Surfacing for air: a decompression.
Twenty one hours alone on the road is a long time to decompress. The first three hours are pure excitement. The next three become something akin to work, as in "I should be getting paid to do this." After that, the miles begin to creep backwards. Every minute I glance down at the odometer, but the number stays the same. There are still 1100 miles to go. It is a fierce and solid number, and there is nothing I can do about it. I pull off to the side of the road to take a break, but the miles are still there. The CD in my player has run out and everything my radio finds seems jarring on the ears - I spend two minutes listening to static on the AM thinking that it is the sound of applause about to die out - and then I turn off the radio and howl at the road like a wild woman (something you can only do when you're alone), but the miles are still there to drive.
After that there is nothing but time to think about things, and I have a very noisy mind. Big questions become small and manageable; little ones well up to take their place. Sometimes I sing my thoughts out loud, and sometimes I talk them, and sometimes I talk to God... but I don't talk to God too often, because when I talk to him, when I really talk to him, I get tears in my eyes. I think it is that the conversation is too honest, that it cuts down through the masks to the heart of me and who I am, what I am trying to be, real and raw. Often painful.
But you can't cry while you're driving. So no... I don't talk to God too often.
Sometimes, sometimes... when my thoughts are on repeat play and the fault lines on the pavement are hammering away a steady beat, then I finally find the rhythm of the road. The car stops moving. Instead, the land moves around me. If I am on a winding two lane highway, the ribbon of pavement seems to whip beneath me like a high pressure water hose. But if I am on the freeway, it becomes more like a video game. There are cars to pass and cars passing me. I weave and dodge with the cruise control on, focusing on the two possibilities - Are they gaining on me or am I gaining on them? Never tap the foot on the brake, that is the goal of this game. Every vehicle I encounter takes on its own personality by its shape, its color, and the way it moves. Is it timid? Does it reek with machismo? Polite, clever, lawbreaking? And yet I never see the faces on the other side of the glass.
The radio catches a moment of European electronic techno, and suddenly I picture myself in a different place entirely, under the water, laying back on the sand watching the fish swim above me. Scuba divers hardly ever stay put in one place. Generally you don't want to touch anything around you, lest you kill it or it kills you, or sometimes the only thing beneath you is a deep swallowing darkness, a silent enemy. But when there is sand - try this if you get the chance - you can lay back and look up at the fish, their silhouettes black against the bending light of the surface. Watch them pause and circle, flick their tails and be gone, one after another. Watch as the bubbles rise up from your regulator, flat on the bottom and round on the top, big and small, wavering up in a delicate dance to the surface, when the only sound around you is the hiss and blurb of your breath and the constant snapping of the shrimp hidden beneath the rocks. I don't know why techno made me think of this.
But I am back on the road, drinking milk out of a quart carton. The scenery is blearily monotonous, and in my boredom I notice even the slightest things. There is a dead creature on the side of the road lying on its back, all reddish fur with four paws sticking straight in the air like a cartoon. It looks wombat-ish, but I'm pretty sure eastern Oregon doesn't have wombats. Miles later I pass a dead cow lying on the other side of a barb wire fence like a fallen fiberglass statue, its legs sticking out from its side. The heat makes the dead things bloat. And then up on the hill, a large metal horse in mid-lunge, and beyond it a corral for the wild horses caught by the BLM, and I think about the times I have seen horses running in the wild. Not this time, though. Not this drive. Only hawks and pronghorn antelope to keep me company, and the rolling sagebrush looking the same for every mile, and Cheerios in odd places in the car, and now an empty quart of milk.
Twenty one hours alone on the road is a long time to decompress.