So it’s day six over here on the #Write30 Challenge and today I’m presented with a thinker: I have to name someone who fascinates me, and why.
There are lots of candidates, really. My children fascinate me, because they make extraordinarily bad decisions a good portion of the time, yet I still love them. Coach Mike Krzyzewski of the Duke Blue Devils fascinates me because he’s amazing. My mom fascinates me because of her tenacity.
And really, tenacity is the word that turned me on to the person who fascinates me the most, my lovely wife Alicia.
You see, Alicia has been kicked pretty hard more than once. I’m sorry to say that some of those times have been by me, but not all of them have been. Life has thrown her some pretty tough situations, but it seems like whatever she goes through just makes her stronger.
“But Travis, that’s what happens. When we go through things, we get stronger.”
Untrue. Some break.
Have you all seen the picture of the Nagasaki Arch that’s still standing after the atomic bomb, and the tsunami?
|Please excuse that slight profanity.|
Well, it turns out that picture is a fake, but I think it perfectly encapsulates my wife’s tenacity.
There are days when she falls apart. I’ve been there for a few of those. But what impresses me the most is that after a few hours, a few tears, and a few hugs, she’s back to Alicia, back to raising three children who she made hers, back to babysitting a husband who has a penchant for saying the wrong thing at the right time, back to washing dishes and doing laundry and taking care of her family and grading papers and thinking of others and giving more of herself than she’ll ever get back.
So yes, I took the easy way out today by telling you that my wife fascinates me.
But she does. And I love her. She’s tough. She’s kind. She’s mean. She’s gorgeous. She’s battle-tested and time-worn. She’s soft. She’s my interpreter. She’s my translator. She’s probably pissed at me for doing this.
Alicia, you’ve fascinated me for fifteen years. Hopefully I’ll get fifteen more.
|Good Lord I’m a dork.|
I’ve wondered about the title of this blog for four years. As it turns out, I didn’t even have to think of it. This morning, while I was getting a glass of water from the refrigerator, my son walked in and said, “Yay! Daddy’s graduating today!”
My daughter looked up at me, smiled, and said, “Finally.” ***
Thursday night was bad.
I kept having dreams where I died. I’d drift off to sleep, and wake up gasping, having just crashed an airplane, fallen off a cliff, or having been pushed in front of a bus.
I cried Friday morning when I was watching the news before class. Someone paid off someone else’s layaway, and I got all weepy.
So of course I texted my wife and told her what was going on, and she was very succinct with her reply: “You need to calm down.”
I didn’t believe I would make it. I really didn’t. When I started college four years ago, I honestly thought I’d quit again. I mean I’d tried it twice before, and I left both times. I don’t mean I dropped out, I just left. My grade point average was abysmal.
But I started again.
And I slugged along. I took some classes I really thought I’d like at first, just to pick up the momentum. I took elementary algebra four times, and I took intermediate algebra four times. I won’t tell you how I got through college algebra.
I fell in love with literature. I decided against a journalism degree, then decided against a computer science degree, and finally settled on English Education. Teaching. Geez.
I quit my job after my second semester. I burned an enormous bridge at Connors State College, simply because their math department (certain faculty, really) is the biggest bunch of idiots God ever put on earth.
We got a couple of kids. Then we got another kid. We went through a really rough patch in our marriage, and I genuinely thought it was all over. Then I learned how to ask, “How can I help?”
I’ve worked 16-hour days for an entire semester now. I’ve gained an enormous amount of respect for high-school teachers, and not only them, but the students as well. I fell in love with those kids (totally not in a weird way), and I’m sad I only have one more week with them.
I interrupted the semester with a trip to Washington, D.C. for an amazing reason. I had a wreck my second day of my internship. I got sick for like the second time in my entire life. I yelled at my daughter for making a C when I was struggling to keep up a C in a class myself.
“You’re a Sloat. Sloats don’t make Cs. Sloats don’t make Bs. Sloats make As.” – Brian (and now Travis) Sloat
I ran out of gas halfway through the semester, then got an email from my wife that changed everything.
And, while we’re on the subject, can we just take a moment to enter my wife in the “Best Wife of the 2010s” contest. The woman is amazing. While I’ve been slugging away at my internship, then working nights at the paper, she’s been raising three kids essentially by herself, and, not only that, actually tried to sleep with me a few times too.
You know I still remember the first day I actually noticed her. I don’t remember much, I truly think I’ll have dementia in about a week, but I remember noticing Alicia for the first time. I can tell you exactly where I was, and exactly where she was, and almost exactly what she had on.
God, in His amazing and infinite wisdom, completely changed my life when He let her fall in love with me. She is a rock, and I am fully prepared to spend the rest of my life trying to thank her for these last four years in particular. I love you, Alicia.
I woke up at 7 a.m.
I rolled out of bed to get in the shower, and Alicia asked me, “What time are you leaving?” I replied, “I need to leave in about 45 minutes.”
