there’s no hiding in the valley

there’s no hiding in the valley

Jessica Wohl

 

We are heading home from the grocery store in our black BMW, my husband at the wheel. We drive across the overpass, with timing perfect enough to meet a police car as it exits the road below us. As we continue straight and pass him, he turns to his right, like a magnet, following in our path. We have nothing to worry about. We are not speeding. Our tags are not expired. We have no drugs, no guns. The sun is still out, so we don’t have to worry whether we might have a broken tail light. Without speaking, that’s at least what I tell myself.

The road from the valley to the mountain, which crosses city limits, is long and winding like the song and leads to our door. We pass the strange, yellow house that looks too big for one family, but too domestic to be a business. With its school-scaled playground and state-park style picnic benches, we are convinced it is a polygamist home or a church where women never cut their hair, or maybe both. We pass a Hillary for Prison sign, the Dollar General and a double-wide with a giant, wooden cut-out of a pink bunny, wishing passers-by a Happy Easter months after the holiday has come and gone. I think about the men who work at the body shop with the sign out front that reads Vets Before Illegals and intently focus on each of these little worlds as we drive home, trying to ignore the cop creeping behind us, at exactly 30 miles an hour, and not one mile over. 

I’m always amazed by the cotton fields that hug this road. As a northerner, the white fields are magical, both enchanting and unsettling. Their beauty is breathtaking but cuts like the burrs we can’t see from the safety of our car. As we pass by, I imagine the ghosts of the people whose bodies and souls used to bleed because of them, in their sun hats, parched and dying in the heat as the man on horseback followed slowly behind them, making sure they stayed in their lane.

It’s been thirteen minutes. He’s still behind us, too close, waiting for us to err. I’m pregnant and Jewish, so my anxiety is immeasurable. I thank God our car has tinted windows, or perhaps we would already have heard his siren by now. The pit in my stomach almost makes me lightheaded, not only from fear, but because I am trying to convince my husband, and myself, that I am not afraid.

Between the farm fields and the for-sale signs, I think about being pulled over. How alone we’ll be on the side of the road. How we will be at the mercy of a man we’ve never met, who we are supposed to trust. How he’ll walk up the side of the car and look and my husband and me and not like what he sees. How he’ll tell us we did something we didn’t do. How he’ll ask for our licenses and registration, and then he’ll know where we live. How he’ll ask my husband to get out of the car. How my husband will obey and do as he’s told, boy. He knows what to do though. His mother taught him how to behave, and what was at stake if he didn’t.

The over dramatized scenarios that play in my mind are obviously unhealthy, but I know they are grounded in truths. Some men don’t survive this.

Maybe his tucked in, buttoned-down shirt will protect him. Maybe his articulately spoken English will protect him. Maybe the tone of his voice, or the rational delivery of his words will protect him. Maybe the make and model of his car will protect him. Maybe his clean record will protect him. Maybe his “yes sirs” will protect him. Maybe his name will protect him. Maybe my pregnant belly will protect him. Or maybe not. I try to get the revolting thought out of my head that maybe my whiteness will protect him.

These invisible hopes are all we have. No training. No backup. No cuffs. No tasers. No guns. Just hopes. And prayers. But my husband wouldn’t pray. He’s a practical man. A realist.

So I focus on the cotton fields. How they look like a mystical, hovering blanket of fallen snow in the hot sun of the early fall. How their haunting power conjures up visions of Romanticism woven with brutality. How the empty, unpopulated fields prove how far we’ve come, but leave space for imaginary visions of those who gave their lives for a crop that protected the bodies of their oppressors, but not their own.

At the base of the incline, where I can only imagine the city limit begins, the patrol car makes a U-turn and heads back toward the cotton fields. He stays in the valley, and we’re spared by the base of mountain we ascend. We go home, unload the car, and I take a chewable cherry Tums to relieve the heartburn that had worked its way into my chest.

 

 

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