The next day was the last day for our road trip. We’d jump back in John’s car and head back to our Springfield. First though, one last visit with Toni: a picnic in the park. Spring was early in the Ozarks and it was a beautiful day. At the park we headed to the top of a hill. There were people everywhere out enjoying the day, flying kites, tossing Frisbees and walking dogs. I thought it was a warm day but it seemed to get a little chilly when we sat down on the blanket and the longer we sat there the colder it felt. The sunshine was still warm and bright when I finally caught the hint that I should get some more quality alone time and I excused myself for a walk.
I wandered around the park, soaked up the sun and mostly thought about another strategy to get another level further in the video game I’d become addicted to. I figured that Toni just wanted a few moments alone with John before we left and they wouldn’t see each other for a while. Eventually I turned back up the hill. As I came up to the spot where we’d stretched out the blanket I could see John and Toni laying there, feet at opposite ends and their heads opposite each other in the middle. I noticed that Toni, with her back to me, was looking down very intently at the blanket like she’d dropped something very precious on it and was trying to see where it had gone. John looked up at me and as he caught my eye he put one finger up to the chain around his neck, pulled it out of his shirt and quickly ran it back and forth showing me that Toni’s ring wasn’t on it any more.
I was walking in on a break-up.
Walking into a doctor’s examination room that you thought was the empty room you were supposed to go into and finding that instead it was the room where the very pregnant woman was getting an internal exam is only half as awkward as I felt on the top of that hill that day.
I didn’t have to feel awkward for very long. Soon we had dropped Toni back at the campus and we were on the road and on our way back home. We sang every break up, done wrong, broken heart song that Styx, R.E.O. and Journey had recorded on our way back to the land of Lincoln. We talked about the glory of being unattached, the freedom that not having Toni’s ring on that chain meant for John. But I could tell he didn’t mean it.
Would never mean it.
I don’t know what I said to John. I can only imagine the kind of stupid advice I offered or empty assurances that it would all work out for the best. I’ve always been terrible at times like that. Comfort and emotion aren’t my strengths. What I do know for sure is that he was shocked, then depressed and finally determined.
He would get her back.
Time went by, like it always does and I was off to University myself. John was back in Springfield, Illinois and Toni was still at school in Springfield, Missouri. The school I went to was in Joplin, Missouri about an hour further down the road from where Toni went to school. I landed there again with another friend. He was there to see a girl and I was going to grab a bus for the rest of my trip down to Joplin. Only after he disappeared into a dorm I realized that I didn’t have the cash I needed for the bus ride. The fare had gone up. I tried to find him but a guy in a girl’s dorm is a lot harder to find than it might sound like it should be. I thought of Toni and gave her a call. She met me, took me somewhere to cash a cheque and drove me to the bus station. None of that was as simple as it sounds and even if not physically, she emotionally saved my life that day.
On another day she and my friend John got married.
And they had kids.
And now their kids are getting married and having kids.
It’s amazing what can happen when a man loves a woman.
“When a man loves a woman
Can’t keep his mind on nothing else
He’ll trade the world
For the good thing he’s found…” – Percy Sledge