The Night Drives

The highway spreads out beneath my truck like a black, pulsing vein. I can feel it shifting under the racing tires, alive and restless, as the sun sets violently in the rear-view mirror painting the inside of the cab in shades of rose.The fantastical words of Tolkien rise up to meet me, as though they had merely been lying in wait between the lines in the asphalt; “You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to”. It’s faintly silly, applying the words of imaginary characters from worlds that don’t exist upon my own, terribly realistic life, but they bring me comfort. They’ve always brought me comfort, faint reminders of a child hood that barely seems to belong to me.

A desert sunset makes the sky bleed, dripping in hues of pinks and reds, the sun a bright, bloody drop slipping toward the edge of nothing. The road is a dark, slithering river that leads me away from everything I’ve known and my heart squeezes uncertainly in my chest. My knuckles are white on the steering wheel and my back aches from the impossible tension between pinched shoulder blades. I’m afraid, I realize. Underneath the elation and hope is a strong, thrumming note of fear. I turn the music up louder, the bass pumping rhythmically against the soles of my feet, but some silences cannot be drown out. This one grows stronger with the escalating darkness that creeps carefully up metal railings and brush-lined roads that gray and crumble with age.

Headlights are few and far between and they seem years away right until they reach me, momentarily blinding, and then they are gone again, lost in their own counter current. I feel alone for the first time in years, and I take note of the cadence of my breathing and the rhythm of my heart. I wonder if they have always had such a distinct tune or if this is something new, something vitally different. Could I have changed so quickly? Or have I always been this way and I just forgot how to see, hear, and taste it?

Here, alone in the falling night, there is nowhere for me to run but ahead. The ghosts of my past linger, ever nipping at my heels, but for now I have the lead. For the first time in what might be forever, I feel like I might be gaining ground instead of losing it a little bit at a time. With sudden clarity I can see all the choices that led me here, to this moment, and I feel like I’m on the brink of something. Something that looms, waiting in the familiar, yet foreign landscape, as if at any moment I might find myself flying off the edge of a chasm. I wonder why the idea excites me. Why I suddenly long for a gaping maw of uncertainty. Maybe because, prior to this moment, my life seemed etched in stone, every moment planned and accounted for. The sudden emptiness of a future undecided fills me up until each breath shutters. I laugh, I laugh for the pure wild joy of something I hadn’t really understood I was missing until I’d found it. I’m laughing and crying and I swear to myself I will never forget this moment, even if all I’m doing is pressing one worn tennis shoe to an old gas pedal.

Ahead, purpled mountains fade to sharp fanged teeth, ominous and exciting as the path dips, curves and lifts, every second taking me just a little further away from everything I want to leave behind. I’m going seventy five on the interstate and I crack the windows because I need to feel the air on my face. The wind is harsh, tearing at my hair and chilling my cheeks, but it makes me feel alive, it makes the whole thing feel real.  And God, do I need this to be real.

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