Morning comes to this city vacant of you.
Pages and windows flare, and you are not there.
Someone sweeps his portion of sidewalk,
Wakens the drunk, slumped like laundry,
and you are gone.
–From Li Young Lee’s City in Which I Love You
The other night, I went out for drive, like my father once did 10,000 times. I wasn’t searching for my soul, however, which is what he always said he was going out to do. No, I was just taking a break and slaying time.
Emerging from a dark circle of highway, I crossed I-44 and made my way toward the old haunts. Amazingly, on the radio was a song – that same song that played 15 years ago when I peeled onto Midwest Boulevard, content in a fantasy that became a nightmare. I paid dearly.
It seems no one can help me now
I’m in too deep
There’s no way out
This time I have really led myself astray.
It was not unlike that time, eight years ago, when I packed the car and headed for Los Angeles. J. was two and we were completely on our own. I drove straight there, stopping to rest in Arizona. (I always forget the New Mexico sky – Indian blue and curly white clouds.) We made our way up to Needles and then Victorville and into Ontario. In the desert, we were five cars behind a rollover accident. Children were ejected. The tires on the SUV were still spinning as we drove by. Someone emerged from behind a small, dusty berm screaming for a doctor. I have never stopped thinking about the people I saw die that day. It was, in a word, terrible.
While in sunny California we went to Disneyland and shortly thereafter, packed the car and came home. I was nodding off 100 miles from Oklahoma City, when this song emerged from the 2400 mile journey:
And forty-one goes on and on
And the lights go winding in the dawn
The sky’s the color now of polished steel…
And I’m holding on to nothin’ but the wheel.
Years later, I met someone. About him this was true. He loved the pea-soup fog of London, and no mid-day lamplight could illuminate his hope. It did not exist. He loved being sad, and bragged about how dull the medication made him.
I loved the nectar, even if I could be sappy and sentimental and occasionally morose. “Sit with me,” I frolicked. “Pick the honeysuckle from the vine and drink the candy. It tastes so good!”
He loaded bullets to relax.
Everyday, he is the prayer I thank God for not answering. No wonder we say, “There but for the grace of God go I.”
In Seattle, I walked the streets all day. There are so many hills in Seattle. Up and down and up and down. I got lost taking the wrong bus and nearly missed making it back into town on the last run of the day. I met up with three hobos at the bus stop. (Not kidding here.) It was a little creepy standing underneath a bridge with people who told me they jumped trains in Enid, Oklahoma.
God spoke to me in Seattle, and nothing – and I do mean nothing – tastes as good as coffee in the cool, cutting rain of that Pacific Northwest coastal city. Some days, like the hot mosquito mornings of Central Oklahoma – I want to be back in Seattle, but I never, ever want to be there by myself again.
All along the southbound odyssey
The train pulls out at Kankakee
Rolls along past houses, farms and fields.
Passin’ trains that have no names,
Freight yards full of old black men
And the graveyards of the rusted automobiles.
Simon and Garfunkel have a song, The Boxer, in which they declare, “I am older than I once was, and younger than I’ll be…” The conviction is that “after changes upon changes, we are more or less the same.” But, that isn’t true about me. I have changed so much. Still, I will ALWAYS be able to find myself in the lamplight of the pea soup fog.
There but for the grace of God go I.