I sit in an airplane flying from LA to Dallas next to a man who tells me the world will come to an end in 1975. I had best get right with the Lord, he says. It is December, 1967, and I had left Monterey and language school earlier that day and was heading for Goodfellow AFB in San Angelo for six more weeks of school before heading for Ft. Meade in Maryland. I had two weeks leave between stations and would stop off in Abilene to chase the pieces of a short story. I smile at the man. And if it doesn’t come to an end in eight years will you abandon your faith, I ask him. Yes, I will, the man says.
But then the world ended in 1975, just as the man predicted. The faithful where called up, and the rest of us were left behind to make the best of it.
A couple days after the flight, I was standing in the grill at a small bible college on Abilene’s east side, wearing my p-coat and a moustach I had grown in Monterey. I had envisioned the scene a hundred times or more. I would stand in the grill, looking cool, and the girl would come up to me. I would say the perfect line and the entire narrative thread of the story would change. I look up and there she is, standing in front of me, smiling, waiting for me to say the words. But I just smile back at her. Hello, she says. Hello. She waits—
I drive to San Angelo a couple days later, through a sleet storm. My defroster isn’t working, and I drive for miles with my head out the window. I stop at a diner in Lawn. Get change for the pay phone and call the base, telling them of my situation. Stay put, I am told. Some guy with a metal plate in his head from WWII takes me to his house for the night. He lived with his mother, a woman who showed me her family photograph albums. During the night, the guy fought his battles in the Pacific over and over. The next morning he fixes my defroster and sends me on my way.
Hello, she says, and waits.
Why didn’t you say the lines. It didn’t feel right.
Sometimes, even when the scene is unfolding exactly the way you had wanted to too, almost as if you had written it, you have to walk away.
There is something else—
But you were in love with the girl. Yes. Then why—She wasn’t in love with me. Though standing there, she seemed to want me to stop the movement of another narrative. She seemed to want—but in the end, she wasn’t in love with me.
I am twenty-one. A few months in.
Did you ever see her again. Yes.
Do you regret. No. Regret is a trap.
In 1975 I was teaching at a Jr. High School with a guy who was building a self-sufficient compound in Bastrop. This whole thing is going to collapse, he told me. And only those of us who are ready will survive. He so looked forward to that day. I helped him buy some redwood from a lumber yard where I had worked in 1972. We were friends, only we weren’t really friends.
When the world ended later that year, no one seemed to notice.
The girl lived in the city at that time, and I would stop in to see her from time to time, but the dialogue never fit the narrative right. The last time I saw her I wanted to tell her, but it seemed unnecessary.
There was a pool west of the city where some of us would skinny dip on hot days. In the fall I jumped in a high jump pit at a High School where Tom would later teach.