I think of the children who will never know, intuitively, that a flower is a plant’s way of making love, or what silence sounds like, or that trees breathe out what we breathe in.
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There isn’t really a reset button for life — a switch you can hit, after you’ve gone through something terrible, that lets you go back to the beginning and start over. But there should be.
When I got sick from a mold sensitivity and eventually lost my home and everything I owned, it didn’t kill me. I had a dumpster brought to my front lawn, and as every mold-infested book and photograph and item of clothing I owned went into it, I was not sad. All I wanted was to feel OK again, and if feeling OK meant losing everything — if it meant I had to experience a miniature death in order to spring back to life — so be it. Take it, I thought, as my past went into the bin. Take it all.
Now I marvel at how little of it I miss — out of a whole house full of possessions! There is one leather belt I occasionally wish I still had, because it was uniquely pretty, and, I am finding, uniquely pretty leather belts are hard to come by. But that’s about it.
Cash is easier to miss. I’ve avoided tabulating the precise amount I spent on treatments and supplements during my long and mysterious illness, because it’s too discouraging. I started to add it all up once, but at $20,000 I lost momentum and decided to take a bath.
I know I’m not alone. Many people get mold sickness and slowly realize that their mycotoxin-laden belongings are detrimental to their health. Or they get Lyme disease that goes undiagnosed for years. Or they’re debilitated by chronic fatigue syndrome, or fibromyalgia, or multiple chemical sensitivity. The ranks of people like me are, sadly, growing every day. I went to nine different doctors, and not one of them could explain my neuropathy, my gastrointestinal dysfunction, my memory loss, my fatigue.
I’m slowly regaining my health, still living by myself in a generic residential hotel. Without a job, I’m aimless. Though I have more energy, and, after years of harrowing illness, I can feel the stirrings of a new beginning, I don’t know where to go or what to do.
Then, one cold New England afternoon, it hits me with the force of something perfectly obvious: I’ll take my dog and go to California.
California is appealing for several reasons: the climate’s great; all three of my younger sisters live there; and it’s far from the familiar. Maybe being somewhere new will help me start over.
Packing is easy. I stick the pile of clothes I’ve bought since I lost everything into a paper bag and bring my ExtraBucks coupons to CVS, where I buy a traveler’s toothbrush, a cooler, and an umbrella. I’m not sure why I need the umbrella, exactly, since I’ll be spending most of my time in a car, but it’s on sale and looks cute, so I add it to my cart.
On the day I’ve chosen to leave, my mother calls. I’m at the Honda dealer, getting my CR-V serviced, which I figure I should do before driving it three thousand miles. I’ve already loaded it with my cooler of organic apple juice, my comforter, my pillow, my aromatherapy oil for musty hotel rooms, and my dog’s paraphernalia. The Honda guys are servicing my loaded vehicle while I circle the parking lot with Josie on her leash. When I see my mother’s number on the phone, I’m not sure I should answer; calls from my mother do not always go well. But I’m in a bold and adventuresome mood, so I do.
“How’s the job hunt going?” she asks.
I tell her the job hunt is on hold. I’ve decided to move to California.
“You what? Is this a joke?”
“I need to go somewhere new.”
“Don’t you think you should get a job before you do anything else?”
I explain that when you have a job, that’s exactly when you can’t drive cross-country, because your employer wants you slicing pickles or plucking chickens or whatever.
When she starts to lecture me again, I interrupt: “Gotta go now, Mom. Bye.”
She’s right. I do need a job. I had a job, a wonderful job as a proofreader for a magazine, but jobs in publishing are disappearing. What’s left are low-paying positions where every day you toil beneath the sword of Damocles. So, after thirteen years, my proofreading job came to an end. Then I got sick and lost all my savings. And now I’m hitting the road and starting over.
My mother has been obsessed with my job status ever since I asked her if I could borrow some money. She said no, because she practices something known as “tough love,” which is really just “tough luck,” but people stick the word love in there to make it sound better. I think it’s unfair of my mother not to give me any of her money, especially since most of it came from my father, who didn’t like her all that much. But what other people choose to do with their money is really none of my business.
My mother isn’t the only person I’ve asked for money. When I was sick, I approached a few friends for help — a gesture my mother referred to as “begging,” adding that I should feel ashamed. But I don’t; I stopped feeling ashamed when I was sick. That was the great gift of my illness.
