The Long and Windy Road
Road trips are my passion, but today the ride seems interminable. Hunkered in the shotgun seat, my fingers search out buttons buried in the darkness, pulling, tugging, pushing to find just the right degree of torsion to press against my lower back. A man I know perhaps too well sits smoldering in the driver’s seat, his breathing clenched and tight. At any moment I think he will erupt. I am waiting.
A gorgeous fall day; the air is crisp and fluid. A soft wind blows, cleansing the air around me and releasing the taut feeling that days in the office, running and rushing to and fro, have left behind. The leaves are on the verge of turning, speckles of russet and grey dot the landscape, their papery dryness a remnant of the summer’s drought.
“Asshole! That jerk doesn’t know how to drive.” Mentally I shush him, shamed by his eruption, so close beneath the surface. I dare not speak, knowing that anything I say will incite him, his reserve cracking like an egg shell and then he will let me have it. I assess: Do I want a fight? Am I ready? Not yet. Still relaxing and releasing and enjoying the view, I breathe in, and then breathe out. I hope the tension will pass.
It has seemed like a long stretch, those weeks of time between the end of summer and breaking in the new year. Everything happens quickly. You think you still have the vacation reserve of freshness, then all of a sudden you don’t. It’s way too soon to think of another break. But this year feels a bit grimmer than it ought to. Is it our empty nest? The finality of the children’s departure, that started several years ago, taking shape as we realize with certainty they’re not coming back? Or is it some awareness of our own aging which we can no longer escape. Teach us to number our days so that we may gain a heart of wisdom, I think the saying goes. But numeric ordering seems only to morph what was once infinite into a finite amount. One can only count so far. I feel a chill of fear.
Looking out the window, I search for greenness but now, as we drive further north, I see only brown. It is a dull brown, a dry sage color drained by the unending and ominous heat of the previous season. My thoughts seared and confined by a sense of limit, I ask, “Are we almost there?”
With this, I turn back to the man sitting beside me. A rush of feeling grabs my chest and all of a sudden I sense his pain. He too must be feeling this, this loss. One season ending into another, the vast expanse of time collapsing as he too contends with what was once there and is now gone. Suddenly, the black nubby texture of his leather jacket seems oddly inviting. I want to smell it, even rest my cheek on it.
I click on the radio: the sounds of the Beatles waft into the space between us. At once we perk up, united in pleasure and memory. Tension melting, we sing together, energized and youthful:
When I wake up early in the morning, Lift my head, I’m still yawning When I’m in the middle of a dream
Stay in bed, float up stream…
Please don’t spoil my day I’m miles away And after all I’m only sleeping
Dreaming again, the past alive within the present, for the moment, we own the universe. Exuberance and opportunity lie ahead of us on the road, perhaps just off the next exit. The open-ended sense of possibility lifts our spirits and brings us back to another time, the moment alive within us. We smile at each other. Not dead yet, I think to myself.
We drive on.