Corey Yardley

Dream Big


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The loud ringing of the telephone interrupted my slumber.  My grandma answered on the second ring and when she answered you could tell she had made a career out of it for over 35 years.  I pried my eyes open and stabbed at the ground for my cell phone to check the time.  It was a few minutes past 8:00 A.M., which was far too early for a Saturday.  I rolled back over and shut my eyes but something in the tone of my grandma’s voice opened them right back up.  She was in the room next to me so I listened in and heard her say, “Oh my God.  Oh no”.

My grandma is seriously the happiest human being I have ever encountered, and it was rare for her to sound sad.  I knew that whatever was being said on the opposing line couldn’t have been good news.  I reached for my cell phone and double checked it for missed calls or text messages:  Nothing.  Surely if this bad news involved me in any way, shape, or form, that someone would have tried to reach me via cell phone.

I shut my eyes again, but continued to listen in on the conversation just in case.  Whoever was on the other end of the line was doing most of the talking.  Then my grandma chimed in with an even more depressing tone, “Yeah, he’s here sleeping in the other room, do you want me to wake him up?” 

“Please just leave a message, please just leave a message”, I prayed in my head.  I heard her footsteps grow nearer, and I knew that this getting serious.  It had to be urgent if someone is willing to wake me up on a Saturday morning.

I kept my face in the pillow and stretched out my arm for the phone before she even entered my room.  She handed it to me and neither of us spoke a single word during the exchange.  I waited for her to exit the room before I started talking.

“Hello?”  I said grumpily with a “I-just-woke-up” tone in my voice.

“Hi.”  I recognized the voice right away:  It was Mom.  She would be the last person to wake me up on a Saturday morning.

She was beating around the bush and asked, “How are you?” But I could tell she was stalling.

I kept it short, “I’m fine.”

Pause.  I couldn’t take it anymore, “Okay what is going on?”

Another pause.  I was growing impatient.

“Caleb Cronbaugh wrecked his truck last night.”  She started sobbing.  I’ll never forget that feeling; this wasn’t how I wanted to start my day.

I panicked and sputtered, “Is he okay?”

“No.”  Another sob, there were no words.

I exploded with emotion that not one single word could define. 

“He made it though, right?”  I asked rhetorically, I knew the answer and Mom was speechless.  There was nothing to say.   I cried into the phone, and Mom joined me.  I just bawled and told her how unfair it was. 

“It’s not fair, it’s just not fair!”  I yelled. 

I was so frustrated with the world, sure a lot of shitty things happened to me in my life, but this made absolutely no sense.  Or so I thought.

My first call was to one of my best friends and the person who brought me so close to Caleb; Greg Ryan.  Greg was probably Caleb’s closest friend, they were like brothers.  The summer before my junior year we made a band of brothers.  I swear every other night during that summer Brandon, Joe, Greg, Caleb, and I had a bonfire out at Brandon’s dads.  We got together so often we even had a name for our clan:  Paradise Pit. 

Greg didn’t answer the first time I called him, but after staring at my cell phone for 2 minutes he finally called me back and I answered right away.

“It’s not true is it?”  I begged for this to be a misunderstanding.

“Yeah, it’s true.”  He said before choking up.

“What happened?”  It was like Greg sensed that I didn’t really want to know.  We both cried and not much more was said.  There was nothing to say.

“Where are you at?”  Greg asked.

I wiped my eyes and realized I couldn’t breathe through my nose.

“My grandma and grandpa’s house”, I replied.

“I’ll pick you up in 5”, he said.

I didn’t shower, or brush my teeth, or anything.  I didn’t give two shits what I looked or smelled like.  I stormed through my grandparent’s house and grabbed my wallet and my cell phone charger.  I tried sneaking out without being seen, but my grandma was waiting at the front door crying.  I exchanged a hug and blubbered on her shoulder.  Just seeing her cry is enough to make me cry.  She told me she loved me and to be safe.  I slipped on my shoes and walked out the door and waited outside on the bottom step of the front porch.

I ran my fingers through my hair frantically, wanting to rip it out.  I wanted to think of the great memories I had with Caleb, but my brain was a tangled mess.  There wasn’t one that I could pin point, all I could think about was that we could never make another memory together again.

I could hear Greg coming but I didn’t lift my head from my knees until he pulled up.  He was wearing his usual summer attire, an Iowa Valley T-shirt with the sleeves cut off, and a pair of shorts.  Greg is tall and slender, but working on the farm keeps him from looking scrawny.  He has a tan complexion, and his forearms permanently look like the circulation is being cut-off.  My mom would call him a nurse’s dream for drawing blood.

His eyes were bloodshot and that would be the last time I tried making eye contact with anyone for a long time.  I hugged him and out came more tears; we pulled away from my grandparents’ house without a word.  There was nothing to say.

Greg filled me in on the details with as little detail as possible, which was exactly what I wanted.  Apparently Caleb was driving home from a party at around 5:00 A.M. Saturday morning.  He was on a gravel road by himself and only two miles away from his house when he lost control of his truck.  He was going way too fast and a cow came out of nowhere and he spun out of control and hit it with the back end of his truck.  He couldn’t correct the steering wheel in time and went into the ditch where he was ejected from his truck and ended up in a bean field.  Caleb never wore his seat belt.