The car is ready. I open my wallet and try to remember which credit card still has a few crumbs left while reassuring the dog over and over that these men are friends. My ten-pound dachshund thinks it’s her duty to bite any man who comes within three feet of me. I’ve tried to disabuse her of this notion, but she has her own ideas.
I turn to one of the mechanics, whose name tag reads, FRED, and ask him to show me where the spare is stored. While he opens the hatchback, he gives my dog the side-eye.
“Is she friendly?” he asks.
I can feel Josie’s vocal cords rumbling beneath my fingertips.
“Oh, yes,” I say. “Very.”
I stick Josie in her crate, buckle myself in, and unfold my map. Then I fold it up again. What was I thinking when I bought it? Maps have always confused and depressed me. Besides, this isn’t the 1980s. My car has GPS.
I’m going to do the trip in six legs: Boston to Rochester, New York; Rochester to Toledo, Ohio; Toledo to Des Moines, Iowa; Des Moines to Denver, Colorado; Denver to Las Vegas, Nevada; Las Vegas to Los Angeles.
It’s three in the afternoon. A bag of beef jerky sits on the dash. I put the key in the ignition, start the engine, and go.
Boston to Rochester is an easy six-hour haul, I-90 all the way. Driving has always been a contemplative act for me; there’s something about it I find relaxing. I turn on the radio, curious for news of the world. All the stations are discussing politics. I listen for a while, but before long the news becomes discouraging, and I turn it off. The sky is more interesting. In the distance banks of high clouds hover motionless as I speed toward them.
The sun melts into the Massachusetts hills. I leave the radio off. I keep on driving.
By hour five it’s clear that this amount of time on the road is tantamount to a master class in meditation. I roll down the windows, letting the warm air blow through the car. I imagine it blowing through my mind, which feels good, and I think, Yes. Let’s wipe the slate clean, do it right this time.
I attempt to let go of any anger, resentment, or pain; to forgive everyone for everything; to love the earth and all that it contains. I imagine the cluttered thought patterns that have been holding me back as strings of empty beer cans dragging behind my bumper, and with each mile, more of the clattering cans snap off. I’m not sure if this is the proper way to meditate, but it feels right. As the wind whips through the windows, even more beer cans drop away, a whole lifetime’s worth, until my state of consciousness is an open road — no grudges, no enemies, nothing. My hair is flying in all directions (later it will take an hour to get the tangles out), but my mind is clean.
I’m not sure what I’m supposed to think about, now that I’ve achieved this pristine state. Frankly it makes me nervous. What do you feed a virginal brain? I consider trying to recite the Declaration of Independence or understand the maxims of Immanuel Kant or something.
Here I am, free to contemplate anything in the multiverse, and, after a truck passes me sporting images of the mud-flap girl, I find myself thinking about the pole dancer who shares my first name. She came to my attention after several people delicately asked if I did a little pole dancing “on the side.” The third time this happened, I entered “Alethea” into a YouTube search and was soon watching a video of a woman doing this amazing dance. After watching it, I couldn’t believe the people who’d asked had thought that was me. I wanted to go back to them and say, Are you serious? This is the happiest day of my life — that they believed I was capable of doing such things. I’m not athletic. I’m a person who routinely needs help unscrewing the plastic caps off drinks. I don’t think I even understand the science behind pole dancing: Can an object at rest suddenly and spontaneously spiral up a pole? My answer would have been no. Can a woman perform graceful acts of athleticism while wearing ten-inch heels and an outfit made entirely of plastic? Again, I’d have said no. But I’d have been wrong — so wrong.
I pull off at a Citgo station and tell Josie I’ll be right back. Fortunately the breezy September weather is perfect for briefly leaving her in the car. I use the facilities and walk about to get the blood flowing back into my legs. I’m feeling mildly successful. So far, driving cross-country is just like so many other things in life: from the outside, it seems like some big, daunting challenge, but once you’re inside, it’s nothing.
When I get back to the car, the dog has vomited. “Jinky!” I say, using her nickname, and then I snuggle Josie because she looks downcast, as if she’s done something wrong. In spite of her emotional problems, she’s a devoted companion. And smart. True, she sometimes forgets to put her tongue back in her mouth, which doesn’t give the finest impression. But appearances can be deceiving.
I put her in the dog sling that she likes to ride around in — a black canvas sack that resembles a baby carrier — and grab my handy roll of paper towels from the back. I intend to dampen a paper towel with the bottle of water I just bought, but as usual the cap is soldered on, so I have to ask the guy at a nearby pump to twist it off for me. As I approach, holding Josie-Jink, she growls and bares her teeth at him. I smile and cover her eyes with the palm of my hand because it sometimes helps.
