Marc J. Sheehan

The Historian 

Jerry Garcia is dead. My ex-wife and I hear about this somewhere in Illinois while driving a 20-foot van to Tucson. Almost immediately we begin seeing hand-painted signs saying “We Miss Jerry.” 

          I’m the guy friends call when they need help moving. For a return airline ticket and free meals I’ll schlep a truck-load of crap from out of one rented house to another. I am facilitating the outward migration from the state of Michigan caused by the collapse of auto industry. Most of the friends I’ve helped move have advanced degrees, so I have also contributed to the state’s brain drain. Call it my contribution to history.

          Lisa and I have been divorced for a year but living together in Lansing and, during that time, happy. Enough. So why should I undermine that happiness by helping her relocate? If you love someone, I think, idiot that I am, set them free.

          Each trip coincides with some big news story. Back in ’91 when I returned from driving a friend to St. Louis to start graduate school, we heard the coup against Mikhail Gorbachev between listening to Camper Van Beethoven CDs. Then last year while moving a friend to Pittsburgh to take his first teaching job, Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as president as South Africa – an event I attributed in part to my once getting arrested for picketing a jewelry store that sold Kruggerrands. The personal is political, after all – whatever that means.

          Upon each return trip I find my social world a little bit smaller, meaner. I’m like someone being left behind by a slow-moving rapture.
In Cuba, Missouri, I drink a glass of house Chablis while picking at a plate of crab cakes I should have known better than to order since Lisa and I are dining in a restaurant attached to some easy-to-get-to-from-off-the-expressway motel, hundreds of miles from the coasts and either Fillmore – East or West.

          Yesterday it was nearly midnight by the time I finished hooking Lisa’s second-hand Toyota to the back of the U-Haul. It’s so closely yoked to the truck that we can’t see it in the rear-view mirrors. Every time we stop and it’s still there I put my hand on its hood and say a little prayer.

          When we get to Tucson where Lisa has rented an apartment sight unseen, I untether the car and notice that I attached the tow-bar so tightly it has warped the front bumper.

          It’s the end of an era, Jerry. But I don’t blame you or Nelson or Mikhail for making me feel small by comparison, for making a 20-foot U-Haul appears no bigger than a Matchbox toy.

          I walk to my departure gate with Lisa. After we say good-bye I take a few steps before looking back, hoping to be turned into a pillar of salt. I’m not, but Lisa is crying, which is the next-best thing or else the worst.

          Time will tell, I think, even though I know better.

Marc J. Sheehan is the author of the poetry collections Greatest Hits and Vengeful Hymns. His short story “Objet du Desir” won the Stella Kupferberg Memorial Short Story Contest sponsored by the public radio program Selected Shorts. His story “The Dauphin” was broadcast on Weekend All Things Considered as part of its Three-Minute Fiction series. Publications in literary magazines include Paris Review, Prairie Schooner,Passages North, Michigan Quarterly Review and many others.