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The Fisher of Stories



Look at us, we’re almost halfway through this thing.

Today’s prompt might be tough for you to read, but it’s not tough for me to write, so don’t worry.

Here’s the thing. Sloat men have a bad habit of dying by their 40th birthday. Here’s a list:

Uncle dead at nine.
Uncle dead at twenty.
Grandpa dead at forty.
Father dead at forty.

In seven years I’ll be 39.

Maybe I’ll live that long, maybe I won’t. Family history says no, but God does big things.

In seven years, Alicia and I will have been married for almost twenty years. Akeeli will be seventeen, Aven will be fifteen, and Drake will be ten. Maybe there’s a fourth Sloat child by that point, who knows?

I’ll have been a teacher at Okay Public Schools for eight years. I hope to have at least written one novel, maybe a trilogy, those seem to be pretty successful.

I want to have gotten the Teacher of the Year award from my school, the state, and be working on National Teacher of the Year.

My seventh grade class will be graduating in seven years. I want them to come up to me on their graduation day and tell me that I made some sort of impact. Anything.

Hopefully I’ll have a few years of being a head coach under my belt, and I want to be leading a team to a state tournament. Then I want to win it. I want the ring I never got in high school.

I really want to lose some weight. I do. I’d like to lose 150 pounds in the next seven years, and I know that’s completely reasonable, and I’m in charge of my own journey, and all I have to do is put my mind to it, and blah, blah, blah. I just have to buckle down and do it. That’s it. That’s like, twenty-one pounds a year. Totally doable.

I don’t necessarily want a “better” life in 2022, I just want to be a better person. I happen to like my life right now, and don’t want a whole lot to change, except internally. I want to be Travis 2.0. I want to be closer to my children, closer to my wife, and closer to my God.

That’s me in seven years. Love you guys.

Today is the beginning of a five-part series on my blog called “The Road.” This series will chronicle the events of my life leading up to meeting my wife, the events that transpired after, and how it has led us all to where we are now. The series will end not by my hand, but by my wife’s. Some of this will be very hard for me to write, and as a result, will be hard for you to read. Some of you will think differently of me afterwards, but I ask that you please don’t get halfway through this series and stop. In the end, maybe you will find something here that let’s you know you aren’t alone. The roads we travel are unique, but they intersect often. I have changed almost all the names in this story in order to respect individual privacy.
Part One: The Girls Before

“The book of love is long and boring,no one can lift the damn thing.It’s full of charts, and facts and figures,and instructions for dancing. But I, I love it when you read to me. You can read me, anything.”
The Book of Love – Peter Gabriel

It all starts on a blueberry farm.

When I was fourteen, I had the opportunity to go to work at the blueberry farm in my hometown of Okay, Oklahoma. The blueberry farm was the only place around that hired kids that were fourteen, and most parents wanted their kids to get a taste of work around that time. It was also pretty nice earning my own money.

Getting up at five forty-five every morning so I could be out working by six was not a fun way to spend half of my summer vacation, and getting paid two dollars per gallon of berries I picked was outrageous, but I soon met someone who made it worth it.

Her name was Mindy, and she was by far the most interesting girl in the blueberry patch. She was home-schooled, she was five foot one at the most, and weighed maybe eighty pounds. She wasn’t bad looking, either. She went to a church in Muskogee, and she was every bit as knowledgeable as I was in all things spiritual. We had some pretty in-depth conversations out there in that field, and I’m pretty sure I was the most annoying person she’d ever met.

Try as I might, Mindy would not give me her phone number. I asked every day, and every day she turned me down. It took a bit of devious planning on my part, but I had another really good friend working with us that was also home-schooled, and he got her number for me out of some sort of special phone book they had. Victory, it seemed, was mine.

Mindy and I spent the next two years talking on the phone almost every single evening. We never quite got around to “going out,” and somehow that was fine for both of us. We really did enjoy our friendship. We visited each other’s churches, and we even went to Falls Creek together.

During one of my visits to her church, my eyes fell upon a young lady who I became quite enamored with. Her name was Kim, and she soon became the recipient of my nightly phone calls. Not long after that, we began dating. She was the proverbial “first love.” We had a lot of good times together, and I learned a lot while dating her. For instance, I learned that I was a possessive jerk who took delight in trying to control a young lady of sixteen and making her into someone who only existed for my enjoyment.

In between this time of me finding out how badly I could treat someone and trying to figure out God’s plan for my life as far as women were concerned, I acquired a job at our local Walmart. I was a cart pusher, and I was darn good at it too. There had been a couple of weeks where my relationship with Kim had gotten rocky, and Mindy and I had spent a lot of time working through my problems. In fact, Mindy had helped me realize that I was being a possessive, misogynistic jerk, and was trying to give me advice on how to change. In the process, I began to wonder which one of them I should date.

So one night, out in the parking lot of Walmart gathering stainless steel buggies and putting them where they belonged, I asked God for a sign. You see, Mindy drove a Buick Skylark. Kim, a Chevy Corsica.

“God,” I said. “I want to marry the woman that you’ve picked for me. So I’m going to count all the Skylarks and Corsicas I see, and whichever there are more of, that’s who I’ll marry.”

