My friend John was a year ahead of me in school and a year older than me. He also came from an entirely different world than I did. He had been given and expected to carry responsibilities that I didn’t have until I was living away from home. He had experiences in life, stories he could tell, that it would take me 5 more years to begin to accumulate what he’d already lived. “The House That Sand Saved” was just part of his true story collection.
He had a lot of stories that centered around his experiences at MacDonalds. Stories that included the huge woman who always ordered a diet Coke with her Big Macs and Extra large fries. The guy who always took his coffee into the washroom with him. Steve, another manager who I met, who assumed every woman who worked at MacDonalds or walked into MacDonalds wanted him. He would do outrages things I won’t tell you about here that started with him simply dropping his keys. There was the story about the guy who took out the trash and ended up tangling with some rats at the dumpster who’d gotten into the rat poison before they bit him that left him with black flesh on his arms that eventually left behind hollows in his skin where flesh used to be.
Of all his stories, Toni was his favourite.
They went way, way back. They knew each other from work and friends and she was just slightly older than he was. She went to a different school and when we made our road trip was at University.
John was crazy about Toni. Most guys are terrified of asking a girl out. The probability of rejection is always looming and getting shot down is painful. Most guys won’t ask a girl out even if they really like her just because of that fear. Most guys who face the fear and ask a girl out will give up with “No.” John was not most guys. I’d been with him as he relentlessly pursued Toni. It had been “Yes.” And “No.” with lots of indecision in between. But we jumped in the car to drive 7 hours down I-55 and I-44 because it was currently, “Yes.” And John wore Toni’s class ring on a chain around his neck as a sign, a symbol of the love they shared for each other.
I had met Toni but I’d mostly heard about Toni. I heard about her mom, her family, funny stories about her, the 10 reasons she was perfect for him, why they were perfect for each other. On and on.
During an “off” period, when Toni was definitely not with John, he still talked about her and he measured all other girls against her. My life had been brief at that point but I had never and I’ve never since, seen someone hold on to the idea of being with a particular person the way John did with Toni. It was intimidating, inspiring and if I’m honest, a little weird to me.
But there we were, just passing St. Louis on 44 listening to Billy Joel. As Joel sang “Angry Young Man” John and I were both thinking of the same friend back home. As he sang, “She’s Got A Way About Her” we were both thinking of the same girl, but it wasn’t Toni. As we played along on steering wheel and dashboard with Billy as he sang, “Vienna” I thought of myself and wondered why I was going with John for a weekend with his girlfriend.