Of Gods and the Aftermath
It is rare that I find myself of the belief that the Gods will step in and shape your path. But in this case, I believe it is possible to make an exception. From Prosper Bonhomme
My great comeback was supposed to be a review of a week-long festival. It would have been about revelry and dancing, about community and friendship. It was supposed to be a poetic ode to a population of pagans forging itself in fire, blazing new trails, carousing with the Gods in wild nature.
Now, surrounded by broken glass and shattered dreams, I am screaming on the side of the road.
“That’s not creepy at all.”
I look haggard, worn down and tired. The bags under my eyes are going to need to start paying fees for the extra checked weight I’m carrying. The run up I-75 north from Atlanta is extensive for anyone; going through the misty mountains of Tennessee and Kentucky is an even longer haul when you’re towing a trailer.
The thought was to catch some rest inside said trailer at a rest stop in southern Ohio, within spitting distance but past the perilous traffic of Cincinnati. But on my way to the facilities, the leery gaze of a gaunt truck driver was convincing me otherwise. I wet my hair in the sink and slide my bandanna back over it; the shower I had taken that morning at the RV Park seemed ages away.
This is the truth of traveling, the grit of it: you will sit in your own sweat and soil for hours, and you will have to live with that.
Leaving the bathroom, the truck driver is still there, still flashing me what would be a toothy smile, if he had teeth to fill it. “Hello, darlin’.” He drawls. Normally, I’d bristle. But I am too tired and too far from home to fight on foreign soil, so I cut a shy smile, raise a stiff hand to wave, then duck out and away.
Climbing into my trailer, I am awash in foreboding, with a soundtrack of rumbling, hissing semis surrounding me on all sides. It is only a little past two in the morning; the clock in my trailer ticks the seconds off for me. I have stayed up later, driven farther. “If you keep driving, you can make it home by six, maybe seven.” I announce to nobody as I stand, pulling a water bottle from a depleted 24-pack.
“If” is a relative term for me. I am Romani in my roots; given the choice between taking a break or continuing onward, I will always chase the sun.
There is a checklist I complete every time I take to the road; it only grows with the trailer attached to my vehicle. Is the step to the door folded back? Is the flap to the stove’s overhead fan sealed? Is the propane tank cover secure? Are the doors locked, windows and vents shut, tray tables up and the seats in the full upright position? Three pins to hold each moving thing in place, electrical plug secure and dry, battery covered—it’s an ordeal to feel safe enough just to get into the Jeep, let alone turn it on.
I pause every time, before the key hits the ignition, and rub the talismans hanging from my rearview mirror.
The first is a crow, for Morrigu—she is my patron, and I carry her with me always. Life is full of tactical choices, having a war goddess around doesn’t hurt your chances.
The second is a dog, for Hecate. She rules the crossroads and the liminal spaces in travelling. I do most of my work on the road, prepping spells before my journeys to toss out my open windows on the highway, petitioning her for whatever I hope awaits me at my destination: love, hope, prosperity, glory. She is the reason why I love to drive at night. Under the moon and stars, I feel safer than in sunlight.
The third is a cord, woven before I was born. That is all anyone needs to know about it. The secrets of what is in it, and what it stands for, are closely guarded in the sort of way that is left unwritten and whispered from ear to ear.
When the engine turns over, the sense of foreboding lingers as I toggle my brake control, disengage my overdrive, and test my trailer’s lights. When I pull away, it settles over me like a damp blanket. I decide that maybe instead of driving through the whole night, I’ll come to rest a little further north, at the rest stop in Piqua. I know the place. It’s better lit. It’s closer to home. It’s safer.
I just have to cross through Dayton first.
When the dust settles, I am facing south, and I am still screaming.
I was screaming when the trailer began to fishtail. I continued when it flipped and dragged itself across two lanes of the second longest north-south interstate highway in the United States, jerking my Jeep along behind it rather than the other way around. Which was worse, the harrowing, haunting sound of rending metal, squealing rubber, and crunching plastic on concrete, or the deathly loudness of the following silence—both overlaid with my shrieking vocals—is still a matter for debate.
Both still haunt my dreams.
I lunge for the car door, ripping it open before half scrambling, half stumbling out of my vehicle, falling to my forearms and knees on the ground. My phone breaks free of the electrical umbilical cord attaching it to my car’s radio and skitters across the shoulder, Siri shocked into silence for a few moments before he remembers his purpose:
“Recalculating!” He pings in a British accent, insultingly cheerful.
