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James R. Stout

The Valley of Indecision

              In late 1980, John Lennon along with Yoko Ono, released their “Double Fantasy” album. There is a Lennon song on that album that I very much liked called “I’m Losing You”. I always thought it was musically in the same vein as his 1971 recording, “How Do You Sleep?” There’s just a feel to those songs. Anyway, there’s a line in “I’m Losing You” that I always liked. Probably because I understood what he was saying all to well. The line goes, “Well, here in the valley of indecision. I don’t know what to do.” Yeah, I know just how that feels.

              Over the years since that song came out, I have come to think of a period of my life as my own valley of indecision. I’m sure everyone has been through an experience in which you just don’t know what to do. You can sit there and weigh the merits of this solution or that solution, but then you find yourself not coming up with what feels like the solution to the given problem or issue. And if you’re not careful, you don’t make any decision. In the military, that’s a deadly problem for an officer to have. Sometimes no clear decision seems to present itself, but you can’t wring your hands and worry about it. You make a decision and then move forward. But that’s in battle. Life may seem like a battle at times, but its way more complicated than that.

              Now that I’ve set this up for you, let me tell you about my valley of indecision. It all started in June of 1974 and would last for the better part of two years. At times I felt like a rudderless sailing ship. The wind would blow the sails and move the ship, but there was little direction. What direction there was kept changing on what sometimes appeared to be a whim. I had just graduated from high school. On the day that I graduated, I would have told you that my plans for the future were clear cut. I was going to be a successful singer-songwriter. I had already proven I had the ability and talent, but what I didn’t know is ability and talent mean very little in that business. The key word there is “business”. At 18-years-old I had no idea what the business was all about. But then, how could I at that age? There were other parts of my life that were in flux and at work in the background. I had ended a two-year relationship with my high school girlfriend in April. I won’t get into the all the reasons and facts. But it was a decision that I thought I made properly at the time. I had started dating another girl later in April and things got too serious too quickly. The fact was, I wasn’t over my high school girlfriend. I still loved her. So, by the first of June I had started to realize just how much I missed her. Meanwhile, the other girl that I had started dating was a terrific girl. I would even say that there were moments that I believed I loved her too. But the two girls were totally different from one another. I had not seen the old girlfriend for nearly two months and I sorely missed her. I felt guilty too. I felt like I was being a real jerk to the new girlfriend. Not that she knew how I was feeling. No, that was coming, but wasn’t quite there yet.

              Let me recap. The two things in my life that meant the most at that moment in time were my music and a girl. Oh, that it had been that simple. By the time June 11, 1974 rolled around I was feeling pretty miserable. I had an audition at a nice club on the other side of Houston that day. It could mean a lucrative and lengthy gig. My duet partner and I packed up the gear and drove about a mile when my car started to spit and sputter, and it was obvious there was a problem. But we had to be at that audition on time. So, I limped over to my mother’s work and we transferred all the gear from my car to her car and she let us use her car to go to the audition. The audition seemed to go alright, but I was out of sorts in more ways than one. The aforementioned problems and now the problem with my car. I was concerned about how much money it was going to take to get the car repaired. We finished the audition and packed up the gear. We hadn’t gone very far down I-10 East when a flatbed truck about 200 yards ahead of me hit a bump and some kind of object bounced off the bed of the truck and then started to bounce down the freeway. It was closing fast. I was in the inside lane of three lanes and there was a vehicle in the lane to my right. I had nowhere to go. As this metal object came bouncing towards me, I made a split decision. I could speed up and let it bounce under the car or I could slow down and pray it bounced over the car and NOT through the windshield. I decided to let it bounce under the car. I didn’t like the idea of that object crashing through the windshield. So, it bounced under the car and there was a loud bang as it impacted the undercarriage. For about 10 seconds I breathed a sigh of relief and I figured it had likely just put a dent in the undercarriage. Then my eyes saw something in the rearview mirror that immediately alarmed me. A trail of fluid was escaping from under the car. Well, I put on my blinker and as quickly as possible I moved over two lanes and onto the shoulder of the freeway. We jumped out of the car and looked underneath. A huge gaping hole had been torn in the gas tank and all of the gas had leaked out. Well, thanks a lot.

              A tow truck was called, and my mother’s car towed to the mechanic that did all of our car repairs. My father came and gave us a ride back to my mother’s work. I got my car started, but I had to drive it over to the mechanic shop for it to be check out as well. And the day wasn’t finished yet. That night I was feeling completely mixed-up. I was thinking about a close call with death on that freeway, about the girl I missed, about the girl that I knew I was going to hurt at some point, and about a music career that seemed stalled out. About 11 o’clock that night I got hungry. My feet would have to carry me though. There was just no way I was going to ask to borrow my Dad’s car! We decided to go to a nearby convenience store and buy some junk food. For all I know now it was a craving for chocolate milk, Fritos, and bean dip. Barf. The store was down a stretch of a road that had no street lights. It was a two-lane road with deep ditches on both sides. And I mean deep ditches. You could have taken a car and stood it on end in those ditches and maybe be able to see the rear bumper sticking up. There were no sidewalks either. There we were walking down that dark road when there arose a loud clanging and metallic noise that was getting closer by the second. We looked down the road from the direction we had just come from and in the distance all we could see was a bunch of large and moving sparks headed our way. What on Earth? As it go closer and closer and louder and louder it appeared to be headed straight at us. We both moved as close to the ditch on one side as possible and when it was almost on top of us, we saw that it was an old car speeding down the road with a muffler and tailpipe bouncing off the road underneath. No lights were on the vehicle at all. Neither headlights nor taillights appeared to be working. We quite literally dove into the ditch at the last moment before being hit by the car. As I dove into the ditch, I caught a glimpse of someone sitting inside the trunk and I could hear them laughing loudly as they sped by. Charles Manson must have been out on furlough that night.

              There was water from recent rains in the ditch and a good amount of it was now soaking me and the clothes that I wore. It was the second time in one day that I had a close call with death. To say that I was shaken up would be putting it mildly. I might add that my duet partner was not thrilled with the day’s events either. That’s another thing. The duet partnership was shaky already and we never played a gig together again.

              Another recap. It was June 11, 1974 and I was mixed-up about what to do in my music career. I was mixed-up about what to do about my girlfriend situation. I saw a partnership unraveling at the speed of sound. I had nearly been killed twice in one day. I was worried about my car and the cost of repairing my mother’s car as well. I had not been living the way that I should have been living and I knew it and I was feeling completely and totally undone. That was the day I entered my valley of indecision.

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