I ran last night after sunset, my path lit by a bobbling circle of fading light from my headlamp until the batteries died in full, and then even that was gone. But the light was intended mostly to make me visible to traffic, and there’s not much traffic on this road, so I plodded on. I like running in the dark.
A couple of months ago I smacked my left thumb with a hammer full on, a mighty blow in the midst of driving a 16 penny framing spike into an awkward juncture, and now the blackened nail is peeling away, a replacement slowly emerging beneath it, still a strange, stunted thing. As I ran, I rubbed at it with my forefinger, something I’ve been doing a lot recently, as if trying to make this new part of me familiar to myself.
Farther down the road, I lurched past Danny’s log truck, idling at the shoulder. I breathed in the acrid fumes of diesel exhaust, one of those smells that, like cigarette smoke, I find at once repulsive and strangely comforting for the memories it evokes: Riding the hay wagon behind Martha’s big John Deere, working in the woods with our own tractor, gathering bales in Melvin’s New Holland, back when the boys were small enough that they both fit into the cab with me. We always listened to classic rock, and loud. That’ll never happen again. The boys are too big, and they’ve got better things to do now, anyway.
I guess the truth is we’re always shedding things, little pieces of ourselves, ones we can see and ones we cannot. Ones that regenerate and ones that don’t. I have a new fingernail, or half of one, and the rest will come in time. I won’t be riding in the tractor with the boys anymore, but I remember it clear as day, how much the three of us loved gathering those bales, driving across that field, singing, that telltale whiff of exhaust. I think that even at the time I knew I’d never forget how happy it made me.