In that place where the spirit fails

Bloomsburg Press-Enterprise, August 8, 1987

The sky was blue and blinding but in the hollow there was no sunlight.

Tree limbs hung in a canopy over the road and on each side of the road the forest was deep, layered with pine needles, hollow and lightless.

A white van was parked on the side of the road facing a stone bridge. It had approached the bridge but pulled over before crossing.

A gray hearse was in front of the van, a police car behind it.

The cop closed the back door of the van and walked away; what he had seen was reflected in his face. On a bright, breezy day – the first cool day in a week – someone had pulled over to the side of the road, picked up a gun, ended their life.

It was a woman, the cop told me.

In that hollow it was very quiet. I walked towards the van not wanting to look in. Instead I walked in a circle around it. On the rear bumper there were three stickers. One extolled the virtues of sobriety. Another warned cars behind not to get too close. The third said, “Once I thought I was wrong, but I was mistaken.”

Stuck to the front bumper, at a peculiar, tilting angle was another sticker: “This too … shall pass.”

First the hearse pulled away, and then the police car.

Another cop, off-duty, stood by his car some distance away and waited for the tow truck to come. A pistol butt stuck out of the back pocket of his white tennis shorts.

I stayed near the van for only a short time; as I looked at it a small, weary ripple of melancholy moved through me.

I knew nothing about the woman, not her age nor her circumstances, yet looking at the van I felt I knew all there was to know about her.

Pain and desperation radiated from the empty van.

Hours earlier, there had been a woman in that van. Standing nearby, I could still feel traces of the terrible loneliness she must have felt when she turned off her engine and faced the silence of the hollow.

By the time the police arrived she had left her loneliness and desperation far behind; by then she was merely a corpse and as such she was placed in the hearse and taken away.

The strange and familiar force that drove her to that place, however, remained in diluted measure.

I left after about 15 minutes. There wasn’t much news in her death. Suicide, a private act, receives little attention in the newspaper.

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