I am fourteen.
We detour an hour east to study graves and cannon shells. A war was fought here, years and years ago I’m told, a fact I care little about but for the boy in the van beside me. He wants to see the land, so I play along, hoping it makes me likable. The fact remains, though, that I am not good at playing along and less so at being likable, so I look out the window instead. We’re stopped at a light in this too-small town. Who would ever want to live in a place so small, I wonder to myself. There’s a gas station and trees, nothing else and no more. I don’t want to look at battlefields. I don’t want to be here. The light is green at Bartley and Broad.
I am sixteen.
We move, and I’m surprised to find I live not far from the graves and cannon shells I didn’t want to see two years before. The boy in the van is gone, but there have been others and there will be more, as boys are never in short supply. A group of us take the long way home from our summer job. It’s late and dark, and the car in the other lane can’t see how close we are when she turns. She strikes us in an intersection. One of us is hurt. Lights flash, sirens roar. The rest of us sit on the curb of a gas station, surrounded by trees and freshly cleared land. How not-funny funny, I laugh when I realize. I don’t want to watch my friend loaded into an ambulance. I don’t want to be here. Our light was green at Bartley and Broad.
I am eighteen.
My family moves, but I choose to stay. I’m not sure why. I don’t mind the graves and cannon shells anymore; I may even like them. There is a new boy and I am in his car. He is the most beautiful boy I have ever seen, and I wonder how beautiful he will be when he’s fifty. I hope I am there to see it. He takes the long way to the city. With windows down and music loud, he smiles as we pass a gas station, surrounded by pavement and progress. It’s changing, I notice, and I’m changing, too. What a funny intersection, I think to myself. I don’t pull away when the boy takes my hand. I don’t mind being here. He zips through a light pushing yellow at Bartley and Broad.
I am thirty.
We make a family of our own and move them south. Not far at all, and to a place that has weaved itself into so many threads of my life. It’s coincidence this time; possibly coincidence every time, but I like to think not. The red light keeps me from crossing Bartley and Broad. The gas station stands, but empty and alone. It’s become too small for this place; I hope I never do. Progress begets progress, and a school sits at the other side of the intersection. My intersection. And at the other side, in that school, is a boy. Thanks to his father, he is the most beautiful boy I have ever seen. What magic is in this intersection, I think to myself. I don’t know what I have done to earn it. I don’t want to be anywhere else. I turn to pick up my son when the light is green at Bartley and Broad.
I am ninety.
I die on my birthday at ninety years old. I am granted my wish; it’s an odd one, I know, but it’s mine just the same. The gas station’s been leveled, the old school moved five miles to the left. The road’s been abandoned for faster and better, the intersection no place for cars any more. But here is where they bring me, just as I asked, to loose me in this crossroads one final time. The crossing where I’ve groaned and I’ve cried and I’ve dreamed and I’ve lived is now home to the air that I’ll ride as I’ve died. I have turned every corner of Bartley and Broad. Traveled every lane and taken every curve. I don’t think there’s an angle I haven’t explored. Even so, I don’t want to be anywhere else. And as they open the lid of my pretty box, as the wind picks me up and I explore from above, I am the light at Bartley and Broad.
Author’s Note: These are all true! (Except the dying part. I am not 90 and I am not dead. Although, it is my wish to die on my 90th birthday.) But this intersection (named something else–couldn’t tell you where I live/where my son goes to school) has been a strange fixture in my life for decades. When I passed through at age fourteen, my family and I were in the states for the summer from Japan. It was a totally random excursion to check out Civil War battlefields, and then by pure chance, we ended up moving a bit north of the area a few years later. My friends and I really were t-boned on our way home from work in this same intersection, and I really did marry that beautiful boy and move to a house right down the road from this intersection. Our beautiful son really does go to school beside this intersection. And who knows? Maybe I will die on my 90th birthday, and maybe my children will begrudgingly scatter my ashes here. But what I’ll probably do is pay one child in advance to hide my ashes somewhere and then have the rest go on a scavenger hunt to find them. Because I am evil.