Somewhere outside Mobile, Alabama—a string of car headlights. There must be one hundred forty-four thousand vehicles behind us, stretching from here to Ardmore.
I pull over.
So does every car on the road.
First, the blue lights pass. Then, a long black car. This, followed by a mile-long chain of high beams.
When my father died, adults planned a funeral. There were photographs scattered on the kitchen table. A few of his personal items. His eyeglasses.
I stole his glasses when nobody was looking.
My father once found those glasses in the dirt, outside a supermarket. He dusted them and said, “These look expensive, don’t they?”
He put them on.
I laughed. The wire frames looked out-of-place on his face. He stared into the rearview mirror. He grinned at himself, then tucked them into his pocket.
He visited an eye doctor for an exam. The doctor said Daddy had perfect vision.
“You don’t need glasses, sir,” said the doc.
“Not even a little?”
“Nope, you’re twenty-twenty.”
Daddy insisted he replace the lenses with fake ones.
Thus, he wore phony glasses. He didn’t wear them all the time, but he wore them often. For family photographs. For Sundays. For trips into town.
“These things make me look smart,” he once remarked.
After he died, I locked myself in the bathroom and tried on those glasses. I inspected my reflection for nearly ten minutes until the floor was wet.
That night, I fell asleep wearing them. During sleep, the wire frames cut me on the temple. I woke up to dried blood on my pillow.
The morning of his funeral, I wore his tweed jacket—which hung off my adolescent body. And I wore his oversized eyeglasses to complete my ensemble.
Then, we piled into cars and drove with headlights on. Nobody spoke. I looked out the windows with those glasses. I cried in them.
Cars pulled aside for us. A rusty vehicle moved to the shoulder. Then a delivery truck. Then a pickup. One or two folks stepped out of their cabs and stood with low heads.
Mama looked at me and said, “I wish you’d take those damn glasses off.”
One day, I finally did.
Anyway, Mobile. Right now. We’re still in the car. The last funeral vehicle passes. Traffic resumes once the blue lights are far enough ahead.
The man standing outside his vehicle crawls inside.
We are driving in a matter of minutes. I’m looking out a car window, listening to an engine, wondering if the circle will ever be unbroken. I hope it will.
Because the world will never be the same for some unfortunate, grieving family. And God knows, there’s nothing I can do to change what those souls will go through in the coming weeks. Months. Lifetime.
But, I can pull aside, by God, when their car passes. And I do it gladly because I believe in such demonstrations.
Because people did it for me. Because it’s our way. Because it’s how we say: “Even though this is the worst day of your life, you’re not alone today.”
And you won’t be tomorrow, either.
Sometimes I wish I had those glasses.