The Last Goodbye
by George Parler
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The echoes of the world are in the distance, but the sound of the car’s blinker is the hammer to an anvil in my ears. The car is finally still.
I didn’t tell Jenny goodbye. Why was I so stupid? I always told her goodbye and said, “I love you,” before I left home for anything. Our differences seem so small now. I barely recall what our disagreement had been over. It’s funny how your mountains crumble to molehills in the blink of an eye. I wonder if our day would have started differently if the thought had occurred to me that this day might be the last chance I would have to say goodbye.
And it’s been such a beautiful day. The blue sky above allowed the sun to bathe my face. Yet I had left our home in the silence of pride’s stumble. Without seeing, I knew Jenny was inside, allowing the tears to flow that she had refused to allow my eyes to see. The thought of her tears had almost caused me to go back inside to make it right. Almost . . . Oh the many times have I justified that word in my mind. Why hadn’t I just . . . gone . . . back?
Cars passing on the highway disturb the air.
I’m remembering all the circumstances now that led up to this moment.
As I had pulled out of the driveway on my way to work, the beauty of the day began to soften my charred edges almost immediately. A drive on a rural highway was always a good shot of B-12 for me. The thought occurred to me to turn around . . . but once again . . . I did not. The responsibilities of a provider called; yet my thoughts fought within me. What about the responsibilities of being a man of God, the priest of my home . . . A husband? I brushed those thoughts off with I’ve got to go to work.
As I passed by the Rutherford’s home, I noticed Joseph working on his old tractor. Joseph and Marge Rutherford had recently celebrated their 58th anniversary together. I remember wondering how many disagreements they might have had over the course of those years together. But I guess it doesn’t matter. After all, they’re still together, and in these days, that isn’t the norm. I wondered if Jenny and I would find that many years behind us one day.
Images flashing through my mind end in a blinding light, only to replay again and again. My heart beats in my neck.
I had to drive through our town of two red lights, which was always the point of no return on my journey to work. I always hated to leave home. I was disappointed in myself for having found it so easy to leave this morning. The fog lifted from my mental mirror, and I didn’t like what I saw. Without saying a word aloud, I heard the groaning of my soul, God forgive me.
Vacations - That’s what all this had been about. Where would we spend our vacation? My preferences seem to have lost their luster. Now I only wanted to be with Jenny, no matter where she wanted to be. Why couldn’t I have thought that way this morning? I would have said goodbye. I would have told her I loved her. I would have played my little game where I asked her if I’d told her that I loved her today. She would always answer, “No.” Then I would say, “Hmm,” and just walk out, closing the door behind me. After getting into my car, I would blow the horn. She would open the front door, and I would say, “I love you, Jenny,” as she’d smile, shaking her head. I miss her smile.
I drove out of town. The radio, playing in the background, began to annoy me. I turned it off, welcoming the silence. I knew I was going to have to make this right between Jenny and me, and I knew I would, but I was going to have to deal with that later. Right now I had to get to work.
The highway before me climbed the steep grade of pine-tree covered hills. The passing gear of the car kicked in to challenge the hill. For some reason, a childhood story popped in my head, I think I can, I think I can. At the top of the hill was a curve before the descent down the other side. When I crested the hill, an anxious teenager in a pickup truck chose to take a chance and pass two vehicles coming up the other side of the hill in the no-passing zone of the curve. When I entered the curve, he was fully in my lane, and with a parked freight truck on the shoulder of the highway, there was nowhere for me to go. I stomped both feet on the brake peddle, but my momentum never changed. Against the pavement my tires screamed the horror that I could not utter. I remember a glimpse of the young man’s face and then suddenly . . . light . . . blinding light. Oh God . . . I didn’t say goodbye.
A voice and tapping to my right disturb my thoughts.
“Sir, are you okay?”
