By J.J. Cheesman
Driving home late one evening last week, I was extraordinarily tired. I had just finished a twelve-hour shift at work, and I had to be up early for another twelve the following day.
I lived about forty-five minutes away from work, outside of town and out in the country. I should move closer I know, but I just cannot deal with the sounds that come with living in an urban area.
At any rate, I was driving down that last long stretch of road that veered off from the main highway and eventually led to my house. That road was enigmatically called ‘Battle Road’. It has been called that ever since I can remember, and I still don’t know why.
I was nearly ten miles out on that road, my eyes feeling heavy from the long night of work and the little sleep I had gotten due to previous nights of the very same.
It was then and there; nearly on the halfway mark to my home, that the beam of my headlights began to weaken. I knew the telltale signs of a car beginning to break down. I pulled over to the shoulder of the road as the lights on my dash board began to dim. My engine then stalled as my truck slowed to a stop. I inhaled deeply and leaned back into my seat, exhaling as my scalp hit the headrest. A sense of looming dread washed over me as I prepared myself to check the hood.
“Dammit” I said out loud to no one as I reached under my seat for the hood release lever. A hard *thunk* resounded as I pulled the lever, and I opened the driver-side door and got out of my vehicle.
I walked around the front of my truck and opened the hood, examining the alternator and battery but found nothing amiss. The belts were fine as well, and there was no evidence to suggest the engine was in any disrepair. In fact, it was very odd that my truck had broken down at all as I made sure to take very good care of it. Finding nothing wrong under the hood, I closed it and as I did I was frozen by the immediate sight of a shadow within the cab of my truck on the passenger side.
I fell back from surprise, landing on the hard dirt that lined the shoulder of Battle Road. I was panting and sweating, and standing up straight took me more than one try. But once I had regained my footing, I saw no one within my vehicle and I had not heard any movement besides my own. I walked around to the passenger side of the truck and peered in through the glass and saw nothing at all amiss. I walked back around to the driver’s side and got into the seat.
I had planned to try turning the ignition in hopes that the engine would once again spring to life, but I was all at once stricken with a tiredness that I cannot explain. I fought it as best I could, but try as I might my head became cloudy and my vision soon became dark. I was asleep before I knew it.
I was startled awake in the wee hours of the morning by the ringing of my cell, which lay on the passenger seat of my truck. The name on the screen was that of my son, Christopher. I could not believe I had fallen asleep on that road, but perhaps it was for the best. If I was that tired, I could of likely killed myself, or worse. Picking up the phone I said,
“Daddy when are you coming home, I’m worried.” Though I felt horrible for falling asleep, I couldn’t help but smile at the sound of my son’s voice.
“Soon son, I’m sorry, Daddy is just running late is all.” I said.
“Okay Daddy, I love you.” Tears began to form in my eyes then, despite my smile.
“I love you too Christopher.” I hung up the phone, my smile now turning into a grimace of guilt. I turned the key that still rested within the ignition and my truck sprung to life, as it always did.
I arrived at my home twenty minutes later and bounded upstairs passed all of the framed pictures of Christopher and I that were taken quite some time ago. The one at the very top of the stairway gave me pause, as it was the most recent one of my son and I.
Christopher had badly wanted to go to the carnival that had made its way to town one week, and though I had worked double shifts every day since, I promised I would take him Saturday. When I got off of work that mid-day, I picked Chris up from his baby sitter.We spent nearly all night at the carnival having Father and Son time, bonding over carnival games and cotton candy. It was my favorite memory of us. The picture in the frame depicted me and Chris of course, him smiling and me laughing. I held him in my arms as some nice stranger I had asked to take our picture agreed and snapped the photo. Just before the photo was snapped, Chris pushed the cotton candy he had in his hand on my nose and told me to stop being a clown, and I burst into laughter. He was such a funny and intelligent boy.I turned from the photo as tears returned to my eyes and I let them fall from my face freely as I looked to the open door of Chris’s empty room.
I walked inside and sat down on the bed, picking up the blue stuffed teddy bear he had won from a ring toss game the night he died. I hugged the bear close to my chest as overwhelming sadness in my heart pushed forth water from my eyes as if a damn had been opened.
“Thank you…. I’m so sorry… god I am so sorry.” I whispered to the ever listening but never speaking blue bear, who would just stare blankly with his brown button eyes.
I was so tired that night that Chris and I were coming home from that carnival. It is no excuse, but as a single parent you have to work twice as hard to provide for your family. The long hours had caused me to fall asleep at the wheel, and my car slammed into another going the opposite direction. I survived the wreck along with the other driver with minor injuries. But it was the passenger side of my car that received the blunt of the wreck. Chris died on impact, as two tons of steel crushed his fragile head.
I have not forgiven myself for what I did to my son, and I had tried to make it right by ending my own life several times, but I was such a coward I could never go through with it.
Christopher though, he is still with me. You see, I am mechanic. I keep my truck in pristine condition. There is no reason it should ever stall or break down, and yet every now and then it does.
On late nights, my truck stalls and I always pull over to the shoulder of the road and I am NEVER able to fight the extreme exhaustion that forces me into slumber.
Most times Chris calls me, sometimes he doesn’t. I think it’s hard for him sometimes. He protects me every time, without fail. But I think it’s difficult even for his spirit to speak in that place where he lost his life ten years ago.
That place they call Battle Road.