Michael Palmer

It was nighttime and it was bright. The moon reflected on the salt flats, and at night that sensation was just as alarming to the eyes as sun on snow can be in the day. Tamara let her attention wander from the road to the Salt Lake desert. 

She was heading to Exit 88 in Grantsville, Utah, the place where Steve, her boyfriend of eight years, shot himself in his right temple with a .357 Magnum. That was three months ago. Everyone else was starting to move on, but not Tamara. Even though she still had her religious beliefs, she wondered where he’d gone and what he was doing.

Steve’s family tried to limit the viewing to family-only, before they would close the casket for the rest of the public. We had to fight to get Tamara in there. She had seen Steve’s body in the coffin, dressed in a suit, with a towel covering up the gash in his skull.

In the car, she was alone. I went out there with her a few times a month, but she needed to go at least twice a week. This even though her mother and her therapist told her to cut back on those visits, and even though Steve’s surviving family told her that she needed to get over it. It might not have been good for her but she liked being in the place where Steve’s life had spilled out into the flow of shining salt and water. She would stay there for hours.

Tamara’s mother was worried that she might follow Steve and shoot herself out there. So was I.  She had a gun, and she wasn’t doing well. She was either politely tolerated or despised in most places, including work, because she cried so much. She could cry for nearly the whole day, or not at all for three days before she’d smell Steve on some of her clothes and lose it for a week. I wondered how her eyes survived. That must have been so physically draining.

She was not too easy to talk to, either. You might talk about the cold weather or the fact that things had been a little frustrating at work lately.

“Oh, I guess. I’ve been thinking about Steve. Two months, three weeks and a day ago.”

There were only so many of those encounters people could take before they started checking their watches. Tamara saw things so vividly it was as though Steve was lying there in front of her at all times, his body tired and beaten.

In the Salt Lake desert, she could shrink it down to logistics: time, speed, machinery. She didn’t want to ask questions about what she’d done wrong or what she could have done better. Questions like that go back too far and down too many roads.

Approaching Exit 88 she nodded off and her car tilted out of the speeding lane into the slow lane and then off I-80 entirely, rolling three times over the dirt and salt.

She was airlifted out. She told the paramedics that she had taken some prescription medication but she couldn’t remember which pills. They told her she was very lucky; her body had managed to drift peacefully through the crash because she was unconscious.  Because she hadn’t tensed up or reacted, somehow she just glided through.

In the morning, when they determined she was physically fine, they checked Tamara into a rehab facility.  She was given a DUI because of the prescription drugs in her system.  They had her take classes with alcoholics and drug addicts as a condition for her release.

I showed up to meet her there a few days later. It was morning and I brought hot chocolate for her, which I was holding in my lap. Tamara showed me a calendar they had her make out of construction paper. On each day she was supposed to write a reason to live. She told me that the night before the crash she’d had a dream that Steve’s body was being pulled on one side by his family and on the other side by her. “After all the shit you’ve put me through, I should at least get to keep the body,” she said.

Then she saw him in Grantsville, standing on the water in front of the place where he shot himself. His eyes were steady as the stars, his head dark, as though it was under, not on top of, the water. She said she saw light the color of dawn behind Steve’s eyes when he looked at her.