I can see the weariness dragging their face down, down, down, into a dark chamber where sleep waited patiently to welcome them. ” We’ve been here long enough,” I tell them to start the engine and it hums to life with an indignant snarl. I utter a quick apology; our abandonment and neglect of Darth Vader inexcusable, especially since it has been so long since it has been taken out for a ride. I do not think it has forgiven me for replacing it with Red Ranger and the others too; it shows as the wheels squeak across the pavement, reluctant to move, to get out of the comfortable chair and walk its old, stiff bones into the kitchen.
I tell them to take the back roads, and they don’t question me; they either lack the strength to put forth any more words, reaching their maximum quota for the day, or they genuinely do not have anything more to say. Sometimes, that is good. Silence allows us to be alone, with thoughts or dreams too disjointed yet crave to connect.
“I don’t think people enjoy the quiet, empty roads enough,” I say as we leave the divide between the poor and the working class behind, the musty houses and prestigious university shrinking into a dot. The hustling highway fades, the three lanes condensing into two, then one, and towering trees pop up like giants, replacing the urban and suburban peasants and knights which scurry back further and further. ” I always see them speeding, pressing their foot to the pedal as the skirt around a car going too slow for their liking. Their minds are going a million miles a minute, not stopping to see what’s in front of them, preferring instead to go beyond.”
” Do you think that is because maybe they can’t afford to stop?” they ask and I pause, the idea having once occurred to me until it became lost among the privileged relics I kept in an attic. ” For some people, they can’t leave. They can’t go and look for a slice of quiet and can only keep forging ahead.”
” That is true,” I say,” But even then they must cope. They have the strength, but where does it come from? Maybe not the silent nights spent a thousand miles away. Perhaps it’s five feet from the doorstep, or a step inside a closet.”
The world is full of noise. It isn’t possible to ignore it, but the only way to think is to walk through an empty field, listening to the wind gently stroke through the leaves that change from green to orange to an astounding gold. I have traveled numerous times, and I have driven circles and circles around the vast land, barely scratching the surface. To break from the noise and have any sort of peace, I drove through quiet small towns and one lane roads slithering like a snake across rivers and lakes, mountains and forest. None of them talk back, only whisper soothingly, trying to lure me into the water to swim and cleanse my soul of the turmoil constantly breaking and patching, breaking and patching; or into the trees to climb the ladder into the stars, into the universe which will sweep me away from what I am terrified of most: people.
“Why are people so scary?” Their vulnerability is raw, exposed. I want to wrap my arms around myself, to give them the warmth they are so desperately, but I cannot. For one, I cannot change things too much, I cannot step on too many butterflies. Secondly, I’d distract them from the road and we’d go flying, landing like flies once they’ve been smacked with a swatter.
“Because people are unpredictable. It’s much easier to go skydiving or skiing or rock climbing because you know what is going to happen. You know your chances are good at surviving, and you know there are chances that something bad could happen. It’s cut cleanly. People, however, make it so much harder to see the good and the bad, sometimes putting on a mask to hide behind. Out here, out on the open road, you can see everything exactly how it is; the only things that are hidden are the places you haven’t stretched you mind to venture into.”
For years and years, I have spent most of my travels by driving, a luxury I didn’t think as a luxury but now realize it’s a precious gift I can do without something awful happening. Although there was a night, a night which could have gone in a different direction if it weren’t for the color of my skin, where I got pulled over on the pretense of a broken tag light. Without further explanation, I’m told to exit Darth Vader and look at the officer as he passes a light over my eyes. Then I’m told to walk a straight line, heel to toe, and I am baffled because I hadn’t had a single drink. While I am doing this, another vehicle pulls up and out comes another officer followed by a German shepherd. After asking me where I’ve been, they search my car. I was too dumbfounded to be scared, and only much later I realized I should have been.
I was lucky that I left with only a warning.
I was lucky that was all they did.
“Somewhere out there someone whose skin happens to be blacker than mine, or whose face and body is more appealing than mine, is being detained, a horny officer deciding to have some fun; or worse, killed, as something inside the officer tells him to be afraid when there is nothing to be afraid of. I was lucky where others were not. And knowing that now fills me with rage.”