After I clean up the vomit, I take the dog for her walk, which involves multiple sniff stops to investigate unsavory items. It pays to be vigilant while walking Jinky; her idea of a good time is to wolf down a six-month-old hot dog when I’m not looking. She seems her usual spunky self despite the vomiting, which is a relief. When she’s done, I fill the tank and slide back into the driver’s seat. Only thirty miles to Rochester, where I’ve booked a pet-friendly motel I found online.
The next morning, freshly showered but wearing the same white T-shirt and blue jeans, I’m on the road again.
Day two starts out upbeat. The sun is shining; my gas tank is full. I wish I could drink a huge, steaming mug of coffee, but that’s forbidden until my adrenal glands have fully recovered from the mold exposure, so I try to imagine myself drinking it, in case that might have a placebo effect.
The morning passes uneventfully, and for lunch I buy a roast-beef sandwich at a truck stop in Erie, Pennsylvania, where they also sell motor oil, elf statues, bikini calendars, and souvenir mugs that say, PENNSYLVANIA: ONCE DELAWARE DIES, WE’LL BE THE OLDEST. The checkout counter is well stocked with lottery tickets and tabloid magazines. A line of people ahead of me in baseball caps and flip-flops wait to buy their packaged snacks. I eye a tabloid that claims John Travolta is being haunted by the ghost of his long-dead love, Diana Hyland, who died in his arms just as Saturday Night Fever was beginning to shoot. I say a quick prayer for Diana Hyland, and one for John Travolta, too.
Back on the road, I’m more than halfway to Toledo. As I merge onto the highway, I notice a bumper sticker on the SUV in front of me: HONK IF YOU LOVE JESUS. TEXT AND DRIVE IF YOU WANT TO MEET HIM. I’d like to take a picture of it for my scrapbook, but I’m already juggling my roast-beef sandwich; my dog, who wants to eat my sandwich; the steering wheel; and a drink. Getting out my cellphone would likely lead to a death-by-phone accident, and that would be too ironic.
When I get to Toledo, I stay in a Country Inn & Suites, and Josie sleeps in the bed with me. She burrows nose-first under the sheets and curls into a crescent moon.
The next day is bright and sunny, but the drive itself is a bore. In the movies driving cross-country is exciting and has a soundtrack. In real life there’s just a whole lot of road. Toledo to Des Moines is a long haul, longer than I expected, and I spend most of it chewing on jerky and trying to come up with a plan for my new life. I need to figure out a way to earn money so I can pay back my friends, while also making rent and buying food.
I could write personalized wedding vows for couples who want something original but don’t want to write it themselves. For a little extra I could put it in iambic pentameter.
I could organize people’s closets for them. As a bonus I’d be willing to go through their kitchen cabinets and make sure all the cans have the labels facing out. I’ve never understood why some people shelve their food with the labels facing every which way. How can they live like that?
I could go to people’s homes, sniff their belongings, and let them know if they have a hidden mold problem. It’s a talent I’ve developed.
As I come up with incredibly viable life plans, the landscape outside is changing: the dirt, the light, the vegetation. The red dust from the road hovers in my rearview like the ghost of the life I’m leaving behind. The empty terrain makes it feel as though I’ve landed on the moon, and there’s a loneliness that rides beside me like an invisible companion. The gas-station signs are completely different out here on the plains — way up high, so travelers can see them from miles away, since there can be such long stretches between exits. At least the billboards for Arby’s and Taco Bell are familiar.
I spot a diner and pull off. In general it’s a big waste of time to actually sit down and eat while driving cross-country, but I’m determined to live differently now. I’m going to enjoy the journey.
I kill the engine, step out of the car, and stretch in the sunlight. This feels cosmically right, and I wonder if it would be too strange to drop and do a little yoga right here in the parking lot. I would do it, too, if I weren’t so hungry. I amble inside.
As soon as I see the ten-page menu, I’m glad I came. I didn’t imagine eating at a diner when I set out for California, but every journey has secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.
The place is steamy and bustling; the air around me hums. I’ve always felt there is something magical about diners, especially ones that have mammoth menus and are open twenty-four hours: any kind of food you’d like, day or night!
