How to Save a Life

By: Emma Scott

For Mom,

Who knew I wanted to write before I did,

And who believed in me even before the first word was set down.

With all my love,


Yet it is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top. ~Virginia Woolf

Good morning Karn County! It’s going to be another scorcher today with highs in the low- to-mid 90s. This heat wave shows no signs of lettin’ up, with those high temps continuing through ‘til next week and beyond. So here’s a little a “Heat Wave” for your heat wave, brought to you by Martha and the Vandellas, and your oldies station, KNOL.

Heat wave was the goddamn truth. It’d been hot as hell since we rolled up from Missouri yesterday and the cab of the semi was stifling. Gerry didn’t like to keep the AC on for too long for fear of overheating the engine. I had my bare feet kicked up on the dash and my face practically hanging out the window like a dog, desperate for a breath of wind.

I wasn’t a fan of the music jangling out of the radio, but the choices around these parts were oldies, God, or country. Oldies were the best of the bunch and all three were better than silence. Gerry didn’t talk much while he drove but to answer some other trucker on his CB now and then. Mostly, he just pointed the semi-truck down an almost straight line of road, across the flat horizon of Iowa.

Martha and her Vandellas wondered how love was supposed to be. I wondered if this was all Iowa was supposed to be: miles and miles of corn. As if a vast ocean were drained of water and all that remained were the swaying forests of seaweed. We passed some farms—satellites orbiting tiny towns—and telephone poles measured the stretch of highway at twenty yards apace, stretching up to the cloudless sky. I stared at the flat nothing of green below and the blue above, searching for some kind of interesting for my eyes to land on. A sign came up on my side.


Pop. 1,341

“That us?” I asked.

“Yep,” Gerry replied, his eyes on the road and his belly protruding almost to the rim of the steering wheel.

That exchange was the most we’d said in an hour. Not that we had anything to say to each other anyway. Nothing to say. Nothing to see. Going nowhere. Another tiny town, another high school—my third this year alone. And my last, I prayed. Surely Gerry wouldn’t be transferred again before June. There were only a few weeks till the end of the school year and then I’d be done being the perpetual ‘new girl.’

Gerry Ramirez was my mother’s cousin. The only family I knew on her side. When my mother killed herself five years ago, he’d come all the way from Florida to take care of me.

He was a long-haul trucker; addicted to the road, and not cut out for raising kids, never mind a teenage girl. For my mother’s sake, he put a roof over my head, even if he didn’t stay under it but a few days out of every month.

I was the ultimate latch-key kid. If any of the schools I’d been bounced around to had known how much time I spent alone, they’d haul me in for truancy. Gerry would get in trouble for child neglect. But I never let on my situation to anyone. Why would I?

It was either live with Gerry, or remain with my dad’s side of the family in Fayetteville, North Carolina. They would’ve tossed me to the street, pronto. When it came out what Uncle Jasper had done to me when I was thirteen, it had been like a bomb dropped into their make-believe, happy crappy world. My mother ended her life, Jasper went to jail, and the Clark clan never forgave me for any of it. And my dad wasn’t there to defend me. Or protect me from his sicko brother in the first place.

My dad’s name was Vincent and that’s pretty much all I knew of him. His name and that he died serving in Afghanistan when I was two. I didn’t know what kind of father he would have been had he lived. Maybe shitty. Maybe okay. Or maybe he would have been the best father ever. If some asshole militant hadn’t chucked an IED into my dad’s patrol, our family would still be whole, Mama would still be alive, and I wouldn’t be scarred up, inside and out.