September 6, 2013 by The Citron Review
This is the highway of dead things: eighty miles and two lanes of barren winter cornfields and carcasses. Twice a week I drive this route from home to work, from Minneapolis down through the lonely valleys of southern Minnesota, shaving seven minutes off my lifetime with each cigarette I light to stay awake. Some mornings I tally the heaps of fur and feathers that litter the road, as if my keeping track could revive them somehow. Poor broken things—rabbits, raccoons, others mauled past recognition. Sometimes there’s a streak of rust red but the beast it came from is missing, hauled away by humans or some hungry opportunist.
For one long stretch today the pavement is clean—no blood, no tire-trampled bodies. I let my guard fall. I forget I am driving a death machine. Then, rounding a bend, I see what was a deer just minutes ago, belly splattered like a Pollock now across both lanes. At seventy miles an hour, what can I do? My car moves over the mess like a speed bump. In my rearview mirror, I watch three other vehicles do the same. One by one, they swerve to pass me.
Driving home at night, I go five miles under the limit and use my brights more than I should. My eyes are restless, searching for movement in the roadside thicket. If my two-door hatchback ever struck a live deer, I can imagine the wreckage: windscreen shattered by hoof and horn, and me, crumpled against the dash, no airbag to cushion the impact. I believe a three-hundred pound buck could survive me better than I could survive him. And this, I think, is exactly as it should be.
I’ve moved a dozen times in five years: four apartments in Minneapolis, then four weeks in rehab after a Xanax overdose—maybe an accident, maybe not. I lived in a shack of an apartment, eight miles from anything but farmland, and broke the lease a month later, fled back to the city. I lived in a motel where men orchestrated dogfights in the parking lot, then a house where centipedes climbed the walls at night, then a furnished efficiency next door to a man who kept his television on for weeks at a time.
I have trouble with home, the concept of home. As soon as I live somewhere long enough to nest, I become uneasy. I can’t be still without feeling like a sitting target—for what, I don’t know. My comfort lies in hotels, motels, places I’m only passing through, running through, places I could never call my own. I’m not sure what this says about me. The moment I begin to build something, I’m already working to tear it down.
My two cats understand the signs that precipitate a move. They can sense when I’m unhappy in a place—when I stay up all night pacing, drinking myself into a blind rage and kicking holes in doors. They know what it means when I sell my furniture on Craigslist, when I start shoveling my clothing into garbage bags and boxes. The cats are not like me—they crave stability. Each time we move, they scream and cry from their cat carriers like the world is ending, and I scream and cry with them, because I wonder if maybe it is.
Last time we moved, I hit a bird. No, a bird hit me—slammed his tiny determined body into my windshield as I accelerated up a hill—and exploded on contact, all yellow bile and fluff. I drove for weeks with the memory of him still glued to my windshield until rain washed him away. I still dream about him: what beautiful bird he might have become, what I might have become, what life could be like if I didn’t always feel on the cusp of catastrophe, if I didn’t have to destroy everything for fear it would destroy me first.
Spring is coming. On my morning commute, wild turkeys punctuate the side of the highway, strutting and pecking at invisible morsels on the shoulder. They’re cocky and hungry, and reckless, like me. When I see them, dangerously close to the trajectory of my tires, I brake hard, honk my horn, holler out my cracked window. Hey, hey, I yell, like I could ever get their attention, like when I say go home, git, they will hear me, turn around, gobble and waddle away to somewhere warm and bright and safe.
Alicia Catt is an MFA candidate and composition instructor at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in 1966, Birdfeast, MARY, Revolution House, and others. She has three pets and no television.