Thursday, June 22, 2006

eastern iowa has this one road, highway one, that goes northeast from iowa city through hilly farm country and river valley, up through solon, across the cedar river and into mt. vernon. this stretch is beautiful- you can watch the corn slowly change color in rolling fields of dvorak's land (his relative wrote the new world symphony)- gravel roads cut off into hilly farm country where monstrous farm tractors come up over the rise and scare the living daylights out of you. but back on the highway, you have to concentrate on the narrow, curving two-lane, and a little past the hollowed-out stone house and its religious sign, warning you of hell and damnation, you come to a gravel road at ivanhoe where i used to live- and it too snakes off into the countryside, up a river bluff and to a beautiful and remote farm, surrounded by hilly woods, with a small white farmhouse and a winding dirt driveway, where my friend michael and then his girlfriend kim lived for a while.

michael, a poet and a dreamer, was very content at this place, though it was tough for people like us to really make a go of it way out in the country, miles from anywhere or decent employment. but he, i think, was really happy- i'm not so sure i could say the same for her, maybe she had some living yet to do- when one day a drunk driver smashed into them down in the lowlands near town, where the highway crosses a creek that feeds off of the dingleberry quarries and goes around a wide bend. i've driven there a million times, you have to concentrate, and i know that if i crane my neck thinking about those cool farm quarries (true swimming holes, places where you could easily pass a hot summer day, diving into and swimming in a cold spring-fed pond, with cows drinking lazily way down at the other end, closed now for insurance reasons i'm sure), i'll get into a wreck myself. the accident had been tragic, of course, but i didn't know much about it, except that all of their friends were angry because this guy had already done something like that earlier, maybe it was his third dui. such is life in the country, i guess...they can take away the licenses of people like that, but they can't keep them in jail forever, and can't seem to keep them out of their brothers' cars. i was angry about it, as everyone was, but i thought i'd put it behind me, until one day, when i was driving my kid and some other people up the road, i don't even remember who it was, and i came to that turn, and sure enough, i saw her cross the road. like all ghosts, she was in white, a gleam in another car's headlight, i couldn't tell if she was real or not, and she was out of sight the minute i could put my eyes on her. at first i'd just seen her out of the corner of my eyes, and had to begin convincing myself it was just car headlights shining, and you never want to look at those directly anyway. but my legs started shaking; i had trouble keeping a steady hand on the wheel. i couldn't say a word about it to the passengers. i just got to where we were going, and got out of the car shaking.

it was one of those times when i figured talking about it would only make it worse- and i buried it, deep in my memory. i thought i saw her again later- but by then i was aware of how it could have been, must have been, the reflection of headlights- i'd almost convinced myself it had to be- and it didn't have quite the same effect. how can we know? i drove the road often, watched the corn switch from golden autumn brown to ice silhouette- and as i'd come down around that curve, down by the bridge freezes sign, i'd get nervous and watch out for her, but then i switched my route, for other reasons, and didn't go by there much. today much of the road is being widened, the cedar rapids to dubuque part, up past stone city and anamosa, already was, when i was there. people like the dvoraks, who have been around there forever, probably didn't know michael and kim very well, and probably don't remember much about the accident, except that it happened. makes me wonder, though- when you die suddenly like that, and you have so much of life left to live, stuff yet to do- what exactly
does happen to you? i don't suppose you'd stick around, in one form or another, thinking about it, would you? and, if you had to catch someone's eye, surely you'd look for someone who'd know you were there? just a thought. i'm not saying i believe in ghosts, or anything. just trying to keep my eyes on the road.

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