You are driving through Nebraska.
Nebraska has always been a drive-through state for you, a large expanse of field and sky, a doormat to the mountains, to your destination. You have no vivid memories of driving through it the other three times prior, only the vague smoke of anticipation, of wanting to be somewhere else.
It starts off as it has in the past. Flat land. Straight roads. Towns that make you think of the Dust Bowl. But then things start to change. Traffic slows. The other side of I-80 is closed. Sirens scream up ahead and lights wail. You drive by slowly, your mouth falling agape a little, just a little, as you see two pulverized cars in the opposite lane, their frames crumpled like plastic bags.
It’s a bad omen. But you don’t believe in those.
First you notice cars with snow on them coming from the opposite direction. And then the sides of the interstate become tinged with snow, cows huddled together near a fence looking as if they’d been sugar dusted. And then it’s here, you’re in it, a white-out of monstrous proportions, the road slick with ice and fear, cars sliding, toppling, over, out, on the ground, in the ditch, in the sky.
Everything narrows to a pinprick. You cannot keep up conversation because you are focused on the road. Focused on staying in the tread marks of the car before you because if you move too much either way you will skid off the road.
Many people have skidded off the road.
It is like a graveyard. That is all you can think. Car after car is stuck in the snowy median, hazards still methodically blinking. As you pass by, you sneak a glance into the driver’s seat, to see if someone is still there. But they are empty. Most of them are empty. (Where did they go? How did they get out of here?) And it is these empty, abandoned, still-blinking cars that make you think of a graveyard, headstones with a splash of fake roses that echo the semblance of life, that whisper, don’t forget me (we didn’t forget you.)
You drive slowly. Twenty-five miles an hour. Semi-trucks lay belly up in the snow, dozens of them jackknifed and abandoned. Everything is gray.
Snow blows across the road in plumes—like fog, like ghosts, like strange phantom tumbleweed—and the morbid part of you thinks that it’s every missing soul from all those abandoned cars you’ve passed.
And then the sun sets. You think it’s the sun but then you doubt yourself. It is an absurd shade of pink, a semi-circle clinging to the horizon as if it was birthed from the ground, not the sky. The edges are too perfect. The pink is too pink. For a second you think an atomic bomb went off, rupturing the sky into nuclear hues. And that makes sense to you for a night such as this. Sudden beauty slicing through the cold, damaged world. (Is beauty always marked by violence? Maybe. You’re not sure.) A TED Talk on climate change just ended and with the nuclear sunset and the graveyard of metal husks on either side of you, you feel like you are driving through an apocalyptic landscape, that after all the glory and tears and hubris, this is what the world has become, this snowy Nebraskan hellscape, this never-ending interstate of sudden abandonment.
You drive for five hours this way. You were supposed to make it to Denver, but your whole body aches from tension, from gripping the wheel too hard. You pull over early.
You don’t even make it out of the state.