Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Drive

Three days after I got the tattoo of a star on the inside of my heel, I was in a car with my anxious mother driving across the continent. Mom was there because she invited herself. She was always good at making me feel guilty. And, she'd decided I should take their car and not mine since theirs was newer. But, I refused until the very end, until I got tired of listening to her incessant worrying. "Fine," I said, "I'll take your fucking car." And a day or two later she said, "when we drive to Alaska..." And reminded her I was going alone, that I had to make the trip alone, she said, "But I'm letting you use my car."

We left in July of 2004 and so far, it had been a terrible year. My girlfriend had repeatedly slept with one of my best friends (since 7th grade), I had surgery on my shoulder and couldn't play rugby, and my best friend of 19 years wrote me a seven page note in purple ink explaining a. what a womanizer i was b. how conceited i'd always been c. how immature i was d. how she nearly jumped into the Missouri river after her child was born. On top of all that, or perhaps underlying it, was my new found love of pain killers, marijuana, and dark beer.

So, you could say I was depressed. But not like any sadness I'd felt before. This one was physically painful; I'd wake in the morning and feel my heavy chest, like I was being pressed to death by everything familiar to me. Like, my parents, my friends, my cat were all just sitting there on my ribs, staring at me, waiting for it all to explode. The only way I could figure to cure this feeling was by eating more pain killers, drinking more beer, going out more, and staying out later.

I was moving to Alaska to go to graduate school. When people ask me "why there?" It's an easy answer. I knew someone. A professor, in fact, that I'd met in Houston while I was in college. I'd always wanted to be a writer, but never even thought about going to school for it. So, yes, Alaska. If Dr. Derick had been in Rhode Island, I would've tried to get in there. I just had to leave the mess in Missouri. But I was glad to know I was going so far away from it all.

The drive to Alaska from Missouri is about 6 days. That's nearly a week that my mom and I spent in the car together, ten, sometimes 12 hours a day. And when we weren't in the car, we were in the hotel room. What I remember about the trip is this: I ran over a dead baby moose accidentally, Mom nearly got hit by a huge truck as she ran out onto a bridge screaming, "it's beautiful!" at the canyon down below, there were small yellow flowers throughout Canada, and Mom had a hard time comprehending kilometeres, though I explained it every hour or so.

Most of you haven't been to Fairbanks. In fact, you don't even know where it is in Alaska. Like me, you might imagine a nice mountain town, like the one in Northern Exposure. Yeah, you think, Fairbanks must have down hill skiing and toasty lodges, cute shops downtown, like Vail or something. But you're wrong. You're absolutely wrong.

Fairbanks, when we pulled in, looked like a small industrial town in the 70s. Because, essentially, that's what it is. The closest mountains are one and a half hours away, and since we arrived in the summer, it was smoky as hell due to forest fires. We couldn't see much, except that it was 11:30 p.m. and still light outside. I was still optimistic because I'd found the college radio station and two lesbians were d.j.-ing some awesome club dance music. Mom still had a few days until her plane left and I couldn't wait to get on with my life, to get further from everything I knew.

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About Me

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Writer, teacher, and archaeologist. Contributing essayist in the anthology "Crooked Letter I: Coming Out In the South" from NewSouth Books.