Like a Night in the Forest


It’s really hard to cry and drive at the same time. 

I didn’t imagine it would be easy.  Just a few weeks after I’d gotten my driver’s license, I was at a stoplight singing Garth Brooks at the top of my lungs when I glanced at the car next to me and saw a woman broken down, sobbing.  She looked back at me through the window, her face all red and twisted up, and I looked right back at her, the words to Friends in Low Places dead on my lips. 

I didn’t know what to do.  Smiling was definitely out, but “sincere empathy” just isn’t one of the basic human facial expressions.  The fact that she didn’t flip me off or look away made me feel like she was searching for something in me, that she needed to be seen or helped in that moment.  But then the light turned and she took off, tires squealing, and I realized I’d just sat there staring at her cry like an idiot, my eyes open wide. 

I used to think about her face sometimes, in the window of her car; I can’t remember what she looked like, exactly, but I can remember the feeling of her anguish.  If I could go back in time and do it again, I might’ve mouthed “it’s going to be okay” or something?  But it’s not something they prepare you for in Driver’s Ed.

And now here I am, driving and crying myself.  It’s pretty ugly.  But I realize at least that there had been no right answer back then.  The bigger question for me is how she drove and sobbed at the same time without killing herself, because it’s hard to see through swollen eyes and the blur of tears.  To make matters worse, the road is twisty and it’s dark as fuck in the forest in January, even at 7pm.  If not for the headlights on Connery - the 1972 Ford pickup that Dad fixed up for my 16th birthday - I may as well’ve been navigating an ocean of black ink.  And even though a sick part of me thinks it’d only be justice if I rolled the truck and died in an accident, most of me still wants to live, so I slow down and pull my truck over to the side of the dark road and put on my emergency flashers.  I just have to finish this song, and then I’ll be okay. 

That’s right: I’m not only driving and sobbing, I’m also trying to sing at the same time.  

Let me catch you up to speed: my family’s dead.  All of them. 

Their last wish was to have their ashes spread in Gem Lake, where I lived until my 7th birthday, and where my grandma Mary still… used to live.  So that’s where I’m going.  Mind you, scattering ashes in a lake on forest service property is probably illegal, but “don’t ask, don’t tell” seems to be the best policy in this case.  It’s about as meaningful a thing as you can do with what’s left behind when you depart this world, and that’s what they said they wanted, so no one’s going to stop me.  I'm the last Harper left to do the job.


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