Travis had never liked to fly and he was thinking about this dislike when he and three other steer wrestlers boarded a small, private plane in Oklahoma. After sitting on the runway for an hour, the pilot decided that the weather over the western part of the U.S. wasn’t conducive to flying and he told the boys they could try it again the next day, if they wanted to wait. Travis left the airport in a hurry, calling his girlfriend who was at the house loading the horses, preparing to leave before the roads got too slick. She was sitting in the truck when he pulled in. He threw his bag into the trailer and jumped in the passenger door of the truck.
“Things just couldn’t be easy for me, could they,” he growled and she put the truck in gear and pulled onto the highway.
Grady and Drew were chopping water out of tanks in the east pasture by 7 a.m. Grady had plowed the driveway and I headed north to town to the office of the adoption attorney. The truck slid a little on the dirt road that led to the highway.
I was stomping snow off my boots when I walked into the office and the girl at the desk was a former student of mine. I remembered that she hadn’t left the little town where she had grown up and graduated from high school. She had married her high school sweetheart and when she stood to give me a hug, I saw she was pregnant. I need to send her a gift, I thought to myself, I had sent baby gifts to a number of former students and thought that I could get her something the next time I went to Denver.
The attorney was a heavy, friendly woman who sat behind stacks of important-looking documents. She slid the papers to me to examine. Grady and I would pay for the girl’s pre-natal care and the delivery and the private adoption wouldn’t require a home visit. The adoption would be final when the baby was less than three months old. I signed the papers, signed a check and stood to leave. The baby was due at the end of March.
The roads in Oklahoma were slick and Travis had driven through the night into New Mexico and toward Nevada. They stopped to eat and walk the horses around 3 a.m. and he was tired when he crawled behind the steering wheel once again. His girlfriend lay asleep in the back seat when he pulled the truck and trailer back onto the interstate. Sometimes nothing seems to go like it should and that was Travis’ thought when the truck’s dual rear tires began to slide on a bridge. He could feel the trailer skidding toward the truck but he didn’t hear the squealing of tires or the sound as the steel and aluminum crumpled. He didn’t hear the metal guardrails crumple and he didn’t see the fear in the eyes of the horses or his girlfriend, though he thought she probably screamed. She jumped to the floorboard of the back seat of the truck as the gooseneck slammed through the back window, spraying glass and snow over her neck and back. It seemed like hours before she was able to crawl out of the truck and find her cell phone. When the State Patrol pulled up, she was sitting shivering in her jeans and a sweatshirt on the shoulder of the highway smoking a cigarette with the hand that wasn’t bloodied, the hand that wore a diamond that no longer meant anything. Behind her, there was no movement in the tangled truck and trailer. At our ranch, the phone rang but no one answered.