“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” – Genesis 2:24
Meeting Jennifer absolutely turned my life upside down. I had never talked to a more interesting and profound person in all of my life. She lived in Texas, which was obviously a bit of a problem but through the internet and telephone conversations we were able to become very good friends fairly quickly. However, I wanted more and so one night I asked her if she might be interested in a long-distance relationship. The plan was that eventually I could travel to Texas and see her or she could travel to Iowa to see me and we would see how things went.
At this time in her life, Jennifer ascribed to a pagan/Wiccan style faith which meant to me that she was more or less a devil worshiper but she was really cute and by that point I didn’t really care. We would spend hours on-line talking to each other and always had a great time talking about any number of topics. I got a job in the next town over, mainly so that I could afford phone cards and save up money for my eventual trip to Texas to see her. I cannot even imagine the hundreds of dollars that I spent on phone cards alone.
As I said, the plan was to take things slow and eventually visit each other a few times to see how things would go. Those plans all changed when one morning I drove to work, a tire and lube shop/gas station, and found all of my co-workers huddled around a small radio in the back of the shop. Several customers were standing there with them and several of the employees were obviously crying. I asked one of my co-workers what had happened and he told me that someone had flown a plane into one of the twin towers and then shortly after that another plane hit the second tower. The news was dire, I listened as the first tower fell and we all stood shocked as the news came of the second tower going down as well.
Such a shocking situation causes you to rethink everything in your life. I was more or less going nowhere in Iowa. I still felt as if I couldn’t truly be myself in the local area and I desperately wanted out. Jennifer on the other hand was distraught and worried that we might never be able to meet if things got too bad. You’ll have to remember that on this day, things went absolutely crazy. As an example, The gas station I worked for changed the price of gas from $1.34 per gallon to well over $7.00 per gallon. Even so there was well over a mile long line of cars waiting to fill up, fearing that our nation was going to face some type of invasion. Traffic was at an absolute standstill, a major feat considering I live in a rural area that you rarely meet more than a handful of vehicles on your daily commute.
After work that night I called Jennifer and we talked for quite some time. We decided that I could move down there and live with her and her mother for a while until I could find a place for us both to stay. I bought a bus ticket the next day and about a month later I was on my way to Texas. When I arrived in Texas I saw her standing there. She was even more beautiful that I could have ever dreamed possible. I’ll always remember that first kiss we shared there at the bus stop. That night sitting on her roof, she sang me a song and I thought that things had never been more perfect. I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with this woman from that very moment.
Being so far away from home was hard but i enjoyed the freedom that it afforded me. Absolutely no one in Texas knew a thing about me. I was no longer that strange Pentecostal kid that everyone knew. I was a nobody and I completely loved that aspect of living so far away from home. We didn’t attend church and religion rarely was ever a topic in our house. Being with Jennifer was an absolute joy and that was the most important part of it all. We enjoyed each others company so much that we were married 7 months later.
Texas, on the other hand, was an excruciating experience for me. The heat was oppressive, I never knew it could be that hot and we didn’t have AC. On top of that the job market at the time wasn’t the best in the area we lived, especially for a kid right out of school. I did find work as a bagger at a Brookshire Brothers store in town but the pay was awful and the hours were minimal. It wasn’t long before I had to look for a better job, which I found, with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
I still have nightmares from my time as a Prison guard. Every single day that I would go to work, I knew, was going to be the day I died. The job was horrifying, I still find the clank of bars to send shivers down my spine. Obviously I didn’t die but that experience will never quite leave the back of my mind. During one night I was knocked down some stairs and stupidly, at the time, I hoped back up and turned down any medical assistance. I believe this has led to the severe back pain that I now experience almost constantly in my mid-30’s.
The other thing that my experience at the prison did was it changed my mind completely on the criminal justice system. I understand that criminals need some form of punishment but to be placed in a prison in Texas, with no AC, in the middle of Summer is cruel and unusual punishment. Not only that but it is absolutely dangerous, with the outside temps hot, the inner temperatures of the offenders could be even hotter and this leads to fighting and injuries. Even without the fights it is a dangerous environment, having seen several guards collapse from the heat and nearly go into shock. Lastly, Texas is fairly notorious for running their prisons with too few guards. I don’t think people realize just how easily a prison could be taken with the handful of guards that were on duty, at least this was the case during my time there.
I worked at the prison for over a year and was at my breaking point. I asked Jennifer, who had recently enrolled in college courses, if she would consider moving to Iowa. I promised her that when we got to Iowa she could soon sign up for classes at the local college there and that things would be much better for the both of us. In Texas we had almost no support system whatsoever, in Iowa my entire family would be their to help us out if a need ever arose. It took some pleading but eventually Jennifer agreed to move to Iowa with me. One of my happiest memories in life was being able to tell my commanding officer at work that I was quitting.
As the we put the miles behind us and drew closer and closer to Iowa, I felt as if all of my problems were fading away. Being far away from the prison, I thought, would rid me of the nightmares and the constant anxiety that I had felt for so many months. Boy was I wrong and in the end, my anxiety and nightmares would be the least of my worries.
For part 8 click here.