A Year on the Road

People in Iowa never turn off their brights until it’s too late. I’ve been driving for ten hours; I’ve been in this state for three hours, it’s only been dark for one of them, and I’m done, I’m done, and I’m ready to sleep. I have another ten, twenty minutes ahead of me. And people in Iowa never fucking turn off their brights until they’re going past you and you’re squinting your eyes and gripping the steering wheel too tight and trying hard to focus on the white lines of the road rather than the source of cornea burn.

No one prepared me for life after college. I think that exact thought several times a day. Literally, no matter what I’m doing during the day, I have the conscious thought of that exact phrase: “no one prepared me for life after college.”

Maybe they did prepare me, and I wasn’t listening. Maybe someone, somewhere told me, “Someday, you’re going to be driving down the road, blinded by a stranger’s impoliteness, heading toward your parent’s house, praying for the illusion of safety and the comfort of a bed you didn’t have to make for yourself.”

“Someday, you’re going to be eating half an avocado with just your teeth and hands as you barrel down I-90, listening to a book on tape you spent your last ten dollars of cash on, thinking about how much weed you have in your possession and what you’d get charged with from taking it out of a state where its legal into a state where its illegal.”

“Someday, you’re going to call your friend who is in grad school and she’s going to tell you how much she fucking hates it, but a little voice in the back of your head is still going to wonder if you made the wrong decision by not going to grad school.”

You’d think flashing my brights at oncoming drivers would help them understand that I’d like them to turn them off, but, no, it doesn’t seem to be showing positive results.

 

In Arkansas, there are no guardrails on the roads that probably, legally, should have guardrails on them. There are twists and turns and corners begging to be run off of if your eyes leave the road for even a second. Leaving the highway had seemed like such a good idea an hour ago, but it’s clear now it was an ill-advised move. Not only because of the lack of guardrails on the road, but also because the truck in front of me is sporting a large confederate flag draped over the lift gate.

In a year, anytime I hear any song from this album — which came out a week before I started this monster haul of a drive and was purchased excitedly at a Target for $12.99 — will remind me of this drive. The leaves are changing and I think that maybe this would be a really nice drive, a beautiful one, if I wasn’t so fucking terrified of every corner I turned.

I pass an island. In Arkansas. A literal island, in a lake, with a road — well, kind of a road — leading right to it. It’s a beautiful because its unexpected, though in another setting — one where you might rightly expect an island — it might seem less striking.

I wonder if beauty is always situationally dependent. Next winter, when I am in London for one night only, I’ll ask myself the same question as everyone fawns over my own beauty, beauty that certainly seemed ordinary in every other place I’ve been.

 

Driving into Colorado always feels like coming home, even though my parents and siblings, even many of my friends, no longer live there. It’s a feeling that was engrained in me from the caring attention of loved ones, but lingers even now that their houses are hollow, filled with strangers.

I always head to the same place – the house I lived in my last summer here, with my best friend and a red-head with chronic urinary tract infections that responded to a Craigslist posting. Neither girls live there any more, my best friend half a world away in Uganda, the red head teaching French to rich prep school students in the desert. Rather, it is occupied by my best friend’s older sister, who lets me crash there for the same reason I want to crash there – memories of my best friend, her sister.

I think the same thing as I drive this same route, every time. I wonder if places store memories. I want it to be true. I want the Walmart I drive past to remember the late-night trips to buy hair dye and candy; I want the liquor store to remember the time I spent an entire two weeks’ paycheck there; I want the dorm I worked in sophomore and senior years to reach out to me as I drive past it.

Maybe these places don’t hold memories of me, but the streets certainly do. They welcome me home with open arms.

 

Driving in Montana in the winter is terrifying. Logically, I know that the all-season tires I’ve just purchased and the speed I’m currently traveling at, an over-cautious 20 miles under the highway speed-limit, put me in a relatively safe situation, but the way the wind blows the snow over the dark asphalt leaves me feeling uneasy.

Really, everything about Montana leaves me feeling uneasy. The mountains here are different than the ones I grew up with, more severe, more dominating. At home, we built houses and malls right up against them, but in Montana the mountains make the rules, and towns are small, dwindled by the size of behemoth rocks jetting up behind them.

I thought I was ready to be alone, to travel to a place where I don’t know anyone, but it’s too far from my old home and too spacious to feel like a new home. I have made long drives like this before, even across unfamiliar distances, but always with the promise of an old friend and a warm bed at the end of the journey. This drive feels like ice through my veins, and not just because its fucking freezing outside.

Six months later I make this same drive, returning to Montana, but this time the sweet summer air wafts through my open windows, I’m safe and comfortable traveling 5 miles over the speed limit, and I’m headed toward friends that feel like old friends by now. The distance between these drives feels like years, miles, continents of distance between them.

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