The flat of Ohio spreads in subtle swales before us, the sun melting over the cornfields. That’s what my son likes to say: the sun is melting. He sits in his car seat, face lit up in morning light. He is three, and five days out of the week, we make the hour commute to work and school, and sometimes we talk and sometimes we’re silent, feeling as if the day opens just for us, as if we’re the only people on this planet driving country roads and passing country towns.  

“Is it morning time?” my son says, a stuffed turtle—Stuffie—in his arms.

I nod in the rearview mirror. “When the sun goes up, it’s morning. When the sun goes down, it’s night.”

He tries to make sense of this—night and day, day and night—the way he tries to cipher the differences between yesterday, today, and tomorrow. His eyes are in a dream, and then something in the world snatches him back.

A lone tree. In a lone field.

We pass it daily, a fixed point to set our eyes on until the next lone tree miles away. Ohio fields are full of lonely trees.

This stretch of road narrows. The winter hasn’t been kind to the pavement, which is cracked and full of holes. The car thumps along.

“Daddy, turn around and look at the tree.”

 “I can’t.”

“Sure, you can.”

“Daddy has to keep both hands on the wheel and his eyes on the road.”

“No, you don’t.”

“Yes, I do.” We go back and forth between my yeses and his noes. “If Daddy takes his eyes off the road we can get into an accident.”

“What’s an accident?”

“It’s when we lose control of the car and hit something.”

“Like a tree?”

I nod.

“But there’re no trees.” My son points to the outside flat blurring by.

“Not in Ohio.”

“Daddy, what happens in an accident?”

“Sometimes people get hurt.”

“What happens when people get hurt?”

“Remember when you scrapped your knee? It’s like that but worse.”

“What worse?”

“Like you can—” I don’t finish the sentence. I don’t want to tell my son you can hurt so bad you die. I don’t want to explain the word “die.” Or dying. Or death. Even if it’s foremost on my mind. Even when many have passed recently—family, friends, and teachers. The moment I knew my son was coming into the world, I flashed ahead—he only a worm in his mother’s womb—to a tomorrow where I’m dead, and fearing I hadn’t prepared him for this brutal life.

Or a life without me.

We pass another tree, bare of leaves, jagged like lightning.

“What worse, Daddy?” my son says again.

“Like sometimes you disappear.”

He ponders the concept of disappearing, tapping a finger to his chin. “Where do you go when you disappear?”

“I don’t know.”

“Does everyone disappear?”

“At some point. Like your grandfather and Ya Sue and the two dogs in the picture in my office.”

“Will they come back?”

“Grandma says we always come back. Sometimes as a flower or cat or bird—”


“Wouldn’t that be awesome if you came back as a tree?”

“A big tree.”

“The biggest.”

We are halfway into our trip, the sun higher in the sky, bright orange. It is a marvel to see it melt everything in light.



“Maybe we can go find them.”


“Everyone who disappeared. Maybe we can find them. Like we found Stuffie under the couch. Do you remember?”

In the rearview mirror, my son smiles. He believes anything that disappears can be found, like he believes yesterday and today and tomorrow is the same word, like he believes that every tree is a forest and the sun and moon are interchangeable.

My eyes are damp. “That’s a nice thought,” I say. “I hope we do find them.” I turn slightly to look at my son. He is everything. Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow. The forest. The trees. The sun. The moon. All my losses, all my hopes, in one small being.

My son points with Stuffie. “Daddy!” His voice rises, his eyes wide. “Keep your hands on the wheel. We don’t want to disappear.”

“You’re right.” I scan for the next tree. There. A speck. Growing larger and faster. And then, in a flash, it is gone. 

Ira Sukrungruang is the author of the forthcoming memoir, This Jade World; three nonfiction books Buddha’s Dog & Other MeditationsSouthside Buddhist and Talk Thai: The Adventures of Buddhist Boy; the short story collection The Melting Season; and the poetry collection In Thailand It Is Night. He is the president of Sweet: A Literary Confection ( and the Richard L. Thomas Professor of Creative Writing at Kenyon College. For more information, visit:

Photo by Kim Adrian