(Before I begin Chapter 3, let me start by saying that the telling of this story has become lengthier than I originally intended. As I write, the memories keep flowing. I am shortening them up as much as I can, as I am rather long winded. I am also posting a picture of the tattoos, for readers who asked about them. On my right shoulder is half of a broken heart, with the initial “H” in it. The other half of the broken heart is on Heather’s left shoulder, with my initial in it. When we put our shoulders together, the heart becomes whole).
As we sat on the riverbank on 9-11-2001, contemplating the future, we had no idea what the next few years would bring. It was a scary day. We were leaning totally on each other, as we did not realize that everything was in God’s hands. We had not yet accepted His plan for salvation for us, and so we had the burden of thinking we had to do everything for ourselves. We started to plan for the future, if there was going to be one. We didn’t have the knowledge that God can make good come from any situation, and that He would be softening our hearts to Him in the next few years. We also did not know that He was going to bless us far beyond our expectations.
For now though, we looked at what we knew. We knew we were very much in love with each other and had lost interest in pretty much everything else. We also knew that we had already started making major changes to simplify our lives, and that we wanted to make the most of the remainder of our days. Two decisions were immediately made.
The first decision was that we should continue on the path we were on, just in case the earth didn’t go into the final world war. For the past year of our courtship, we had experienced a love that was stronger than anything we had previously known. We remembered how the first night spent together was sleepless. We would start to doze off, then awake suddenly wondering if it was all real. I could lay there all night and just listen to her breathe, until I finally went into an exhausted slumber. We savored every moment, just in case it was all a dream. We spent our first days at Heather’s cottage in the country, taking evening walks. Then we moved her to my little house on an abandoned airstrip at the edge of town, working on the house to make it our own.
We remembered how, during the first year, we would be driving down the street and I would say to her “I have stuff stored in that garage over there,” or “that guy walking down the street owes me $150”. When I realized how complicated my pre-Heather life had gotten, I decided that none of that old stuff was very important anymore. We started cleaning house. Heather was a real trooper, wading through years of treasures and trash that I had accumulated since high school. We would open up a storage unit (there were lots of them) and she would help me clean it and organize it. Usually, it was hard to even face the mess. I didn’t ever know where to start. It was easier to just lock the door and walk away, hanging the key back on the board with all the rest of the rental keys. In the middle of some of the projects, I just wanted to quit and walk away. Heather would encourage me to keep going, and tell me that the problems would not be solved by closing the door on them. She was a computer wiz-kid, and quickly became an E-Bay Power Seller. We would sell the stuff that wasn’t important, and it made me feel so much better. You’ve seen people like me on television. You know, the ones who have so much stuff in storage that they can’t walk through it and have no idea what has been buried for a decade or more.
We decided that if mankind wasn’t going to bomb each other into oblivion, we needed to keep working on the mess. We also decided that life was too short to deal with stressful investments. We agreed that it was time to become independent of bankers, rental tenants, and all of the work involved. It was time to sell off rental properties and become debt free. My previous marriage ended in divorce with me owning lots of property, having lots of income, and being over a half million dollars in debt. All of the properties had mortgage loans on them, and it was nothing less than a major chore to deal with each day.
We remembered what a huge burden possessions had become. We had pretty much ignored most of it during the first year of dating, however we had recently started seriously paring down. You see, as a kid I started by collecting old coins. Over the later years of my collecting addictions, this had grown into an obscene hoard of bags full of silver coins that meant nothing to me. We started by sorting it all out and selling most of it (except for the collections I had enjoyed as a kid, like year sets and silver dollars). As a young adult, I had a car that my Dad and I had worked on when I was at home. It was a fun car, and he sold it to me for a dollar when I graduated from high school. It represented lots of good memories of doing stuff with Dad. This car had grown into an insane stable of collector cars during my years of addiction. I just kept buying old cars and fixing them up (or not fixing them up), storing them, and not having time to even look at most of them. I actually had a collector edition car that I bought brand new in 1992 and put in storage right off the trailer. Nine years later, I had never driven it even one mile! The first car meant something to me. The others had become nothing but extra work, storage responsibilities, and a huge monthly insurance bill. When I first started dating Heather, she would see something interesting or something she liked, and I would ask “Would you like to have it?” At first, her reply was foreign to my materialistic thinking. She answered, “I can like something without having to own it.” It had never occurred to me that I could enjoy things without buying them! Any time I wanted something, I would buy it and then work harder to pay for it.
My addiction to cars also resulted in the hoarding of garages full of old parts, most of which I hadn’t seen since the mid-1980s (other than to move them to bigger garages). I had also collected weird stuff, like anything that had the “Road Runner” cartoon character on it. I had 10 year old bags of potato chips, ice melt salt, spiral notebooks, and other unused items stored in boxes, just because the Road Runner was on them. Other collections included tons of old magazines, “important” newspapers, Richard Petty collectibles, and guns (many of which had not been fired for over 20 years). The massive number of storage garages and bank lock boxes was a distraction that had become easy to ignore. Now you have a better picture of how sick I had become in the 90s. Some family members didn’t understand how I could part with all of these prizes, however they didn’t know what a burden and emotional drain it was to me. They also didn’t know that most of it was little more than a diversion from reality, and a place for my mind to hide out.
Few people knew how depressed I was, and how my nervous system had revolted against my greedy mindset. On the outside, many people who knew me thought I had it all in the 90s. They were right! I did have IT all. And let me tell you, IT is not a good thing to have. My oldest son (from my previous marriage) once said, “Dad, all I want is a Harley Davidson, a snowmobile, and a boat. Then I will be happy.” My reply to him was “No, you won’t.”
The second decision Heather and I came to on 9/11/2001 was that what we had felt in Savannah, Georgia was real. We always knew we wanted to be together for the rest of our lives. What were we waiting for? Surely we weren’t taking people seriously when they objected to our age difference. It couldn’t possibly matter to us that other people thought our relationship happened too fast. We knew that we wanted to enjoy each other through good times and bad, sickness and health, and, well…you get the picture. We decided to get married!
The next day, 9-12-2001, Heather got on the internet and started working on plans for our wedding. She knew I was fascinated with trains, and she investigated getting married on one. We kept it very simple and low-stress. Heather bought a wedding dress for about $85. I like white cake with chocolate frosting, so she had the grocery store schedule one that said “Yay for us!” on it. We decorated it with a plastic bride and groom from the local bakery. Total cost was about $20. The major expense was train tickets. She scheduled for us to board the AmTrack Southwest Chief to the Grand Canyon on 09/26/2001 (just 15 days after the bombing of the World Trade Center). The only person we took with us was a minister (for the first 75 miles of the train trip), to perform the ceremony on board as we crossed the river to pass through our home state en-route to Arizona. Two elderly ladies in the train station spontaneously appointed themselves that day to be Heather’s personal attendants (their names were Thelma and Louise). We asked other passengers on the train to be witnesses, and to use our camcorder to record the event. The minister’s wife picked him up at the first stop, and we were off on our train trip honeymoon! It was the best wedding I have ever been to, and if you saw pictures of me you would see that if I grinned any wider my jaw would have broken off!
I won’t keep asking you to post a comment if you want to hear more. Just know that I will continue the story, primarily because I am having the time of my life remembering and telling it. Thank you for the opportunity to share, and for the encouraging comments. For those of you who are really missing Heather, I will encourage her to get back on the keyboard between chapters. With her (all day) morning sickness, she is enjoying the break and reading my guest posts on her blog.[print-me/]