We drove out to Caleb’s dad’s house, and talking to Greg helped unravel my brain a little.  This helped me think back to the beginning of the long friendship Caleb and I shared.  I was 9 years-old and he was 8 and his mom, Brenda took us to the movie “Liar, Liar” starring Jim Carrey.  I “Googled” the year that movie came out, 1997.  A 12 year friendship was gone, and there was nothing I could do about it. 

Caleb was 2 months away from being 20 years old before he died.  Like most high school friendships, ours slowly faded with age.  We grew up, took separate paths, but that didn’t mean those paths didn’t cross once in a while.  The last time I saw Caleb was at a gas station in Marengo.  He was with his girlfriend pumping gas and I was driving home from work.  I hadn’t talked to the kid in a while so I pulled up next to his pump and talked to him for a bit.  Caleb worked full-time right out of high school instead of going to college.  But he told me he was going to attend Kirkwood Community College in the fall, and he sounded very serious and excited.  I distinctly remember concluding the conversation with, “rounding up the P.P. gang, and having a bonfire.”  Just like the old days; a cooler of beer, a bonfire, and best friends, nothing more and nothing less.

I pulled away from the gas station, and wouldn’t have guessed that when I said good-bye that it was good-bye forever.

Family and close friends all gathered at Caleb’s dad’s house.  Did I mention the worst part about the tragedy was that there was nothing that anyone could say or do to make the situation better?

Me, Greg, and the other guys went outside to give his family those moments that only families could share together.

There were probably 10 of us, and we just started walking.  We had no destination and we were out in the middle of nowhere.  We followed the gravel road and stopped at a bridge.  We seemed miles and miles away, but I turned around and the house was still in sight, not near as far as I thought.  I remember it being hot as hell that day.  That day was the closest to Hell I hope I ever get.

We sat in a circle; half of us were on the side of the gravel road, and the other half in the grass.  Even the non-smokers joined in on chain-smoking cigarettes while we told our favorite stories of Caleb.

It was a strange feeling because I remember laughing more than I had ever laughed, yet at the same time I cried more than I had ever cried.  Someone would tell a hilarious story, and the others who were there chimed in filling in the little details that the main narrator left out, and we would all just roar in laughter.  Once the story was over and the laughter subsided we realized how real this was, resulting in a circle of boys/men crying on cue.  It was a continuous cycle and this lasted for a good hour.  We either realized there was shit to be done and figured out, or we ran out of cigarettes; either way we made our way back up the gravel road.

Once we got back to the house Curtis, Caleb’s dad, told us that he wanted to have a bonfire in memory of Caleb that very night.  We already planned on getting obliterated that night in honor of our good friend, so it was a definite yes for all of us.  He told us to invite anyone that Caleb would want to come.  This left the door wide open because Caleb was the kind of guy that liked everybody and everybody liked him in return.

We said our good-byes and our group temporarily split up into smaller groups.  We made sure no one was left by themselves though.

I remember how bitter sweet it was to have everyone so close again.  It just sucked that it had to take something like this to bring us together again.  All of our plans for tomorrow or the days after were thrown out the window.

My group made plans to go fishing on a small farm pond.  We didn’t catch anything, but we didn’t try very hard either.  The sun was blistering hot and I could feel my white skin turn pink.  After 3 hours of deep conversations we finally paddled to the dock and anchored the boat.  We showered (separately) and went into Marengo to buy some beer for the night.  Brandon invited us out to his house to pre-game for the bonfire.

When we got to Brandon’s a little before 5:00, he already had a beer in his hand.  We followed his lead and I remember how delicious that beer tasted.  We all conversed in Brandon’s dad’s taxidermy shop and people joined car load by car load as the hours passed.  Once the sun started to go down there were probably 30 of us out there, and everyone including the girls were drinking beer. 

Brandon’s dad lives about a mile and a half away from Curtis’ house.  We rounded everyone up and decided to walk as a group on the gravel road that led to Curtis’.  No one was going to drink and drive that night and Caleb’s parents were moved and appreciated that act greatly.

We marched the entire way and everyone stuck together.  We left a trail of empty beer cans and cigarette butts behind us.  We eventually made it and darkness arrived out of nowhere.  We doubled the number of people at the party and there was still more to come.  Everyone got trashed and we all took turns telling our favorite stories of Caleb.  My favorite one dates back to our little league baseball days.

Caleb was on my team that was coached by my grandpa.  Towards the end of the season my grandpa asked all members of the team to sign their name on a brand new baseball.  Obviously perplexed, Caleb asked, “Why do we have to sign this ball”? 

My grandpa joked, “Well someday when you guys become professional baseball players, I’ll have your autograph.”

Little Caleb thought about it and said, “I don’t want to be a pro ball player; I want to be a farmer, just like my dad”.


Caleb was found by my dads best friend John Smith.  The same guy that sat in the passenger seat with my dad when he got shot.  What is even crazier is that the night that Caleb passed away was the 15 year anniversary of the night that my dad was shot and murdered, June 20th.  Caleb’s passing not only sparked my writing career, but also led me to uncover the story of my father that I avoided all my life.


Written by coreyyardley

February 10, 2011 at 2:32 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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  1. […] Anyone can also check out this related post: Posted in Country […]

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