We were three on the highway
my brothers and I,
tooling along as well
as anyone ever did tool.
But with destination.
It was in the middle a.m. hours
of a Christmas morning;
we had left my house in Charlotte
and were bound for the family home
in Gauley Bridge.
I 77 stretched out in front of
and behind us,
those rural areas of
Northern North Carolina
and southwestern Virginia,
where you’re always
in the middle of nowhere
no matter how many mile markers you pass.
Bon Jovi might have been playing on the radio,
but if not them,
something equally festive for
my brother Steve and I.
A funeral dirge would have been festive
for Steve and I that morning.
The highway rolled
through valleys and over hills.
We rolled with it,
singing along to the music,
like the fools that we were
in that version of now.
We’d passed so many miles in such fashion
that we were drunk on the vibe.
We crested another hill, and
my brother, Tim,
was the last to see them.
There were two of them,
a man and a woman
a married couple, perhaps.
He was pushing a shopping cart,
and she walked near to his side.
Steve and I fell silent, and
Tim arose from his reclined position
in the back seat,
to see what had stopped
our celebration of song.
The silence hung
like a dripping wet bedspread
on a damp morning’s clothesline.
They were headed north,
just like we were.
Tim, at eighteen,
was even more of a sarcastic smart-ass
than he is these ten years later,
and I prayed to God
that he would be able
to process the sight
and not need say something
to lighten the mood.
I knew that if he did,
I’d probably have to hit him for the first time.
The silence hung,
and I noticed that there was an exit
further up the road.
But from where had they come?
I couldn’t remember how long it had been
since we’d passed the last exit.
Still, there was an exit up ahead,
and I envisioned the nice little house
that I’d see nestled in the hillside
right off the highway.
Warm smoke wafting from the chimney.
It was all I could do.
But we passed the exit,
and there was no such house.
I don’t remember exactly what I did see
down that road,
probably just hills and trees,
because whatever it was,
I recall that it gave me the impression
that this was not where
the couple was heading.
I don’t know how many miles passed
before Steve let out the sad sigh
that broke our silence,
but I do know that part of that silence
is still with each of us.
A decade later, Christmas nears,
and the memory visits often,
leading me to think three thoughts:
I am pleased and proud
that my brothers and I
gave the sight
the respect it deserved.
If we had offered a ride,
would they have abandoned the cart?
I sure hope there was
a house I didn’t see,
with warm smoke wafting from the chimney.
Oh, but the lives we live. Be well, friends, and take care of the guy next to you if you can; check on him to see if he’s doing OK. There’s no way it can hurt.