Every family has its origin story. Some event or series of events that bring two people together, for better, worse, mutual indifference, whatever. Our family’s story begins in 2004. I was in my last semester at UCLA and commuting to and from campus from south Orange County twice weekly. By this point I’d been in a three year relationship and we had lived together for about two and a half of those years. We grew through college, but some of that growth was apart from each other. We had different visions for our future lives with each other. She was definitely not on board with my “three goals before 25” plan. I was not on board with her “kids after 35” plan.
In April, things came to a head, and she (we’ll call her Eliza) broke up with me. It hurt, but didn’t. I don’t think I had the courage to end the relationship, choosing to “tough through it” rather than face the difficult situation ahead. It was for the best, however. Our lives crossed but we were ready to move on, and I’m thankful for all of it. The following months were tough. We shared her car, our apartment, bank account, and bed. We had four more months on our lease and there was a lot to untangle. She let me use her car to complete my last six weeks at school. The rest of the time, I was walking, catching rides, or taking the bus. It made it hard to have a social life and escape the apartment, especially when she was there.
In June, I went on a graduation trip to Europe. My whole family came, even my grandparents. It was almost perfect, except Eliza was there too. We had paid for the trip in our happier days and there was no way she was not going on a European vacation she’d already paid for. Not a chance. Fortunately, nothing was rekindled during the trip and we came home in early July. I had to get back on my feet, so I quickly bought a car for $200 from the cousin of a friend of a coworker. It was a red, 1991 Ford Tempo.
BEHOLD THE DONALD!
My little brother named this beauty “The Donald”. I don’t know why, but it stuck. The Donald had seen better days by the time it’d come into my possession. It was missing the rear view mirror, the driver’s side mirror and window, and had dents on the door and roof as if a previous owner had rolled it. The alternator mount was also slightly askew, causing The Donald to snap alternator belts about every 200-300 miles (see picture above). I had to keep a my glove box full of spare alternator belts at all times. The Donald fit my attitude – a punk rock work horse who just needed a little love. By this point I was working night crew at Best Buy since I had nothing better going on and it paid $1.50 more per hour. The late drives to work and early morning drives home afforded me the perfect opportunity to learn stick.
Come August, our lease was up and Eliza and I went our separate ways. She took the cat (I miss you, Mugatu), and I took the dog. (Bonus fact, Cletus was the first member to join this new family and he’s still part of it today.) I moved into a condo with my older brother and another friend. Life was getting back on track. I surfed the internet frequently, looking for people to skype with or just meet up with in general. On the recommendation of a friend, I checked out a website called yousuckirule.com. The wild west of early social media. Somewhere between Friendster and Myspace. The whole premise of the site was to rank people up or down based on their profile. It was fun and I got to know a person or two from the site IRL. By early September, there was a profile that caught my eye. She seemed cool and I liked her screen name. I don’t recall if she messaged me, or if I messaged her, but somehow we ended up getting to chat.
She lived in Vegas. Not far, but definitely not close. We started messaging each other more frequently. Our schedules didn’t match up very well with me being on the night shift, but I looked forward to each time we got to chat. I had somebody to talk with, somebody to share ideas and loves, or just vent with. I found myself often sending her mp3s of whatever I was listening to at the moment. I thought I’d impress her with my breadth of musical knowledge (I know better now). I sent her a few songs by Ashtray Babyhead, a band out of Arkansas. (Their album “Radio” is still worth a listen from time-to-time.) She seemed interested in the music I was slinging (she wasn’t) so I kept them coming! We formed a bond, just not in person. We continued chatting through October, often catching each other as she returned home from her job at Blockbuster and before I had to leave for mine. It was the little moments, the waiting, the wondering that kept me going. Getting to talk to Angela was always the best part of my day.
By the end of the month, our store remodel was complete and we were no longer needed for the night shift. We had to return to regular life. But before we did, our overnight manager, Ken, offered to take the six-person night shift to Vegas to show his appreciation for the past four months of hard work. I don’t know how long I waited to tell Angela that I finally had an opportunity to come out to Vegas. I think I mentioned it in a nonchalant way, I didn’t want to look too desperate. I asked her if she wanted to hang out while I was in town, so she gave me her number to see if we could make it work when I got there. I had no idea how radically my life was about to change.
DAD AND BABY CLETUS!
For the next chapter in our story, click here.