Yesterday my car was totaled. True story. I don’t think it has quite sunk in that my familiar, comfortable, Sirius radio equipped car will never move again. And I didn’t cause the demise, either. And I can’t even really blame my husband, though he was behind wheel at the time. The actual culprit was mother nature. I need to explain.
We live in the mountains. There is a small grocery store in our little town, but for real shopping we have to drive to the city. The highways we use were cut out years ago from the granite walls of the Northern Rockies. The rivers below the road and the hot springs alongside maintains a perpetual cloud of steam, that quickly sets up into ice when the temperature hovers around 20 degrees. The canyon itself is so narrow that the sun’s rays rarely touch many sections of route. The point is that the highway is a damn treacherous roller coaster ride. My husband lost control on a particularly slick curve, though his speed was slowly cautious. He hit another oncoming truck, and the impact destroyed both vehicles. The two drivers are okay. One broken arm, lots of bruises and scrapes.
The state troopers wrote a ticket placing the blame on my husband and my poor smashed up car. They explained that though the accident couldn’t quite have been helped, someone had to assume responsibility. The blame game in this case feels unjustified, but the trooper explained that with the damage and injuries blame has to be assigned to someone.
Her explanation has set me to thinking about assessing blame for damages and injuries that cannot be seen. In River of January hurt abounds among the main characters. Pain plays an instrumental part in moving the characters emotionally and geographically throughout the pages. Death, all kinds of abuse, fear, and manipulation steer my central figures as they move through their lives. Where is blame to be assigned for all that type of damage? The father who abused the son? The mother who died abandoning a lone and sensitive child? The daughter who attempted to live her own life apart from her overbearing mother? Where did the legacy of hurt begin? When exactly did it start? Who’s name would appear on the ticket that initiated all that multi-generational sorrow?
The police have their set definitions assessing blame and culpability for inevitable, unpreventable collisions on the road. But where do we as members of a family pinpoint where our unhappiness began? How many generations must we trace back to isolate the first fateful hurt?
Perhaps we all live on figurative ice, and cannot place blame on any other soul. There are no traffic tickets for operating a life while bearing inevitable injuries.