December 10th 2010 my dad died in a car accident. An oak tree killed him, shearing the driver’s side of the car clean off. Days later, the cops showed us the tree and the car. It was obvious there’d been no need for an ambulance. The newspaper said Route 6 on the Connecticut/ Rhode Island line was closed for three hours.
Every night since he died I have dreamed. I haven’t dreamt this hard since I worked on offshore fishing boats, where the combination of stress, intermittent rack-time, and round-the-clock work creates a mash of color and sweat. Since the car accident, three weeks ago, I’ve had wild dreams. They’ve been strong enough to get me up, send me to the bathroom, where I look at my face in the mirror and say, “What the fuck?”
My dreams are at once vivid and fragmented. They have no linear sequence, no beginning, no end. Nothing to me measured or weighed. I have dreamed of the ocean and of a twisted automobile, all in the same moment. I have dreamed of metal and broken glass; of fields and stonewalls; of sandy beaches, waves and boats. Faces.
I remember fishing for swordfish. We were gillnetting for them, way out on the edge of the shelf. The captain had fought in Vietnam. The war had ended 20-something years ago, but rumors on the bulkhead, the ones I heard, said this captain, though a keen swordfishermen, had never fully returned from the jungles of southeast Asia.
We were laid up for the night. The net was floating astern of us, stretching more than a mile behind. We drifted with the net. Each man took a watch, to make sure that ships bound for or coming from Boston didn’t run over our floats. I was on watch. The sea was flat calm, the night black, moonless. I’d just returned to the wheelhouse after a good smoke on deck, looking up at the stars, not a city light for two hundred miles. I settled into the helm chair and checked the radar for targets. Then out of nowhere the captain came flying up the wheelhouse stairs and slammed his hands against the glass—fingers spread wide, palms flat. He peered out into the darkness. I could tell he was still in a half-sleep, still adrift somewhere between his bunk and the rice paddies along the Drang River. He looked out the wheelhouse window without seeing—didn’t say a word. His body made no noise, no heaving sounds of troubled breath. Total silence. Without saying a word, without checking the radar or our position on the LORAN, he descended the stairs and disappeared. I was terrified. It happened so quickly. Up the stairs then down—gone in a five-count. The energy in that moment was tremendous. Like a bomb. My heart pounded. I waited a few minutes and headed back out for another cigarette, the dome of stars above me.
I asked the cop who took us to the crash site if there were any sounds. He was one of the first on the scene. I asked him if it was silent. I asked if there were any mechanical sounds, any clicking pumps or compressors. I thought about my father, if he was silent in the car seat. The cop said that the emergency workers had disconnected the battery—that is the first thing they do. I wanted to know if the woods that held my dad’s car in a ruined mass of metal were quiet or loud. I stood by the bark-stripped tree. My brother was there, my mother, the cop. As we talked mist rose from our breaths. I wanted to feel something at the accident site. I wanted to know what happened when all that energy and momentum was finally released. I looked up into the night sky: Cold leafless branches holding their buds ‘til spring.