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River Teeth: A Journal of Nonfiction Narrative 7.1 (2005) 86-100
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Long distance drives are easy when you're fueled by desire. I once made the eight-hour trek from Boulder back to Albuquerque in closer to six to love a girlfriend gone three weeks. And now here I was, the second week of June, making the twenty-three-hour drive from Minneapolis.
I sing with my CDs, jot images from the drive, count the miles each hour, and eat. There's almost constantly something in my mouth, whether sunflower seeds or bubble gum or one of those cheap McDonald's ice cream cones. Keeping my mouth busy keeps me awake, which is a good thing to be while piloting steel past the speed limit.
It's easy to forget how close you are to dying. Even after decades of advancing automobile safety, car crashes yearly end some forty thousand American lives. It can happen to anyone; it doesn't matter who you are. If you drive, there's the chance someone will demolish your Ford Taurus, killing your wife of fifty-seven years instantly and you an hour later, as happened to the elderly couple who lived next to my parents. Or you might look down to change a CD, lose control of your Saab on a mountain near Taos, and end up dead after being flung two hundred feet, as happened to a friend of mine. Or maybe you and your girlfriend could be decapitated so soon after you stopped at McDonald's that the first paramedic on the scene notices your fries still steaming in the December sun.
The paramedic told me that story the day of my crash.
"One thing stands out when it comes to accidents," he said, "those who were wearing seat belts survive, those who weren't, don't.
"We get crashes where a car's wrapped around a tree, windows smashed, all that, and we think, 'Shit, this is going to be messy.' Then the driver steps from behind the car and waves. Because he had his seat belt on. Then there [End Page 86] are other calls where the car's barely scratched, but either it'll be empty because the driver's been thrown a mile or the guy's inside, like he's asleep, but completely dead from being scrambled in the car."
The paramedic listened to how when my car came to rest I was upside down, strapped to my seat, sunflower seeds suspended from the ceiling like tiny bats in an upholstered cave, and I said, "So if I hadn't been wearing my seat belt . . ."
"You probably would've broken your neck."
That would have meant, among a million other things, no Rachel.
We met in yoga class. But as friendly as she was, and as talkative, she was always dating Salem. And as friendly as I was, and as good a listener, I thought of her as taken. And while her description of their relationship made it sound like he took her for granted and didn't share her politics, she seemed loyal.
But after Christmas there came a message to call "Rachel from yoga." We met for lunch, then for dinner, then for January's first Friday night.
"I'm going to watch some hockey and then we could get a drink," I said on the phone.
"That sounds good."
"Do you want to just come over and we can go from here?"
She pulled up between the game's second and third periods. I gave her a tour, ending with my room. Red Christmas lights traced the large window near my bed, KUNM's salsa show on the stereo. Rachel set her brown leather purse on my desk and stretched her arms above her. She stood a few inches taller than me. I didn't know what was going to happen. I wasn't even sure how much I liked her. I fully expected that we'd have a drink and I'd come home alone.
Rachel went to my bed and...