“What? You told me it started at 9:30!”
“Yeah, but I have to be there an hour early.”
She made some sort of noise, and then I honest to goodness didn’t see her the rest of the morning. Somehow, she got all three kids ready, herself ready, and ironed my clothes in 45 minutes. Did I mention she’s amazing?
Just before we left, I remembered something. In my sock drawer, there’s an armband with some initials on it. B.R.S. Brian Ronald Sloat. I had it made for basketball after he died. I grabbed it, and slid it on under my shirt sleeve. It just seemed right dad should be there with me.
We made it to the event center. We didn’t die.
The separated us at the door, and ushered me around the building where I had a moment of sheer, unadulterated panic when the lady in charge of the cards with our names on them couldn’t find mine. It wound up being the only one in the pack stuck to the back of another one, and if that right there doesn’t prove to you that The Lord has a sense of humor (a sick one, sometimes), then I don’t know what will.
I met my friends, Krista and Katelynn, who have been with me through this whole thing, and don’t seem to find it weird that they have attached themselves to a 32-year-old man who has a penchant for being inappropriate.
|I freaking love you guys.|
We teamed up with Bret, another fellow English major, and we lined up.
I didn’t die. I didn’t trip. But I was sweating bullets.
My mom sent me a text. You see, she got married today in what was the biggest scheduling SNAFU of 2014, and couldn’t be at the graduation. I’m okay with that, because I like the guy she married. I think, for the first time in 14 years, I’m cool with finally calling someone my step-dad.
“Congrats on your graduation today! Sorry I’m not there to see it, just know that I’m SO proud of you! Your dad would say, ‘Good job, son.’ Love you.”
And now, typing that out, I’m crying for the first time today. I’m honestly surprised it didn’t happen sooner.
My dad would be proud of me, just like the rest of my family is. But I honestly think he’d laugh a little, and smile at me the way he used to, the way I can see so perfectly in my mind right now, and he’d say:
I walked in that gym, and I had my chest out and my head high. I didn’t trip, I didn’t die.
I waved to my friends and family. I didn’t trip, I didn’t die.
I sat through a commencement speech that I can’t even come close to remembering now. I didn’t trip, I didn’t die.
I stood up when my row was ready. I didn’t trip, I didn’t die.
I walked to the stage. I didn’t trip, I didn’t die.
I heard my name: “Travis Gene Sloat.” I didn’t trip, I didn’t die.
I shook the hands of two people and got my degree holder. I didn’t trip, I didn’t die.
I walked out of the gym and into life as a college graduate. I didn’t trip, I didn’t die.
I found a professor I’ve really grown attached to and I shook his hand. “Thank you.” That’s all I could say.
I found some friends and hugged their necks and shook their hands. They congratulated me, and I thanked them, looking all the while for my family.
I finally got a text message from Alicia. “We’re at the truck.”
You know, I didn’t even pause. I just started walking that way. I completely missed Krista and Katelynn, and missed a couple of other professors I wanted to thank, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to be with my family.
We got in the truck, and we went out for a celebratory lunch. Mexican food, because what else?
I looked at them, gathered around the table. Aven, who was of course distracted by everything; Akeeli, who is just about the cutest little girl on the face of the planet; The youngest, who we’re hoping to finally have a chance to adopt in a few short weeks; and, finally, Alicia.
I smiled and took a drink of my beer, completely satisfied with my life at that point.
“That’s it, we’re out.”
The bad news came from Travis, the driver of the vehicle, and he delivered the news to his wife with a slightly disappointed voice, although he tried to maintain a carefree demeanor.
“We’re not out,” she replied. “There’s always more in these old trucks, the gauge never tells you the truth. Try it again.”
Travis tried it again. The engine coughed, sputtered, tried to come to life, but then didn’t, and as it ground to a halt it ground the hopes of ever making it out of The Pit.
Funnily enough, Travis had created The Pit, back when he had too much time on his hands. He’d borrowed a backhoe from a friend, took it slow and steady at first, and then when that hadn’t produced the results he’d wanted, he’d bought some dynamite and blasted a hole deeper than he’d intended, but it was a hole nonetheless, something he could be proud of. It all seemed like a great idea at the time.
Now that pit was a trap.
It wasn’t just Travis and his wife in the truck, their three kids were with them. They’d stocked enough water and snacks, as well as more diapers than you can imagine, for the trip, but not enough to account for extra time.
Help wasn’t on the way. Travis had spent many hours alienating friends while digging the hole, so no one would be coming around to check on them. Not hearing from Travis was more common than hearing from him.
Travis looked at his wife.
“I think that’s it. It’s just not going any further. I don’t know what to do. I know we’re close to being out, but it’s still too steep for us to climb.”
Then he finally admitted, “Also, I don’t have any clue what to do when we get out.”
