I'm different. Always have been.
First of all, I'm a big boy. I started being 'big' when I was about twelve, and by the time I was sixteen I was already well over six feet tall and two hundred pounds. As a freshman in high school I played point guard, but by my second last year I was six six and the coach insisted that I move to center. I didn't want to because I like being a guard. He told me it was his way or the highway. It was his team, so I stopped playing b-ball for him. Simple. By the time I graduated I was six eight and two sixty ... mostly muscle.
Second has to do with my eyes. Momma tells me that nobody has such a vivid blue look to their eyes. She says that they glow. Don't know for sure, but who am I to disagree with momma? I don't do that.
I do know that the eye thing and the size thing seemed to make it awfully easy be with the girls. Never really had to do much other than say 'hi' and they'd just want to be with me. I like girls.
But that isn't all. For as long as I can remember, I've had this feeling. It is centered in my chest and is kind of like a persistent itch. Sometimes it is actually sore and when I complained about it, momma took me to the doctor. He said it wasn't nothing physical, so it must be in my head.
But that isn't the weirdest thing. The weirdest thing is that compasses don't work for me. I can stand there in a field with the other hunters and hold the compass out in front and mine never points me to north. Everybody else's does until they give me their compass and then it doesn't work. Looking at the sun, or, at night, looking at Polaris, tells me that my compass always points west'ish. A little north of west.
About when I was seventeen I noticed that my itch or pain, or whatever, in my chest would be less if I faced that way.
Hey. Sorry, my manners. Momma would smack me. My name is Matt. I can still hear Momma talking extra quiet and calling me Mathew while reaching up to wag her finger in my nose when I done something wrong. Her being extra quiet was always a sure sign.
I spend time working at my daddy's garage – just off the highway across from where they built that brand new Dairy Queen. Often I find myself standing outside looking west toward the Blue Ridge. Just standing there, not thinking about nothing. Just standing. At first Daddy would give me hell to get back to work, but after Momma talked to him, he started to come out to stand with me. Once he said I was going to have to go see to figure it out. He's probably right. Daddy most always is.
I was going with the same girl for most of the last two years of school. She was a pretty little thing with long brown hair that she liked to pull back behind her ears. She didn't weigh much. I could pick her up with one hand, and did do that from time to time. She liked it. We both knew that we were always going to be together. I called her 'Fish', cause she was real good at puckering up ... like a fish does when trying to breathe in the bottom of the boat after you pull it out of the water. She didn't like that name at first, but it stuck, and she got used to it.
We went to our grad dance together, of course. Drove there in my really old, puke green Toyota. I loved that car. I had bought it from a scrapper and then fixed it up with stuff from Daddy's garage, or from the pick and pull. It had some character when I bought it, and by the time I was done, it had more character. I called her 'Deb', after a brindle lab that Daddy kept around the shop to keep critters out. I had to do a bunch of modification to the driver seat just so that I could fit, but it was worth it. Did I say it was a 'stick'? I love driving stick.
So Fish and I went to grad. Danced all night, then drove out to the bonfire that some parents had going in their back forty. Drank a bit, but not too much – I was driving. As the sun came up Fish and I were strolling down the back alley towards her house, sipping on some Southern Comfort. I knew that this was going to be the first day of the rest of our lives together, and it was going to be together. Didn't know what I was going to do for a living, but expected I'd continue at Daddy's shop for a while anyways.
I walked her up to her back porch. Her daddy was sitting on the stoop. He was a good guy, being a retired CWO from Bragg. I recall that after my second date with Fish, he took me for a walk and we had a talk. He just said that I'd do, and that was that. As we got to the porch he just asked if we had had a good time, to which we both allowed that we had. Then Fish looked at me with a smile.
The smile turned kind'a funny, and I realized that my chest was hurting pretty bad. That same thing, except worse. Then I surprised the shit out of all of us by just bending down to give Fish a kiss and a quick hug. When I stood up I nodded at her daddy, and told her to have a good life. Then I walked away. No one, least of all me, had thought that was what I was going to do. But my chest didn't hurt so bad anymore.
I found Deb, and drove north till I got to Bragg. That there day, the first day that I was eighteen, I volunteered for the army. Just like that. Course I phoned Daddy to tell him what I was doing, and he said he'd tell Momma for me.
I spent six years in the army. Went there, and did that. Got a tattoo on a whim – it was on my right forearm and was a compass without a needle. Didn't matter where I was, compasses still didn't work for me, and I still found that facing west made me feel better ... except that one time when I was in Guam passing through, and it was east that felt better. Huh. I also had a Special Forces tat on my left forearm, where it is supposed to be.
While I was in I met a lot of pretty girls, and sowed my oats some. Even found one that seemed pretty special. I wrote Momma about her, and Momma asked about my chest. I had to admit that when I started thinking serious thoughts about that special one it started to hurt something fierce. The girl could tell there was something too, so we agreed to just let it be.
