Our town has always struggled to bury its dead; in the 70s and 80s, when a person died in an auto accident, their vehicle was towed to Bob’s Auto Repair downtown. Here, for weeks, the twisted metal sat adjacent to Main Street as a reminder of the consequences of raw luck, of those on the wrong side of time, in and around Lake Charlevoix’s south arm.
When I was twelve a man died in a car accident along the northern edge of town. I heard it was the reefer smoking rocker’s wrecked Ford that was dragged in—its front and rear bent heavenward, the roof curved like a horseshoe from a highline pole. While the whispers, the rumblings, spread across town, over party lines and between drinks, slapped against the hills, I pedaled my BMX with a boom box bungeed to the handlebars—Quiet Riot’s Bang Your Head spinning in the tape deck—and cut through daffodil beds and manicured lawns to witness the carnage.
The blue arch of bent metal lay stiff in the parking lot. A group of men—some family, some not—stood around Dale’s Escort with hands in their pockets. I knew him too, his thick-rimmed glasses, how he circled town in low gear with heavy metal blaring, how he’d be peaceful, always, and nod, even to a punk like me. And through the shadows of these men, the crushed steel, I traced a stream of blood that once pumped wet through him and now skirted along the tortured frame, the driver’s side door handle, and pooled on the carpet around an unscathed banana Moon Pie.
Later that week, at the funeral, his family presented him in a t-shirt and jeans—the shirt homage to his favorite rock band, Iron Maiden. His long hair was draped over the shoulders, the contusion at his broken neck sewn with a fake skin, a translucent window, really, into his esophagus, making the decision of an open casket rather unsettling to us all.
This was the first funeral I attended alone. The death a shock to me, the moment I learned that one day you could be huffing airplane glue beneath a girder bridge—or rolling through town in low gear with the windows down, blaring Maiden—and the next you don’t. That the remnants of your life, its final misgivings, are laid bare like the stitching of your favorite t-shirt—a silk screening of a fanged beast whipping a pony—and a few feet away your mother stands and taps the mike with a Marlboro 100 tucked behind her ear, sings, “Run to the hills, Goddamn it, run for your lives.” And you do by golly, you do, in your penny loafers, you head into the sun, before your life is closed and crushed and melted down, you run, before it’s buried under dirt and blood, you hide.