Tuesday, February 03, 2009


I can't move. I stand, paralyzed by grief and something else, something unidentifiable, moored to this spot, unable to move, not yet, not yet. Stay here for awhile until the mourning passes, stay here surrounded by the dead.

From the beginning, this day that didn't go as expected: My car wouldn't start, the alternator blown, and when trying to find an alternate way to work didn't pan out, and after a brief emotional meltdown, I wound up having the car towed to my usual garage. They fixed it, but to be reimbursed for the towing cost, I'd need to see my insurance agent, whose office is twenty-some miles west of where I live, all the way in Perry.

Obviously, I could have done business with any number of insurance agents after moving to Des Moines, but I stuck with this one because...well, for the longest time, traveling up to Perry to pay a premium or receive a reimbursement check was also an excuse to swing by and see Mom, a good time to visit for awhile.

It still is.

Over a year, at least, since I'd last been to Perry, and even then, I only passed through. This day would be different. After dropping off the towing bill, I knew I'd drive out to the cemetery, I knew I had to see Mom's gravestone, and Dad's. As I drove down Highway 141 I felt almost as if I could remove my hands from the steering wheel, as if being pulled by some larger force, as if this trip was predestined.

I turned onto the gravel road, rutted and muddy from melting snow. The cemetery sat calm and disinterested on the landscape, dotted at all corners by shabby-looking pine trees. I pulled in, stopped, sat in the car for awhile and finally got out, making my way to the small markers indicating the remains of Mom and Dad and little Paul, my would-have-been older brother, who died in infancy. Mom's grave had plastic flowers cast upon it, covered by snow and ice.

The markers have only names and birth and death dates, nothing more. They can't reveal any secrets or offer words of comfort. They are only stone, mute, cold, implacable, telling me nothing I don't already know--Mom and Dad are dead.

It's a beautiful sunny day, but cold, the perfect blue sky tinged ever so slightly with a steely gray, and my tears when they arrive sting like ice. I look around me, at the snow-covered fields and lonely houses and occasional tree--a barren, unforgiving landscape, but it's part of me, I grew up here, it's in my DNA.

My car shudders in the driveway, its motor still running, pumping out exhaust, offering a means to escape this moment. But where can it take me? I've lived in six different places in the last twelve years, but have never stayed put, have never been anything more than a traveler. Maybe my whole life I will be fated to return here again and again, an ongoing reminder of the life I once led, in the only place I have ever truly called home.