lla stayed home and in bed when I went to six o’clock choir practice prior to the seven o’clock Ash Wedneosday service.
The yellow sticky note hung on the mirror. I slammed the bedroom door. The front door. The car door. Why can’t I slam the door of my heart? As I gripped the steering wheel like a lifeline, I realized that the note was still crushed in my hand.
“It’s not working. Loved you. Bye.”
Not working? Not working! Not working. We knew it from the beginning. It couldn’t work more than you could set fire to an ice cube or freeze a flame. “It’ll never last,” everyone said. “They’ll use each other up in six months,” I’d heard my mother say. She was wrong, it took ten years. Had we used each other up?
I don’t remember starting the car. I don’t remember pulling out of the drive, my body running on automatic. Like a badly edited movie, my mind replayed our entire lives over and over again. Skipping from scene to scene, from event to event. Where were the turning points? Why couldn’t I see it? How could I know it and not know it at the same time?
The cold December sun hung brightly in the afternoon sky. Naked trees cast zebra stripes on the blacktop. Sun. Shadow. Sun. Shadow. Sun. Shadow. Mesmerized by the light flickering through the windshield, I drove.
West. I was driving west. I wasn’t actually going west. I was going away. That’s what people do. They go away. I didn’t want to go away. With all my heart I ached to stay. But I couldn’t. Not now! Not! Now! People go away. My father went away. My job went away and then my friends went away. Now, she went away.
What made Away better than Here? Were the skies clearer or the colors deeper in Away? Did Away make the pain also go away? What would I find when I reached Away? How would I know when I reached it? Were there green signs posted that read, “Welcome to Away”?
Sunlight changed to heat as it passed through the car windows. My face was flush with the warmth while my feet were freezing in shadows beneath the dash. Heat and cold. That was the struggle from the beginning. Heat and cold. You combine heat and cold and you have … nothing! We were too different. Not the kind of difference that adds strength to the other’s weakness. No, we canceled each other. Together we were less than we were separately. Heat and cold. Light and shadow. Her and I.
As if distributed by a miser, an occasional flake of snow flew through the air. For hours the snow had fallen thus, and yet there was no accumulation. “Where does the snow go?” I wondered aloud. It was too cold to melt and yet there was no sign of it on the ground. “Perhaps it is the same five or six flakes accompanying me down the road.”
It suited my mood to have tiny shards of ice as my only companion.
The road unraveled for mile after mile, straight and lonely, yet the scenery never varied. Half shutting my eyes against the sun’s glare, I felt fortunate that I wasn’t driving directly into it.
I didn’t feel fortunate. She was gone. The weight of loneliness sat on my shoulders and compressed my spine as I hunched over the steering wheel. My mind became numb from the sameness of the terrain. My mind became numb from reliving that morning. If I had said this would it have made a difference? If I had done that would the outcome have been different? Deep down, I knew that the answer was “no”.
We may have started on the same road at the same time, but we never traveled the same direction at the same speed. Small changes here and there until we realized we weren’t even on the same path anymore. To her, the destination was the goal. To me, the journey was the goal. She accumulated possessions and I shed them. She used people and gathered things. I used things and gathered people. Her life was external. My life was internal. We hadn’t used each other up. We just nullified each other, like a mathematical equation where each side was equal, but the sum was always zero.
I struggled to keep my eyes half open that had been half-closed against the glare. The world that was black and white, light and dark, now seemed to be covered in a uniform gray. Slowly, fatigue overtook me and I dozed.
I awoke, still driving. The sun dropped below the horizon and I hadn’t noticed. A headache settled between my eyes, the heartache settled between my ribs.
The snow finally begun to collect on the ground, bushes and trees. The headlights created patches of brilliance in the darkness. The trees reached with skeletal hands across the road. Everything was white and black again. Contrast! Nothing but sharp contrast. It was hard to judge distances without the shades of grey.
Our lives weren’t always black and white. There were times when we blended. I guess those were gray times. Those gray times were the moments I wanted most to remember. The gray times were peaceful, possibly even restful. However, they were unsustainable because the intensity of the contrast in white and black were so much stronger! The conflict was more passionate and more alive than the dull gray of those times.
Red! A flash of red. Beyond my headlights a sign appeared. “M el” in neon letters beckoned. Was this Away? My tires crunched on gravel as I pulled to a stop in front of the office. Peeling paint and tarnished metal were the main decorating elements of a motel that had started out cheep and gone down hill from there. A faded sign read “Family owned since 1979”. To these people this was Here. Were they all still Here or had some of them gone away?
The motel clerk sat in the dim light of a forty watt bulb reading a yellowed newspaper. He rose from behind the desk like a specter rising through fog. In the hoarse whisper of a voice long unused he had asked, “Single Occupancy?”
And I cried.
hirty four degrees at bedtime. Predicted to be twenty nine by morning. That’s cold enough that started the water dripping so the lines won’t freeze. I’m glad that I just emptied the gray water tank. I just got that it doesn’t drop enough tho refill the tank before morning. It’s a real slow drip.