My waitress has red hair and is named Frances, which is an odd coincidence. Before he met my mother, my father was engaged to a redhead named Frances — only everyone called her Fran. But Fran died before my father could marry her. One day she had trouble stepping off a curb, and they went to the doctor and found out she had ALS — Lou Gehrig’s disease. Dad still had her wedding dress hanging in his closet when my mother met him. I often think about Fran, because had she not died, I would never have lived.
This Frances, my waitress, comes back to take my order. On the menu I see a pie made of coconut, pineapples, and custard. It’s called “Millenium Pie” and sounds fantastic — but the word millennium is misspelled. During my thirteen years as a proofreader, I corrected millennium innumerable times. Usually I object on principle to eating foods that are misspelled, but I decide to make an exception for Millenium Pie, which, as expected, is delicious.
In the bathroom the walls are covered in graffiti, encouraged by the presence of a Sharpie dangling from a string. I take the pen and write: “Punishment is a useless weapon in the struggle for people’s minds.” Decades ago I wrote this on the wallpaper of my childhood bedroom while I was grounded, and writing it again now spurs something in me.
When I get back on the road, I’m suddenly remembering my childhood and how my sisters and I used to sneak downstairs to watch TV. I remember all the shows we used to love, and how even the soda commercials were mesmerizing: “I’m a Pepper. He’s a Pepper. She’s a Pepper. We’re a Pepper. Wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper, too?” I remember the mossy, Massachusetts smell of the soil behind my house. I remember the year I painted a triangular rock green and presented it as a Christmas gift to my third-grade teacher, Mr. Zammarchi, because I secretly loved him. I remember the first sentence I ever wrote in my first journal: “Paul Addezio is the handsomest boy in class.” (What caught my eye about Paul was that he’d arrived on the first day of school with his arm in a cast.) I remember my mother’s beautiful painting of a young boy that hung in our living room. I remember the Valentine’s Day she made a mock issue of Time magazine with my father on the cover under the title “Man of the Year.” I remember my dad standing beneath the pale-yellow bulb at the kitchen sink, doing the dishes with his back to us girls while we ran through the house. I remember the year we kept the Christmas tree up for so long that we discussed decorating it with valentines, then shamrocks, then Easter eggs. I remember the Sunday we got all the way home from St. Eulalia’s before turning around and driving back because we’d forgotten my sister Paige. I remember watching a bullfight in the summer of 1985 in Spain, and how I cried when they killed the bull. I remember the day I shoplifted a clog (my friend Lisa shoplifted its mate) and then ordered french fries at the restaurant next door with the clog stuffed down my parka, until the Polish shop owner walked in and politely asked for it back. I remember the blizzard of ’78 and how the snow in the yard went all the way to the top of the fence; I’d never seen snow like that, before or since. I remember the tall drifts, the thrill of no school for days, the fabulous wonderment of all that snow.
I remember my grandmother looking at herself in the mirror one day and telling me that when you grow old, you look different on the outside, but on the inside you feel exactly the same.
And I remember my first dog. When I picked her up in Pets on Lex, she nuzzled my hair, and I never let her go. On the night I drove her to the vet to have her put down, I stroked her fur and whispered in her ear, “You brought me joy every day.”
It’s surprising how fresh these memories feel, how close.
After a while I start to get anxious about the rush of memories, because of something my father said shortly before he died: “Your life really does flash before your eyes.” I worry all this remembering is some sort of precursor to a deadly car accident. I try to think about something that isn’t a memory, but it’s hard, because time is slippery, and when I’m in motion like this, it feels as if everything is a memory.
The next day I’m not well. My hips are sore; my shoulders, tight. I jam Josie’s stuffed iguana behind my back for lumbar support, but it doesn’t work. Also, my feet are giving me trouble, especially the one that has to do all the driving.
Des Moines to Denver is a longer stretch than Toledo to Des Moines, and at eleven at night I’m still more than three hours from my destination when all of a sudden the headlights of oncoming cars are in my lane. I jolt awake, grip the wheel, and brace for the crash. When it doesn’t come, I realize that the oncoming traffic is not in my lane; I’m just so tired that I’m starting to hallucinate. I take the next exit and pull into the parking lot of a Holiday Inn in North Platte, Nebraska.
I ask about a room, and the overnight clerk flatly informs me that there are no more dog-friendly rooms available.
I’m tempted to tell her I don’t really have a dog; I was just asking for a friend. But for some reason I have brought Josie in with me. Her little brown face peers innocently out of her sling.
