A Neat Stack

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Corn field in late summer

I pulled out onto the highway and headed east towards town. It was a beautiful fall day, and it felt good to have the windows down as I crept faster, pushing the speed limit just a little. Ahead I noticed several brake lights. It looked like four or five cars were stopped cold, but it was impossible to tell how many there actually were. The road hung a sharp left hook, blocking my view from what was around the corner. I had no choice but to stop behind the last car, and wait for the gentleman in the orange vest to wave us on.

We sat for a while, wondering what could be going on around the curve. My imagination took me down the road to the little country store where the old man lived. There were a couple of houses here and there, but we were out in the country. It was mostly pastures and farmland. It was a gorgeous stretch of highway. Many convertibles and motorcycles came through here on scenic road trips on pretty afternoons like this one.

All of a sudden, a loud roar beckoned the spectators to look up to see a Life Flight helicopter make its’ way downward, then over and behind the trees. Oh no, it must be a wreck! We waited longer until finally the helicopter rose into the sky, then out of sight. The man in orange started to wave his arms, indicating that traffic could slowly makes its’ way down the highway. Everyone’s cars slowly crawled forward, their steering wheels rotating to the left. We all finally made our way around the curve to where all of the activity had been taking place.

At the end of summer, all of the cornfields have been cut, leaving endless parallel rows of calf high, half dead corn stalks. We came to one of these fields on the left side of the road. That was the scene of the accident. There were emergency workers everywhere, and more people in orange vests, and in the middle of the field there was a large mangled ball of red metal. Its’ size was the only indicator that suggested the red mound nestled in the short, brown stalks was a motorcycle. Not far from the ball was a pile of things that were all different colors. I assumed those were from the poor driver. I couldn’t imagine how anyone could survive an accident like that. I followed the other drivers past the scene, and somberly made my way to work.

That evening, as the sun was beginning to sink towards the tree line, I drove west down Highway 7 towards home. As I approached the countryside near this morning’s accident, I felt a knot form in my stomach as I recalled the scene. I wish I knew if the rider survived or not. I stopped at the little country store on my way home to see if anyone had news about him. No one did.

The cornfield was in sight on my right. It looked as if nothing had ever happened. Except, wait! There was a spot of colors in the middle of dusty browns. I drove closer and closer, and to my surprise, it was the pile of the rider’s things just sitting there. It looked like there could be five or six items there! Did it belong to the motorcycle rider? Was he alive? Would he want his stuff back? What if he was dead? Wouldn’t his family want his things? Well, the accident just happened this morning. I’m sure they (whoever “they” are), will be back to collect everything from the scene of the accident.

Every day I drove by that field, and every day I felt sick to my stomach when I saw that pile. On the third day after the accident, it stormed all day. Everything was getting drenched, and all I could think of was his family. I asked everyone I knew what they thought about it. Didn’t they think his family would want that stuff? We all agreed that it was weird that it was all left there. I wondered, what if his wallet is in there? What if his favorite necklace or watch is laying there getting ruined? What if he had pictures, or a favorite jacket? I would want that stuff! Hell, I got that stuff! I guess that’s why this hit home with me, because I remember getting things back from my parents’ motorcycle wreck. It was hard, but I’m so glad we got those items back! I wouldn’t want them to be rotting in some field in the rain! That pile of stuff was killing me.

Yes, I did it. One afternoon on my way home, I pulled over on the side of the road next to that cornfield. My heart was beating so fast. I was choking on sobs. I was scared. What if there was blood? What if I saw something horrible and I would start having flashbacks again? It didn’t matter. I had to get those things and get them back to the family. I could not drive and see them laying there one more time. It just wasn’t right.

I carefully navigated my way around the stiff, dead stalks to the pile. When I got there, I can’t help but notice how neatly everything was folded and stacked. They were clearly clothes, and I leaned down to see what was there. There was a black, leather motorcycle jacket, a pair of jeans, a t-shirt, some underwear, and one tennis shoe. All of the clothes had been expertly cut off of the man. The slices made through the clothing were straight and precise. I didn’t linger. I picked up the clothes, grabbed the shoe and headed back to my car. My whole body was shaking, and tears were clouding my vision. I put the man’s things in the trunk of my car and sat in the driver’s seat. I didn’t exactly know what I was going to do yet…I hadn’t planned it out this far.

I hadn’t been sitting for more than ten seconds when my cell phone rang. It was my brother. Of all the people that I needed to talk to at that moment, it was him. Later, I always felt like it was no accident that he called right then. He gave me his cheerful greeting and then asked to be filled in when he could tell I was upset. It was a weird, long story to fill him in on, how I was sitting next to a cornfield with a dead man’s clothes from a motorcycle wreck in my trunk. He said, “Tracey, listen to me. This is not something that you are responsible for, even though I understand why you’re doing it. I want you to call the sheriff’s department, tell them what’s going on, and ask them what to do with the clothes. Don’t go through his things trying to figure out who he is or anything. The sheriff’s department will probably want you to just drop the stuff off to them. Okay? It’ll be fine. I love you and it’ll be okay. They’ll get the stuff back to his family.”

He made a lot of sense. I called the sheriff’s department and sure enough, they said I could drop it off at their office. I turned my car around to head back towards town. Predictably, I am getting so upset, that I can hardly control myself. I’m sobbing, I’m shaking, and I didn’t want to go into the sheriff’s office like that. They’d think I was a nutjob!

I had an idea. I pulled into my in-laws’ driveway and am so relieved to see my father-in-law outside. I got out of my car and ran over to him, blubbered out what has happened, what needs to happen, and that I just don’t think I can do it! He didn’t hesitate. He followed me over to my car, and he lifted out the clothes and the shoe. Then he found a big, plastic bag and put everything in there. The clothes were still a little wet from the storm a couple of days ago. He told me he’d go right away, and I tearfully thanked him. I watched him leave and then went inside their little country house, and made my way to one of the spare bedrooms. I laid down and cried like it was my daddy’s bike out there. Then I fell asleep.

A deep voice woke me up. I had no idea how long I had been sleeping. I was in a daze. My father-in-law was back, so I hopped off the bed and ran out to see if he found out anything. I hoped so much that the rider was alive! I knew it was a long shot, but you never know!

The big smile on his face told me what I was dying to know. He said, yes, the man was alive and he was in stable condition at Vanderbilt hospital! I didn’t recognize the man’s name, but my father-in-law said that the people at the sheriff’s department were grateful, and that they would definitely get the motorcyclist’s things to his family.

I was so happy! I have no idea how that man survived that crash, but I’m so glad he did! I somehow felt connected to this mystery person, and it mattered to me that he was going to make it. Those clothes and things might not have any meaning to him or his family, and my efforts may have been in vain. That’s okay with me. I just wanted them to be able to have the choice. Keep them, throw them away…whatever you want to do. But they don’t belong in the middle of a dead cornfield on the side of the highway. Maybe it was just me being selfish. It was hard for me to see those clothes from a motorcycle wreck every single day. It was too familiar and painful. I wouldn’t want my family member’s stuff laying there. Would you if it was one of your family members?

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