(CONTINUED): When I stopped by the trailer I saw it'd been empty for some time. Weeds were grown-up in the yard, a rusted wagon that'd been left outside barely topped the bluegrass already gone to seed. I walked up to the door, gave a little push, and it swung wide open. Inside the memories flew at me, thick in the air, but what stopped me where I stood were the things: a matchbox car, a little shoe, a book about a cartoon train. All around were cast-off bits of a life that was once mine, that I’d come back to claim, yet in my gut I knew somethin' had gone wrong.
I drove to town, found a phone book, and looked for “McDaniel, Lois.” Nuthin'. I checked under “Harrison,” her maiden name. Nuthin'. I called information, but there was no record, not even a notice that the number was unlisted. I stopped by the city offices and asked the clerk if she knew how I might go about findin' a resident, a family member. I was referred to another office down the hall and then a second, upstairs. In the third office I was asked for some information, including my name and relation. “Husband,” I said. “And she’s my children’s mother.” The man typed for a bit at his computer, then glanced at me and excused himself. When he returned he introduced me to a social worker who led me to another office and closed the door behind her.
“Mr. McDaniel,” she said, “When was the last time you saw your wife and kids?”
“It's been five years,” I answered, looking away from the woman and out the window at the cars moving through the parking lot.
“You haven’t been in contact at all since then? With no one from her family?"
“No,” I replied, tryin' to remember just what it was I thought I’d felt five years ago in that other parking lot, the one at Eastbridge Mall. “Her parents been dead a long time and she’s an only child.”
“I see.” The woman took a short breath. “Mr. McDaniel, I’m sorry to tell you that your wife was killed in an auto accident two years ago.”
It was like fallin' through thick ice into black, frigid water. “I'm sorry?” I said, the words just a reflex, 'cause I knew in an instant that what I'd heard was correct.
“Your wife was a passenger in a vehicle heading eastbound on County Road 9 very early on the morning of June 2. At Beyer Avenue the car veered off the road and struck a bridge abutment. Your wife died at the scene. The driver died two days later in the hospital. His blood-alcohol level was twice the legal limit.”
I tried to catch my breath. I felt like I was gonna vomit. “My kids?” I asked.
“It says that your wife’s aunt took them in.”
I hadn’t known that Lois had an aunt. “Where’d they go?”
“I’m sorry, Mr. McDaniel, I’m afraid I can’t tell you that. You may wish to speak with a lawyer if you’d like to find out more.”
I ran a cold hand over my face. “Are they nearby?”
The social worker looked over my shoulder, toward the door. A large poster on the wall beside me read, "Be the Bridge." She shook her head slightly.
I stood up and swayed. The fluorescent lights seemed to flicker. I heard the woman say, “I’m very sorry, Mr. McDaniel,” but I was a million miles away.
A COUPLE THINGS: I'll be disappearing into the northwoods of Minnesota for the next month or so, on the hunt for moonworts and goblin ferns. There's a chance I'll get something up in a couple weeks, but it's likely that the next post won't be until late September. So, have patience, skim the archives, stop back occasionally, and eventually I'll pop up again (hopefully with lots of photos of northern Minnesota).
Also, August 10 marked the one-year anniversary of City of Dust. There's been 73 posts, just a little over one a week. City of Dust was originally supposed to be a photoblog documenting the back alleys of the Central Savannah River Area, USA, but I soon started to add historical information about the places I'd shot. Then I just started to add historical information that I thought was interesting, even if it was barely related to the photos. Then I ran out of photos of the CSRA and started putting up photos from all over the place with any variety of text: song lyrics, fiction, street encounters, and whatever else occurred to me. It's been fun, but I feel like some focus has been lost. I'd really like to get back to photographing decay, abandonment, and lost places. I think City of Dust was strongest when it had a nice, tight focus, as documented in the Photoblogs Magazine feature earlier in the year. So, I'm gonna think about what I want to do over the next month and see where I think City of Dust should go. Not that it really cares what I think. Thanks to everyone that's stopped by and sent me their stories and words of support over the last year. It's really been great to hear from so many people! Stay tuned.