Car crash pasts, seashore future

March 29, 2010

roadside memorial

Forests and cliffs along a finger of Puget Sound replace scenes from my city life. I’m driving north, Highway 101, enjoying glimpses of water reflecting gray sky. Then a small roadside cross blares a silent message: Fatal Crash Happened Here. Questions come in bursts, and the mind answers with gory images. Did the car flip? Trapped victims? And so on.

People mark spots like this to memorialize friends and family killed in an awful, pointless way. But why not honor the dead in private? Why does death by traffic accident warrant public displays that pull strangers like me into pasts not their own? Of course I might think differently about these crosses if my family, in the car with me, perishes in a wreck around the curve ahead.

Passing another cross a few miles later, I force myself to picture not bodies in mangled cars but the rented cabin that awaits us near Port Townsend on Discovery Bay. In this envisioned future, tips of snowy Olympic Mountain tops peek down at a deserted tidal flat. I’m walking amid scattered shells, where the incoming tide will wash away my footprints.