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08 December 2001 - 13:02


This should have been posted eight days ago, but I wasn't in the mood. Not really in the mood today, either, but it has been on my mind, (anniversaries do that) and writing these entries seems to get things out.

My Angel, you should not read this.





There is a yellow, folded section of newspaper squeezed in between two books on top of one of the filing cabinets in my office. It is dated 4 December 1979, and has been there all these 22 years. I have it out now, probably the first time in 11 years.

Our calendar repeats itself every 11 years, so this year 30 November fell on a Friday, just as it did 11 years ago, and just as it did in 1979.

On 30 November 1979, we had been married less than three months. While my Angel and I had known each other for years, we were still newlyweds. The labels "husband" and "wife" still felt new to the tongue.

On this Friday, my bride came straight home from work, and asked me if I wanted to go out for pizza for dinner. Wonderful idea, so we loaded up into her Datsun pickup and headed back to town, to Shakey's, the only pizza place.

The Interstate runs practically straight west to town, for four empty miles. There is a slight bend just before the alkali lagoons. On this cold, dark wintery night we found a semi-tanker from the local refinery parked along our shoulder of the road at that bend.

Turned to tell my wife to change into the other lane (I often told her how to drive back then, sometimes still do), when I noticed headlights pulling into the left lane alondside us. So I kept my mouth shut as the other vehicle started to pass. Looking ahead I saw a piece of white trash blowing across the highway in the other truck's lane.

But the trash separated into two white, moving objects. For a fraction of a second I thought it was two jackrabbits, leaping past each other in courtship, as they do, on the highway. But as the objects came into our lane and our headlights, I saw what they were.

Shoes. White shoes. Worn by a person in dark purple pants and a brown coat.

I had time to pull my arm up over my eyes before impact, but don't remember the accident itself at all. My wife, driving, was not so fortunate. She watched the woman all the way in, even as the pedestrian's head shattered the windshield in front of the driver's seat.

The woman never looked.

When I looked up, the body was many yards in front of us, in our headlights. A white purse next to the guardrail. For that instant, you are a child. You want, more than anything in the world, for this not to be real. You want to wake up from this nightmare, to rewrite the dream.

But it was real. I got to the woman before the tanker driver. An elderly woman, a head full of curly grey hair. No blood anywhere, it just looked like she was laying down on the road. No movement. No pulse. As the driver arrived, I turned to see my wife, standing in the highway, in front of our Datsun, trying to hug herself. I told the driver I had to take care of my wife.

The term"wife" came off my lips naturally now. We stood there, arms around each other, until the emergency vehicles arrived. The tanker driver and driver of the pickup that passed us were with the woman.

One of the deputies gave us a ride to the Sheriff's office. I knew them all, but cannot for the life of me remember who it was that gave us the ride. I remember talking about the new radio he had on the console, the same as our outfit had just acquired. Talking about anything except what we needed to talk about. Anything at all.

At the office, we gave and wrote our statements. Treated kindly, and I don't think it was because I was known in that office.

When we were done, we asked.

She was DOA.

Most of the officers left as I consoled my wife. One of the patrolmen stayed behind. I see his name here on the accident report, stored with the newspaper.

He had been through this himself. With a little girl who darted out into traffic. The pain never goes away, he said, but it does get duller with time.

In this community, in that day, that was the extent of our counseling and therapy.

And actually, it was enough. And it was true.

But it was many, many years before the wife would drive at night again. We each have to drive past that spot, sometimes a dozen times a week. I sometimes do not think about it anymore. Quite a few scenes in cinema bring back memories we would rather not visit.

I don't remember the ride home that night, but it was well after nine o'clock. We felt terribly guilty to admit to each other that we were still hungry. To feel such a minor inconvenience as hunger after watching a woman die. Knowing that someplace there was a family receiving the worst possible news, and all you want to do is eat.

But life goes on. Perhaps that was the first lesson. We made macaroni and cheese in the old green pot, ate, talked and cried.

I woke early the next morning, called my folks, and then called hers. Hard call to make. But I was her husband, so it fell to me.

We lived on a rented house on the corner, and saw quite a few neighbors walking by with covered dishes during the weekend. When Tuesday's paper came out, we found out why. The woman was a nurse, and lived across the street from us and down less than two blocks. Been in this small town for 26 years.

We had been here exactly one month.

Do we go down and give our condolences? What can you say? Sorry we killed your wife?

She had run out of gas on her drive home from work, and had called her husband on the cb-radio before starting to walk back to town. He had arranged for the semi-trailer to stop and give her a ride.

I do not need to look at this old newspaper to know her name. Remember it better than many of the ancestors in my family tree.

It was a horrible accident, an experience I would not wish on anyone. But after that, we were no longer two people trying to figure out how to live together.

We were always just us.

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