I sat, hands gripping the wheel, careening though the dark, awaiting sunrise. We had been driving for hours, and for hours more we would drive. You tend to abandon hope on drives this long. You accept that this is your new life. Thoughts of stretching your legs or anticipation for arriving have no place here. They’ll make you anxious and extend time. Although it’s not precisely that you want to shrink time either. Sleeping or watching movies might give the appearance of time well passed….but after you’ve watched 3 movies and aren’t even halfway there, you realize that all you’ve done is sedate yourself for half a day and now must pay the consequences.
What is better is to ride the line between expanding and shrinking time. Experience it only moment by moment. Ride the Tao. In the first hours of the trip, we did this naturally. We centered ourselves around a single conversation, holding the idea in the space between the four of us. We sculpted and shaped the thought together. When it had taken solid form, we let it dissipate. We shared stories, and we recalled memories. Our conversation meandered to and fro, taking on the force of a sweeping river. We let it pull us along, guiding our attention between its banks.
Eventually, that mighty river dwindled into small separate streams that would merge and fork as we paired up, let alone, rejoined and drifted off. We settled into a quiet place, with each of us looking pensively out the window. If a thought came to mind, we might share it, but just as often we’d let it pass.
But now it was dark. I gripped the steering wheel, my eyes shot forward, my hands made lilting corrections to the bends and eddies. Everyone was asleep. We’d had a long day, and they certainly deserved it. I’d had about as much conversation as I could handle, so I didn’t blame them for not keeping me company. I thought about how driving at night feels like you’re flying through space. Especially when it’s snowing. The snowflakes streaming past become stars streaking by as you ramp up to light speed. They fly directly toward you before veering off at the last instant to dodge the windshield. So familiar. I must have experienced this illusion hundreds of times.
I let my eyes rest on the dotted white line. I tried counting its tempo. Dividing this highway from its opposite was a series of green posts, spaced at even intervals. Moving at this speed, if you look forward and across the highway, all you can see is a green wall. However, if you look directly sideways across, you can see the other side coated in a green blur. I always wondered about that. The regular tempo of the dotted line and the ambulation of tail lights ahead of me was a visual lullaby. I felt my eyes droop.
I could hardly blame myself, but now wasn’t the time for sleep. Though driving like this hardly requires the attention of full consciousness. Driving like this is a packet of blood cells pulsing through veins, influencing and colliding around each other while the whole group is shuttled forward. You just give into the crowd and follow the flow. I thought about the light speed snowflakes, so familiar. It recalled me to nights driving home from my cousin’s house after a family gathering. I’d be so tired I could only keep my eyes slightly ajar. Open enough to see stars careening past my window while I shivered in my boots as the car started to heat up.
There is a feeling your body gets when you thaw out from intense cold. The sensation comes back to your limbs, and your spine tingles this wonderful electric feeling. Your fingertips go slightly numb, and your feet ache with pins and needles. You press your hands into your face and notice that somehow your nose is degrees colder than any other part of you. Your body becomes a cat stretching in front of a fireplace, cozying up against the arm of a chair and humming deeply.
This is how I felt after playing with my childhood best friend. We’d play this game on a frozen pond where two face of against each other wielding shovels. The object was to put the other on their butt by whatever means necessary. Shovel wars we called it; the game taught us how to fall. At some point I stopped hanging out with that friend…why was that?
It was one day at lunch, I decided not to sit at our usual table. That day, I decided I would sit with friends from the basketball team. Why did I do that? Every day after that, I did the same. Somehow, that was the symbolic gesture of departure that lead me away from my best friend and toward new frontiers. I think that was partly what guided me to my first attempt at having a girlfriend. I wasn’t really sure what that meant, but it sounded nice and she was pretty. I never told my mom; I was too embarrassed. I sat with her at football games with my arm around her waist, though we rarely carried any kind of conversation. The feeling of my arm touching her waist was bliss as far as I was concerned.
I suppose I’ve come along way since then. I’ve gone on dates; I’ve known some women deeply, and I’ve learned from them. I think its true that from the time I was 6 years old, I’ve always had a person. A best friend, a most valued human. The person would change, but the feeling of immense closeness was always there. I walked myself through each of those persons. It was my cousin, then it was that childhood best friend, then it was a new friend, then my cousin again, and a new one, and then the friend toward whom I was now shuttling across highway, and then there was a girlfriend, then a best friend, then a girlfriend, then a best friend and on and on. I thought about each person. What it was like to be around them, how I handled myself near them.
And now that is no longer true about me. My sense of self is not invested in a person at this point in time. I wonder what that means?
It was in this fashion that my mind unfurled, unfolded, unmeshed itself for me. It became this archipelago of clouds which I could flow between with utter fluidity. Every memory I possessed revealed itself to me. I remembered my footsteps on the gym floor and pounding basketballs. I remembered playing cribbage with my father while he smoked cigarettes and listening to my mother read A Wrinkle in Time. I remembered diving into the water to search for my drowned cousin’s body. I felt myself again sitting on my grandmother’s lap while she sang to me about the Red River Valley. I was again stepping out of a tent, greeted by a thin coat of frost and a cup of warm coffee brewed over a pine needle fire. How I would walk slowly to the light switch at the other end of my grandparent’s basement, eye up the stairs, wrench the switch off and sprint up the stairs before the darkness and its creatures could catch up to me.
All these memories, did I recall, and each brought more with it. They bubbled forth as if from a spring sourced by an erratic aquifer. I felt myself walking through the jungle of Peru, every pore of my skin coated in sweat as I hacked away at a branch, revealing the home of a type of bees which would lick the sweat off you for food, and leave a small bite in payment. And there I sat, mind fried from watching all of the Lord of the Rings consecutively with an empty snack bowl and crumbs of Cheetos blazing orange on my chest. I recalled two boys and a father flying a kite in the fading light of Arashiyama. And the sinking feeling of entering a tiny, cluttered room as we returned to America, where we sobbed until we accepted that Japan was just a beautiful memory. I remembered overturning a canoe in a flooding river and being stranded for the night on an island shivering together with two people per damp sleeping bag.
My memories became quite quiet. Looking out over skyline parkway and wondering what happens after high school. Crying in my room on my 13th birthday because my cousin threw their own birthday party at my house (even though their birthday wasn’t for a week!). I recalled how long the days seemed that first week of college. Looking up into swaying tree branches from a swinging hammock. And I remembered my mother smiling.
There were memories which I could not recount. That I had no access to. The years surrounding my parent’s divorce, for instance, I have no recollection of. I remember before, and I remember after, but there is no during. I don’t suspect myself of repressing those memories, but rather of not having encoded them in the first place.
Neither could I relive long stretches of nihilistic blues I’ve experienced throughout college. Sure, I recall that they are there, but I cannot really feel them until they come back. During those stretches, I tend not to encode my experiences deeply and they become bland patches on my life’s fabric. However, those experiences which impacted me I could relive intensely. Every death, every first kiss, every flash of white anger, bouts of intense sadness, and mornings of beaming joy.
I rode this river for a time I could not count. Over the course of that dream, I examined my memories. I let them play out, I reorganized and restructured. I aligned them in small arcs and wove them together into a larger narrative. In the end, I had one thought float above many others. I’ve lived few years, but I’ve lived them well.
Eventually, sunrise came to break my reverie. I heard my friends begin to stir. After a long pause and no small measure of groaning, one of them sat upright. “Good morning, my boy” he said sleepily. “Heyyyo, heyyo,” I replied. We both laughed somewhat silently and sped on across the pavement.