A roadside memorial site in Napa Valley. January 2014.
During the first week of the new year I went for a walk in Napa Valley. It was my second time there; the first time was on my 23rd birthday. I came across a roadside memorial site with a lonely angel and I sat down on the bench for the while to join the angel in his waiting. When I looked at my pictures of the memorial site I noticed what was located across the road: an empty house. I remember walking past the abandoned property – windows shut and the grass withered and yellow after months without rain – but in the moment I didn’t make the connection between the deserted building and the memorial site. I’ve always been fascinated by roadside memorial sites – sudden crosses with plastic flowers and sometimes the occasional photograph with perhaps birth and death dates on roads I’ve traveled in Greece, Russia, the United States [for some reason these are the countries that come to my mind when I think back at what I’ve seen] – and the tragic stories they will never be able to tell a random passersby. We who only travel the road but once in our life will never come to know how a life once ended on the spot we just passed. When I looked at my own pictures of the memorial site and saw the empty house across the road – as if for the first time – I couldn’t help but to create my own narrative of what might have happened there in Napa Valley once upon a time. In my mind the two became connected: the empty house and the lonely angel. Someone who lived in the house died there, right across the road. After the death those who lived on could no longer do so in the same house with a view onto the space where disaster struck. Maybe it was a child who died there. For some reason the little angel sitting on the ground looking out at the road as if anticipation – someone would surely come back soon – reminded me of the death of a child. I have never experienced the death of a child; no one I know has had that experience and has thus not been able to share it with me. I imagine it might have been a rainy night when it happened. Perhaps it doesn’t rain too often in Napa Valley and perhaps most people who live there are happy and live perfectly normal lives. But on this rainy night everything changed for the family that lived there; a family which was unhappy in its own special way. The family had only one child and so there were only three of them living there: the father, the mother, and their young son. The father was an alcoholic. The mother suffered from depression. The son was about eight years old. On that rainy night the son took the whiskey bottle from his father’s hand and smashed it against the wall and ran out with the broken glass out into the street. The father was upset and so was the mother. They screamed at the boy to come back into the house but he refused. What none of them knew was that a neighbor had just started his truck on his way to see his mistress in Napa City and that he had forgotten to turn on his headlights. The street was dark and the neighbor was driving fast as the highway was not too far away and he was in a hurry to get away from his own unbearable family situation. The boy never heard the truck coming; his parents screamed too loudly and he was too upset to perceive anything else around him. The truck hit him and tried to steer away from the road and ended up right next to the tree where the memorial site is today. They found the lifeless body of the boy on the spot where they would place the lonely angel a week later. He was still holding the lower half of the broken whiskey bottle in his right hand. The parents told themselves that they could remain in the house, that they would piece their life together again, that they would have more children… A month later they divorced and the house was put up for sale. It hasn’t been sold to this day. Maybe because people know. Or maybe because people are uncomfortable with buying a home across the street from a lonely angel who still waits for the little boy to come back. As random passersbys on this road we will never know, will we?