Scottish Roads – the highs and lows of life

Scottish Roads

In loving memory of Marc Marotta

When I close my eyes and imagine Scotland, I remember the weathered roads.  I remember sitting in a car, listening to the surrounding Scottish winds.  I remember passing in and out of sunlit rain showers, eyes wide open, seeing and feeling every ounce of every minute.

I remember stumbling into unforeseen moments, unknown places – by both misfortune and beautiful happenstance, just by following the Scottish paths.

For days, I’ve felt as if something was sorely lacking from this post.  I kept rewriting and rewriting, determined to capture the serendipity of Scottish road trips – determined to convey the highs and lows of the long, winding drives, the unexpected dips and narrow passes.

The unexpected.

And then an extremely close family friend passed away.  And that, my friends, was horrifically unexpected.

It feels as if someone plopped me in a roller coaster that was just beginning its descent when everyone’s seat belt broke, and we were flung into the air amidst a swarm of limbs and screams.

This kind of unexpected, appalling fragmentation of life is normal.  Or so people say.  And in theory, I’ve accepted the highs and lows of life.  I’ve even discussed it on this blog; whenever I’m at extreme points in my life, high or low, I remember Jacquetta Rivers, and the ever-turning wheel of fortune.  Our luck ebbs and flows, and we’d be foolish to think otherwise.

But that doesn’t make the lows any easier.

It doesn’t make funeral arrangements and the “so sorry” texts welcome or appealing.  It doesn’t make it okay to see the devastation in children’s faces whose father has just passed.

Marc was a second dad to my little brother, and a brother to my dad.  He became apart of my family, celebrated holidays with us, and left behind a beautiful family of his own.

We can barely speak.

Storms broke out the night of his passing.  Milwaukee was ablaze in lightning late into the night, and many of us lay awake, listening to thunder compete with Lake Michigan’s threatening white waves.  Some of us, however, heard nothing but the leftover, broken conversations, spinning in mocking repeat wheels in our heads.  Haunted by what we said, didn’t say, haunted by images and memories, and the assumption he would be there for years to come.

Everyone is devastated.

But Marc was full of joy.  My last memory of him is playing Cards Against Humanity with my parents and younger brother.  It was one of the most awkward yet hilarious situations of my life.  Marc had a contagious laugh, and the kind of presence people couldn’t help but notice, influenced, of course, by his massive “Buddy the Elf” physique.

Marc would have wanted us to smoke the best cigars and drink the best wine late into the night in his honor.  He would want our lives to be filled with love and laughter.

Unfortunately, it will take a long time for that laughter to return.

Many of you don’t know Marc, and that’s okay, because I’m certain you know at least one person who has left us much too soon.  These particular lows of life still the air, and make breathing a monumental effort.

And for now, I just keep remembering the Scottish roads.  The unpredictable dips and curves.  The slender passageways, the sense of the unknown: the physical representation, in my mind, of the highs and lows of life.

Chris and I drove all over Scotland.  And now, I see before me a serpentine path, stretching towards unseen crooks and twists, towards possibility and serendipity.   If we turned left, we’d find ourselves on windy walks along a quiet shoreline.  We found farmers markets with freshly baked brownies, and a mother dabbing her son’s messy, chocolate-covered face.  But we also found a father laying flowers on a child’s grave.  We followed the soft road as it glided alongside the cliff of the North Sea until it jutted inwards towards the neglect of a littered, dilapidated town.  We stopped for sandwiches in one of these places – observed the surrounding misery, just as we observed the overwhelming beauty of the nearby rugged hills and waterfalls.

The original point of this blog post was to encourage people to explore Scotland by car, because only then could you discover the unexpected – experience the spontaneous moments of visiting unknown hamlets and villages, or hikes along the lochs.

I’d still suggest you explore Scotland by car – it means just a bit more now, and hurts on a visceral level.

We’ve come to a particularly horrific, unexpected bend along our road.

But both in life and Scottish road trips, despite any potential damage or devastation you may find, soothing lochs and snow-capped mountains, vast glens and valleys of heather, are certain to appear through the morning mists soon enough.

So drive along the Scottish roads.  Because something is waiting around just one more corner.  Over just one more hill.  One more unexpected stop.  It’s there, in the serendipity, where you discover something, where you learn, where you create, where the memories deepen.

Something is waiting along Scottish roads – another high, another low – a beautiful surprise.


In memory of Marc Marotta; may he be in a place of joy and beauty.  He will be missed.


  1. Alex, what a beautiful piece and what a comfort you must be to your parents and Mitch. Such sad and shocking news about Marc.


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