The light . . . It was the sun, beaming in my face. My squinted eyes turned to see a man at the passenger side tapping on the window. “Sir, pull over to the shoulder. You’re still in the middle of the road.”
“What? . . . The road?” I looked around at the vehicles passing to my left. In the mirror I saw a line of cars building behind me. My legs were cramping as I released the pressure from the brake pedal and pulled to the shoulder. What happened? Where is that pickup? Where is that kid? My heart was racing out of my chest. I was torn between fear and rage.
Tapping on the passenger side window startles me again.
“Unlock the door” the man said, pointing his finger to the door lock. I kept pushing the button repeatedly as he entered the car.
“Man that was the craziest thing this old boy has seen in twenty-two years of truck driving. I saw the whole thing sittin’ right there in my cab. Either that kid is the world’s greatest stunt driver or angels were following you around, Buddy. I don’t know how you missed each other. It couldn’t have been more than inches. If I hadn’t known better, I would have thought something just shoved that truck back over into his lane in a split second. You believe in ‘em? He paused, waiting for my response.
“Believe in what?” I muttered, trying to follow his conversation.
“Angels, Man. That’s the only way I can explain how you and that stupid kid are still breathing. I tell ya, if it ain’t angels, you have got to be the luckiest man alive.” Grinning from ear to ear, he punched me in the shoulder with a light tap of his fist. “Things like this have a sure fire way of helpin’ folks sort out what’s important, huh?”
Jenny . . . My thoughts were consumed as I desperately tried to concentrate on the man’s voice, but Jenny was all I could think of.
“Well, Bud, I gotta get going. You seem to be okay. ‘Sept maybe a little soil in yer britches.” He broke out in laughter, tapping me on the shoulder again. “I know you probably got important things to do so I’m outta here.”
“Thank you . . . uh . . . wait. What’s your name?” I extended my hand.
“John Tucker, but everybody that knows me just calls me Tuck, fer short,” he replied while shaking my hand.
“Thank you, Tuck”
“My pleasure, Partner” And with that, he closed the door and was gone.
I sat there, staring down the road ahead of me. The reality of what had almost happened visited me as I began to shake down to my bones. Jenny, I thought. I fumbled with my cell phone, trying to call home, and paused, remembering work. I closed my phone, put the car in gear, made a “U” turn, and headed back home instead. I had a second chance to say my last goodbye and tell her I love her, and I wasn’t going to blow it this time. I made a decision to treat every day like it would be my last. Because one day . . . just like today . . . could very well be my last chance to say “goodbye” and “I love you” to the one I love. I was going home.
All the evidence of the events fades into the day under a blue sunny sky, that is, all except for two sets of skid marks that cross each other’s path in the curve of the east-bound lane at the top of the hill.
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You leave me speechless! And once again, I will say what a gifted writer you are, God has truly given you a gift!! God has spared my life and my three daughters in an accident with a loaded gravel truck. I believe in those angels!
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Oh, George, this is absolutely incredible. You brought me to tears, and kept my heart racing from beginning to end. What a gifted writer you are. Gifted. Wow.
I know the feeling from a similar experience, and that thought "the last...hug, word, goodbye" is now a vivid companion of my daily life. This is an exceptionally gripping piece of writing, Inkpen; very well done. I hope you get it published.
I hardly know what to say. The unthinkable came within an inch (literally) of happening. There is no other explanation except that God quickly dispatched more guardian angels or gave them extra power to keep the vehicles apart. Praise the Lord for His mercy and His protection. There were 3 times in my long life when this happened to me and each time, people shook their heads and said "We have no idea how you escaped death." But I knew. Just like you, I still had a ways to go, much more to learn, many things yet to do before God calls me home. What a tremendous testimony. I pray this will cause many believers to make that important U-turn after realizing their lives have been spared. God bless you, my friend. You have blessed me with this article!
How well you revealed how a life-changing moment can show us what's truly important in our lives. Your deep love for your wife is clearly evidenced in this beautiful story.