I’ve been silent for so long that sometimes it feels like I’ve forgotten how to speak.
In-person. Hidden behind a screen. Can my mouth still form words? Can my fingers still find their way on these keys?
I’ve been sitting in the driver’s seat for so long, going nowhere. Hands on the wheel and staring out the window, wondering what my next move should be. In my mind, I go back to 6th Street all the time.
It’s been a year since I took the long road there. Driving past the farmlands, through the winding mountains, over the Sound. The path is burned into me like a scar that hasn’t faded after all this time.
He was by my side, watching the landscape change as we drove. I’d offered to drive him. From the time I was a child, I always jumped at the opportunity to go with him somewhere. Mom was helping with 5 kids, I wanted the time, and his wounds were still too fresh for him to drive himself.
The miles passed too quickly as the sky changed again and again. We spoke quietly. Of simple things. Of the family. Of the past. Of our hopes for the future and the 5 little ones being raised on our shared land when all of this was finally behind us. It had been so long since war began raining down like burning arrows. We had all been shielding the children as best we could, yet kids are smart. They saw our edges curl and crisp. They noticed the orange glow at night. They felt my heartbeat rise when we ran into the ones in town, matches still smoking in their hands.
We stopped after a couple of hours for lunch. We chose to stay in the car and parked beneath the light rain. I rolled our windows down and he put his hand outside, not eating much, his eyes unfocused. He pulled his hand in; May drops fresh on his fingertips. Minutes passed as we listened to the rain on the windshield. “I guess we should keep going.”
We continued until we got to the courthouse. Covid restrictions demanded I wait outside, yet still, he asked me to park a block away. “You don’t need to watch.”
My mind instantly jumped back to being 13 years old in the front seat of his car, passing a dead dog on the side of the road that had been hit hours before. He had reached out with one hand and covered my eyes back then. I’d let him without a word as we passed, even though I felt old enough to take in the disturbing sight. He’d always wanted to shield me – from everything. “You don’t need to watch,” he’d said.
I frowned at the comparison and tried to shake it off.
He slowly got out of the car, pain plain on his face. So fresh from major surgery, the journey had been taxing. I opened my door and faced him on the pavement. His eyes met mine – pure gray gleaming like the rain clouds.
“Is my tie ok?” he asked quietly.
I reached my hands up and straightened the fabric around his neck, leaving my arms there to hug him to me. I moved my hands to his and began to pray.
“I love you all,” he said as he turned and walked away. He didn’t look back.
I gave him 5 minutes. Then I drove onto 6th Street and stared at the door I knew he had gone through. I would sit and wait for him to come back out. I was old enough now. I could take in the sight.
He would come back out.
He had to come back out.
But he didn’t.
Even after I got the call that he wouldn’t come back, I couldn’t move. I sat in the driver’s seat for so long, going nowhere. Hands on the wheel and staring out the window, wondering how to move. How to breathe. How the cruelty of the ruling had brought his representation to tears on the pavement outside. How the others had chosen a back door, unwilling to face the one waiting out front for a man who wouldn’t return. How he was going to survive there with a spine that had been partially eaten by an active staph infection. How to tell her.
Twelve months later, I can still hear the sound she made when I told her he wasn’t coming home. The verdict was so unexpected, so cruel, so spiteful, so political. They never even got to say goodbye to each other.
Before all of this, we had faith in people who did not deserve it, in a system we did not know. Now we see the man behind the curtain in a strange technicolor world where you can spot the extras hanging from the trees in the background if you look closely.1 The threatened witnesses, the destroyed evidence, the ones willing to surrender truth for the popular vote. There is no going back to the simplicity of Kansas. Our family was simply collateral damage from the corruption on every side: from a community willing to pick up stones without questioning, to them – willing to do whatever it took to retain the power of the few. We were not the threat. They only felt that way when they realized the strings didn’t work on their marionette.
And so we spent four seasons mourning. Hibernating. Researching. Processing. Fighting. And now I sit in my car, hands on my steering wheel, going nowhere, talking to a therapist over facetime about the anxiety I feel within the community that worked so hard to destroy the things I love the most.
In my head I can still remember the chill in the air as I stood in the dark with the zip ties, the brand new NO TRESPASSING signs in my hands illuminated by my car headlights; praying they would leave us alone.
I still remember scrolling and hitting “report” again and again and again on the comments that threatened hangings and shootings and beatings. Wishing it would help. Knowing I would always be afraid for our family.
I still remember blocking everyone to try and protect the kids. Contacting lawyers for anti-harassment orders. Working under pseudonyms so they wouldn’t find us.
I still think about my drumkit warping in the garage and remember the way the pieces were dumped on our lawn in the rain without warning.
I still see the glow of the stars night after night as I stand on the porch and look up at his favorite things – knowing he hasn’t seen them in an entire year.
I hear my kids ask for him nearly every single day.
I still see her curled up on the bed when I walked through the door. I still hear her whisper so quietly, “I think I’m dying.” I remember wondering what I would do if this ended up taking them both.
I still see the sign for 6th Street in my dreams.
I wonder if they see us in their dreams. Not as the pieces they scattered and tried to break, but the braided cord we still are. Despite their best efforts, blind hatred like I’ve never known – our unit hasn’t broken, it’s merely crossed the miles; expanded its coast.2 Believed in the action behind restoration. Planted seeds in scorched earth and watched a slow crop grow.
Perhaps they see themselves as they truly are and fight to wake up. In the end, we will have each other and we will heal. Yet the nightmare of knowing what they’ve done will always be with them.
I’m awake. I’ve been sitting in the driver’s seat for so long, going nowhere, reliving the road under a changing sky on the darkest day of my life.
But the sky is changing again.
Maybe I’ll slide over and let go of the wheel for a while.
2 The Prayer of Jabez