Every once in a while I have an experience that seems to have been pulled from a movie and thrust upon me in real life. Everyone has such moments, some people get it more often than others. For people like front-line emergency responders and hospital emergency room workers, the weird and unusual must become their usual. Not ho-hum ordinary. I don’t mean that. But probably it’s more like, “Okay, so now what are we facing?” and they begin to figuratively or literally roll up their sleeves to get to work.
After attending a memorial service for my life-long buddy in Brattleboro, Vermont, I intended to arise and get the long, ten-hour drive home started early. I awoke at 1:15 AM, and though I hadn’t intended to start quite that early, I realized that I’d had a few hours of good, solid sleep and that starting from Brattleboro at 2:00 AM would put me at home in London, Ontario pretty close to noon. If I started then, I wouldn’t have to be facing the afternoon sun as I drove west, to complete the last few hours of my journey.
By about 2:30, I was driving attentively along Vermont Route #9, high among the mountains between Brattleboro and Bennington. I’d seen two deer and what may have been a porcupine ambling off beside the roadway, so I was on high alert for wildlife as an up-tempo Paul Simon song kept me singing along, “I have a reason to believe we all will be received in Graceland…”. The dark roadway revealed itself a little at a time even in the glaring light of my high beams due to the road’s curving, roller coaster configuration.
Suddenly, there was a bright-blue glow ahead, illuminating the trees in a way that spoke instantly of an emergency of some kind. I crested a hill, looked ahead and slowed to a crawl. I could barely see much of anything, the blue light seemed so intense, but by then I was driving with slow deliberation. It was a Vermont State Police car with seemingly every light available on it in full operation. Off to the side of the road in a deep ditch was an upside-down car. That was all. I passed the patrol car at little above walking speed in case I’d need to stop. I did stop, and dropped my passenger-side window. The cop seemed to be standing beside another man. When I stopped, the cop shined his flashlight to see me. I asked him if my help was needed in any way. He told me that everything was under control and that I could just continue on my way.
That was it! Not much at all, really. Still, here it was in what most people might call the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night, the woods lit up into something close to blue daylight, with an upside down car showing its private underside to the heavens and to anyone who cared to gawk.
Paul Simon sang. I put up my window and continued my journey along the dark, mountain road. That was it! It was nothing much in the greater realm of possibilities, but very much like the kind of scene in a movie when things are about to go desperately wrong.
Afterward, as I continued driving, I had plenty of time to think about what I’d experienced. Other than an upside down car, there seemed to be no urgency involved. I assumed that the man standing roadside with the constable was the lone, seemingly uninjured, driver of the disabled car. At least, he was uninjured enough to be standing there. I assumed that a tow truck would have been called to begin the vehicle extraction. I wondered how long it would take for nature to repair the damage of the roadside scar.
Then my mind reeled back to remember another roadside scar I’d seen a long time ago when I had gone to visit my parents in Mystic, Connecticut. All that I had seen in that case was a very big divot beside the road as I jogged by. My mother later told me that a car had flipped over at that spot a few nights before my arrival. I was visiting Mystic during a merciless heat wave, but I was trying to keep myself fit, so, heat wave or not, I hoped to jog my usual five kilometres along the back roads. I went out in the morning to get the exercise done before the worst of the heat arrived. As I ran, my senses were alert to the differences between running along my city’s riverside pathways and running on the narrow, practically non-existent shoulder of rural Connecticut roads.
While running, I composed the following word image that vaguely resembles poetry in its form but strays from any poetic form that might be recognizable. I didn’t care about form, I just wanted to give my thoughts some expression.
Hot tar is under foot,
As I jog,
Smug with sweat,
Over the narrow back roads,
On a hot, sticky Mystic morning.
Soft tar, surrounds the remains,
Of birds and small animals,
Who ventured near the car path,
Once too close,
Or once too often.
The summer-softened tar,
Yielding just enough to accept,
The tiny skulls and skeletons
Characteristic of the Late Sedentary Period,
Suspending and preserving
Their flattened bodies
as a distorted record
Of their existence
Trodding on, I slog,
Sodden with sweat,
Through the hot Mystic morning,
In close discomfort
To the tar.
I wondered why these disconnected events suddenly collided in my mind as I continued to drive along the nearly empty roadway that early Sunday morning in June. I knew it had something to do with close discomforts, but I’d had other close discomforts in life, a few that were even very close brushes with death, but my almost drowning and my late-presentation heart attack didn’t come to mind. I think my musings had to do with suddenly having some closer contact with the stark reality of the roads, admittedly under two very different sets of circumstance. That, and my sense of vulnerability, my sense of mortality, as I was leaving the site of my close friend’s memorial in the clichéd ‘dead of night.’ Each scene where cars leaving the road had scarred the Earth would be quickly grown over with new life.
Paul Simon’s up-beat song ended and on came Kansas playing “Dust in the Wind,” as Vermont turned into New York, the sky began to turn from black to charcoal as the Earth turned apace in the solar wind, and I reflected upon my close discomforts.