Begins with a quiet, simple picking, already a twang in the way Nalick bends that D string, hitching into that opening note, then, sudden, driving away from the wreck of the day/and the lights always red in the rear-view, and I deepen my pitch to match, sing under my breath, though I’m alone and anyway, a fine singer. I have loved this song for many years, though it has been as many since I listened to it on purpose. From the album of the same name, it’s a melancholy marriage of folk waltz and hymnal and I knew, my grip loose on the bottom of the wheel, it would make me cry. It does.
Mid-October in Colorado, almost dusk. I’m leaving a family that is not my family, though I carried a boy, ill and exhausted, his body speckled with rash, away from his father to his mother, because both policy and court order forbade that father from carrying his boy himself. In the language of pop songs, I’m being vague, coy. Driving away from someone else’s wreckage, wreckage I’ve climbed out of bed to witness, monitor, document. Volunteered for, this service. Wreckage that moves beyond wreckage; wreckage that is an inherited trauma, a life.
If this is giving up, then I’m giving up/giving up, and I’m listening to her croon on love, on love, and I’m feeling something I recognize as heartbreak, asking myself why I keep coming back, keep hurting this way. Because it’s almost always with fathers, almost always the abbreviation DV across their case files, because love doesn’t hurt so I know I’m not falling in love I’m just falling to pieces, because I have, in the last year, become afraid of the man I’m driving home to, afraid of the father of my daughter, and still, I come back to where I catch, in a fleeting expression, in carefully controlled tones, his face on the face of fathers I fear he is or will become, and maybe I’m not up for being a victim of love, and I’m thinking of men I have known, some I may have loved, how all my resistance will never be distance enough, and I am weighing what it would mean for me to leave, what it might mean for our daughter. How I might go about it.
Driving home I’m holding in my mind the voice of the boy’s mother–“He’s not contagious”–and I’m digging through my bag, groping for hand sanitizer, because my daughter is small and I am cautious, and it is the golden hour, and I am older now than I ever thought I would be, and I like driving less than I ever have, can’t see distance like I used to, and there’s the whip of cars hurrying to pass me, and I’m coming up on a red light, and the way I’m gripping the wheel makes me seventeen again, gunning it in my Oldsmobile, racing a boy who was not yet a man and so still my friend down Route 7, William in my passenger seat, the smallness of his body against the largeness of his voice, and I’m remembering seeing him again, a few years later, and how it struck me that where his body had filled out all the color in his voice had gone, and we sat in the Denny’s parking lot, me in his passenger seat, and he riffled through his glove compartment for the new Tim Kasher and popped it in, pulled out a glass bottle of something dark, and we listened to his favorite track on the record, staring ahead at the highway, at the way our hometown was stumbling toward change, when suddenly his trembling hand hovered above my knee, and he asked if I’d heard it, and when I said I hadn’t, started the whole song over until You brought home a dog you found in the alley / You said, “Can’t we keep her?”/ I said, “What kind of man would I be?” and there it was in the breath, the break of his voice over man, and I didn’t know what I was hearing but I knew I had heard it, too, so I said, “Yes.”