A tire blows out as you’re in the car with someone on the verge of his/her own breakdown.
Stuck in a small town, you’re about to do something you haven’t done in years.
The tire suddenly went bang. I turned on my turn signal and pulled over to the side of the road. Henry was in the passenger seat brow furrowed. He had never been mechanically inclined. Another reason my parents never approved of our marriage. The old Toyota had been reliable for a long time. But like all things, there is the day when things suddenly happen. And this explosion had been overdue. Much like Henry’s mood. The grey clouds had been gathering for quite some time.
We decided on this road trip to get away from our troubles. We had tried so many things. To rekindle the fire to keep the momentum going. The tire going bang woke me out of my trance like state. Suddenly I had to call AAA and wait. We were out on the highway, literally the middle of nowhere. The nearest town was unpronounceable. Lilliwaup or Dosewallips or something or other. We were trying to get to the ocean. We were trying to get to somewhere else to find ourselves again. We were trying.
We were happy once I thought. Before reality hit. Before things became hard. Before we lost what we never really had. Hope for the future. The promise of a bright future, a career for Henry, a baby for me. Both lost and gone in a moment. Like the tire. But not so easily replaced.
I get out after making the call. Who knew how long we had. The door shuts suddenly loud on the quiet roadside. We were far removed from civilization as we knew it. He said nothing. “Let’s go for a walk.” I say, reaching out. He barely looked up. “Come on, Henry.” I plead, wondering where he was at.
He slowly gets out of the car; I hear the door slam decidedly. It sounded so final his brow still furrowed. Was it really too late for us? It had only been a couple short years but it seemed like we were all ready very different people. “ I feel like I don’t know you anymore. Why won’t you talk to me?”
“Maybe I don’t see the point of talking. Talking doesn’t solve anything. Everything is still going to be waiting for us when we come back. All the bills, empty house. Empty crib, more and more bills. “
“I don’t understand why you agreed to this road trip if it was pointless.” My voice became shrill and sharp like a harpy. I hated how he made me turn into this angry shrill thing. I hated what I had become. Where did the optimism go? Where did we go?
“Maybe I am tired of fighting. Maybe I had a brief glimmer of hope. Maybe I wanted to make you happy. But I think I have hit my limit. You want me to talk about it? Okay. How is this for talking about it? I am done. Done with all this.” He gestured at the trees, and wilderness around us.
“What are you saying?” I get concerned not sure if he is talking divorce, or something more. I detect edginess to his voice; a grief that scares me. I didn’t recognize this person in front of me. Was he always this way? Or did I somehow make him like this? Maybe we were slowly killing each other?
“What are you saying?” I look at my phone. Maybe I should call someone? I was still waiting for AAA. “Come on let’s walk a bit. Maybe we are close to someplace we can eat, while we wait.” I note the marker the car is parked near, and grab hold of his hand and we start walking. He goes silent again, not answering my question.
I know something is wrong, perhaps something had been wrong for a long time and I was blind to it. Maybe I didn’t want to see it. The string of jobs he couldn’t keep. The sudden desire to sleep in, and go to bed early. The listlessness. You would have thought he lost the baby. I had to be strong for both of us. I had to figure out how to pay the bills.
The hospital bill was the hardest. A reminder of what could have been. What was hoped for? But, no I couldn’t crumble. I wasn’t allowed to crumble. I resented him for that. For not allowing me to be the victim. For being greedy with the grief. For forcing me to be strong. I wanted to fall apart too, I thought to myself. It was unfair. I sounded like a spoiled child. A child, I sighed at my own thoughts.
I cannot escape reality for long. I heard the crumble of asphalt under my boots and it seemed so loud all of sudden. A flurry of quail exploded in the near bushes scared off by our walking. A café was up ahead, a sort of greasy spoon café that preyed on stuck and lost travelers the way a spider waits for flies. We walk up to it in silence bringing our pain and loss following us like an ever present shadow that won’t go away.
A sign with western style lettering says ‘Please seat yourself’ and so we do. We take a couple bar stools at the long wooden counter. I answer for both of us, “A couple Dr Pepper’s please, and we are waiting on AAA.” The waitress looks at me like I’m crazy. “Nothing to eat, dear?” I see her glance at my morose husband who says nothing. “Maybe a slice of your apple pie,” I point on the menu. She nods in approval walks into the back and comes back with the sodas and two plates and a big slice of pie.
I take a bite gingerly. “Mm. This is really good. Go ahead, Henry. You should try some. This is more than I can eat.”
“Naw, you go ahead. I know you can eat for two.” That hits me like a slap in the face. I look at him in astonishment. “Uh, what?”
“You heard me. I’m done here.” He gets up and walks out. I watch him in confusion. Where could he possibly go? And why the cruelty? The pie turns to ash in my mouth. I find I can no longer eat it. I leave some cash on the counter and run out after him wanting a confrontation. Wanting to yell at him and hit him. I was beyond frustrated.
“Henry! Where are you going?” I look around. I don’t see him. Part of me wants to let him go. Sometimes I think it would be easier to start over than to fix the mess that we created. My cell starts buzzing, I answer. “Yes, flat tire. Yeah, I’ll be right there. I’m at this Café. Yeah. I’ll be right there.” They were at our car. Probably the only car in the area so not hard to find. I look around but Henry seems to have disappeared. I yell, “Okay, this isn’t funny. I am going back to the car. AAA is there changing the tire. You know, doing what you should be able to do. So, I hope you are going to the car and not sulking like some gawd damn baby.”
I regret it as soon as I say the word. It was too late, it had left my mouth. I stomped to the car angry at him the whole way. I signed the forms and the AAA guy thanked me and left. I got in the car slamming the door as loud as I could, started the engine, turned on the radio as loud as I could handle. It was playing Adele with a ton of static. Not the greatest listening experience but I wanted to have the biggest tantrum ever. I see a couple police cruisers drive up sirens on. I turn the radio off, and look at them and they look at me.
“Ma’am, we have a report of someone who was seen jumping off the cliff side. Did you see anything? We got a call from the Café up the road?” The ocean was far down the road. We wanted to get to the ocean. Down the winding upward road, you could see it. The sparkling water so near yet so far away.
“Someone jumped? Down there?” I looked over the side of the road; there was a metal railing to protect cars from driving off. I felt a sharp pain in my heart like a part of me died somewhere down there. “I guess you better talk to the people at the café. I didn’t see anything here.”My voice was shaky but firm. I watched as the police continued up the road. I got ready to turn the car around. It was time to go back home.