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Life and Death at Exit 34


Sister Laura and her partner Erma had to have two pets euthanized within a two-week period.

Road trip.

Geographical cure tour. And I’m the designated driver.

I can’t remember when we left and had to locate the date on the computer’s screen to see that I’m writing on the 2nd.  I am aware of entering 2012. Time is meaningless at the moment and only will become important, again, when one of us decides we need to go home. (I’ve just learned that one of us, meaning all of us, must go home over the weekend.)

Laura, Erma, their new kitten Maggie Mae, and I left Baltimore, traveling 95-S, drove nine hours, and stopped at a motel at an exit indistinguishable from others. At the end of the ramp, we turned onto a road decorated with strips of drive throughs, motels, gas stations, and empty storefronts.

I thought of a family story that seems ancient due to circumstances beyond my want—one of those travel gems, talked about immediately following and, then, filed away in the recesses to open later. It was, also, something to use in a short story, although I never did.

We were staying in a motel during our annual Thanksgiving trip to Tennessee.  Son Hunter was scouring the exercise room when two teenage girls, whose mother worked in housekeeping, approached.

One of the girls asked, “Where do you live?”

“New York City.  What about you?”

“Exit 34.”

A slice-of-life snapshot.

Just as it is for us, now, four females, including the cat, escaping to exit Maybe.  Soon, we’ll turn the key in the Lesbaru’s ignition and 70-mile-an-hour it back to Realitymore.  During the motoring and after, we’ll examine meanings, machinations, moving, and motivations.

We were with Daddy during his five days of dying. We were with Mother during her nine days of dying. This is not unusual. And, really, there’s nothing unique about caring for a spouse who’s diagnosed with an incurable illness.  One half of a couple provides what’s necessary, unless there’s sudden, unexpected death. Becomes the strong one.  Shift.  Becomes the fragile one. Shift. A dying spouse, weakened by disease, often is courageously accepting.  A healthy widow or widower, fragmented by anguish, eventually decides to live.  Or not.  Such is life. Such is death.

Life is living at Exit 34.  Life is watching a loved one die.  Life is sitting on some step of a staircase called Death. Life means death. And this is natural.

And, then, there’s the unnatural—the taking of life through war. The racket that exploits young men and women who may be ignorantly ultrapatriotic, in desperate need of a job, or somewhere on a what-do-I-do-now-that-I’m-out-of-high-school spectrum that stretches between teenage angst and adult responsibility.  Or irresponsibility.  And plotted, also, without consideration for the never-ending devastation in the lands we invade.

War is a financial product, a derivative of bundled toxins, calamitous to everyone but the corporate giants that profit from maiming and killing.

War is a widow and widower maker, via made-in-America WMD.  Making children orphans and parents childless.

But war can be shaped to normal by smooth spinners who divert attention to the mindless focus of events like presidential debates and election cycles. Like floats on a route of oblivion.

The Empire demands that our tired, poor, and huddled masses are enslaved.  The Empire’s one percent require obeisance from the chained as well as from the politicians in their employ.

It’s a new year, and integrity has been in arrears for more than 200 years.

Hello, Occupy Wall Street.  Play it and pay it forward, backward, and sideways.  Whatever it takes.  Even when sites are raided, shut down, and livestream operators are arrested. Find a way. Hold the big-bank criminals accountable for a crisis that’s crescendo’d crises, ravaging families and our economy.

Time for peace, justice, and equality.  And for the road trip home, another geographical cure.  Let this be the year.

Missy Beattie is in transit. Email:     







Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in BaltimoreEmail:

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