the (often) meandering travels of a student anthropologist
The month of March I melted into a blended world. I had not ventured back to Texas in over a decade. I was just getting reacquainted with a nephew who in my mind's eye stopped aging at eight–and now would always be eighteen.
Living in the driveway would prove to be an apt metaphor; a physical corollary to my internal world during this time.
I hovered on the edges of a family encircled in grief. I functioned from a quasi-independent state oddly perched between the childhood we all revert to around our parents, and despite my best efforts to the contrary, being identified at my nephew's funeral as "that cool hippie chick."
I drank too much scotch at afternoon tea, indulged in bubble baths, and washed the desert dirt out of every bit of material I could unfasten from Juno's interior. I peed in a plastic Folger's can at night so I wouldn't fill up–and have to find a place to empty–my black tank. I would surreptitiously bring it in for emptying during the spaces between comings and goings.
Nervously, I would make runs in my dad's expensive new car to the nearby H-E-B grocery store. I discovered fresh tortillas with the taste of corn but the pliancy of wheat. I also bought food I wouldn't use and instead tried to find ways, despite my inadequacy as a cook, to contribute to the meals I would always have inside.
Once I drove the shiny black sedan-truck hybrid through downtown Houston and its maze of freeways. My father had his eyes dilated after an eye appointment, so I took over the wheel. We went first to Spec's–a foodie and liquor aficionado's candy store. We filled a buggy with discounted wine, sherry, chocolate-covered figs, and blood pudding for my English step-mum, and then made our way on to the Men's Wearhouse. The request had been made for us all to wear something green to the funeral in honor of my nephew's favorite color. My dad picked out a new tie and boutonniere.
We talked, and we didn't talk, as I drove.
Once upon a time those roads were familiar trajectories through my free-spirited adolescence, but now they reflected back only flatness without depth; self undone and wiped clean. Whoever I was before I left on this journey was offstage. Whatever scripts I knew by heart were now useless.
We went out to eat often, sometimes a requirement of the situation, but at other times I suspected it was an attempt at normalcy. We had sausages and sauerkraut at a car lot cafe, sushi at my nephew's once-favorite Asian restaurant, and fried fish at the Catholic church's Friday night fundraiser. Too many times, perhaps, I would beg off. I tried to stick to the schedule I'd developed in the desert, rising in the early hours to write and then buttoning up by six or seven in the evening. I would draw the curtains, crawl into pajamas, and snuggle into the loft to lose myself in word puzzles on my iPad. It was self-defense against the surge of faces and raw emotions, and I was gratified to find it honored (with only minimal teasing).
Freyja and I settled into a routine of walks around the neighborhood and Shillelagh adjusted to the constant foot traffic coming and going by our screen door, even coming up to greet people in the last week. In the afternoons Freyja was invited inside for tea, and soon became my father's constant shadow as he plied her with treats. I tried, and failed, to write. Mostly I hovered. Once I saved the day when I found another nephew's chicken that eluded a neighbor's Chihuahua to find a new hiding place in the nearby park.
I waited as long as I could.
I timed my exit; leaving between the spring storms that are famous for spawning tornadoes as they roll across the south.
The first night I stayed at a Boondocker's Welcome host in southern Louisiana. Wildflowers bloomed on the roadsides, and the suburban farm I stayed at offered solitude. I begged off socializing with my hosts (which they assured me was fine), took photos, and tried to reassemble myself in the humid night. Sounded good in theory, but it proved impossible in practice. Putting myself back together would have to wait a few more days.
The following night I found myself in a Walmart in the middle of Georgia and on that last day, counted the miles and hours until I was home. Except for a corvette that tried to eat my back bumper as I gracelessly crossed five lanes of traffic to make an exit, it was an uneventful journey. I ate a bag full of klobasneks before leaving Texas and, tempting the fates, the rest of the way subsisted on things I found in gas stations. I was ready to be home, and except for avoiding the Lake Charles 'crossed guns' bridge, which I hate even in a car, I kept to the straightest trajectories between A and B.
It was good to be home, but for several weeks I continued to feel out of sync as I fell back into old routines.
Freyja and I took up our morning walks on streets that looked the same. Everything was intimately familiar, yet I saw it with new eyes. Slowly I came to understand that I was the one changed. Perhaps not perceptibly. I still stutter in social situations. Anxiety continues to dog my footsteps, as well as the diametrically opposed need to still graze on the other side of the fence. I whine. I am still impatient.
However, I no longer feel like I'm living in a coffin, listening as the nails are being slowly, and infuriatingly, tapped in, day after day. My life is no longer measured in what has passed me by. The mere thought of getting on an airplane doesn't produce a sweat. And, I know now–and not just intellectually, but because I lived it–that this idea that the"world out there is a scary place" and populated "by uncaring people" is a myth.
It's not people "out there" that are threatening. It's the labels that we've pinned on them that are responsible for our contemporary monsters.
Which is not to say bad things don't happen, but they actually don't happen that often. And, I've come to know in my gut, not just in my head, that those things–those terrible things–are simply out of my control. It does no good to hide behind locked doors. They will find me whether I'm at home, or on the road. To live in fear, or rather to not live, to scurry about unchallenged and untested, is to devolve. It is a waste of my precious time.
To coin a well known snippet of classic literature, this is the last of my adventure "there and back again." By no means comprehensive, this first series of posts was never meant to be; only proof that "I did it." It is my badge of completion that allows me continued entrance into the world of the rubber tramps.
Because, this project isn't about me. It is about the women that live this life every day, traveling with the sun, and experiencing the road as intimately as breathing. They do not return, but continue to live circular lives in spaces they create, that evaporate in the rear view mirror, and that they then recreate, day after day.
Stay tuned. I will begin publishing their stories this summer.