On the Other Side of the Freeway, Memorial Day 2013 (a creative nonfiction piece from Day of No Dead)

Memorial Day is not a lover’s holiday, yet my lover played an Italian love song. “Too florid” he said. I asked, “Who is this?” and as I narrate, I forget.

Narration means remembering important things. Which exit to get off on – I think. Another song by an Italian singer, this time in Portuguese. Another love song, any romantic plans forestalled.

On I-20, heading east. Just past Cisco. I didn’t know at the time we were passing through Ranger. I knew, Texas. An orange sign saying: Incident Ahead.

My lover was just waking from a nap, he – his head lolling about on the passenger seat. I – my hand turning down the shuffling songs on my disconnected smart phone. I narrate this not knowing if this detail is of any real significance.

Memory Marker: I downgraded from smart to simple, basic phone in the year 2013, the year of my first national park trip. First sighting of a helicopter, on the ground, on the other side of the freeway. Memorial Day. Incident Ahead.

I had seen a similar sign earlier. No big thing – just some highway construction. But now, my lover awake, the music turned down, bumper-to-bumper, we couldn’t see past the row of cars ahead. In the driver’s side mirror, a white S.U.V. veered to the left. I said, “Damn car thinks he can sneak in through the side,” and then realized that car was probably trying to see the incident ahead, just like me.

Note: The little bumps on the emergency lane signal to the driver that he is veering out of line, my lover made me realize. His knowledge of less significant facts becomes useful within context.

We passed an overturned vehicle on the other side of the freeway. It looked like a rig with towing capacity. I turned down the music some more. I didn’t turn it off completely. To do that would have meant that I knew for a fact there were casualties. I couldn’t be sure of that. Even with the helicopter looming in landed position. This had to be big. Even with no other damaged vehicles, no body bags in sight.

When finally past the long stretch of immobilized traffic on the other side, we were free to accelerate. I did so, slowly, with caution, as if this guaranteed safety.

If I am completely alert at every moment of driving, I’ll have time to react and avoid an accident. I believed. My own car crash two years prior had caught me off guard. I turn off the music completely.

“I’m going to look this up online for sure,” I said. “I want to know exactly what happened here.” My lover’s response: “It probably won’t be there. Often these kinds of accidents in small towns don’t get reported.” Small town. Big crash.

I completely forgot to look up the accident that evening of Memorial Day, 2013.

We rested. We ate dinner at his place. We carried out unplanned romance.

My lover sent me a link to the reported accident the next morning. This was the gist of it:

4 killed in multi-vehicle wreck on I-20. Eight miles east of Ranger, Texas.

DECEASED: A family of 3: husband, wife and 3-year-old baby. A 65-year old man flown by helicopter to the nearest General Hospital.

INJURED: The wife of the 65-year old man treated and released the same day, from a different hospital than that of her husband. Driver and passenger of the International Truck taken to the same Fort Worth hospital.

Close to 2:00 in the afternoon. “The weather was clear and the road was dry.”

I will remember those days prior to Memorial Day Monday 2013. The first and best of things. First visit to a national park. First experience of a bat flight. Best hike.

The survivors may or may not remember the days prior to Memorial Day Monday. If they do, I imagine the days running into each other as short cuts to the finale.

In Need of a Glass Jar (from the series Day of No Dead)

You had just lost your wife, finished washing your car, and had just begun waxing when…

I heard the voice. It said “Honey.” Clearly.

And you turned and no one was there.

No one was there.

You’re not crazy.

No. No one else calls me “Honey” like that.

You heard it in the shower too?

Yes. No one else has ever shared the shower with me.

And then there’s the photo…

The photo of her and me. Cheek-to-cheek. Like this. See?

Yes. I think. Do it again.

Like this. I think. Memory is slippery. A photo the size of a stamp. Disappeared from its permanent place, the photo and the frame, from right here on top of the stereo between these two candelabras. This stereo is antique. I know what you’ll say.

That it’s simply been misplaced?

Yes. No. I searched under every cushion, in every cabinet. Day after day.

And what does this say?

Would you like something to drink?

No thanks.

She collected these jars. Jelly and jam jars. Pickle and olive jars. Scraped the labels off with a kitchen knife. And then scrubbed off the sticky stuff with a scrubber. Turned each one into a glass for drink.

That’s very practical. Did she entertain many guests?

No, not ever. We had many children. They’re all gone and out of the house, but I continue to do what she intended. I’ve kept the accumulated jars – all of them – and use them for quenching thirst.

So the voice has stopped?

True.

And you still haven’t found the picture?

No. That’s what I’m trying to tell you.

This says…

She’s telling me something.

Even though the voice has disappeared?

Voices don’t disappear. They stall. They weaken.

You can still see the photo, in your head?

We posed cheek-to-cheek. This is all. The jars are here, feel them, see them, each one, transparent and generic like the souls of the dead. Can you see what I’m saying?

I think.

The voice and picture belong to her now. Uniquely. She leaves me only these jar glasses. I hold one in my hand, bring it to my lips, and it serves my needs. She did her best. That I see.

I see.

Are you sure you won’t care for a drink?

New Critical Article

My critical article, “Freeing the Sign: Symbols in Yeats’s Poetry and Proust’s In Search of Lost Time,” is now published at University of Houston’s Plaza: Dialogues in Language and Literature. Here is the link: http://journals.tdl.org/plaza/index.php/plaza