Not Homer Simpson. I'm thinking more of a line from Spoon River Anthology, of which I was reminded recently while traveling, when I crossed Spoon River in Illinois.
Which, in turn, reminds me how Edgar Lee Masters' classic was made into a play which used to travel around the country, performed in various settings for many years, after a run on Broadway -- and now one never hears of it anymore, and the music is long out of print. I used to borrow the lp from a library. I sang just a bit from the lead song, to my wife, as our little car hurtled the highway, "Spoon River, Spoon River, is calling me home....."
The book is a collection of stories, told from beyond the grave, the stories of the townsfolk of Spoon River. The line I remember is from a poet who wrote "little iambics....while Homer and Whitman roared in the pines."
Homer is the name I give to the truck driver who accidentally crushed our hero's limbs in the "Get Ahead" story. His story has percolated under my thoughts for many years. I've never written it because it always seemed so stupid. But if we don't ever get out our stupid little stories, maybe we'll end up like Spoon River's poet, chasing tiny rhythms while Homer and Whitman roared in the pines.
Or perhaps it's even akin to a line I paraphrase from the gospel of Thomas, "There's something inside you, and if you never get it out, it will destroy you." That's something like Blake, too, of whom I was reminded as my wife watched the royal wedding yesterday, as his poem "Jerusalem" was sung.
"C'mon Smack, stop trying to get so heavy, just tell your dumb story," I say to myself at this point.
Homer is our truck driver, a young man in his mid-twenties at the time of the accident, which made him feel pretty bad. Could he have done anything differently? The thought plagued him. In the daytime he could chase it away with the radio, his 8-track, his cb, or even just his fantasies, as he followed his truck routes. But sometimes in the middle of the night he'd awaken, and not be able to get back to sleep. Over and over again he saw the scene of the accident, in slow motion, just as they show us in the movies. It was a cloudy afternoon and his run would have been over in half an hour, but he was not especially tired, and the cloudiness of the day had not put him in an especially gloomy mood -- it was just that, well, he had gotten distracted -- by what? He couldn't say, he couldn't remember. It was just for an instant, not even, not even a split second. And then there was a young man, probably about his own age, running across the highway, a fistful of mail and a newspaper clutched in his right hand. "God!" Homer screamed, slamming on the brakes as the runner disappeared from view.
Later, a fireman put his jacket over Homer, who was shivering with fear and shock. "I just didn't see him," Homer kept saying. "It's o.k., it was an accident," the fireman would answer. "But keep talking, it will help keep you from going into shock." At that word, shock, Homer felt like fainting again. Waves of shock, nausea, fear, and -- so strange as this may sound -- hope, swept over him. He hoped his victim would live, would be able to have a normal life. And Homer hoped that he, himself, would be normal again. Whatever "normal" meant. He was going to be changed, somehow, he knew that, for a fact, and somehow that was a good thing, also.
"I should have seen him sooner!" "You don't have to blame yourself," the fireman would answer. "What can I do to help?" Homer would ask. "That's our job, we've got it all under control." Later, a policeman asked him a few questions. He had to leave his truck behind while his wife came for him and drove him home. Another driver later returned his truck to the central warehouse.
Homer even visited his victim at the hospital, and was greatly relieved at his survival. The victim even seemed quite cheerful, unusually cheerful, Homer thought. "What? Did he WANT that to happen or something?" Homer shook his head.
But he would awaken at night, not so much at the trauma of the accident scene, not after a few months had passed, but rather at the thought, the question, what was it that had distracted him? For, in truth, he still felt guilty. He'd stopped at a truck stop before. He'd seen the cover of Penthouse, the new issue, a young woman in a swim suit. He'd felt his guts get sucked out, down and out, and then the empty space, he felt that. He felt that empty space fill with that old longing, that old man again, that surging desire -- fuck, fuck, fuck, eat, eat, eat, fill, fill, fill -- fill that empty space.
At the time of the accident he had been distracted by a sexual fantasy. And he felt guilty about it. He had been unfaithful to his wife just in looking at the magazine, never mind masturbating to it, as he sometimes did. "Hell," he would think to himself, "I'm not as bad as those guys who run to the strip clubs every weekend. Or like ..... who even goes to the city once a month or so."
Time heals all wounds, it is said, though I don't know if it's true or not, I do know that time can help. And Homer had a loving wife, they even went fishing together. They had two bright, active children, and many friends. They both worked at jobs at which they found some certain level of satisfaction.
Ten years passed before the next accident. This time there was no distraction. Homer simply ran over a cardboard box in the road. He wasn't speeding, if anything he was driving slower than the limit. It was a residential section, and he ran over a small cardboard box, just for the heck of it. It certainly was not his fault that there was a baby boy in the box. But he knew something was wrong as his wheels jumped and a woman ran out screaming into the road. A group of children had been playing, the mother had been pulled away, it was no one's fault.
In the aftermath, Homer became deeply depressed. He took a leave of absence from work and began visiting a psychologist who was recommended by a family friend. The therapist was a wonderfully sympathetic woman who urged Homer to try to contact the family who had lost their child, to at least try to offer some expression of apology. This idea created some consternation in the family as there was a brother who was a lawyer and he urged Homer NOT to attempt any such a thing, as he could be sued. Homer's therapist would simply ask Homer, "How do YOU feel about it?" In the end, Homer did follow her advice, and the meeting, naturally very awkward and tearful, DID result in a great deal of relief. For Homer had to forgive the young mother in question, as well as forgiving himself for running over a box in the road -- and of course the mother and her family had to forgive him and themselves also.
Homer's psychologist would say wise things, such as "Forgiveness and healing are like life itself. They are things that can emerge, like a birth. But death and emptiness are also in the cycle." "If you want healing to emerge, you have to make a space for it, and that takes work, and you, Homer, are beginning some of the hardest work in your life, I urge you to continue the process."
Homer returned to work, but he continue to meet with this wonderful woman he had met, once a week. He fell in love with her, platonically. She was the first woman in his life since his mother that he loved in this way.
Dear reader, thank you for following my story with me. We'll take a break here. This story is turning out so differently than what I had expected! Like life itself! We'll see next time where it leads.