Tuesday, August 3, 2004

"I've been driving a lot."

Today I drove.
It was the most important thing I've done in a while.

I realized many things in the time it took my gas needle to sink from half empty to quarter full.

I leave the house, my hands damp with the humidity and heat, fingers pressing the flip-key of the Volkswagen. And as if in slow motion, I move down my steps unevenly jumping two at a time (clip-clop, clip-clop).

I unlock the door just before my hand reaches for the arched handle of the car. Slipping into the hot seat, the faux leather burns my thighs and bare arms. I turn the key in the ignition, roll down my windows, and turn on my music.

Usually I complete this expected and framed moment by tearing my hairband out of my hair, pulling my sunglasses over my eyes and immediately putting my hand on the gearshift and my foot on the clutch. I'm ready.

Each turn is decided by whim. I veer toward the unknown, the blind corners, the shadows, green hills lined with the ribbon of black pavement at their crests.

I want to be somewhere unknown, where no one knows me. When I find those places, I photograph it. I make those places mine.

Sometimes its the stark contrast of color that draws me: the seering green against a brilliantly ominous sky or the toffee color of thrushed wheat.

Sometimes its the people: the old man sitting in his lawn chair on the main street of an impoverished town, his two scrawny granddaughters bent over in gutter, playing in their worn swimsuits in the dilapidated concrete and dirt, a light blue 1960 Ford pickup truck parked alongside the old man's store that is marked by an old Coca-Cola sign that has faded from red to orange in the sunlight.

Sometimes its the smells: a bonfire in the country, freshly cut fields, skunks, gasoline, manure, burning rubber, plants crushed underfoot, rain. Each smell fresh as the next and unexpected.

It's enough to see my hand on the wheel in front of me, my thumb anxiously stroking the bumpy surface. Enough to grab the gearshift and move from third to fourth as I peak around that curve. To feel my hair whipped by the wind, stinging my eyes.

Somewhere in the gas needle's descent, I realize it's okay to make decisions and be scared of your future. That nothing is ever final. That even if I go to law school, I can take a year off and do this--drive and think.

I realize, too, that I take memories from the past, and like blocks build something that never existed and can't stand by itself. I've worked too hard to hold this construction up and it's time I let it crumble.

I realize (as I speed by the small airport where Amy's grandfather took her as a little girl to watch the planes take off and bought her an ice cream cone but grass flew into the cone and stuck and her grandfather had laughed but Amy had cried) while I'm in my car, time stops. Location becomes unimportant. I can piece together my past and present and see my future.

I drove by a cemetary today at a stoplight and as I sat idle, I read a gravestone on the hill that read: "Sarah, Died Dec. 23, 1823." I wondered what Sarah thought about at my age and in her time and if she could have gotten in her Beetle and driven hundreds of miles in one summer, if she would have. I then thought about how sad it was she died the day before Christmas Eve. I wondered what she had planned to give to her friends and family.

Later that day, I looked at Christmas ornaments and thought about buying my mom one. I didn't realize the workings of my subconscious until now.

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