We are so excited to share Nicole Roché’s “Trucker’s Notebook,” our New Voices nonfiction work for this week. “Trucker’s Notebook” takes us on the Big Sky highways, through the Flathead valley, past the big pink pig and into the world of trucking. “Once you start seeing cars as death machines,” Nicole writes, “you can’t unsee them that way.”
Driving in Montana meant seeing roadside crosses everywhere, painted white, like specters. It meant to be shown, and reminded of, every traffic-related death since the inception of the Montana American Legion White Cross Highway Fatality Marker Program in 1953, deaths now numbering in the thousands.
That summer, my new boyfriend said he could get me a job at one of the upscale bars in Missoula, Montana where a friend (his ex-lover) worked. Apparently the tips were so good there you could make rent in a week’s work. I had done some bartending back home, and yes, I needed the money. Plus I wanted to be that cool new girlfriend, the one who could work side-by-side with the old one, learn to rely on her, become trusted confidantes. I wanted that, but I had my doubts. Then, one afternoon, my boyfriend, who in addition to a slew of other part-time jobs worked in the warehouse at the growers’ coop, struck upon a new scheme. That was when he asked me, out of the clear Big Sky, “How would you feel about driving a truck?”
On our first date, Lee had taken me to The Pearl, the French bistro that was either the nicest restaurant in town or the only nice restaurant in town, depending on who you asked. We ordered appetizers and soup and salads and entrees and dessert and it all piled up because we could not stop talking.
Mostly I talked about how before moving to Missoula I’d lived in a cabin in the woods in Northeast Kansas, and how it was so serene and beautiful and complete it made me want more for myself, which meant I had to leave. I wanted that again. Not the cabin necessarily—though that would be nice—but the feeling.
I didn’t talk about the man I lived with there. How my ex had been a joy and then a problem. How after his motorcycle accident I talked him out of shooting himself with the gun his friend kept in the unlocked bike shop next door. How when I went home for Christmas I was so relieved to see him, so happy and sad and confused that one night we ended up sleeping together, and only afterward did I realize, in horror, that he still had the port for his feeding tube in his stomach. How in the subsequent months since I’d saved his life (as he put it) he’d been texting more and more across that thousand-mile chasm between Kansas and Montana, across that incalculable distance between who we were five years ago and who we were now, after the breakup, after the accident, and how I kept responding.
Which stories do we tell about ourselves and why? What is a story and what is a fiction and what is a lie?
“No way,” said the man sitting on the other side of all that fancy food. “I grew up in a cabin in the woods.”