Someone to Blame
- Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Irene once heard that if you fell off a cliff in your dream, you would always wake before smacking the ground.
If only real life were that merciful.
She pulled her damp cheek away from the warm glass of the truck window and gazed at the Trinity River meandering hundreds of feet below, gloomy green water snaking through a precipitous canyon. Narrow curves hugged the steep sides of cliff with only a short retaining wall of stacked rocks separating them from disaster — many of the stones chipped, some ominously missing from the ledge.
Irene imagined the fear a driver would feel straining to discern the gray road on a foggy night. Stunned as the stone wall came up too fast, too close, jerking the steering wheel, hearing the chilling screech of tires spinning out on loose gravel.
And she could almost taste the desperate panic contained in the freefall, the driver trapped in the confines of the car as the vehicle plunged to the rocks and icy water below.
Maybe that word came closest to defining this indefinable sensation of pain. No other words quite fit, and Irene desperately needed one that would. For months she had tested adjectives, placing them alongside the events that punctured their lives, yearning for a match.
Raw. Horrific. Suffocating. Tragic. Debilitating.
Impotent, feeble words.
After you fell for a while, you'd reach a constant speed —terminal velocity. Irene remembered reading that a skydiver in freefall leveled out at two hundred miles per hour. Had the person who invented that term realized the implied double meaning?
How a fall at that great a speed could only be terminal?
Haunting images flooded her mind. Desperate people. Leaping from skyscraper windows in a futile attempt to escape a fire. A plane exploding at high altitude, spilling people out of their seats thousands of feet above the polar ice caps.
Yet, those tragic victims suffered only a merciful few seconds of horror before death.
When you lose a child, you tumble in freefall continually, without acquittal. The ground rushes up at you, your mind frantic and disbelieving. Impending doom pulls you toward impact at dizzying speeds.
But you never hit bottom.
Never a reprieve from panic. Never startling awake before the moment of contact. Never breathing that sigh of relief as the wisp of nightmare dissolves and you learn you are safe, tangled in bedcovers, your husband sleeping undisturbed at your side.
You are always falling.
Irene wrenched her eyes from the river and turned to Matt.
He had barely spoken all day, but she was growing accustomed to his long stretches of silence. She watched him shift his weight and hunker down over the steering wheel, eyeing the rental trailer in the side-view mirror as it dragged behind them like an albatross.
They had sold most of their furniture with the house, shed it all, along with as many memories as possible. Crammed all the tangible remnants of their past into that twelve-foot box dragging behind them. How was it so easy to fit the pieces of their lives into such a small container?
The strain etched in Matt's face was telltale: his red, tired eyes; the pallor across his features; a grimace that annihilated any former trace of joy. Even the way he gripped the wheel evidenced the weeks of sleepless nights that eroded his concentration.
Exhaustion — plain and simple.
Irene knew she looked just as haggard. She adjusted the small vanity mirror attached to the sun visor so she could see into the backseat. Behind her, Casey's eyes were closed.Indecipherable strains of music filtered out of her daughter's headphones. Irene wished she could smother her own inner monologue that easily.
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