“But you’re the only dog-friendly hotel for miles,” I say.
“Sorry,” says the clerk.
“Look at this animal. She fits in my purse! She’s not really a dog — she’s more like a good-natured cat.”
“We don’t allow cats, either.”
I offer to pay for someone to clean the room afterward, but the clerk says it’s a policy. She can’t break the rules.
This kind of rigid rule-following is not at all my style. Sadly, however, it’s the style of many members of my species.
“Fine,” I say, and I walk away.
It’s approaching midnight. My legs wobble like cooked spaghetti. Above the parking lot the moon lurks. I move the car to a corner of the lot and park beneath the glow of a street lamp to discourage any would-be killers. It’s strangely hot in North Platte, but when I crack the windows, the mosquitoes get in, and being bitten by a mosquito is like sharing a needle with the world.
I recline the seat all the way and prop my pillow in a variety of positions, still annoyed by the clerk’s rule-following dogma. Couldn’t she have made an exception? Why are human beings such robots?
© Diane Durant
I don’t recall Jack Kerouac ever addressing the issue of personal hygiene in On the Road. Yet, on any lengthy journey, there are times when it does come up. For instance, on Sunday morning, when I wake in a steaming-hot car in which my dog has once again vomited.
I try to clean up the vomit, but mostly I just spread it around. To get out of my sweat-drenched clothes, I have to duck below the window and strip while hoping no one is hiding in the bushes. I give myself a paper-towel-and-shampoo “bath,” bracing my feet against the steering wheel and contorting into the kinds of naked positions I feel certain are illegal in many states. Halfway through I look up and pray to God that the object mounted on the lamppost above me isn’t a security camera. Once I’m clean(ish), I slither into some black yoga shorts and a yellow tank top, dump some bottled water on my toothbrush, run it over my teeth, and spit on the pavement. Deodorant, lip gloss, ponytail — that’ll have to do.
I pull out my phone to search for the nearest Catholic church. It is Sunday morning, after all. St. Patrick’s of North Platte is only 2.4 miles away. Mass starts in five minutes.
When I get there, it’s too hot to leave Josie in the car, so I bring her in with me, nestled in her sling. I bless myself with holy water at the entrance and splatter some on her snout, hoping it will discourage her from throwing a barking fit in the Lord’s house.
The holy water seems to work. For the entire Mass, in a church packed with strangers, Josie sleeps in her sack with only her tail sticking out. No one seems to mind that I’ve brought a dog to church.
Though I’m short on sleep, aching, and still kind of grumpy, I try to put myself in the right frame of mind to receive God’s word. The gist of today’s Gospel reading is this: Jesus says something that’s pretty clear but also sort of mysterious, and none of the apostles gets it, because they’re all a bunch of boneheads. Because they’re us. We’re the apostles.
After Mass, as I emerge into the sunshine, I realize something: I’m not in pain. The light isn’t blinding. The celestial loneliness I have felt is gone. I whisper a word of thanks. Just feeling OK seems like a miracle.
It’s noon. From the parking lot of St. Patrick’s of North Platte to California is a little over a thousand miles. I plan to do half of it today and the other half tomorrow. I’ll spend the night in Utah, and in the morning I’ll zip across the southern tip of Nevada and enter California. I have only the vaguest idea what I’ll do when I get there: find a job and rent an apartment in a town I’ve chosen with my usual mix of inspiration, research, and gut feeling. I’m hoping that, if I can prove my mettle by making it to the Golden State, the rest of my path will reveal itself.
Arriving in California with few possessions, no money, and no boyfriend is not what I had planned for myself at this point in my life. This is plan B. But life is never the way we dream it will be. It’s always wilder and messier and more tangled and confusing and painful and broken and better.
It seems fitting to listen to some John Denver as I pass through Denver, Colorado, but Siri misunderstands which playlist I want and offers up Kenny Rogers instead. That’s all right. I can do Kenny.
When I was little, my family used to listen to Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, Roger Whittaker, and Engelbert Humperdinck. My father’s taste in music was so exquisitely unhip that it might actually have come around to being hip again. After he died, I was given a small box of his belongings, and my favorite item by far was an old store-bought cassette called More Christmas Disco.
The saddest thing about losing him when I was only twenty-six is that there was so much I never had the chance to discuss with him. He’s been dead for more than twenty years now, and when I’m in the greeting-card aisle and see one addressed to the “Greatest Dad on Earth,” I still pick it up.