The winner of my love would not have a choice in the matter. It would be, after all, ordained by God.

The Corsicas won out. It was decided. The woman I was to marry would be driving a Chevrolet Corsica.

Kim and I patched things up, but unfortunately I hadn’t learned my lesson. It took her a year and a half to see my abusive ways weren’t going to change, and she was gone. Our last phone call consisted of me telling her that my dad had cancer, and then trying to squeeze information out of her about the new guy she was supposedly dating.

There was a mission trip to Mexico scheduled for that summer. My dad didn’t want me to go. His thought was that he didn’t have much time left, and he wanted to spend that time with me. My argument was that it was just a week, and he wasn’t going to die in a week. I was in denial, and he was taking things too seriously.

On the way down to Mexico, I found out that Kim and this other guy were officially dating, and I didn’t handle it well. I spent a lot of my time dealing with that by playing basketball and asking everyone of our mutual friends if she was really happy with this guy. Everyone said yes, and I don’t think they were lying. They eventually got married. I’ve tried in several different ways to apologize to them both for being such a terrible person then, but I’ve never been able to get the words out right.

On the mission trip, I had an emotional connection with two other young ladies. One was Linda, the other was Tiffany. Tiffany was the tallest young lady on the trip, standing an inch shy of my five feet, eleven inch frame. She was very interesting to talk to, she had the cutest southern Oklahoma accent I’d ever heard, and she was attractive as well. There were two problems however; she lived three hundred and fifty miles away from me, and…she was thirteen. I was seventeen. Once I found out her age, I tried to move on.

One night on the way back to the church we were bunking at, Linda and I held hands. The song Entertaining Angels by the Newsboys was on the radio. To this day, I can recall every word of that song and the moments it shared with our hands clasped together. I was in love. And I remember the moments right after that, when she told me she had a boyfriend back home and just wanted to be close to someone while she was in Mexico. A part of me knew that wasn’t right, and again, I tried to move on.

I survived Mexico. My dad also survived – for another three months. By that time, I had found a “rebound” girl who I was spending a lot of my time with. Her name was Barb, and she was an extremely nice – if not a bit socially awkward – young lady with a permanent blush in her cheeks and a sunny disposition. We had been hooked up by a mutual friend who was tired of me trying to get with her, and finally just found someone else to take her place.

Barb was really a great girl. She hadn’t really dated before me, and she was caught up in the whole new relationship phase, but I was busy trying to deny the fact that my father was not long for this earth. Barb would give me bracelets to wear every time I saw her. I took so much crap for those bracelets. Barb went golfing with me once, she introduced me to Ford Broncos, and her family was astonished that I could eat four things from the menu at Taco Bell. She worked so hard to make our relationship successful, and I think part of that stemmed from what she knew I was going through.

Again, I was an idiot. Barb was the victim of me wanting to know what it was like to break up with someone before they could break up with me. I honestly thought I could dump her, come back a few weeks later, and then pick up where I left off. I just wanted to be in control.

My whole life has been about control.

Barb and I never did get back together. I’m not so vain as to think I scarred her for life, but she was definitely a “fool me once” learner when it came to me. We went our separate ways, and I was finally starting to see some things about myself that couldn’t exist if I wanted to ever have a fulfilling relationship. And yes, I was worried about a fulfilling relationship at the age of seventeen.

And it wasn’t too long before a young lady at work caught my eye. She was cute as a button, friendly, and spent time listening to me tell her how awesome I was when she was giving breaks to the door-greeters.

Oh, and she also drove a dark blue, 1996 Chevrolet Corsica.

Part Two

So this is where I’m at.

Starting Monday, I’ll be a college student. Again. For the third time. My academic record so far? A beautiful and stunning 21 credit hours of zeros. Oh-fers. Goose eggs. I kind of sucked a college in the past, if by “kind of” you are comparing how Lindsay Lohan “kind of” sucks at rehab.

My transcript actually has a picture of Lindsay Lohan on it.

So why am I going back to college if I’m so stupid bad at it?
Well, I honestly believe that in the 6 years since I’ve been, I’ve grown up a lot. I’ve realized a few things, and I understand the importance of having a degree. Especially if you want to be a writer/journalist, which is the career goal I’ve chosen. Say what you will, but there isn’t a single company or person out there today willing to give you a chance to write more than the classified ads if you don’t have a piece of paper in your hand saying that a degree granting institution considers you to be “alright.” It’s bull, but don’t try to tell that to people who have that piece of paper. They’ll cuss at you.

My goal is to go straight through, no breaks, no summer vacations, nothing at all until I’m done. Whether or not that happens remains to be seen, but I’m going to try. I want to get this done. I want to start a career. I’d settle for becoming famous, but published would be great. I don’t need millions of dollars to be happy, but when my kid comes up to me and says, “Dad, I’d like *insert name of ridiculously expensive and stupid toy*, I want to be able to buy that for them. I want to be able to send my kid(s) to basketball camps so they can be really talented and get drafted into the NBA and let me retire at 45. I want them to have things I didn’t.

