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Jessie Veeder, Published May 04 2013

Coming Home: Finding right words not always easy

I sat in the passenger’s seat of his Ford and leaned my head up against the window, watching the bare trees wave in the wind as we sloshed through the mud on the red road that stretches, bends and leads us home.

We were talking, my husband and I, about the weather and house projects, the stupid songs on the radio and the ones we love, humming along to fill the quiet spaces of the conversation before wondering out loud what to have for supper or what color to paint the wall in the master bedroom.

When you’ve been sitting shotgun in a boy’s pickup since he turned old enough to drive, there aren’t many things that haven’t been discussed or revealed in the miles between home and the places we’ve wandered together. It’s the very reason that my place in that passenger seat next to that man is one of my favorites in the world.

Because sometimes, as the spinning of the tires propel us across the landscape, one of us might reach back into the archives of our memories to reveal a story that had somehow been missed by the other during all the time spent together.

And so it went that between discussions about the forecast and the groceries, I remembered to tell him how, on my last drive to town, I stopped at an intersection and witnessed a hawk swooping down toward the earth, nearly hitting my windshield as it tried to fend off a songbird undoubtedly protecting her nest.

I told him it was pretty amazing to see that interaction so close up, surprising me in the middle of an ordinary commute to work. I wondered out loud how those little birds could be so brave and relentless.

But my husband was off in his own memory now, one triggered by my story of the highway and flying things. He nodded his head, tapped the steering wheel with his thumbs and asked if he ever told me about the bald eagle?

I didn’t think he had.

He said it was one of the most amazing things he’d ever seen. A few years back, while he was driving down a county road during his workday, he looked to his left to see a bald eagle flying alongside his window, wing-tip to shoulder, profile to profile, soaring and moving with him down the road at the speed of his truck.

The massive size of the bird up close took his breath and he recalled gripping the wheel tightly as he continued at a steady speed, not wanting to lose sight of the bird while he navigated the road.

To be that close to something so magnificent, he said, it felt like he was soaring with him, like they were flying together and for a few moments he was a bird too.

I can’t believe I’ve never told you about the eagle, he said.

I clapped my hands together, threw my head back and reacted to this newly discovered piece of the man I know so well, a story that he had kept to himself until now.

And I was glad he shared it. I was glad to have a chance imagine my husband as an eagle as we moved together down the road.

But a part of me wished he could have kept that memory for himself. Because after his attempt to convey the sight of that bird and the feeling it stirred, he shook his head and said, well, it’s just hard to explain, as if in the telling, the eagle lost a bit of his magic.

And I understood. As a woman always searching for the right words, I know what it feels like to have them fall flat.

Because sometimes our language fails us. Sometimes the words we have to choose from don’t measure up to what we need to describe the smell of the first spring rain, the span of an eagle’s wings and what it’s like to realize that maybe you don’t need every piece of him, to know every story or every thought and that mostly you’re just happy to sit next to him as he drives you home.

This column was written exclusively for The Forum.

Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband on a ranch near Watford City, N.D. Readers can reach her at jessieveeder@gmail.com.