9.18.2008

Away

The road that took me away brought me back. Forget jet lag. There’s road jag, the brain trailing behind the speeding vehicle, reaching out to catch the bumper and be pulled along, to climb inside, to relax as a backseat passenger. But even then, the mind – maybe the soul – lingers behind, not able to keep up with the speed.

I’m back and suddenly not sure I left. From tall trees to countless waterfalls, the sights pile upon each other until no longer noteworthy, like when you visit too many cathedrals or museums in Europe, when the impressive ceases to impress, when you hit a default setting of enough and crawl back to that which is familiar.

You think you wanted to get away until you no longer remain in away. Nothing welcomes like your own bed and your dog’s greeting. The memory of away fades so quickly that you want to carve a city sign, etch the word Away capitalized, and name the town. You look at the sign when you need to be there, when you want to be taken again, when familiarity drowns you, and to Away is all you want.

In Away you need so little. Food. Water. Sleep. A shower. You may crave a bath, but you settle for a shower. In Away you have no ambition and you picture yourself holding that job behind the counter, both hotel clerk and cashier for the convenient in-house grocery. True one stop shopping.

You picture the friends you’d make and the conversations you’d have. And while in Away, it all seems like enough, no phones to ring, no newspapers to read, no deadlines. Money only flows out in Away. That’s how it is. You don’t bother thinking of earning, for as a guest in Away it’s not an option. To live in Away, the clerk job would be sufficient because you’d stop thinking of Europe and buying anything more than a new pair of hiking boots.

You’re skinnier in Away because it’s not L.A. You care about so much less in Away, and you wonder how to capture that feeling and bring it home with you, better than any souvenir, better than anything that can be bought.

But the feeling was bought, bought with gas money and hotel fees. The feeling of Away is not free. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Away comes at a price. Namely, you must leave, for if you stay, it is no longer Away. It is Here. Here and Away are not the same place. One who moves discovers this quickly.

But the feeling. To capture the feeling.

You take photos hoping to remember, even the non-artsy one of the parking lot featuring trash bins and your car with the bug-plastered windshield. You snap to aid memory because no one remembers what we think we’ll remember. No, something else is always remembered. Not the beautifully received gift, but the small, tiny slight. Not the most glorious vista, but the kind words of the clerk who drew the makeshift map, the one who will remain for six months at that job before hitting the road for another, and another after that, and again and again.

You want to ask him about a life lived in six month increments. It sounds fantastical, sounds timeless. How can one age when moving at that pace? He will never wake up old, or so it seems in that one conversation. That’s the thing about Away, you ask more questions of strangers. It never feels like prying but rather what is expected and appropriate.

How can you not ask the cave guide how long he’s had his job and how he got it? How can you not ask about the network that lives within the national park walls? The cave guide tells you he will leave when the season ends. He punctuates the thought with the words “Peace Corps,” and you remember when you thought Peace Corps more than twenty years ago but never went, though those two friends did – the couple. And instead of keeping journals, they pledged to write detailed letters to each other daily, having been placed in different countries, to bridge the distance between them. At the end of two years, they would exchange the letters and have them as journals. You remember this detailed plan for their time apart but you have no idea of what their names were and you can’t picture their faces either. All you have held onto is their story, and until the cave guide mentioned Peace Corps you didn’t even know you had that.

That’s how it happens, the triggers, the sparks. And now you can’t stop thinking of that couple, of wondering how the two years went, where they are, who they are, did it work, did they work?

The couples who work.

You want to line them up in a row and fire questions at them, to ask how, when, and why. You see it like a stage play. They stand in the illumination of bright lights and you fire questions from the darkened audience, kind of like A Chorus Line without the music or dance. Just the inquisition.

Weddings can do that. Make you think about couples, about the matching up, the chance of it all, the amazement of believing in the life commitment. When I left home for the wedding, I thought I was just heading off to attend an event, a family gathering, a time of celebration. But hitting the road is always more, is always an opening to something unexpected, to free-flowing thoughts and discovery. Like finding Away, and how it hit me this time as opposed to last time, how it’s getting harder to come home because I don’t know what this life is right now, not with all the changes and transitions and the absence of anchors and definition, without precise direction other than “Wake up and do it again.”

It. Discovering it. Defining it. Finding the label I can attach to my life and mean it. I try not to glorify Away, for that is naïve. But some days that is all I have, my longing for Away.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

That's a wonderful piece!
tno

kristen said...

thank you. i've so missed your words and it's a breath of fresh air to read you, here. xo

conversemomma said...

I have no idea who you are, but I'm intrigued. I have been blogging for awhile, and I find the whole culture of blogging to be frustrating. There are all these women getting accolades for their blog when they write things that are so mundane. I am always scouting out people who have a way with the written word and trying to connect. You are clearly one of those people. I'm really intrigued.

Not Fainthearted said...

I've been anticipating Away and trying to see bits of Here as if I were Away. It is hard, as you say. But sometimes, for a few moments, a few seconds, I'm able to capture it. And I wonder if, by capturing that when I'm Here, if that will make the experience of Away less, or more.

jen said...

friend, the way you turn a phrase. i find myself holding my breath all the way through.

womaninawindow said...

So this is how you do it. You write it and you leave your clothes in a pile not giving a damn who sees you naked. Nice to meet you.

meredithwinn said...

wow. beautiful. all of it. the Away. the It. and this nearly brought me to tears. i am in this place as well, but i dont' know where i am. it's good to meet you and read your words, they feel familiar to me and i find comfort in that.

"The couples who work.

You want to line them up in a row and fire questions at them, to ask how, when, and why. You see it like a stage play. They stand in the illumination of bright lights and you fire questions from the darkened audience, kind of like A Chorus Line without the music or dance. Just the inquisition."

slouching mom said...

debbie.

this is so damn beautiful.

Emily said...

Oh wow.

I've just realized I haven't taken a breath in the last 4 minutes.

This is beautiful.