The cop pulls me over at 1 a.m. just after I leave Norfolk, Virginia. In a car designed to roar along at 130 mph, I'm doing 50...in a 65 zone. My right turn signal's been ge-dinking away for no obvious reason. I look like a drunk trying to look inconspicuous.
My dog, Rosie, is barking six inches from my ear. She's a big dog with a big mouth in a small car. The cop flashes his light in my face. He has to shout so I can hear him. "Everything all right here?"
Everything all right? The World Trade Center's a week-old pile of smoking rubble, the Pentagon has a big black hole in its side, I just put my husband on a ship full of Marines bound for the other side of the world, and my '78 Corvette's freaked-out alternator's been boiling its battery for the last four hours. But it got me to the naval base at Norfolk, by God, where I've just managed to see my husband one last time before he deployed.
"Yes sir," I say, "other than my alternator, everything is all right."
A short while before, my husband had hugged me goodbye. Standing inside the circle of his arms, I had felt small and safe, and in that moment, everything was all right.
I've always wanted a Corvette. Three years ago I went out and bought one. A Midnight Blue '78 coupe, white-leather disco interior, L82 engine with the heads bored out, four-speed transmission, and big bad rumbling mufflers. It's my Happymobile.
I've always wanted to drive across the country. The night my husband ships out, not knowing where he's going or when he'll return, I'm in need of a little happiness, a little peace of mind. So I put Rosie in the Vette, hit the gas, and don't look back.
While my husband's ship churns eastward across the Atlantic, the dog and I move steadily in the opposite direction. With a new alternator under the hood, we rumble through the candy-colored forests of a northern autumn, then down and across the prairie states.
At first, the peace I'm seeking eludes me. Rosie is able to just zone out while we're driving, but me, I'm thinking about things. Things like, before I left, I had to give my cellphone number to the battalion's volunteer coordinator. If something happens to my husband, the military has a policy of delivering that kind of news only in person. With my cellphone number, they can find me. I picture myself answering my phone on some long empty highway across the prairie, pulling over and waiting there with the wind blowing till a distant speck grows into a nondescript government vehicle that slowly grows larger, and closer, and finally stops.
Of course, what do I have to worry about? My husband is the battalion's combat chaplain, a non-combatant. Chaplains carry no weapons, they're never armed. There are others with a lot more reason to worry-the wives of the men who lead companies into battle, the mothers of the boys who carry the guns.
But this is what I'm thinking about-brooding about-in Iowa, after the sun sets, while a dirt road rolls out of the dark and into the headlights, flat and straight and white. In the rearview mirror, dust billows red in the taillights. Watching the miles roll away, for a few minutes I'm able to live in this moment of the road's white noise and no other. I'm not where I was and I'm not where I'm going. I'm not brooding on the past, I'm not worrying about the future. I'm just here, Zen-like as the dog. When I hit a bump it's like waking from a flying dream.
The dog and I roll on west. At dusk in the Big Horn Mountains, we hit snow. We aren't supposed to hit snow. The road disappears beneath the drifts. This is all uninhabited national forest, nothing but dim, white-frosted trees. I'm about to hunker down in the car with my dog-furnace and my sleeping bag when I see something through the swirling snow: two small neon signs, "OPEN" and "Miller Lite."
The Vette slithers to a stop. It's a hunting lodge. It's a rip snortin' miracle.