His wife was slow to reply, but when she did it was with a smile.
“Hang on, let me check something,” she said.
She hopped out of the truck—the truck he’d driven so recklessly—and went to the back, rummaged in the bed for a few moments, removed something, and then walked back to the cab.
Smiling that same, calm smile, she motioned to the item she’d pulled out of the bed of the truck.
It was a gas can.
“Where did you get that?” Travis asked.
“I don’t know,” she answered. “I just thought you might need it. You think it’ll be enough to get us out of here?”
“We don’t need much,” he said. “So I bet it will. At any rate, it’ll get us closer than we are now.”
As Travis refueled the truck from the can, he thought about all the times he’d wondered whether God actually heard his cries, his pleas, his fervent whisperings in the night for a woman he could spend his life with, a woman who’d share his fears, his happiness, his life.
Looking up, he caught his wife’s eyes in the rearview mirror. She winked.
He closed the gas cap, slapped the side of the old truck—the truck he knew he’d miss—and hopped in the driver’s seat.
“Alright,” he said, glancing at his wife. “Let’s try to get out of this pit.”
You got a fast car. I want a ticket to anywhere. Maybe we can make a deal, maybe together we can get somewhere. Any place is better, starting from zero, got nothing to lose. Maybe we’ll make something, but me myself I got nothing to prove.
Let me just tell you what can happen in a decade.
You laugh. You yell. You cry. You fight. You move into a terrible apartment, then get kicked out. You get pets you can’t afford, then give them away. You build friendships, then watch them fade away. You burn your stomach trying to make pancakes. You have to borrow money from your parents. You experience the pain of watching the other one pack their things, then the joy of them not actually leaving. Your wife kicks a dudes butt for you. You join churches, then you leave them. You try to start a family, then one day you do. You quit jobs, then start new ones. You worry about money. You worry about sex. You worry about the kids and how dumb they act. You go to school, then you quit, then try the whole thing again. You get caught up in online gaming and have to be yanked to reality again. You buy cars you can’t afford, then have them taken. You write a hot check hoping it won’t get cashed until payday. You take vacations that are stressful, and then vacations that are incredibly relaxing. You deal with others who try to take your happiness. You deal with each other’s issues. You realize how easy you had it with no responsibilities. You pack up one night and head to Kansas, Houston, or anywhere else you get a whim to go to. You win. You lose. You love.
|My first live Duke game.|
The Missus is not really great at gift-giving. Traditionally I have to tell her exactly what I want, or most always suffer a tinge of disappointment. Over the last week I’ve been thinking of the gifts we won’t be able to get each other this year because we’re broke, and I had a startling revelation.
The Missus has given me ten years of her.
Ten years of her life have been spent married to me. Ten years of babysitting me, laughing at/with me, and telling me time and time again, “We can’t afford it.” If not for her, I would not be a father, I would not be in school, and I would more than likely have died years ago in what the authorities would probably call an “accident.”
Turns out, The Missus is incredible at giving gifts.
|One of the first meals she made me. You can see why I’m fat.|
A few weeks ago my youngest brother sent me a text. He wanted advice on proposing to a girl. I asked him a couple of funny questions, and then this one:
“Can you imagine the rest of your life without her?”
I cannot for one second think about a life that doesn’t involve The Missus. I’ve thought about what it might be like to lose her, and my brain just shuts down, it won’t work. She has completely fabricated herself into every facet of my life, and I would not have it any other way.
|“Travis, put that down, you don’t get cake yet.”|
Here’s the thing. I like to say I wouldn’t change any decisions in my life, that I live with no regrets and no looking back. But that’s a lie. Had I known what I know today, I would have done quite a few things differently to make her feel more special, to give her more support, and to show her how much I love her.
And I’m sure I’ll screw things up in the future. Screwing things up is kind of what I do. Forgiving me is kind of what makes her so special. Forgiving me is kind of what she does.
|10 years. And a bangin’ bowtie.|
She’s not perfect. She never answers her phone. She drives WAY too slow. She won’t tell someone when she’s mad at them. She doesn’t like Mexican food as much as me.
But she can deep fry the mouse or phone you’re scrolling with and make you love it. She can light up a room with a smile and a comment. She laughs at my jokes. She laughs when I fart. She tells me I’m a good writer. She reads my blogs. She raises our children. She doesn’t make fun of me for crying in movies. She kisses me when I come home from work. She lets me touch her boobies. She drives on Sundays even when I know she doesn’t want to. She does my laundry and my dishes. She puts up with my whims, my obsessions, and my incessant need to try new things.
She loves me.
I love her.
And here’s to the next ten years. The next decade of Travis and Alicia Sloat.
|Young, stupid, happy.|
In a hundred years from now, I know without a doubt, they’ll all look back and wonder how we made it work out. Chances are, we’ll go down in history, when they want to see, how true love should be, they’ll just look at us.