I just kept driving. On a whim, I took the road home from church straight to the gas station for a fill-up, then down Alfred Harrell Highway past Ethel's. . . the soccer park. . . C.A.L.M. . . . until I connected with the 178 and I made a left and the next thing I knew I was driving through Kern Canyon headed towards Lake Isabella.
Anyone that's driving this canyon or one similar knows that once you get going, it's tough to stop. The canyon is a treacherous road, with craggly, deathly-sharp rocks to the south and the ill-reputed Kern River to the north. The road is narrow, a two-lane road, and it's imperative to stay between it's tightly drawn yellow lines because veering outside them leads every year to certain death. I'm a nervous Kern Canyon driver, but I'm an even more nervous passenger having to relinquish control of my fate to another driver. As a driver approaches the canyon signs indicate that slow drivers should use the designated turn-outs to permit the faster, more experienced drivers to pass, but anyone who drives like me -two hands on the wheel and at their own pace no matter who's around - knows that even the turn-outs are scary. The thing about driving the canyon is that you never know what's aroud the bend. And that's scary.
I don't want to have to anticipate what's next. I have no idea what's next. They say that the more you drive the canyon, the more your mind and your arms and the rest of your body get used to its bends and curves. I find that hard to believe, though. The canyon's casualties indicate that experienced drivers are no more immune to the hazards of the ride than those who are at it for the first time. No one's really safe.
I trucked along in my new-used, mid-sized car with it's average engine, testing its features by clicking my way through the radio stations on my steering wheel before settling on the country station. It's important when making these sort of reflective, soul-searching drives to listen to country music. Country music will inspire you to search your soul.
I've always liked driving. I don't so much like being alone as I like being left alone. Anytime I've had a passenger on a long drive I have looked forward to their falling asleep, permitting me to be be alone with my thoughts and some music.
When Frank demonstrated my car's features I recall asking, "Don't cars have CD players anymore?"
"Yes. It's right there." He pointed to a slit in the dashboard. "Most people use their Ipods now."
I don't have an Ipod, mostly because I'm not sure what I would do with it. I like CDs. It's true that most albums aren't worth listening to from beginning to end, but once in a while you find one that is - Jewel's "Pieces of You," Joss Stone's "Soul Sessions," Johnny Cash's "When the Man Comes Around," and so on - and I think it's valuable to remember a time when people cranked out consistently good material.
Driving brings tears. It's true that someone can talk to me about Gabriel, about being raped, about losing Sean, and I will stand stone-faced and seemingly cold and unfeeling not because I don't feel but because I want to demonstrate that we can feel and still survive. In a car though, on the road, the tears roll freely down my face, along my cheeks and onto my neck, wiped with my sleeves, uninhibited. Some people imagine Heaven to be a place where there are no tears but I believe that Heaven must be the kind of place where the tears flow with abandon.
Lake Isabella is a nasty little town, full of high meth use and low expectations. I drove for just a minute down its main street before turning around and going right back home. I didn't want anything from the town, i just wanted its drive with its truly stunning views, the majesty of which, in my biased and untraveled opinion, are prime examples of California, the country's most beautiful and diverse state. As I made my way back home it felt right to stop at the cemetary to see Gabriel's space. I hadn't been since my birthday. Truth is, I don't go often. We chose to place his ashes at Greenlawn knowing it was in walking distance from the yellow house, but I still don't go. I have this fear of becoming obssessed with his resting place. Today I saw a family with their little, cottn-ball sized puppy skipping across headstones. I wondered how it would go over if I brought Noelle one day. I suspect, not well. She's a turd.
I wonder if people see his plaque and empty vase and wonder if that poor little baby who lived only ten days has been forgotten. That's my biggest fear when I pass by the cemetary without stopping. I want people to look at his nameplate and see the carefully chosen words, "Hero of God." I want them to know that he lived for ten days that changed the world. He may have only lived ten days, but he still lived. I love him. I miss him. His name is Gabriel Michael Gerard Cude. He only lived for ten days, but he still lived. And I. . . I am his mother. And I will miss him for the rest of his life. And I miss him.