Michigan Highway 52 || Wednesday, 10.12am
I’m writing this from Michigan Highway 52, driving southward from Saginaw, Mi., while an impossibly tall Irish guy grooves beside me to the Beatles and Booker T. as he tries to outrace a storm from Chicago.
Even with the air guitar he intersperses with his driving, I feel safer than if I were driving these snowy roads myself.
We are bound for warmer climes—North Carolina, Tennessee, Louisiana, Texas, and finally back to Arizona.
Where to begin?
Neither of us could sleep last night—he because of packing and procrastinating and being lost in that fuddle that precedes any big life change in the most steely-eyed adventurers; I, because he couldn’t sleep, and I couldn’t help.
I remember the night of September 1, 2012, trying to claim some rest for the following day. I had only three hours at most to drive, and I wasn’t even planning to leave until afternoon, and I was entirely packed and had said the major goodbyes and was ready to go. But it was my first day on the job of the rest of my life…not nomadism only, but the first day of taking my life by the horns. I could have been doing something much more mundane, and I would have been nervous at the audacity of living by intention.
The only thing I could think to do was commit the sacrilege of treating it like any other night from my previous two years of boredom—I ripped a movie off the Internet to watch until I fell asleep.
The movie was Drive.
My mom had already left the house by the time I pulled out of the driveway.
I went to the Cricket store thinking that they might owe me a phone upgrade. I left with a car charger and used that same phone for another two years.
I remember planning to drive up the coast to Los Angeles. But I took the inland route, the way that I knew, not for any articulate reason. I puttered through Hollywood and wound around Laurel Canyon and pulled into a Vons parking lot on Ventura, a block from Whittier, looking for a bathroom and kombucha, if possible. I chatted with a guy wearing an aged ducktail about his Ford Custom Cab pickup—he’d bolted a vintage aluminum ice chest into the bed to house a handbuilt air conditioner.
A few minutes later, of course, we all know what happened. All the gassy anticipation I’d felt since the night before took the solid form of a problem to solve—a terrible problem, but somehow better than that bloating vapor of uncertainty of what will happen and how will I solve it and is it really probable that I can do the thing I desire?
When he finally comes to bed, I ask him how he’s feeling. He says “Skeptical.” And quickly apologizes, “I don’t mean that how it sounds.”
I know what he means. I wonder whom it’s more intense for—the person who made up the whole idea, or the person going along with it.
I’ve been feeling skeptical, too. After so much time of wishing for it, I seem to finally have caught a man to drive beside me. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have to work too hard, or maybe it’s just the suddenness of the change, but sometimes I look at him and feel as if some part of my brain is trying to block him out. He’s right in front of me and I have to strain to see him.
My dad took me to the airport at this time in 2008. It might even have been on this very date; I can’t remember. I was moving to New York City and he didn’t want me to. But he hadn’t expressly told me not to—he knew that if he had done so, I wouldn’t have gone, and he wasn’t willing to level the force that way. In the cloud of that unspoken wish, that painfully granted freedom, I felt the rebel’s admixture satisfaction and guilt, combined with shame that I was rebelling right under my dad’s gaze. He was driving me to do the thing he didn’t want me to do. Just before I joined the security line, he motioned me toward him as if to say something. Instead, he pulled a hundred-dollar bill from his pocket and put it in my hand.
“Be wise,” he said—a thing he’d said to me a billion times before. But never before had it been while handing me money to help me further in doing something he didn’t want me to do.
Jackson, Wyoming’s mother did a similar thing this morning—that is, she handed us each a hundred dollars. She didn’t say “Be wise” and I don’t think she exactly didn’t want us to go. Not the way my dad didn’t want me to go to New York. She’s expressed nothing but excitement and confidence for us…in the midst of admonitions about getting health insurance as soon as possible.
I guess it’s just parents. You probably never quite know what you want—for your kid to stay, or for him and her to go, for them to make choices on their own or to be dependent on your help. Maybe the only thing you can do sometimes is put money in their hand and push them out the door and go inside and try not to mind.
Here’s to the parents, the ones we’re hardest on, the ones who are hardest on us, who can as easily cripple as enable us, whose hearts we break with a look or with none at all, who let out the leash of their hearts with us as we run all over the country. I wish I knew what to say to you about this, but I don’t. I die all over again, whenever I remember that moment in the airport with my dad. All I can think to stop thinking about it is the same thing I repeated to myself, over and over, during the six-hour plane ride to the east coast:
“It’s better to feel this pain than to feel nothing about it.”
I guess that’s how I feel about joining forces with this tall Irish guy from Jackson, Wyoming (by way of Saginaw, Mi.). I’m scared, and he’s skeptical, but it’s only on account of being together, doing something we truly desire.