Yeah, don’t know what to say. Here’s what I’m working on currently. But yeah, cut me some slack. Just look at the cat in the photo above. Cute, right? The cat’s not doing anything, just relaxing, taking a nap. Kind of like how I’m just trying to relax, maybe take a nap, or–I don’t now where I was going with this but, yeah, now I really want to take a nap.
I leave a note, unsure if anyone will notice. Really, I wouldn’t care if they did. But then five miles out, I find the note in my pocket, unfinished and unaddressed, and I wrestle with the urge to turn back. I tell myself that I don’t care, because it’s true—I don’t. Look at me: I don’t care. I’ll stay true to the left lane and in no time, I’ll find somewhere else to crash, where I can breathe easy, and the streets and storefronts mean nothing to me. Surely I can manage that—but still, there’s something about how a single thought can repeat itself in your head over and over until it’s all you can think about. It’s enough to drive a person mad. It lingers, and that’s what convinces me to turn back.
I don’t have any interest in carrying anything along with me—not a memento, not even a mood. It’s a late or early, depending on who you are and the life you lead. If you ask me, I find nothing better than these late nights, the fraction of time where everything slows and the sky, it isn’t sure whether to reveal itself, a solemn blue, or remain bashful, ashamed.
This far out, with only half a tank of gas and the sixty, maybe seventy if I counted all the change I’ve tossed in the glove compartment, my chances are that I’ll get about as far as the city limits. I’ll pass the theme parks and the random strip malls until all I see is the road. And the road continues for as long as I want.
This isn’t really even my car. I mean, it was given to me, but I didn’t pay for it. My name might be on the title, but someone else, who will remain nameless, pays for the insurance, paid it off, and has paid to keep it well-maintained. Does this mean I’m driving a stolen car?
Yeah, okay—I’m turning around. It’s different, the feeling of returning rather than departure. Leaving feels almost hopeful, bittersweet if you let it sink in; you are the one leaving. You are the one moving on. You are the one carrying everything you own, everything you consider a part of you, away from where everything used to make sense.
Look in the backseat and see that I’ve got one duffel bag and a laptop.
What do I really have? What am I really worth?
This road returns to me a series of memories that I almost felt were missing. The street corner where I stood around drinking from a bottle in a paper bag, with people I could have called friends if I stuck around long enough to remember their names; they went on about the show we had just been to, a show by some local band I can’t remember but, strangely, still hear their songs echoing through my mind. I hear one now, the same sequence, repeating—These words invade, are the only sound… that you’ll hear from me. The band, hometown heroes, and they were all excited.
What happened, I don’t know.
On either side, there are whole stories where I could easily play a small part—I know for certain that I’ve watched a few films at that Regal theatre there; you bet I could be one of those people standing around at that Planet Smoothie across the street, wasting time before show time. Sushi Hanna, that sushi place where I’d go to sit at the bar there, mostly because it was quieter than the other nearby locations, able to sit and have a drink and never get carded. Maybe because they remembered me, but more likely because they really needed the business.
No matter that a whole year has passed without much momentum. Something holds me down, keeps me here. Well tonight is different. Tonight I leave. The strip malls are sprinkled amidst different suburban neighborhoods. Everything’s green, planned out, cul de sac, roundabout, floral street names, the road itself, continuing to bend and buckle as it carves through the manmade wasteland. If I keep going, eventually I’ll see vacant lots, which I imagine used to be forested before the trees were cut down and cleared out in anticipation of more strip malls and neighborhoods and amenities.
Really I haven’t been anywhere but still, I have that inclination that wherever this road takes me, it’ll all be the same.
The belief that I got enough: I have purpose in my step, a song in my heart, a fire inside, the motivation to take this road to its end. I’m going and nothing’s going to stop me. I just want to be free. I just want to be me. Isn’t that all a person ever really asks for?
I pull up to the house, putting the coupe into park, doing my best not to make a sound. Not that it matters. Lightless inside, they’re all asleep. They’ve been asleep since nine. How predictable. So much to see and do and yet it never changes—their routine outlined to occupy a small little sliver of the world. I guess I’m a little resentful. Baseless, perhaps. Maybe not—but that’s not up to me to decide. I feel what I feel and I know what I want to do. It doesn’t involve wasting another year here.
I have to get my shit together.
And how can I do that if I stay here, doing what—taking online classes, going to community college? That road goes in circles. It goes nowhere. It’ll end with me living, at best, a few miles away in some apartment, with a roommate that I do my best to avoid, while I work some job I don’t care about, one that pays the bills but doesn’t give me any pride in what I do or promise in life.
Yeah, not for me.
After a minute, I kill the engine. I pick up and read the letter, angling it away from me slightly to catch the nearby streetlight. It reads exactly like what it is—an angry letter written by a self-proclaimed runaway.
What am I running away from?
I’ve run away from things for a long time. Can’t say much else has changed. I haven’t committed to anything but my own ambitions, and those, they wear on me so heavily, you bet I’m thinking about them right now. What I should be doing. And most of my childhood, I was all about the convenient escapes—videogames, comics, and movies. But mostly videogames. I bought and sold and built up serious credit card debt just trying to keep away. But what do you expect from a kid that cared more about Mortal Kombat than making some basketball team.
Where I’m going, credit cards need a name. Where I’m going, credit cards are about as valuable as the plastic used to cut the cards.
The house, and everything inside, all of it—there’s a past here. It’s mine, and I really should go back inside. No reason not to. There’s a bed, a whole room full of memories I’d never admit to anyone as being full of nostalgia, the sort that could take hold, keeping me in the moment longer than I’d like. It’s the sort of feeling that makes me feel like, sure—maybe I could get used to this. So instead, I break free, doing my best to never let it become an important part of me.
The letter’s embarrassing but it gets one thing right:
I can’t get used to this.
I’d be twenty people if that were what it took to be alone with my thoughts, capable of getting where the going got real tough. I want the worst, if only to help weigh in on what I need right now. I need to feel like there’s something more, feel like I am actually getting somewhere. I have an idea of what that might be, and it’s a collision course of rejection and anonymity that lengthens to stretch past the road. Depending on who you are, it might go on for longer than your lifetime. I’m talking about the struggle. Yeah, struggling artist, a cliche. I wrote that in the letter. Part of the reason to leave.
I tear up the letter and let the pieces fall into my lap. I watch one particularly small piece get picked up by a gentle gust of wind, carried out the passenger side window.
I watch it disappear and think about my own disappearance. Surely there hasn’t been just the one. My life is a series of disappearances. And it’s my hope that there’ll be plenty more.
One day, I’ll wash up to the surface as someone you’d never expect.