Think of us as weird, if you must, maybe even a little creepy. I don't care. The drive was very, very long, and I offer no apologies.
So, we are driving through Indiana, just past Terre Haute, heading south, one of the most Godawful boring states in the union, full of farms and cornfields, broken up by a few "plantings" of wind turbines generating electricity for excitement, and my wife is at the wheel. When you go down long stretches of straight roads, you encounter the same few cars, you passing them or them passing you.
A truck passes us. We have seen it before. We recognize it because on the back in one of those "In Memoriam" stickers, with the lost loved one's birth and death dates. This one has a cross in between the two dates. Behind the cross, two automatic rifles form an "X."
We look at it for a few moments. Again. Neither of us says anything. Then my wife says, "Seventeen years. I can hardly stand to look at that."
Indeed, the boy named on the back windshield lived a mere 17 years, it seems.
We look at it some more, taking in the tragedy of a life cut short, like most parents would do. Then my wife says, "Look it up." And though we have traveled thousands and thousands of miles together and have never done this before, I know exactly what she wants.
So I get out my phone and put in the boy's name, plus the word "obituary," and hit the search button. Despite the poor cellular service, it comes up quickly.
"He's from around here," I begin. "He was born in Terre Haute."
"He was actually only 16 when he died."
"What did he die of?" I am wondering, because of the assault rifles, if he died in the military, having enlisted early, or in a school shooting, or in some kind of a gun accident.
"It doesn't say," I say. "He died in a local hospital." We are quiet. There doesn't seem to be much more to say. But I have nothing to do. So I keep looking. "According to the obituary, his father died five years earlier."
I keep digging, hoping to find out, was it a disease or a drug overdose or what. But there is nothing except more hits with the same name. But I have nothing to do, so I keep looking.
"Wait a second," I say. "His stepbrother died in West Virginia just a couple of months after him." Now, something strange hangs in the air, the feeling that we have walked into a family and its tragedies and a series of dates too close together, for what?
" That poor mother, " my wife says. "She must be suicidal."
But we have nothing left besides speculation. A bit of Internet research leads to nothing but greater mystery, which we cannot solve. Heredity? Bad luck? Coincidence? We can't know.
And then the truck gets into the turning lane and we shoot past. "Sullivan," I say. "That's where they're from."
"Probably the father," my wife says.
"He's dead, remember."
And that's how it ends. A predilection among certain Americans to turn the backs of their cars into tombstones and our incursion into their lives, sharing the deepening darkness a truck otherwise never reveals, until that truck turns and we look out onto the road ahead and move on.