Getting away from it all
It was a good idea Paul had, to pack up, take off, and spend a few days on the Maine coast. I suspect his suggestion had more to do with the sobering realization that we were staring down the barrel of a week-long day care hiatus than the fact that I desperately needed a diversion, but the upshot was the same: the change would do me good. Since my father's death I've been incapable of concentrating on anything for more than a few minutes at a time, scared of being alone with my own thoughts, and unable to shake a profound feeling of fatigue. But I was excited about this trip, looking forward to seeing Charlie on the beach again, hoping to gain some distance both literal and figurative from all the reminders of what had happened. To get away from it all.
And it was good. Sure, there were the expected low points. Seeing motorcyclists without helmets, which are not required in Maine, made me angrier than it should have. And it felt like I'd been sucker-punched every time I'd see a happy grandparent/grandchild pair on the beach, when I'd start a thought — "Maybe sometime Mom and Dad can take Charlie and..." — then have to finish it. But I knew to expect moments like these; I was sad but I was all right.
Until. (This is me, after all. There's always an "until.")
Friday night we were driving back to our vacation cottage after a day up the coast with friends. Charlie was in the back, chatting happily, requesting endless repeats of his Kindermusik beach CD. Paul gritted his teeth and gave a very good show of patient indulgence. I drove. And, as it happened, I swore, when we were stopped in traffic a few minutes west of our destination.
Directly in front of us, two roads forked off; in the point of the fork sat a 7-11 just behind a tiny triangle of median. There were people, young adults or teenagers, running around the parking lot of the convenience store, across the street, and back and forth from the median. I couldn't tell what was happening, just that traffic was at a standstill, and I assumed that the kids were to blame — a broken-down car, or maybe a fight.
Until. (Remember? Julie. Until.)
Police cars. Ambulances. Traffic starting to flow again once motorists returned to their cars. They'd gotten out to help whoever had been hurt.
I didn't know who until we were driving by that little grassy triangle. On his back lay an older man, bald like my father, unmoving. Next to him lay his motorcycle.
"I am going to be sick," I announced. I pulled over as soon as I could, lay my head on the steering wheel, and cried like I hadn't yet done.
I don't know how long I stayed there; it wasn't until Charlie helpfully announced, "That song is called 'Dirty Work,'" that I surfaced enough to realize we'd worked through Kindermusik again and moved on to the next disc. It was time to get going. Paul drove while I kept crying.
And I'm sure I've passed motorcycle accidents before without really remarking it. Maybe they were always all around me and I just never noticed — you know, the way that you never notice just how many cheese-colored fossil-eating ozone-holing Hummers there are on the road until you start driving one yourself, then you see those fuckers everywhere. I know what I saw, or more to the point, when I saw it, is nothing more than coincidence. Even so, I am still shaken by the proof, delivered all too forcefully, that there really is no getting away from it all.