* * *
BTW: The photo art and prose included in any given post are separate creations having nothing to do with each other. Duality and such …
* * *
Reconstruction of the interchange nearest the funeral home was recently completed, so it was much wider, much smoother than before, and it dumped him rapidly back onto the four west-bound lanes of the busy interstate with relatively light drama. He merged between an Audi SUV and a Camaro, two more lanes still to the left if he wanted them, but he didn’t, traffic moving steadily, if sedately, impatient but restrained, as if reflecting the end of the morning rush hour, just as he reflected the end of his friend’s life. Not that he’d known him that well, no better than he knew this stretch of interstate that he found reason to navigate every couple months or so. Guy he had worked with, had lunched with, traded daily pleasantries with, made casual conversation with. He roughly knew the composition of his family, knew the sports teams he rooted for, knew the shows he watched, remembered a couple of the jokes he’d told because those were the things that defined casual acquaintance. He’d arrived at the visitation about halfway through and signed the book on the way in. The family had decided to forgo the standard receiving line in favor of milling with the couple dozen well-wishers and he was happy about that. He wandered along, spent time looking at the pictures of the guy’s life arranged throughout and watched the slide show of more photographs projected onto a wall. Turns out the guy had received a couple awards from the civic organization he’d belonged to, so he lingered at those. He hadn’t known about the civic organization or the awards. He recognized that was likely the tip of the iceberg of things he didn’t know. He didn’t see any of the old crew, or perhaps simply didn’t recognize them; hadn’t met the wife before and wasn’t sure who she was or whether he should barge into conversation to find out. He stood at the body respectfully for a few minutes – thought the guy looked pissed off laying there – wandered slowly past the photographs again and was out of there, as planned, well before the memorial service began. He hadn’t talked to anyone, just smiled, and nodded at a few who seemed to want to nod and smile back.
The flow of traffic on the interstate didn’t seem incongruous to that experience; a slow and brief familiarity with each other on the way to splitting off, he to another interstate that led back to his office, or his apartment further on. He found himself thinking less about his friend, whom he had arguably barely known well enough to call a friend, than about his ex-wife, who two days before had called to cry over the death of her cat. Theirs had not been the most amicable of break ups, it coming after twenty-five years of lukewarm marriage, yet in her profound grief over her cat (a creature he had not missed in the slightest) she had sought him out for solace. He admitted, as he thought about it, that he missed the marriage and what they had built together, if not necessarily the relationship itself, and he felt an emptiness over that; a death in and of itself. Just at that moment the highway flowed over the crest of a long rise, and he could see miles and miles into the distance, all eight-lanes of the interstate stretching to the horizon, and every inch of it covered, saturated with vehicles. At that second it struck him the sheer number seemed impossible; every vehicle at least one person, every person a different path, moving away and towards different points, different origins, and different conclusions. And this was just one of a half dozen interstates into, out of, and around the city, and this was just a small city at best. He thought about his son off one path to the military because it seemed like the easiest thing to do, then about his daughter who had graduated nursing school just in time for a pandemic to exhaust and drain her of any enthusiasm she might have had for the profession. He thought of his youngest daughter, still at home with his ex and into piercings and tats and with a vague idea of a liberal arts college he couldn’t begin to afford. He thought of all of them, of his friend lying in his casket, of his ex-wife, of his ex-wife’s dead cat, of all the people moving towards their own conclusions, no more invested in each other than were the vehicles on this highway, no more courteous than necessary to not smash into each other. That’s when the emptiness of his perspective amplified and swallowed him. What he should have felt at the visitation. What he should have felt at the breakup of his marriage and the disconnectedness of his family. Surrounded by individuals locked in their separate vehicles traversing the same stretch of highway at the same time, for however briefly.
He saw clearly from his point on the crest that the highway would pull them all in different directions. Then he began to cry.
All my life I have had to learn to do things differently. To see the world differently.