tribute to Jayhawkdom that my Residence Hall Director did not fully appreciate.
Dad showed up around noon and told me that we had to be back in St. Louis by 7p so we had to get on the road by 2p. Classic Dad. April joined Dad and me for the loading and we worked to get everything packed up.
I remember several feelings that day: a feeling of urgency to get everything from my dorm room into my tiny Toyota Corolla and my Dad’s tiny GTO before the 2p deadline; a feeling of being soaked because it had been raining on and off all that day; and an ache in my stomach because I would be heading east to St. Louis and April would be heading west to Goodland.
We knew this day was coming and we were mentally prepared for it. As my father said, “my mind had failed to warn me what my heart was programmed to do.” I was feeling the inevitable absence of someone I had spent nearly every waking moment with for three and a half months and it was manifesting itself as a pain in my stomach as I crammed each box, lamp, pillow, and suitcase into my car.
Dad was feeling something completely different. No one I know quite freaks out like my father when he needs to leave on time. My childhood was full of pearls of punctual wisdom like “being there on time is late, being there five minutes early is on time,” and “if you’re not in the car in five minutes I’m leaving you to walk,” and my favorite “let’s went,” meaning “we should have already left so I’m going to refer to our leaving as having already happened.” Two o’clock was quickly approaching and Dad’s stern glances and repeated reminders to hurry up were starting to fall on deaf ears. Especially since I knew that two o’clock was coming up quick and I still had to get my room inspected by our floor’s resident assistant.
Two o’clock did come and after some earnest appeals and repeated begging, I was finally able to get our RA to my room and get everything checked out around 2:15p. I went back down to the lobby were Dad and April were waiting for me. April was wet from the rain and looked very sweet. Dad was mentally tapping his foot and giving me a “let’s went” look. I turned to April, gave her a hug, told her I loved her and cried like an idiot. I said that I would write and she reminded me that we promised trips over the summer. We kissed and I felt her tears on my cheeks. We pulled apart and I looked over at Dad and said “I’m ready to go.”
I’m not sure what Dad saw in those moments of April and my final embrace but he gave me a slight grin and said “Don’t worry about it. Take your time.” Dad liked to be on time, but he understood the heart and mine was hurting. He did the best thing possible and gave me time to say a proper goodbye.
I gave April another long hug, told her I loved her and turned to go.
It was a long ride home.
We communicated that summer in any way possible. I would write, she would call (after 10p to keep the charges down), I would send voice mail on cassette tapes and she would do the same.
I missed her terribly and it was tough until Gary and I got the wild idea to drive out to Goodland to see her.
[to be continued]