On the other side of the concrete divider I’m knelt in front of like the follower of a merciful, powerful God, is an off ramp. Siri thinks I have taken the exit.
For a second, I am stunned, because I thought for sure, in my screaming, that I would be taking a very different sort of exit.
When I turn my head to my left, my screaming becomes sobbing as I see it, still and silent in death: my trailer, only a month insured, twice driven, lying on its side and prone, like the deer carcasses I scavenge for my work. The air conditioning unit has been ripped off the top completely.
There is a vague, calm voice in the back of my head, calling for me: “you have to call 911. Call 911.”
Cars and semis rush by without stopping as I dial with shaking fingers, as I recount what happened to the 911 operator, who soothes me with dulcet tones, telling me a truth that should have been calming, but chilled me further.
“The police are on their way.”
I look to my Jeep, remembering the cases of bones in the trunk, the close to $500 stored in a lockbox under my back seat, and most importantly, a container—tucked away in my glovebox, for safekeeping—of prescription pills that are not mine, but are needed nonetheless, the effects of a healthcare system that was not made to help people like me.
I should have felt comforted, but in the current state of the world, I felt like a butterfly pinned to a board, waiting for an axe to drop. In the tarot, Judgement was never a kind card to me. So soon after The Tower, when its agents showed up, would they be true to nature? Or would they be reversed?
I watch as they survey my vehicle when they arrive, sauntering up like it’s a barbeque, not an accident. They ask me only if I have a license and registration—not if I am alright, that’s not their job to know—before joking with each other about morning shifts and their exploits of the previous weekend.
I fumble with the glovebox to retrieve my registration, pushing prescription pill bottles aside. The rustling doesn’t draw any attention, they are too busy laughing, except for one. The older one is jotting notes down on a pad—he is obviously pissed off, and the other two young cops keep prodding him. He picked up a split shift for tomorrow morning, because he wasn’t expecting, and I quote, “to be doing this all night.”
I slam the glovebox shut with a little too much force when I am done with it. The officer looks up, squints, but then decides it’s not worth his time to ask questions. I am saved by lazy incompetence.
“So, you were going a little too fast, huh?” His voice is deriding, decisive. He has already decided that I’m reckless and young. I’m impressed they haven’t made me take a breathalyzer yet. I guessed my cards right once again—it’s Judgement reversed. Confrontation. Weakness. Lost affections.
Joke’s on Judgement: for police officers there are no affections of mine to be lost.
“No.” I tell him, my voice flat, staring at the overturned trailer, unable to tear my gaze away from it. My baby, my baby—“When I’m towing, I can’t go above 60. It burns out my transmission.” The speed limit is 70.
The cop huffs, displeased with the lack of an easy solution. He will, indeed, be doing “this” all night.
There was a car. I remember it then, in the aftermath. Black, shiny, sleek and new. The symbol, the sigil carved onto its trunk is hazy in my memory, was it four interlocking circles? Was it a single circle, with an oval inside, crossed through with another curved line? What do those lines mean? I can’t tell a Honda from a Hyundai in full daylight when a vehicle is stopped, much less on a curve going sixty in the dim glow of orange streetlights.
It swerved into my lane. I swerved to avoid it; the trailer fishtailed. “No, no, no, NO!” The echoes rattle as the firefighters arrive with EMTs, they find me collapsed back on the ground in shock. I see more than one man roll his eyes at the uselessness of the police.
To this day, I have never met a firefighter I didn’t like.
They inspect me along with my vehicle and suggest I go to the hospital for the neck and upper back pain I’m in. One of them tells me to breathe. Up until that moment, I’m panting like I’m in labor. Processing catastrophe is a difficult birth.
One shines a flashlight to my face: in my screaming, I ruptured one of the delicate blood vessels in my sclera, and as a result my right eye is painted a gauche—or is it gouache?—bright red on white canvas. Another fireman approaches as they fit me into a neck brace for transport, asking about my car keys. In doing so, he tells me a chilling statement before I’m placed on the gurney.
“That hitch extender saved your life.” His tone is matter of fact as I direct him to the Jeep; the keys are still in the ignition. He explains that the hitch extender I had been so annoyed with purchasing, because my hitch jack crank kept scraping my mounted spare tire, had put the two centers of gravity for my vehicle and my trailer further apart. The extra length to twist, and that, had kept the Jeep from rolling with it.