I got out and returned home. Visited with some old friends, even tried to look Fish up, but she was gone. Started working with Daddy again, but it didn't feel right.
One day, it was late spring, I was standing in my normal spot outside Daddy's shop, looking west again. Momma had dropped by with some lunch for Daddy and me, so they came out to stand with me for a while. Momma got in front of me and put her hand on my chest. She said I was gonna have to go fill that spot before too long. Didn't really know what she meant, but she did. That was ok. Daddy put his arm around my shoulder and said that it was about time that I just go have a look see and he pointed west. Then he said that Deb probably wouldn't make it, but that I could take his old Dodge crew cab, short box Ram if I wanted to. I just nodded slowly, then hugged them both and headed for the Dodge.
I put some stuff in my duffle at home, strapped on my hunting knife, threw my tool box in the back, and then started driving towards the setting sun.
First day out I stopped at a little place the other side of the Blue Ridge. Soon as I got out of the truck I was scratching at my chest. This wasn't no better than home.
That happened for a couple of days. One day, though, I had just barely got started on the road and I suddenly felt the need to pull over. I was passing through a small town and there was a coffee shop at the side of the highway, so I pulled in there. After I got myself a cup of coffee to go I was standing next to my truck having a smoke and looking around, and saw that across the road on the other side of the parking lot was a building. It was an animal shelter. I glanced up at the sun to get my bearings, cause I wasn't itching, but that building was south. Not west. Huh.
I put my coffee down and butted out the smoke and strolled over to the place. I walked in to be greeted by a nice looking woman who smiled at me. Then her eyes flared open and she gulped. They do that sometimes when they see the size of me, or look at my eyes, or whatever. Momma told me that I just had to get used to that. The lady asked me what could she do? I didn't really know so I took a wild guess and said that I'd come for a dog. She led me through a back door into a large space with about forty or so kennels. She was telling me stories about this dog or that one, but seemed to think I'd be really interested in the big German Shepard. As we walked up to his kennel I saw another dog in the one right next door.
She was a golden retriever ... American head and red coat. That dog was waiting for me, sitting up close to the gate. I walked over and knelt down to look at her, asking the woman about the dog's story. She laughed and said that Red was a frequent flyer. Always seemed to get caught heading out east of town. Today was a little different, as she'd been waiting outside of the front door when the woman got there this morning as if she was waiting to be let in. The woman said that the owners said enough was enough and Red needed a new home. Red was around four years old – between 25 and 30 people years. I told the woman that the dog would come with me, which seemed to startle her a bit.
We went back to the office and I paid some money, and the lady gave me some dog dishes and food and a big container for water that I took out and put into the back seat of that Dodge alongside my duffle. When I got back to the kennel, the lady had Red out and was hooking her up to a leash. I looked at the dog and asked her if she needed a leash. She let me know that she didn't so I led her out of the building, across the road to the coffee shop parking lot to my truck.
As we were walking I told the dog that she didn't really seem to be a 'Red'. She agreed. I suggested that she was probably a 'Sam'. Again she agreed. I told her that if I had to call her Samantha then that meant that she was in trouble for doing something wrong. Sam just rolled her eyes at me. Really.
Got to the truck and I lowered the tailgate and told her to get in. Sam said no. Ok, so I opened the back door and slung my duffle into the front seat and offered to help her up. She said no again. We looked at each other for a bit, but eventually I just tossed my duffle into the back seat again and opened the front door for her. Sam jumped up and settled down so that she could see over the dash. I climbed in, rubbed her head, and asked her where we should be going now. It was then that I realized that the itch was back. I dropped the Dodge into drive and we headed down the road again. Me and Sam.
A few days later we were up near the border, in Montana. We had been driving all day and it was real pretty country. The sun was going down and I could tell that we weren't going to find a motel or anything that day, so I pulled the truck over, into the ditch beside the highway. Sam and me camped out for the night though I didn't sleep much. My chest was hurting again.
The next morning I let Sam out for a walk around while I did my business. When I was ready to go I called her and called her. Didn't know where that girl had gotten to. Finally I saw her running down the hillside that bordered the highway. She jumped up at me and was whining and carrying on. I got her into the Dodge and we started up. Not one hundred yards down the highway, a dirt road snaked off the right and up and around that hillside that we had just left. Sam was being a bitch – well, she is a bitch, but you know what I mean – she was on me and whining and what not.
I pulled over where that dirt road started and faced the dog. I was going to call her Samantha and speak my mind a bit, but I noticed that as soon as I faced the dog my chest stopped hurting. That stopped me while I thought about it. Sam was quiet to, kind'a waiting for me to hurry up and make the right decision. Ok. I shrugged and put the truck back in gear and headed up the dirt road.