Athens, Alabama. I just stopped to get some coffee and go to the bathroom. I check my watch before pulling back on I-65 North. It’s 2:03 in the morning. Jimmy wrote to Santa the other day and asked for more things than I can afford. At the top of his list was a Ninja Turtles sewer. If only I knew what that was. Madison wants a karaoke machine, but she didn’t write that to Santa. She reminds me of it every chance she gets. She’s gotten too old to write to Santa anyway. Of course I only have three days before I have to get home and thank my wife, Sarah Jane, for taking care of all the shopping.
I take a sip of my coffee and turn the radio on. “I’m gonna be somebody. One of these days I’m gonna break these chains. I’m gonna be somebody, someday…” I turn the radio off. I used to sing along with Travis Tritt, but I don’t these days. Just don’t believe in that song anymore. I’m 34 years old, and I’ve lost all reason to believe. I’ve sit in this 18-wheeler for the last 10 years shifting gears, but not really going anywhere. I seen the world before I was 20 with the army, but now all I see is the road, some city lights every few miles, then more road.
I used to like that song. I believed in that song. I’m gonna be somebody, someday. It’s hard to believe when all I do is drive. I could leave it all behind right now. I could just stop in Nashville and—What? They don’t just let people walk through the doors and become a star. What would they even do with a 34-year-old truck driver? Nobody’d let me waltz in and cut a record. Nobody. All I ever wanted to do was sing, me, my guitar, and the lights all staring down at the crowd.
Besides that, do I even have what it takes? Everybody’s always told me I was good, but they could be just telling me that. I want to know without a doubt that I can sing. I don’t have to be a star. Knowing that I could be or could’ve been would at least give me some satisfaction. But, if I knew that I could’ve been then maybe I’ve taken something away from the world, something away from somebody who would’ve done something with that talent.
Jimmy would probably say, “Daddy, I want to hear you on the radio.” I’d have to buy him his own cassette player if I had a hit song out. Madison would shrug, along with her favorite phrase, “Whatever,” before heading up to her room to talk on the phone. My wife would tell me about reality—these things called bills, kids, bills, something about running water and a roof, and bills. It would be nice though, getting on a stage in front of hundreds of people wanting to hear me sing.
I remember asking my older brother Charles when he took a job with the city, “What happened to that kid who wanted to play at the Grand Ole Opry? What happened to him?”
“He grew up.”
“No. He gave up.” It was the last fight we ever had. I was still too young then to understand what he meant. I thought being in the army meant I grew up. Charles taught me everything, how to pick up girls, how to pick the guitar, how to sing, but he never taught me how to grow up.
Nashville’s only five miles away. I could stop. I could be that star Jimmy wants me to be. I can hear him now, yelling, “That’s my daddy,” when one of my songs came on the radio. I don’t think anyone in the world could compete with him as my biggest fan.
It’s only a half mile to the exit.
Jimmy really wants that Ninja Turtles toy, Madison, that karaoke machine. Sarah Jane is probably just finishing wrapping them up.
I pull onto the exit ramp and stop at the first truck stop to fill up.
“So, where ya’ headed?” the attendant asks me when I fill my third cup of coffee for the night.
“You oughta make good time. Traffic ain’t out yet.”