“Oyyy!” Hei Nay Htoo yells from the passenger seat, charged with anxious energy. A large beige mound approaches on the right shoulder.
“Ghay deeahh—Is it still good?” I ask.
“Ghay deeehh—Yes!” he replies.
I quickly turn around on the next dirt driveway and pull over on the side of the road. We hop out of the car like a swat team and run behind the van. I open the back hatch. He shakes his head up and down virulently from beside the animal, calling me to come. Each grabbing a leg, we hoist the dead doe into the back of the van. “Na ga mah noh ga a tah mah gwa ba daw ta ha nya ee na ga aw da ho nya a beh—You are going to pass the driver’s test and tonight you will eat delicious venison!” I tell him as we get back in the car and zoom up 72 into Comer.
While Hei Nay Htoo goes inside and gets his I-94, I deposit the deer carcass on the ground by the front door and retrieve two bikes from the shed, setting them up on both ends of his minivan. Baw Baw looks at me like I am crazy. Hei Nay Htoo told me in the car that he had never practiced parallel parking, and so before we return to the DDS in Athens for his road test I instruct him and let him practice backing into the simulated parallel parking place between the two bicycles. Baw Baw stands on the side shouting, “Na ga taw seh beh nay—You are going to hit the bicycle!” He glares at her and proceeds to back in to the space almost perfectly two times. Baw Baw agrees to put away the bicycles and we race back to the DDS.
Six months ago, I allowed Hei Nay Htoo into the driver’s seat of my 2010 Corolla for the first time. I sat in the passenger seat trying to slowly breathe in the new car smell, intermittently barking directions at him in the simplest English I could muster as he jerked the car around the shopping center parking lot off of Memorial Drive. Since then, he purchased his own minivan and soon will have his license.
I watch from the top of the hill as Hei Nay Htoo drives methodically through the course, stopping at each stop line, backing up perfectly, mastering the three-point-turn, and gliding neatly into the parallel parking space between cones. Chills run through my squatting frame as though I am watching my own son try for his license. The van pulls out of the course and onto the highway, accelerating out of sight. I lean forward from my chest as if to follow, but remain in place, feeling abandoned. Ten minutes later, the van pulls back in to the parking lot. The two faces are both fallen and somber through the windshield.
The van slows as we ride up the ramp to merge onto the Athens loop. “Faster! Faster!” I call to him and eventually he speeds up. We continue on to Atlanta to move my bed and larger things out to Comer in the back of the van. Every once in a while, Hei Nay Htoo lets out a sigh of frustration and says something in Karen, which I do not understand. As we approach Clarkston I tell Hei Nay Htoo to stay on 78 until the exit for I-285. “This will probably be the hardest thing you have ever done. The exit comes in on the left and you have a half a mile to cross four lanes of traffic to get over to the exit for Ponce on the other side.” I am not sure if he understands, but cars are already zooming past us on our right side as the exit winds adjacent to the interstate.
“Na bleeahh—Are you scared?”
“Ya ta blee bah—I’m not scared.”
“Nyaw nu pe gleh ta boh ee yeh ya blee ah do ma—Usually on this road I am very scared. Get over!”
I look back at the oncoming traffic. “Get over!” I call again. Before I know it we are passing into the exit and gliding up the hill to the stoplight on Ponce. I clap my hands boisterously, declaring: “YEAH! Na noh ga bahehh—You can drive!”
We fill up the back of the minivan with my bed, desk, boxes, and clothes from my room in that house on Casa Woods where I spent my past few months. Bernard and Amber moved out a few days earlier to live with Maung Soe and Kmoo Paw’s family in their apartment on North Indian Creek. By the end of the afternoon after visiting friends and seeking a seemingly unattainable closure, I am sprawled out on the floor of Lay Moo’s apartment, completely exhausted. I have the keys to the van, but Hei Nay Htoo holds out his hand. “Na mee luh ga boo thay—You can sleep in the car.”
We so easily conflate our sense of place and the order of life that we create for ourselves, with the fleeting nature of reality. Our plans, ideas, and concepts bring order to the formless void, allowing our brains to play at comprehension while the great cloud of change broods over us. We can only speculate from memory.
Solomon, when standing before the altar in the newly built temple declared, “Can it indeed be that God dwells among men on earth? If the heavens and the highest heavens cannot contain you, how much less this temple which I have built!” God is a wanderer, telling tales of perpetuity. In transition, we realize that the corners in which we disguise eternity are small, and as the walls come crashing down we are forced to look that great judge death in the face and state our case.
I awaken as we roll in to a stoplight somewhere on 78. I look over at Hei Nay Htoo as a little child emerging from sleep. He meets my gaze, his brow furrowed with fatherly concern, overtaken by confusion at the strangeness of this situation. We look at each other curiously, brothers from opposite jungles, and then turn back to the road, passing endlessly into the twilight.