Ancient History

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Shouting ‘Kentucky’ at Nobody

“Waterfall!” I bellowed at nobody in the back seat.

My little car cruised past the messy, splashing waterfall bounding over a cliff next to the interstate. For miles along I-70 through the Colorado mountains, waterfalls pounce down steep rocky hillsides. They are giddiest in the spring when runoff peaks, eagerly feeding rivers. Depending on which side of the Continental Divide you’re on, the water flows to either the Pacific Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico. So much rides on where a snowflake exits a cloud. Two feet to the west, it will thrill a drunk Vegas gambler as it leaps around a fountain. Two feet to the east, the snowflake might find itself reflecting fireflies in a bayou.

There was nobody to tell this sophomorically-profound nugget of wisdom. I was gazing straight at Mother Nature’s navel and had to contemplate the drastically different fates of water droplets, alone.

For most of the drive to my parents’ house, I was struck by the silent ease. I was my own DJ, playing a Pandora station I created long ago called Summer in Berlin after the Alphaville song. Nobody protested the 80s New Wave/New Romantic audial spree soundtrack. I could wail like a flouncy-shirted, sharp-cheekboned British man about melting with you in Rio. I enjoyed the silence.

Nobody was there to write down my shouted “KENTUCKY” after I read it on a license plate of a car I passed. There was no official State License Plate Listkeeper. I wondered if I could remember all of them and write them down later, for nobody.

When I stopped at the top of Vail Pass to visit the rest area, I didn’t have to shepherd anyone out, worried if the toilets flushed or didn’t. I’d deal either way, but was happy to send a contribution to a ridiculous desert golf course near the Arizona/Nevada border. Throughout the drive, I’d catch myself thinking of things to ask or tell children who weren’t there. Hungry? This is where bighorn sheep like to hang out. Potty? Who is asleep? 45 more minutes. Cool enough? Was that license plate for New York?

My identity is so thickly ensconced in being a mother that even when alone for hours, I continued doling out thoughts and anticipating situations that were impossible. The last time I drove from east to west on I-70, alone, I was a college student and still a child in many ways. I sang the same songs, but the British men were dads and husbands of models. Now, they are grandfathers and ex-husbands of ex-models. I didn’t need to stop at rest stops because I hadn’t carried and birthed a zillion children. If there was a bighorn sheep, the only way I’d notice was if I hit one.

Also, as a college student, I wasn’t thinking about my mom who was—at that very moment—in an operating room under general anesthesia having a body part screwed and wired back together because she fell. I was thinking about how to hide my smoking habit from her and did she have enough detergent for all the laundry I brought?

When I arrived in Grand Junction, I drove straight to the hospital. I went to her room on the eighth floor, but it was empty. I guessed she was still in surgery, so I rode the elevator back down to look for my dad and news. Where was he? My mom was hidden behind swinging doors protected by stern, badged people behind desks. He wasn’t in the waiting room. I began to wander. There were lots of people, but nobody I wanted to see. So much of the nobody that day, nobodies everywhere. I needed my somebodies—my kids and husband, my dad, my mom.

I found my dad after a few minutes. My mom was in recovery and would be for awhile. We went to the hospital’s cafe and I bought a sandwich. We sat and he pulled folded papers from the back pocket of his jeans. They were copies of x-rays. My mom’s right knee cap looked like a desperately hungry bird’s gaping beak. It was split completely with smaller bits floating around.

“Wow!” was all I could say. Just wow. That had to hurt, my God! I looked at the images until I came to something new.

Screws and wires seemingly hovering over two long leg bones. She had been put back together, the one who expressed how worried she was about me driving over, claiming it was unnecessary, they’d be fine.


Still my mother, always my mother, beautifully my mother, even though I hadn’t been in her backseat in ages.

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