A Different Kind of Roadkill by Elizabeth Heckmann

As the weather warms and the snow of a long, difficult winter melts, the gleaming white symmetries of skeletons on the side of the road become visible against the fledgling green grass. The unfortunate elk and deer that attempted to run across the two- lane-canyon highway were killed by speeding cars and trucks, only their bodies tossed to the side of the road serve as a reminder of their lives.

When I glimpse them as I drive by, the familiarity of a mammalian skeleton, its serpent-like spinal column and sacrum still intact. The remaining bones are smashed and strewn about signifying the violence of impact, the carnage ignites thoughts and anxieties. Was that a cow with a calf? Did the calf watch a truck demolish its mother? Was that a calf? A young buck? An old elk? I calm myself. Of course it died painlessly! Broken neck. Massive bleeding. Painless. Instant death. These skeletons are landmarks on my way to and from work. But one day, I came across a different kind of roadkill, its contents spread all over the road and, no one swerving to miss it: books.

The air, agitated by passing cars, sent loose pages into chaos all over the road. Those scrapes of inked paper are the labor of love and manifested dream of some poor writer. Even if it’s a trashy romance about a time traveling cowboy, the disintegrating cover flaunting a rugged, moustache-sporting man in a leather trench coat and a Stetson hat, standing in front of a yellow 1990’s VW bug, or a copy of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, it’s still the strenuous work of someone’s imagination.

If, by chance, my one printed work was discarded on the road and demolished, I would cry. That was weeks of late night work, pints of pumpkin ice cream to fill the gaps in my stomach, and time lost forever to writer’s block. That was my bruised ego as edit after edit was sent back to me. But after the final edit and my words found their way into an actual, physical book, that was me. Now I am splattered and torn on the pavement, dirty tires rendering me unreadable.

My attachment to my work is such, that a similar destruction would be visceral in my body and mind. I lay paralyzed on the pavement. Flung out a window or bounced off a truck bed from the shelter of cardboard moving box. A slight tremor in the pavement reaches me before the tires bear me down. Each tread digs into my flesh, the rubber tearing me apart in perfect equilibrium, my bones and blood shattered and splattered and flung along the road. My organs explode like a puddle of water when a car speeds through it. And yet, I am conscious of my regret. I am conscious that I died without writing something worthy of a stranger’s tears. Something worthy of the driver pulling off the road in a hurry to save my work, to save me.

Writing is self-exploration. It is the closest, most intimate way to explore and know the conscious and unconscious self, and because of this, it is both beautiful and dangerous. For who knows what shadows lurk in the endless depths of the unconscious? When ignored, the self-exploration is stifled and rusts like an abandoned car in the woods. But just because the expression of exploration stops, doesn’t mean the thoughts stop. Oh no, they build up and tumble around, restless, searching for any way out, any crack or crevice weak enough to penetrate. And when they find that weak spot, their exit is momentous. It’s therapeutic. Even if the exit is violent, unleashing shadows from the unconscious that grew among the stale thoughts, it’s therapeutic. Better out than in. Once it’s out, one can deal with the shadows in a more tangible environment, which illuminates the true self.

A writer never ignores their work with their subconscious mind. They consciously ignore it and the more they do, the more guilt and shame build to ugly, ugly destructive states of mind. So why do I ignore my writing? Writer’s block? While that’s a real affliction, it’s no excuse. Fear. Fear that someone won’t pull over and save me from being mutilated by tires, because my work just wasn’t important. Fear that not even I would pull over to my own work because I deem it so unworthy. But writers write for themselves. Or they should. Allow the words to spill out unfiltered with no audience in mind. Birth the true essence of your thoughts, which can later be edited to please the readers. Or even better, speak to and invoke the reader’s emotions. Give them something so personal and loved that they would pull off the road to save it.

While such strong proclamations are easy to state, I haven’t written in months. I traveled to Thailand and Laos since last I wrote. Snow fell in fury and now the tulips in my front yard are crowning, and these are my first written thoughts. I’ve neglected my brainchildren. I’ve shunned ideas with a loathing guilt. That’s a shit idea. I’ll write something better tomorrow. Stop writing erotic fanfiction in your head and write something of substance!

A published author once told a group of eager writers in my graduate program to choose a job that allows you to write. I have the ultimate job for that. Shoveling horse shit for five hours a day. The other five are spent working with the horses and doing miscellaneous chores around the barn. Cleaning stalls means listening to music and daydreaming. Or fretting over my future because shoveling shit can’t be the rest of my life. Either way, I have ample time alone with my thoughts. I suppose writing erotic fanfiction in my head is better than a blank mind, void of any creative thoughts. The penniless, orphaned stable girl seduces the rich, mysterious Mr. Darcy with her unpretentiousness, and after a long day of riding in the English countryside, she takes his virginity in a field under a larch tree as a choir of birds sing in jubilation.

Now I need to write something, more meaningful than a scene popping Darcy’s cherry, first for myself, just get the words out, and then to shape the words and ideas so they speak to others, evoking their own thoughts and guiding them through their own emotions. Ready, set…

That tremor rumbles through the ground. From my supine position on the road I turn my head and see a speeding car round the blind corner. I feel the gravel embedded in my back. Bolts of adrenaline race to my tongue and feet, electrifying my split-second reactions. GO! Get up and write! Save yourself. Don’t be a skeleton in a ditch, a reminder of life lost due to hesitation and self-doubt, the same fate of those unlucky deer and elk. Never roadkill. Never a carcass degraded by the seasons until only bones remain, a skeleton that no one really cares about. Never unloved and desecrated books, the expression of thoughts, the self, destroyed and lost forever. Be something, write something worthy of saving.

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Elizabeth Heckmann

Elizabeth is a horsewoman living in the mountains of Colorado. She writes for the love of it and when she cranks out something her editor feels has potential, she runs with it.