After leaving the lawyer’s office where the final divorce papers were signed ending his marriage with Kathy and before heading out of Kansas City for the last time, Abel wanted one last look at the site of the fiery crash that killed Justin and Seth. It was a gentle curve on The Paseo, an otherwise nondescript piece of roadway not particularly known for crashes. But when one adds alcohol to the mix, things happen.
Right about here…they swerved and hit this outcropping…and… Abel had pulled over to the side in his grief and curiosity, cars blazing past him and following the same path as those two precious boys did just a few months ago. I wonder what it would be like if I opened the door and stepped out in the path of a passing semi? Would he stop in time? No, of course not. I’d be my luck though that the driver would swerve in time or miss me or jack knife right over me…killing himself or others and then I’d be responsible for that too. No.
Abel rubbed his temple with two fingers of his right hand as he gazed at the road, again seeing the ambulance and the covered bodies. He looked down at the passenger seat at Justin’s blue Kansas City Royals hat, the same one that the EMT’s pulled from the boy’s hand in the wreckage. The suddenly ancient-aged father gently stroked the “KC” with his finger for a moment, his tears falling gently and with a predictable and constant rhythm upon the leather seat. Seconds passed. The memories. The loss. The tears. Abel took one and then two deep breaths, grabbed his sunglasses and put them on. He merged back on the interstate and headed south, beginning the hardest journey a person can ever make: Leaving behind the weight of what once was, in order to lighten oneself for the unknown and better journey ahead.
“Mister? You OK?” asked Anson, Desert Willie’s competent but often befuddled manager. “Should I call for help? What happened out there?” Abel had half stumbled back into the truck stop, dazed and exhausted from years on the road, his share of personal tragedy, and what he had just seen – or more accurately, hadn’t seen – out in the parking lot. At that point a crowd had gathered around him, each with quizzical looks on their face, and their group image seeming to Abel to fairly shimmy in the glow of the overhead fluorescent lights. “Yes, I’m fine. Could I have some water, please?” He took the glass that immediately appeared and emptied it. Placing the glass on the counter, he stood with one hand on the back of counter stool, letting moments pass before trying anything remotely strenuous.
“You had us scared there, mister. You went flying out there and at first I thought you were trying to skip out on paying your bill!” Anson chuckled. “I mean, you’d be surprised how many times people do that, and…”
“No, no. I just thought I saw something is all. It’s nothing. It’s nothing. What do I owe you?” Anson helpfully and competently handed him the bill for $12.10; Abel pulled out two tens and waved away the change. He closed his eyes tight and then headed – again – for the door. He nearly made it there.
“Mister? I noticed that you paid the bill for that elderly couple over by the window,” Anson offered. “Did you know them?”
“Well, no. I thought I did….I guess I was just trying to be nice. To be helpful.”
“A fine gesture, sir. I’m sure they appreciated it.” Anson had managed Desert Willie’s for nearly ten years now, and over time had gained an encyclopedic memory of his customers. “Next time they’re in, I’ll tell them about your gesture. But that’s the first time I’d ever seen them, so maybe they’re just travelers passing through,” Anson added while staring wistfully out the window.
“Yeah, probably,” Abel stammered while staring down at the check in his hand embossed with the names Walter and Ann Carlson on it.
About this time, Donna came walking over to the register carrying a steaming coffee pot in one hand and what looked like a diary in the other.
“Hey, boss? That elderly couple left this on their table. What should I do with it?”
Out of the corner of his eye, Abel saw the familiar leather cover. Wordlessly, he reached for it and Donna handed it to him. He turned it over in his hands, letting the years speak to him and, for the first time in ages, letting go of the strain and the pressure and the doubt. Opening it with a familiar ease, he softly whispered the words that were still there, written in clear blue script:
“In all things, seek Peace. Let it flow down upon you like a misty night in the deepest of the deeps. Lift yourself up to it and hide yourself in the fog of calmness, for the floating water will ease you in your hour of despair. For as the water swims impossibly on the air, so can you if you let it and believe it can happen.”
Without asking permission, the tired traveler palmed the book and exited the building. A sudden fog had rolled in off the mountains and had enveloped the small eatery and his larger world. He stood, imagining himself as part of the misty cloud and wished that he could float along with it when it left. Maybe it would form next in a lonely valley, or along a mountain stream, or someplace where there were no lonely roads to nowhere, and no places where the road deceptively curved but ran safely straight for as far as the eye could see. He wanted it to carry him there. He wanted to find peace in the words that his mother had left for him both years and a few minutes ago. He stood, and the watery air washed over him. For a blessed moment, he floated with it above the ground.
“Oh! I’m so sorry! I didn’t see you!” the middle-aged waitress said, apologizing profusely for basically running over Abel. “This fog is awful. Lucky thing I had got here before the worst of it took hold. You sure you’re ok?” She shook her pony-tailed head back and forth in her concern, and Abel noticed.
“Yes, I’m fine. Fine. What a night, huh?”
“It is. Hey, if you’re OK I gotta go. Donna’s gonna have my butt if I don’t relieve her on time. Last time I did that she glued my apron to the table while we were on break and when I stood up I nearly decapitated myself! You take care now, hear?” The woman brushed past Abel – the touch of her arm on his warming him in the cool night – and disappeared inside.
Abel turned and watched her until she was gone from sight inside Willie’s. He had noticed how good she smelled, her attractive hair, and her dancing eyes. He had also noticed while looking down when their arms touched in the night a silver name tag with “Casey” on it.
Could it be? She’s about the right age, height. A few extra pounds, but we have all done that…maybe. Abel thought hard and stared back towards the restaurant.
It surprised him then when he walked away through the water-filled night towards the safety and normalcy of his truck. He was done chasing the past and the ghosts that lived there. He had strength now, enough to fill the rest of the pages in his mother’s gift to him from years ago. The time it would take to write on those pages would be filled with peace now, and he would find rest along with it. But before he could lay down his burdens, he had one more thing to do….