--IT’S A PICK AND CHOOSE WORLD
Death On The FreewayTuesday, October 14th, 2014
This evening, I’m haunted by the road, by its width and narrowness, its endlessness. I feel out of sorts and shouldn’t be driving, but there’s nothing else to do, nowhere else to go. I’ve been away for ten months, untethered and drifting, and while it’s been something of an adventure, it hits me now that I’m a man without a purpose.
I ratchet the accelerator up to eighty miles per hour, then ninety. The car strains and bucks like a mechanical stallion, as if it wants nothing to do with me. When I pass a semi on the left, the driver blares his horn for a full minute, but I press on.
At the Tennessee border, fog rolls in, thick as root beer. I can only see a few feet in front of me, yet I’m still flying. As I come over the crest of the sloping highway, I see something in the center lane, glowing in my headlights. It freezes, everything happening blink-fast, and there’s not enough time for me to brake or swerve and so I slam right into the animal. The collision is sudden, but over in a second—the crash of impact, the rumbling under the wheel wells all happening in a fierce stitch.
Now my heart is beating behind my eyelids and I’m trembling, unsure what to do. But I pull over and behind me another vehicle pulls over, too.
Steam mists off the hood of my car and I hear liquid pouring out on the asphalt. In my mind, I picture an explosion, me and the vehicle bursting into the night air.
There’s a tapping on my window. When I roll it down, a man asks if I’m okay. He says he saw the coyote, too, but that it just appeared out of nowhere, dumb luck my hitting it, what are the odds. He asks if I’m okay, if I want his name and number should the insurance company need a witness to say it was a fluke accident.
Standing next to him is a boy about five or six years old. The kid clutches a stuffed bear to his chest. He’s sniveling and staring at me. “He killed it,” the boy says to me. “He ran it over.”
The boy’s dad tells him to be quiet, but instead the boy starts wailing.
When I get out of the car the kid jumps back as if I might try to grab him.
“Tommy loves animals,” the dad says. “Our golden lab, Buster, got hit by a car, too.”
I’ve never killed anything in my life, but then I remember how I left my wife’s dog in our deserted house when I trekked across the lake. Surely it’s dead by now.
I should be inspecting the car, but I’m suddenly struck with waves of grief and guilt, feeling disoriented, dizzy and miserable, as if I don’t have the right to be breathing and alive.
I get down on my knees, my face hot with tears. I say to the boy and his father, to my wife or anyone who will listen, “I’m sorry,” I say. “I’m so sorry. Please forgive me.”