The things I carried with me five years ago continue to follow me as I pack for another weekend toward the west. I'm stuffing sweaters on top of journals and tubes of extra thick mascara, copper eye shadow and bronzer on top of a print out of Amy Hempel's "The Harvest" because nothing is ever quite as bad as it could be. I stop myself there- even I know can sense a limit.
Whenever I travel, I always feel a sense of permanence- there's the unnerving threat that when I leave I may never return or what I return to may be gone. I have nightmares about tragedies I’ve never endured- pictures of my childhood in flames so hot and bright I can smell the chemicals burning as I sleep. I wake up and am left agonizing over what the greater heart break truly is: to abandon or to be the abandoned.
Which leaves me where I am now- standing with my calves squeezed against the sides of this overnight bag, cramming in Merle Norman Rose Sorbet nail polish in a desperate effort to leave nothing behind.
He asks me what it is all this time that keeps me coming back. Or I guess- what keeps me wanting to leave. And my answers are meek or non existent. Something must attract me to the five hour drive he reasons; the landscape is dull. And I do not disagree; as I drive the long stretches of nothing suffocate me. But I've come to appreciate the flatness of Erie, PA and the two lane road that carries me through it as a steady 35 miles per hour. What I'm telling him is, the capacity of the east coast is not lost on this girl.
I caution that alone on the road, you are never really alone. There are always other cars headed down the same highway or waiting at intersections to join the journey. You learn where to stop for gas based on where others stop, what road side dives serve the best food and which motels are the least roach-friendly.
Life behind the wheel is what I think prison would feel like- just a thin pane of glass separates confinement and community. Isn't a prison its own community the same way rest stops are during dangerous weather? Do I not long for eye contact when I’m waiting in line for an iced coffee or bathroom break after 200 miles without stopping like an inmate pleas for conversation and physical contact after being in confinement? We share same dry throat from the silence. It's as if you’ve forgotten how to speak. My lips stick together when I try to shape my mouth into a polite smile and I know I'll miss the opportunity to make contact with my own community if I don’t look up fast enough.
People say long trips become a blur after some time, but if you're whole life is one stretch of highway to another long stretch of highway- then how could I not feel insulted?