An Unbecoming End

There was no roadkill on my way to work this morning. It’s out of the ordinary – for me – for my commute, which brings me over highways, and under overpasses. There are alcoves and hidden exits where animals can usually hide. But their accidental wandering out, leaving their safe spaces for something… I’m used to seeing dead animals. And, when I see dead animals, I think of Cody.

But this morning, I saw no unfortunate creatures, ruined by man, on the side of the road. Which means that from turning on my engine to killing it, I didn’t think of Cody. For someone I loved, for him having held me in his arms, he only comes to mind at the sight of lifelessness, of little raccoon bodies bloated with displaced gas and dead deer swollen from internal bleeding. He comes to mind only when I’m forced to look at butchered bodies. Intestines. Pulled apart membranes, all at the consequence of accidental collision.


We met three years ago, January. I remember the first thing I ever said to him, and the minute of the hour I said it. I remember leaving the room after first meeting him and having to catch my breath. His smell triggering the dormant addiction in my lungs.

Since then, since that Tuesday three years ago, I relive him. I remember how his hands moved when he spoke. I remember his voice; the exact sound of his laugh, how it bubbled out of him and fought against the current of his sentence; how cigarette smoke left his mouth; what it looked like in the immediate air when the laugh and nicotine exhale collided.

I pretend not to care about this, the massive weight of his impact on me. In our three years together, he showed me that caring isn’t worth the effort. Or maybe, it was more that I’m not worth caring for. I feel a brokenness, one caused by my accidental wandering into his way. I never really paid attention to how an interstate can be the abrupt end of a thing.


He’d been the pavement and the car, and colliding with him meant skin pulled open across gravel. I loved him a swollen, unbearable amount. Metal in my throat.


I move differently now. Aware of how uncontrolled my vacancies are, the places I’m leaving behind. I think in terms of him. Regardless of where I am, I’m acutely aware of our distance. I know how far I am from the smell of his laundry, from the sound of his truck – his relapsed smoky toothed laughter. In the same way roadkill is pulled up from asphalt, I’m trying to peel up from the folded miles of my brain tissue the sticky, green pressure of his memory.

I’ve spent the last eight months driving to work, seeing pieces of him on the roadside. He got in my head and fucked it all up. I don’t remember what it feels like to be a whole person. I don’t remember how I used to get home at night. Maybe, I was piloted by both a sense of direction and a sense of self. I’ve lost that. After him, I find myself like Gretel, planted somewhere vaguely familiar, finding my way home by a trail of dumped bits of fur.

Cody’s job was, and is, to collect wild animals and redeposit them away from people. An action, I think, he never learned how to remove himself from: the amputation of intimacy, or the making intimate an otherwise violent habit. The bed of his truck is always full of liminal animals. The middling sort. Alive still, and caged, waiting for either a disoriented freedom or a disorienting death. Some dead already…mangled and man-handled, mingling with the rabid living. He’s paid by the number of bodies he collects.


I loved him at a deficit, with a cracked sternum and bruised skin. I loved him with shattered glass palms and collapsed arteries. I deserve some of this pain, for crawling under highway overpasses, and through state lines. I deserve the burnt and shed skin for having been drawn in by headlights and the allure of possibility. But, I didn’t see myself on my drive this morning.

KENDYL HARMELING is a graduate student at the University of Louisville, studying Rhetoric and Composition in the English department. She has written and published four collections of writing, each internally ranging from poetry in varying lengths to long form creative non-fiction. While she enjoys her academic and scholarly work, poetry remains her favorite and most honest form of expression.