On the way to my parents’ place, there is a rather large pine tree growing close to the edge of the road. In my largely rural hometown, houses and roads are built as to intrude upon nature as little as possible. Lined with pines and hardwoods, the road to my parents’ neighborhood is hilly, and so it has narrow shoulders with steep drop-offs in many places.
What makes this one tree so special? Someone died by it.
I met Amber at one of the infamous “Tupperware” parties where she proudly showed us the Silver Bullet (think metal, vibrating tampon) she purchased, with car adapter. She was twenty then and had a fun personality to make up for the fact that she didn’t inherit the same good looks her older sister had. She loved male strippers and could be heard above the rest of the ladies, hooting and shouting for the over-tanned man in a star-spangled banana hammock to, “Yeah, take it off, baby! Come earn my money.”
Amber was an alcoholic who also happened to be addicted to Oxycontin, two things she had in common with Kevin, her boyfriend of four years. She spent the next few years of her life in a co-dependent relationship, bouncing between jobs with her parents threatening to throw her out of their house, and her two closest friends begging her to get clean. Eventually, she broke up with Kevin and kicked the booze and narcotics.
It turned out the drugs were easier to give up than the boy. A few times a month, they would hook up, and then she got pregnant. When she was sure, she called him.
He picked her up around eleven on a Friday night, drunk, but where I’m from, driving drunk is a sport almost as popular as football. They drove to a cul-de-sac in her neighborhood and talked for a few hours. When she told him she intended to keep the baby, he promised to get clean and marry her. They loved each other. Kevin wanted her to go home with him, and she agreed.
The old pine is at the top of a steep hill, across the road and a bit left from where her neighborhood exits onto the main road. Kevin, traveling at escape velocity, hilltopped and smashed the passenger side of his Mustang into the pine. He woke up two weeks later, but Amber died on the scene.
It’s been several years now. The area where the car struck the tree can’t grow bark anymore. The exposed tinder attracted beetles and has grayed and flaked with time. I wonder if that’s how Amber’s parents feel.
Every Christmas and on her birthday, friends staple her picture to the tree, lay flowers at its base, and leave candles, and I wonder if any of them give her grave the same loving treatment. I feel as though the scarred tree alone is a hard enough reminder to her parents. They see it whenever they leave the neighborhood to go to work or church.
Drive down any highway in my neck of the woods, and you’ll see similar roadside memorials. “Somebody died here. Remember that.” I’m not sure what purpose that serves. (2011)