A Cold Silence

By Sarah Boden

Forty-five miles west of the Indiana-Kentucky border, right before the exit for Uniontown on I-64, my father’s red Ford Taurus sat stuck in the snow. Stuck in the abysmally unexceptional midwestern landscape that spans flat, punctuated only by an occasional patch of trees, farm house, or gas station. Stuck with the ground slowly rising to the falling white sky.

Just my twin brother Andy and I, and our father sat in the Ford Taurus on the way to Louisville. Our uncle and his family lived there, and this was the first Christmas we were coming to them.

My stepmother Sue wasn’t with us. She was in Rockford, Illinois with her parents. Sue was an only child, most of her aunts and uncles populated cemeteries on the east coast, and her cousins long estranged. I hadn’t seen my father’s wife in three weeks and wouldn’t for another fifteen.

It was a freak snow storm, the kind Kentuckyanna hadn’t seen in decades; perhaps the weather had taken a wrong turn on its way to Manitoba. I felt an urge to apologize to my fellow motorists, for I secretly suspected that our family caused the blizzard.

Sue had beaten my father earlier that December, the climax of seven miserable years. Sue, in classic midwestern stoicism, drank herself stupid and indifferent daily while devouring pain pills, making meals out of them. Making meals out of vicodin, pork roast, and cheap red wine.

We did not talk about these things while we sat in the Ford Taurus, nor did we listen to the radio, because during a recent fight with my father Sue snapped the antenna from the hood of the car. Andy listened to Eminem—another disenfranchised midwestern male—on his portable CD player loud enough for us to hear and loud enough for him to pretend not to hear us.

My father and I sat silently in the front seats of the car for six hours and said nothing.

As trip navigator, the map lay upon my lap. If we’d taken the previous exit at Corners, we could have driven back roads the rest of the way to the Travel Lodge on the outskirts of Louisville, avoiding this gridlock. We would later discover that the standstill was due to a colossal accident involving several vehicles about twenty miles ahead from where we sat.

I suppose this was our fault too.

I wanted to say many things, sitting there in the cold. In fact, I wanted to yell in an atypical midwestern fashion. Yell at my father for his stupidity and selfishness. Yell at him for being a coward and not leaving his ridiculous wife though he had wanted to for years.

He did not leave Sue when she called me, his daughter, a bitch and liar, falsely accusing me of stealing her jewelry. My father did not leave Sue when she demanded that he drive my then twelve-year-old brother, his son, to a secluded, unfamiliar road and leave him there as an arbitrary punishment. He did not leave Sue when she was rude to his mother, scolding Grandma in front of her sons and grandchildren. And he was not leaving her now, though she beat him. He would not leave Sue, though he did not love her, because ending his marriage was contrary to the midwestern morals which were his ten commandments, for my father had no faith.

I felt we had made the snow fall because we’d neglected to visit my father’s brother all those years, and this was karmic retribution for our reluctance; we had not loved them enough to drive the eight hours across three state borders. Only now we chose to come, damaged and angry. I thought about how we were going to ruin my uncle’s Christmas. I wondered if the snow was building a barrier, keeping us away from his marriage and daughters who weren’t broken and angry and hateful. I feared we would contaminate their family and knew we shouldn’t have come.

The white fell clean, first in inches then feet, covering the long, contrite, double single-file lanes of automobiles—twin snakes, stretching halfway to Illinois perhaps. Drivers were turning off their engines to maintain the batteries in hopes that one day they would move again. As protection from the cold, we passengers layered our bodies in hats, coats, and gloves, waiting for the right moment to uncover and resume a steady, cautious pace along the narrow highway to our final destinations.

Midwesterners are not hasty.

It is difficult to start conversations sometimes because you don’t know if they will stop, or how. I was afraid to tell my father to end yet another marriage because I did not want that responsibility. Once my father asked me if he should divorce Sue—that was back in May, seven months ago, right around the time he was fired from his job. I told him, “No…don’t do it,? and now I regretted it.

I secretly feared I had ruined my father’s first marriage to my mother by being an unplanned birth. Only meaning to have one child, my parents got twins instead, and I was the second infant to appear. I suspected that the stress of my existence ultimately caused my mother to leave her husband. If I had told my father to divorce Sue back in May I would have destroyed his life yet again.

I was afraid if I started talking angry words would fall like snow from our mouths. And these mad, mad words would cover us, until we wouldn’t be able to move—just as we couldn’t move now. My family was not unique but we did not realize this; just like we could not see the other red Ford Tauruses on the road, though there must have been more.

My father was ashamed, I think, because he was the battered spouse. Some people might have thought him a weak degenerate for not hitting his wife back. Midwestern men are strong and do not cry, though they might make it snow.

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This page contains a single entry by Department of English published on April 25, 2008 10:02 AM.

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