Thursday, November 18, 2010

It happened on 101 South.

My father would do that--get in the car and drive to California or even Mexico, throw a few things in a suitcase and flee November.

The first time, I was seven. For days, we didn't know where he was, where he'd gone. My mother's face tightened and her voice almost disappeared, just a metallic scraping under her breath. He finally called from San Diego, said he'd found some work at a hotel for the holiday season--maybe until spring.

They must have argued, "had words," when he returned that March. I don't remember, but he didn't leave again until I was 10. Then 12. Then every year. We got used to it the way families adjust to their foibles that to anyone else would seem crazy. And he always came back--with a tan and stories and hugs for his girls.

We began to trust that rhythm.

When they found his car, it had been in the water for a day--at least. They thought he might have fallen asleep, missed a turn. We tried to explain that he'd never drive at night, never in the dark. We asked them to look for skid marks, imagined a logging truck coming around the curve or a traveler marveling at the views. We trusted that he swerved to avoid a collision and ran off the road.

They asked if he was depressed, and we knew what they meant. What could we say?

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