“The best thing about being on the road is leaving your troubles behind.”
That’s what my college boyfriend and I used to say to each other. It started on our first road trip when we couldn’t stop fighting. We were 22 and On The Road, yelling at each other in every magnificent National Park in the country. We’d wake up in the morning in serene wilderness, giving each other the silent treatment, then repack the car, hit the road, and soon enough the fight would disappear. We’d leave it behind in the hoodoos of Southern Utah or in the Grand Tetons or the Sequoias or the middle of nowhere in Idaho or Nebraska. It became our motto, our truce, our olive branch. Things would get heated and we’d sulk with no solution in sight until one of us reminded the other, “the best thing about being on the road is leaving your troubles behind”. We’d temporarily flee. We’d smoke Parliaments and pipes we made out of apples, listen to Ween’s full discography and chug caffeine, until our troubles caught up with us again the next day.
With every mile I drove I could let go of whatever was weighing on my aching heart just a little bit more. Driving has always been therapeutic for me. It makes me feel alive and grounded and most of all, free. I felt trapped my whole life and it’s not because of anything bad that happened. It’s just that my relentless, unyielding sense of adventure makes me want to regularly escape the current moment in search of something more satisfying. Who doesn’t want to leave their troubles behind?
I can remember the first time I drove a car alone after getting my driver’s license. It was a silver Ford Escort ZX-2 that my mom was adamant was not mine, though I could sometimes, maybe, use it. Driving was a privilege–not a right. I can still smell the cow manure from the farms near my house and feel the wind in my hair and the wind tears in my eyes. The way my old familiar neighborhood passed by as I drove was as if I were seeing it with new eyes. I felt like I had been waiting my whole life for that first joy ride.
I still get that feeling when I’m driving. Pure unadulterated freedom. Maybe not in the rush hour commute to work on a Monday morning or when I’m circling a trendy neighborhood for 30 minutes desperately seeking a parking spot while I have to pee, but the feeling never really leaves me.
I can taste it now, over a decade later, as I cruise down these winding country roads. I could be anywhere on any country highway where there is no passing lane, where I’m in no rush but still ride up against every car in front of me until they pull over at a turn-out so I can pass them with reckless abandon. That’s the comforting thing about roads, they’re pretty much always the same. The scenery changes but scenery only matters when you’re a passenger. As a driver I don’t take in anything but the road ahead of me. It calms me down, helps me remember who I am, helps me regulate my swirling ocean of emotions in ways nothing else can. Who needs therapy when you have the open road? Why pay a stranger to excruciatingly rehash everything traumatic that’s ever happened to you, when the road just knows without having to say a word? When I can just get in my car and drive a few hours in any given direction? So that’s what I’m doing.
There’s only one radio station coming in and it’s playing a show called “Trading Time” where people call in to advertise items they are trying to get rid of or things they are looking to acquire. I wonder what troubles I’m trying to leave behind on this drive.
The first caller is an older woman named Shirley, “I took a sheep shearing class awhile back but I flunked it and I have a shearing machine for $200. I only used it a few times because I flunked the class.” I couldn’t tell by her tone if she was embarrassed by flunking her sheep shearing class or tickled pink. If she was saying, “that’s the last time I try something new” with a sad sort of resignation, or if she was slapping her knee in laughter and it was that one story she told everyone she talked to. As if it were the most interesting thing about her entire life, and she was telling the cashier at the grocery store and the bank teller how she once took a sheep shearing class and fucking failed.
People were getting rid of normal country livin’ things like chainsaws, beekeeper kits, sliding glass doors and portable generators, as I passed the name of a town with a sign that said POPULATION: 67.
Eventually I tuned out as I entered a Redwoods grove, and mentally went over “the facts”. I met a man four months ago. Initially I didn’t seem to have much of a vested interest in him. It wasn’t about him, I just wasn’t interested in dating anyone at the time. I was “dating myself”.
Somewhere along this shockingly short timeline we fell in love. I didn’t plan it, but I guess that’s what happens when your heart is open to new experiences. I blame Berlin–it was my solo trip to Berlin in the dead of winter. In Berlin, where I drank oat milk lattes to stay warm and decided to pick up smoking again just for the week (when in Rome) and barely spoke to another soul outside of my tattoo artists. In Berlin, where I wrote him emails from my phone whenever I had wifi and when I didn’t, I wrote him essays in my journal that I later retyped on my phone and sent by email. It seemed I had found my muse.
It felt timeless to be writing love letters from overseas, like he was drafted in the war and this was our only way to communicate, except it’s 2018 and they were emails not letters, and really I was just lost in the romance of words. When I got back to California he picked me up from the airport with belated Valentine’s Day gifts. It got gushy and wasn’t long before the I LOVE YOU’s bursted out of our mouths. I tried to hold it in just a little bit longer, but shit–you only live once.
Now here I am, driving, alone, trying to “figure it out”. The thing is, people talk about falling in love and people talk about being in love (and still more talk about falling out of love but let’s not get ahead of ourselves here) No one really talks about that space in between the falling in love and the being in love. Maybe I didn’t even realize it exists until this drive. But it exists.
You don’t just fall in love and then you’re automatically in love. There’s a transition, a space in between, a gray area. Like you’re free-falling in love, wild with passion, out of control, and then right before you hit the ground that is reality you sort of freeze and hover. Not for long, but it happens. I can feel myself hovering now with every mile marker I pass by. Sitting in Limbo, waiting for a sign that I’m officially “in love” and not still “falling”, instead of a sign that says “Narrow Bridge Ahead” or “Caution” around the next bend.
It feels like coming down from drugs. Like it’s 7am and the party’s over or the party’s just beginning again, but I’m finally coming down off a cocktail of chemicals and feel both like I desperately need more ASAP and that I’m secretly glad that reality is coming back. I want to call into Trading Time and ask if anyone knows how to stay perma-falling in love and how much it costs. I wanna trade this time right now for time a few weeks ago when it felt like nothing else mattered except kissing each other. I wanna trade this time right now for before we ever met, before my heart felt all tangled up in his, before this bout of stagefright existed.
Part of me wants that intoxicating bliss all the time forever and ever until my dying day, and the other part is like phew, that was intense. Let’s just have a boring life and forget to call each other to say goodnight and pee in front of each other and have mediocre, non-transcendent sex. That sounds less risky.
This is my first Saturday away from him since the day I got back from Berlin six weeks ago, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss him and wish he were sitting shotgun. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared that maybe things are going to be different now. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared that maybe I haven’t learned how not to flee, that I don’t have what it takes to stay the course.
What happens if falling in love doesn’t lead to being in love?
What if sometimes, the fall is all you get?
Maybe I’ll just keep driving. Right now I’m on a “Need To Know” basis with the Universe and it turns out, right now, all I need to know is how to drive.
P.S. he BROKE UP WITH ME 3 days later
…but at least my WRITER’S BLOCK is gone
Did you miss Part 1: Scheherazade in Love?