I wish my father could have read my work, but he saw just one draft of a story — the first story I ever wrote, about my sisters and me. At the time I gave it to him, he’d been teaching me proofreading marks, and he used my story as an opportunity to test me on what I’d learned. I knew what all the mysterious hieroglyphics meant — the slashes and pointy hats and loop-de-loops — but I was stopped by three circles in the margin at the end. When I asked him what three circles meant, he said, “That’s where the tears landed.”
I am grooving to Kenny Rogers and reminiscing about my dad when I realize: I’m almost out of gas! I’m in the middle of the Utah desert. When I switch to the radio and spin the dial, I just get static.
I have this way of praying that’s not really praying so much as feeling panicked and thinking about God. I figure God knows my predicament, so there’s no real need to ask for help per se; I just have to turn my attention toward him.
I remember almost nothing about On the Road, but there are two things Jack Kerouac said that I’ll never forget: “Accept loss forever.” And “Be submissive to everything, open, listening.”
I accept. I submit. I listen.
And then, just like that, I spot a gas station in the distance. I take the exit and pull up to the pump laughing, because I’m happy and also because the place is like a scene from an Old West movie. There’s even a cleverly designed sign that reads both, YOU ARE NOWHERE, and, YOU ARE NOW HERE, depending on how you look at it.
I walk up to the cash register and plunk down my credit card.
“Pump number three, please,” I say.
The one-armed man behind the register pushes my card back.
“We don’t take this card here, ma’am.”
“What? Why? That’s a major credit card.”
“We don’t take it,” he sniffs.
I explain that I’m driving cross-country, and my card has worked everywhere else. “Please. It’s the only card I have.”
“Can’t run it, ma’am. Won’t work. Maybe it’ll work somewhere else.”
“Is there another gas station nearby?”
“Few miles down the highway,” he says, looking away.
My intuition is telling me not to leave, that this gas station is my only hope. But the one-armed man is stubborn. As I walk away, I glimpse a couple of tabloid headlines declaring that Jennifer Aniston is pregnant again and John Cusack has only six weeks to live.
My gut sinks lower the farther into the desert I drive. There’s no cell signal, no sign of any rest stops. The radio keeps broadcasting static; I just leave it on. As if I needed a reminder, the gas-gauge warning light blinks. I’m beginning to feel an urgent pressure in my intestines. It could be stress, or a delayed reaction to the fish tacos I had for lunch. Not everyone would order fish at a tiny Mexican shack in the middle of Nebraska, but I’m special like that.
There’s a sign coming up, and I read the words as I fly by: NEXT REST AREA 96 MILES.
Wait. That can’t be right. The one-armed man said it was “just down the road.” I could have misread the sign. Maybe the nine was a zero — 06 MILES. It would be odd to put a zero in front of a single-digit number like that, I admit. That’s definitely not the way they do it where I’m from. But maybe they do things differently here.
My intestines are spasming. My hands clutch the wheel. I have the dizzying thought that the next rest area is indeed ninety-six miles away.
Then, from the staticky radio, in the middle of the desert, I hear the harmonizing voices of ABBA:
If you change your mind,
I’m the first in line.
Honey, I’m still free.
Take a chance on me
If you change your mind,
I’m the first in line.
Honey, I’m still free.
Take a chance on me
In my moment of greatest need, my radio has pulled down my favorite song from when I was eight years old, and I love it even more now. My mouth falls open, and I’m suddenly singing. Singing in the face of all the pain and fear and loneliness. Singing with all that I am and all I hope to be.
I turn the volume up as high as it will go. My car vibrates as it bounds through dusty Utah, and I’m not surprised to feel my body fill with joy, because I’ve entered one of those moments when your struggle becomes your song, and when that happens, nothing else can touch you. I might even make it to the next rest area. They might accept my credit card. Who knows? There are so many times in life when everything goes wrong. Maybe there can also be a time when everything goes right.
I flatten my palm against the glass sunroof, and my bug-splattered CR-V becomes a rolling house of prayer. In the middle of the Utah wilderness, at eighty miles an hour, I lift up my father and Frances and Paul Addezio and John Cusack and the one-armed man at the gas station and everyone who has ever lived. The sun’s so bright it’s as if particles of light are breaking through the windshield and into me, until the blue in me merges with the blue in the sky, and I’m weightless and free. I’m not even sure I need to go to California anymore. Maybe I’ll stay like this forever. Maybe I’ll just keep on driving.