“My Gutsy Story®” by Java Davis
I spent the summer before senior year of college working as a gas station attendant in Lodi, NJ. I was 21. When I think of that summer, I can only recall hot, sunny days, and bright, well-tended flowers in the beds around the station. In the beginning of the summer, I couldn’t lift the hood of a Cadillac, they were so heavy. By the end of the summer, I could pop any hood, reveling in my hard won muscle tone.
There were lots of chores, many more than pumping gas and checking oil. I learned to stock supplies, rake the garden mulch, and paint the yellow trim around the pump islands. I’d never seen a urinal before until I cleaned those bathrooms. Every day, I’d arrive and put on my clean, crisp uniform. At the end of the day, I’d drop it in the station’s laundry hamper, the thighs stained with the dirt from leaning over car engines, and smelling of gasoline fumes.
My coworkers are still clear to me. There was the station manager, a cheerful, round little man reminiscent of Lou Costello. There was the young man just starting out, this being his first job. He focus was on one of the regular customers, a woman known as “the slut.” He lived to see her decrepit car chugging into the station. Another coworker was a retarded young man – in those days, retarded wasn’t a curse word. He knew what he was, and he knew that the gas station job was as far as he would progress.
The last coworker was 19 years old, two years younger than I was. We made the same money. I saw the money as summer savings, to be spent during my senior year in college. My young friend was earning a living, supporting a wife and baby. He would often tell me how wonderful it was to go home to a loving wife and adorable baby. I don’t like children and would frequently make retching noises. I never asked if the baby was a boy or girl. Baby and burden were the same words to me.
My adult life hadn’t even started yet. I needed to finish college and settle on a career. I wasn’t nearly ready to be anchored down. He would tease me about it, asking me the same question every week: “So when are you getting married?” And I would always give the same answer: “I don’t have to. You’ve already done it for me.” Very soon, I understood that he was looking for me to validate his life. I couldn’t ever do that. I believed that his life was already derailed.
“So when are you getting married?”
“I don’t have to. You’ve already done it for me.”
He seemed resigned to his fate, cheerfully trying to make it sound like true domestic bliss. I thought he was crazy.
The summer was coming to an end. Very soon, I would leave the gas station job and go back to school full-time. I had just moved into an adorable little apartment. I couldn’t wait to start the new term and to finally finish my college years.
Two weeks before the end, my boss called me over for a quiet conversation. My young friend had blown his brains out. The really sad part was that he botched the job and would be a vegetable for years to come.
I felt like I’d pulled the trigger myself. When you’re young, everything revolves around you. If only I’d been more supportive. Ultimately and objectively, I feel pity and compassion for that poor baby, child, young adult, whose accident of conception drove Dad to such despair.
JAVA DAVIS BIO: I’m retired/disabled. I travel as I please and carve out my own hours for writing. My Jewish roots tend to creep a little into most of my work. Road trips, too. I love road trips and classic cars. I studied English and Linguistics in college. In graduate school, I studied typography and type design. The printing, advertising, and public relations fields had me hogtied for about 15 years. Which authors have inspired me? Ernest Hemingway for his terseness, Marge Piercy for her ability to get into people’s heads, and Robert Pirsig for showing me the value of a journey.
SONIA MARSH SAYS: What a terrible tragedy and this must have been a life-changing moment for you.
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On Becoming a Dinosaur
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July 28th, “My Gutsy Story®” by RITA GARDNER