I remember making a mental note of the roundabouts. It was 68 degrees, according to the dash board, too warm to be on the cusp of Fall in New England. Nothing to be heard but the quite hum of the tires mumbling along on the unkempt pavement of the turnpike. We sat in silence, my dad and I. Waiting for the night sky to invade the eastern seaboard, waiting to watch the lamps that flanked the turnpike glow warm yellow against the onyx black sky. Now everything was just red. Dusk, in its coquettishness left a syrupy light on the red and orange leaves as they fell to the ground outside the hurtling metal of the car. Other than us, the road was empty.
The hurtling metal, and the car. Or the train. I heard it happened at dusk, and that’s when there should have been more cars out, but something about that day was unique.
I always come back here. Maybe it’s the safety in something inevitable. Like a train on tracks set forward can’t stop at will. Something inexorable, even. Like if God willed it to change course, his finger would still clip the side of the train as it marched along.
No, not God’s finger. I don’t remember much of God from that day. And I don’t know why I still come back here, wondering. Wondering if his body smacked against the metal, if it made a sound. Or if it just sounded like a car mumbling down an empty road, in Fall. Like a train mumbling down the tracks, like a body hadn’t stood squarely in its path and said, maybe implicitly, consume me.
No, I don’t remember any of God from that day. All I remember is the sirens of the ambulance, my mother crying. We knew him! We knew him. How did we not see this coming?!
We’ve made some progress by the time the light of dusk gives way to night. We’re on the Cape, our destination a small art colony on the tip, near Provincetown. My dad used to go there when he’d just graduated from college. He is drawn there now by nostalgia, I am drawn through implication, like being related to someone is reason enough to be brought into their pursuit of times they perceive as simpler.
The lights on the side of the road pass in uniform gaps of time; I start to count how long it takes to see a light slip by outside the window. I get an average of about two Mississippi’s, and peer at the speedometer to conclude we’re shuttling down the road at an estimated 60 miles per hour. I look past the lamps when I can, seeing piles of sand rise and fall, waves crashing high enough to see all the way from here. The water must not be cold, given how warm it is outside.
I remember it was in Puerto Rico that I forgot how to swim. On a family vacation, with my aunt and uncle. On a family vacation where I waded deeper and deeper into the waters in the beach outside our hotel. On a vacation where I felt the sand slip underneath my toes, watched the water swell over my legs, my waist, my chest.
I let the water rise up to my chin, and in its rhythmic motion, it often lapped up at the underside of my eyelids. I watched the ocean unfold before me, watched the horizon extend in its unnatural flatness, an illusion to hide its curved nature, like something about this existence was waiting to be found out, uncovered for its fallacy.
When my nose had become submerged, I thought about when I told my mom about my fear of drowning when I first learned to swim. She would say, “your body won’t let you breathe in water consciously, Zachy, don’t worry. That will never happen to you.” Dusk would fall on the water soon. And I wondered if maybe I could override that evolutionary block. Let my lungs fill with water.
And then it was gone.
I’ve learned that this drive is a form of pilgrimage, and for that reason I don’t ask any questions. Let a cosmic path be our maneuvering gesture; my dad taps his fingers rhythmically on the dashboard, and I swear I can hear the crashing of the waves outside. When I look up, I don’t see any glittering smatter of stars on the seaboard’s horizon, just the reflection from the top of the dashboard, my legs cut off under the airbag carrier in the image splayed across the windshield.
I wonder if my dad is looking for redemption, and I wonder how he’ll find it, or, maybe more importantly, why he feels he must drive here in order to find it. I find myself thinking of what it means to seek repentance on an asphalt road, to use nostalgia as a means of resurrecting something lost so deeply. Dedication is my father’s form of currency; he’ll spend it endlessly if it lands him salvation. I wonder if I too will find myself, older one day, driving repaved roads to revisit something. I wonder if I’ll make pilgrimage to places that haunted me in search for understanding.
Our journey has an endpoint, as most do, but I’m realizing now that I am a flawed pilgrim. I don’t know exactly where we’re going. And if I didn’t feel like raising my voice over the muted quiet of the car was an impossible task, I’d know exactly what to say: “We’ve been driving for hours, Dad. Do you know where you’re going?” I don’t think of myself as someone who fears getting lost, and certainly not on an ordained journey such as this one. I position myself slightly lower in the seat, run my fingers down the side of my leg, stopping to massage a joint in my knee.
Why does silence always feel so violent between two people?
So violent, so hard to permeate. Like opening your mouth in a sea of silence will make that impossible impulse come true, and they’ll fill up slowly. Your lungs, I mean. What a thing to be afraid of: to drown in silence, to drown in something that fills space by negation.
Sometimes I feel like I’m falling, or maybe sinking. It’s dark, and there’s nowhere to grab hold around me. Waves are crashing, falling, I can hear—I can hear it. I can hear it! I can hear them shouting. I can hear them shouting—
“Zachy!” A feeling of fire in my nostrils, a feeling of salt in my eyes. I can’t see properly, except the creamy orange setting behind a vast and unspeakable blue. I can’t describe it, even now. My cheeks are warm. After that there’s only black, until a few hours later when I’m wrapped in a blanket inside the hotel. We had had plans to visit old friends of my dad’s later that night, but they were cancelled.
I can’t remember death—no, that would be impossible. But I can remember being afraid of how close it felt sometimes. Like all you had to do was give in a little and it would pop up on your doorstep, hand outstretched. I remember being afraid of how easy it felt to leave the front door just slightly ajar, let its presence invade.
It took us only a few more hours to reach the sign that said “Provincetown,” and my dad finally spoke: “Why have you been so quiet this whole time?”