They throw me in A room With white walls White floors White lights gleaming Unevenly With faces whose eyes Are empty Or filled of a rage No one can see. They throw me in A room With broken animals Screaming to get out Of a cage with Little air to breathe and Little tasteless pills To take Every hour of every day to Keep our thoughts From taking over and Leaving us with scars We can never forget. They throw me in A room With white walls and White floors And a face not As feral as the others And it watches, it searches For something in my eyes That tells them that I Don't need to be caged As long as the others.
” I don’t know why I still trust, especially what happened after New York,” I mutter, not thinking and believing they wouldn’t hear me.
“What happened in New York?” They have been writing and driving, two things that should not be done simultaneously, but who am I to berate myself? Besides, exhaustion is draining me, leaving my voice nearly powerless.
“That is a story for another time, or a story to remain lost in the fabric of time,” I say rather dramatically. Apparently, weariness gives me a bit of flair. ” All I can say is that no matter what keeps coming out of Pandora’s box, there is always a piece of hope that stays. It is faint, but it is there. What kind of hope is anyone’s guess.”
I’m sorry, I am getting off track, following the cobbled paths into a mystical wood whose magic draws me to the waterfalls. It happens; my mind drifts like a cloud when it is away from the noise and chaos of civilization. The early evening sky can be mesmerizing, with the last of the day’s light parting a gift on its way out and illuminating the darkest folds with a glinting gold. Often I miss these folds, not paying enough attention because my thoughts are consumed by wild dreams or worries I cannot solve. But it is never too late to discover these folds, even if many, many, many others have already known about them. There is no shame in seeing the field of purple lilacs for the first time even though the farmer has been living in it for years because it can take awhile for the fog to clear, for the sun to shine on that particular spot, and anyone who shames me for it is not worth spending my time.
You will see, I want to tell myself but know I must refrain. Their hair sticks out from beneath the hoodie and it is long and thick, not yet short and shaggy in that loose, untamed way where freedom is indulged and the judgement of others is ignored. You will see it is better to be alone, to be among the trees and mountains, rivers and seas, than it is to be among those who make you feel bad, feel like you cannot be yourself.
” You know,” I begin instead, ” I have drove a lot, sometimes for people as they stumble out of bars or sometimes when I go for games and matches up north or south. Not too far west, however, and I am disappointed that I haven’t covered enough ground. There is still so much to see and learn; there will always be so much to see and learn, and if you don’t ever think that, then it’s going to be so much harder to find the acceptance you seek when you don’t accept anything else. But for two years I have driven around a place I thought I new with a young kid, taking him to places he needed and wanted to go, acting almost like a chauffeur. At the time, I was aggravated with all the driving, but I shouldn’t have been.”
It is not just the fog lifting or the sun exposing what laid hidden under a thin veil, but another person. The right person. I drove along roads over bridges overlooking a river, along winding passes that avoided noise and congestion, and along single streets that revealed a town I have never seen before, or at least never bothered to enter. While searching for a toy store in Havre de Grace, I was snarled like a fish in a net in its quaint charm. Off past a commercial shopping center right off the middle of suburbia was an antique shops, its artifacts ranging from old comic books to typewriters. With each new route I learned, I was able to go back and drive it again, watching and dreaming and thinking, my mind ever expanding and stretching like a slinky- except without the snap back.
Sometimes I’d stop and get out, climbing over the wall and dropping onto a trail, or find a parking spot and wander through the historic Ellicott City, admiring the old stone framework while dipping a head in the Wiccan shop where all the different stones supposedly have curative powers for all sorts of ailments. Sometimes I’d be hungry and pull over to eat somewhere, anywhere, that wasn’t a standard Mcdonald’s. The downside to eating alone, as I’ve discovered through various pit stops in areas I was trying to know as a friend, was that I can’t go to the bathroom or else the busboy will start clearing the table and give my seat away to someone else.
” I am sorry, I am rambling,” I rub my eyes, but the tiredness sticks, a sticker too attached to the wall.
” No, I like it,” they say quietly. ” You know, I’m glad I came, even if you don’t make sense half the time.”
” Nothing makes sense, and you’re either get a migraine or have too much fun trying to make sense out of nothing,” I grumble before drifting off to sleep.
“Um, do you know where I can turn around? I think I accidentally took the exit towards Colorado…”