Speaking of kids, I got word this week that we are “unofficially” approved for the adoption. We should get the final approval next week some time. That both excites me and scares me to death, because the other day I was thinking about it, and I realized that we’re essentially going to have a little stranger move into our house and never leave. Kind of like all the movies with Sinbad, only this kid probably won’t be as funny.

So there’s that. After the approval, it could take anywhere from 3 months to infinity to get a kid, and that’s the number coming from DHS. I think they actually used the infinity symbol, but kind of turned it at a bit of angle so it looked like an 8.

Starting on Monday, get ready to be greeted by a Facebook/Twitter feed of exhaustion, excitement, learning, and stuff about my farts, friends, penis cups, and Duke basketball.

You know, the usual.

When I was growing up, Highway 51 was this little two lane road that ran from Wagoner to Coweta that took me to my grandmother’s house on Sunday’s.

I hated that road sometimes, because you’d get stuck behind a slow driver, sometimes for miles, and you couldn’t pass, and my grandma had good food cooking, and I was hungry, and I wanted good food, and these slow drivers wouldn’t let me get good food.
It was pretty lame.
Then they four laned it. Champagne fell from the heavens, the Lord stepped out of Heaven and proclaimed it good, the speed limit was changed to 65, and the drive to grandma’s house got a lot cooler.
It wasn’t until a couple of months ago I discovered the other side of Highway 51. The side that runs from Wagoner to Tahlequah, which is where I work now. The side that is ugly. The side that makes you cuss at people in the morning. The side that you want to throw whale semen and Crystal Pepsi on and deem unfit to drive on so they build a better road.
I’ve got a picture.
Seriously. You’ll never find Lost City. They have a monastery there. They have the whole town covered in some sort of monastic force field cloak type thing. Monks have mad cloaking skills, yo.
So you see Highway 51 there in all of its shittiness. Now I’d like to give you some things that you’ll run into on the drive.
I’ve got another picture that depicts 6 different things that are usually problems for me on my drive.
1. This bridge is seriously 500 years old. I am almost entirely sure that this bridge was first erected (heh) in the year 1510 to help with the Battle of Marv. It has more patches than the new iPhone 4 OS. It is one vehicle holding a fat guy away from falling into the water, and it is one of the true sources of motivation for my weight loss. It is also about 3 feet wide. I would have trouble WALKING across it and not getting stuck.
2. This is the Tri-B Nursery, employer of the most illegal immigrants in the state of Oklahoma. It’s an accomplishment, y’all. Here we usually have a person of the Latino race with a vague concept of what the words on road signs mean drive out into the middle of the highway on some sort of farm implement with a top speed of 2 MPH, taking me from 70 to 2 in a gut wrenching 3.2 seconds. And I wonder why I’m always out of brake fluid. And the greatest part? They go about 10 feet in said farm implement, stop completely, make the slowest right turn in the history of right turns, and leave the highway. I’m going to stop busting their balls though, because I seriously love Mexican food. Stay up, hombres.
3. Clear Creek Road. If you live on Clear Creek Road, you are a FUCKING RETARD. I know that the grass is so tall you can’t really see that you are pulling out into the middle of oncoming traffic, and I know that you assume we’re all still going 2 MPH following a Mexican on a tractor, but the fact of the matter is, we’ve gotten a good pace going again, and you’ve just gone and fucked it up. Also, brake checking me while going 35 is not a wise idea, because I’m looking to get a new truck anyway, and I’m pretty sure that I will fuck your Prius up. Die in a fire, Clear Creek Road.
4. The town of Hulbert. It’s a speed trap. The speed limit through this town drops down to 30 MPH. If you are going 30 and 1/2 MPH, you will get pulled over. If you are going 29.99 MPH, you will be pulled over. I have had to seriously calibrate my cruise control to get through this town unscathed. Stay classy, Hulbert cops.
5. Usually there is a dead animal of some kind laying in the road at this point. The animals I’ve seen have ranged from cow to turkey to deer to wild hogs to bald eagles to elephants to zebras and to cats and dogs. I am starting to think there is a zoo nearby, or someone is killing endangered species and planting them on the road to make it look like an accident, or a circus truck is traveling a hell of a lot lighter right now and wondering why they are getting better gas mileage. I’m open to suggestions.
6. This is the last stretch of “No Passing” zone until you get into Tahlequah. This is where you will undoubtedly have a vehicle with more than 13 axles or be longer than 10837 feet pull out onto the highway and do a steady 45 MPH on into town. This morning it was a school bus. IT IS FUCKING SUMMER. SCHOOL BUSES ARE NOT RECREATIONAL VEHICLES. To make matters worse, I think there was one kid on that bus, and I’m pretty sure they were in the backseat crying and holding a sign that said ‘HELP ME!’ Those crazy kids.
So that is the story of my drive to work daily. You might think you have it bad in rush hour, but I encourage you to come out for a ride on Highway 51. You’ll fall in love with rush hour all over again.
And you may get to see kids being abducted in school buses.

P.S. If you’ve made it this far, you are probably a fan, and that means you’ll be excited to learn that I’m going to do a Memoir Monday on Monday morning. So if you’ve been waiting to hop on that train, here is your chance.