An ambulance goes by, black exhaust making me think for a moment it’s on fire. This should make me want to cry, but it doesn’t. How odd marriage is—the way sometimes you follow the other around, no choice of your own, like when you were a kid and had to go wherever your parents decided. We’re on our way to a memorial service for your uncle whom I only met three times, when he was already frail and strange. It’s not that I don’t want to go, but I’m just along for the ride, going to watch other people grieve.
My thoughts wander over the landscape, and I’m wishing I’d brought a little craft project to work on—something I never get to do anymore. I hope we’ll see something interesting, eat the sort of food we never have at home. Maybe I’ll cry when we get there and I see all who loved him—his friends, your family—and their grief, think of what it means to lose a person. I wish my mascara were waterproof, the kind I wore on our wedding day and, four weeks later, to my grandfather’s funeral.
A green highway sign catches the headlights, announces we are passing Lake Interstate, a large man-made pond in a brown field. “Not very eventful,” you say. It’s foggy, and the people fixing the highway look like construction workers on the moon. They’re on the lifeless surface of some great underground civilization, maintaining the essential ductwork that the people beneath never consider.
Three tall crosses stand on a hill overlooking the highway. Probably the landowner is just proclaiming his faith; it’s too ambitious for an accident memorial. I think of my friend who wonders what it would be like if there was some marker in every spot where a person had died—in hospital rooms, on the headboard of an antique bed, over a corner table in the neighborhood restaurant, in the canned food aisle at the supermarket.
At the service there is some veiled acrimony between friends and family, the ex-wife and ex-girlfriends. But mostly everyone just wants to talk about George, and what you’ve told me is true: I never knew the man he used to be—a genius, a humanist, dry-witted and warm. I learn that he worked for the highway department for 30 years figuring out the physics of color and reflectivity that goes into making all the highway paint, road signs, and signal lights across the state as visible as they can be. I learn that he traveled around the west on foot and that something about him has made all these women stay, or come back, after breaking up with him.
Afterwards, we go out to eat with the rest of the family, the last ex-girlfriend, and her daughter, and we laugh over more stories about George. The restaurant serves wonderful mashed potatoes covered with mushroom sauce and fried onions. I remember how nice it was to see all my cousins together at our grandfather’s funeral and how later that day we went out to play pool.
Driving home through the dark and rain, I’m in the passenger seat again. you merge from a ramp onto the interstate. I am grateful for the strips of reflective tape that keep us on track, guiding us between the massive concrete pillars of the overpass.