“Good thing, too. Without you braking,” he points to the black line of burnt rubber leading to my vehicle and beyond it, “you would have hit the concrete there.” And if I had flipped the same way the trailer had, it would have been the roof of my car making that connection.
“We would have had to cut you out—”
“—But you’re fine now.” Another fireman adds, shooing his coworker away with a mutter. “You had to tell her that? Jesus, man...”
And with that revelation, I am loaded into an ambulance, and events begin to blur together—the ride, hasty calls to my father hours away, CT scans, and finally, blissfully, sleep.
Aftermath is a tricky thing to navigate.
It comes in the orchestra starting up every night when you close your eyes, to the tune of rending metal, squealing rubber, and crunching plastic on concrete, in the finale of screaming, even when you awaken. It comes in images of your car flipping, extra traffic in the right lane that sandwiches you between the front of a semi’s grill and your trailer’s kitchenette sink.
It comes in the sobs that choke you when you clean your trailer out, in the clothes pried from your fingers to go in trash bags, because you winterized your toilet with antifreeze, so it spilled and soaked into your favorite things, things that cannot be replaced.
It comes in the trickster mask you put on for your friends and family when they ask, because they will ask. You laugh and make jokes about the phantom car that sped away into the night, about how they’ll have to hire better hitmen next time if they want to kill you off so badly; did they think a mere car accident would do the trick? Your Romani family called you “thrice touched” now.
You have to stamp down old wounds that rear up, because you love to roam. You can’t linger on how many times your passion has tried to kill you.
It comes in the mail once insurance totals the trailer and the check is cut like a game of cards, dealt out in a shit hand. It’s money, but not nearly enough. It could never be enough, but they could at least try not to show how they stack the deck against you. It’s not just your money, it’s your family’s. It’s Daia’s hard work at odd jobs for just a little to help, it’s your younger sister cutting coupons because maybe, if we save on groceries, it can help—
Their disappointment is a heavier burden than your own, even when they try to tell you it doesn’t exist. But it does. It does.
It comes in frustration that the only thing sparing your life was four feet of a road’s shoulder and six extra inches of metal on your hitch, and of course, the tow company has stolen even that.
You call them every day, practically begging them to find it. Where did they take your tow hitch? It wasn’t in your car, it wasn’t on the side of the road. It shouldn’t have been removed anyway. Your messages languish, never returned, never acknowledged. Thieves, and state sanctioned at that. It’s a government contract keeping them afloat, plus exorbitant fees.
They make you pay just short of two hundred dollars to get your car out of impound, and they can’t even give it to you in one piece. Money lost and peace of mind stolen. The bastards.
You have a lot of people to hex in the aftermath, but you make sure to save strength for them.
It also comes in whispers, reminders. You rub your fingers on your talismans when you get in your Jeep and remember how, on a hot afternoon three weeks and a thousand years ago, you put the bones from the convention you were vending in your trunk rather than back in your trailer—the way you had placed them when you had driven down—because you had a feeling. Thus, they are left untouched. In the trailer they would have been crunched into dust and ruined.
You remember the foreboding you felt when you left that dimly lit pit stop in southern Ohio, spitting distance past Cincinnati.
It’s nothing short of fate; the whole damn thing.
My great comeback was supposed to be a review of a weeklong festival. It would have been about revelry and dancing, about community and friendship. It was supposed to be a poetic ode to a population of pagans forging itself in fire, blazing new trails, carousing with the Gods in wild nature.
Instead, it’s about my own forging. It’s about how a strange feeling from a man in a rest stop marked me for a crash, about how a couple of swipes of my thumb over a talisman might have marked me not to die in it.
It’s about how seeing a crow in an Atlanta parking lot changed my packing plans in a way that saved my business. It’s about how the trail I’m blazing has suddenly shifted and changed, a metamorphosis that is less metastasizing and more mutation. It’s evolution.
It is rare that I find myself of the belief that the Gods will step in and shape your path. But in this case, I believe it is possible to make an exception.
Conjured with the remaining detritus of the Great Black Swamp and a handful of teeth, Prosper Bonhomme is a nonbinary anarcho-queer witch. When they aren't busy scouring the highway for bones to clean up and sell, they can be convinced to write for Gods & Radicals. Their own blog, Bonhomme Rouler, is woefully underappreciated. Bon is also on twitter, when they aren't deemed too dangerous to be left unsuspended-er, unattended.