Tennessee Williams once wrote that “Time is the longest distance between two places.” The other day, I was driving with my daughter down a road toward my parents’ farm. We passed an old white house on the left nestled under the shade of four large oaks. Every time I pass this house I recall something that happened to me many summers ago. This time I related the story to my daughter.
Back then, I worked a different job each summer when I was home from college. This particular summer I was working in a small carpet-related plant that manufactured the edging that is applied to carpet samples as well as to rugs and mats. It was about a 25-mile drive to the plant and, being a young guy, I tended to drive a lot faster than I do today.
One day I was driving home after work, going probably 10-15 miles over the speed limit. It was a two-lane road, well-paved, kind of hilly but with a lot of straight-aways and good visibility. As I was barreling along on one of those straight-aways I saw a small critter run out into the road up ahead. I let up on the gas. Just a few seconds later, I noticed it was a rabbit and just behind the rabbit was a dog giving it chase.
It was just a mutt but the dog was right on the tail of that rabbit, who was weaving all over the road trying to escape the frantic pursuit of the dog. In that moment, for that dog, nothing else existed in the universe except that rabbit. Visions of tasty raw meat were dancing in his head. Something way better than dinner scraps or dry dog food or whatever the family that lived in the old white house at the time happened to feed the mutt.
Anyway, so I am now tapping my brake and coming up on the scene of the chase pretty fast. The rabbit only knows that the dog is attempting to kill it. The dog only knows that the rabbit is within a few feet of his intently focused jaws. Nothing else exists. Me and my car don't exist. The chase was on and it was happening right in the middle of road before my rapid advance.
I was braking harder now. This was many years before anti-lock brakes so, even though the road was dry on that warm summer day, I was trying to not lock the vehicle down and start skidding. I sat on my horn.
As the rabbit weaved back and forth across the road, so did the dog giving chase. Time slowed. As fate would have it the rabbit veered directly in front of my car just as I came upon it. The dog disappeared in front as well. I turned the steering wheel sharply in an attempt to miss the dog. The car skidded a bit. By now, I was over in the other lane. Fortunately, there was no oncoming traffic. In fact, I was the only car on the road at that moment.
I felt my tire hit something.
I let up on the brake, corrected my skid, regained control and stopped in my lane several feet from the sound of the crunch. I my rearview mirror I saw the rabbit bobbing up and down in the air, its front legs broken, going nowhere but still instinctively trying to hop. At first, the dog was not to be seen but a few seconds later the mutt pranced back into view, nonchalantly picked the rabbit up with his jaws and headed back toward the white house at a leisurely, contented pace. I had somehow managed to miss the dog, hit the rabbit, and thereby greatly assisted the dog in capturing his prey. He ate well that night, oblivious to his brief but close proximity to death.
My car was a 1976 Chevy Monza. It had no air-conditioning so my windows were rolled down on the summer day. I suddenly noticed the sound of a child crying. Since no one was behind me I backed up to the house and pulled off to the side of the road. I got out of the Monza. There stood a little girl, maybe 8 or 9, balling her eyes out at the horror she had just seen unfold before her. I had almost killed her dog and I had traumatized her by running over the rabbit.
By now her mother had come out of the house to see what was the matter.
“Ma’am, I am sorry but I couldn’t do anything. He just came out in front of me,” I offered.
“I seen it,” she said rather sharply. “That dog’s going to get killed one day, he’s always out in that blessed road.”
The child cried. I felt terrible. “Well, I sure didn’t mean to cause any problem.” “Oh, don’t you fret none about it. It ain’t your fault, hun.” She took the girl in her arms and comforted her. The dog went behind the house with the rabbit dangling from its mouth. I got back in my car, more than slightly shaken, and drove on home. I did not speed.
I don’t know whether the dog was lucky or the rabbit was unlucky. Probably, a bit of both. I could have just as easily killed the mutt and rabbit would have gotten away. But, that’s not how it all turned out. Hopefully, the child wasn’t psychologically scarred for life. But, that’s beyond my control.
So, I think about that incident every time I pass that house, now abandoned and in decay. My daughter listened, slightly bored with my story until I got the point where I actually hit something. She immediately wanted to know about the dog. It seems no one particularly cares about the rabbit.
It all does seem rather distant now, because of time not because of the two places. Even though it is the same old white house in many ways, the oaks are now larger while the structure itself has aged. It is two places in time. Perhaps the biggest change amidst that distance is in myself. My inner space is altered just like the place of the house itself. The dog is long dead and I now have a daughter to share the story with. But, in my mind it is more than a story. It is something I not only recall but can feel again. And the feeling itself defines the distance. Maybe, on some level, that’s what Tennessee Williams poetically intended.