On The Road to a New Life, Part 2

By Dee Roberts 06/23/15

“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.” -Jack Kerouac


Read Part 1 of On The Road to a New Life.

I-84 stretches out ahead of me on a grayscale Friday morning. The goal, Denver, Colorado—but first I have to traverse the endless expanse of Pennsylvania and cross the border to Ohio. I could only deal with small bites of this journey at any one time. My immediate plan was to get to Columbus, and find a roadside motel. My traveling companion is a dog, a happy co-pilot lacking any penchant for backseat driving, or an annoying stream of chatter. Spot looks at me with adoration, or maybe it’s the desire to do his business on the grass and trees whizzing by. I decide to consider it the former, we haven’t been in the car that long yet.

Drive 1,784 miles in three days. It sounded like a reasonable plan. This coming from someone who hasn’t driven for longer than four hours at a stretch in more years than I can count. Just the same, I’m prepared with a set of talks by Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron, infinite channels on satellite radio and my secret stash of music from The Grateful Dead. No matter which direction my mind wanders, I’ll have some audio to rein me in, space me out and otherwise pass the time.

I fly down the interstate propelled by several cups of coffee, supportive calls and texts from friends and the overwhelming desire to get out of New York with a quickness. Perhaps too much on the speed front. I see the flashing red lights of a state trooper behind me, realizing with horror that I have forgotten my current insurance documents. The officer greets me with the news that I have been clocked at 84 miles per hour in a 65 zone.  I fumble for my registration, spilling the contents of an overfilled glovebox on the front seat. Spot remains sound asleep in the cargo area, damn, his cute snout could have come in handy about now.

I hadn’t gotten a speeding ticket in at least six years. When we first visited Woodstock from New York City, I ignored posted signs, just like I did on the West Side Highway. I found out quickly that the local police were highly focused on fast-moving, fast-talkers like me. I racked up two expensive tickets (and points) in those first 30 days, and promptly wised up, setting cruise control any time I might be tempted to put pedal to metal. Even though I have no warrants or contraband, something about seeing those red lights in the rearview brought me back...way back to the days when I had plenty to hide. None of that mattered right now. Before I even got out of the Empire State—a final love note in the form of a speeding citation.

For the next two hours, I made sure to stay within the posted limits. Once entering the great state of Pennsylvania all bets were off. I hit I-80 with white line fever, making tracks for Ohio as if being chased. This obsession with mile-markers is all about avoiding the very present pain in my heart. A big relationship is being left behind. Someone I love deeply. The fear of living without him woke me in the dead of night. Paralyzed with panic, unable to speak, barely able to breathe. It’s all going on in that horrible neighborhood above my neck. The one person who actually seems to understand my midlife wanderlust is Michael. He sees the trip as a great adventure, and imagines us having not one but two mountain homes to go between. Why can’t I grab onto his perspective instead of choking on my own?

After nine brutal hours, Spot and I find ourselves in Ohio. I’ve run amok with caffeine and adrenaline. Sitting on the corner of the bed in this motor lodge, I still feel the ground moving beneath me. I know I should take a hot bath and unwind, but I’m antsy and edgy and tired and emotional, all at once. I want to cry but I can’t let the sound out of my throat. I pull the bedspread and pillows off the bed and fluff up my pillow from home. Even Spot has no interest in climbing on this rickety sleeper. I turn on the TV and start watching a '90s sitcom re-run. M calls and we talk for a while about mile-markers and love and watching the stars. The next thing I know the sun is rising and my phone has left a deep imprint on the side of my face. I must have fallen asleep mid-sentence. Being overtired is like that. One minute you’re sure you’ll never sleep again and the next minute you’re down for the count.

My biggest fear before embarking on the drive was being overtaken by curiosity in Indiana or Kansas, that I’d get myself in trouble in some local dive. It's a smokescreen, a phantom, the thing you talk and worry over when there’s something else just below the surface you desperately won’t discuss.

The reason for my departure is (deceptively) simple. I need a change. Change radical enough to match my newly clear mind. After years on a soul-stealing medication, I am free. Following months of withdrawal, I was presented with a new worldview, one that shouted at me to do something and do it now. I was tired of working below my level of experience and even more weary of looming financial disasters. Time for a reboot.

Indiana is a revelation. For the first time in 48 hours I feel like I can breathe. The green of the grass is so bright and vibrant, it looks like one of those old Kodachrome photographs, everything is iridescent and intensified. These folks have land, meandering plots of rolling hills, sleepy cows and shade trees meant for sweet tea afternoons. It’s idyllic. I wonder in a passing sort of way if I could actually live here in one of these prairie mansions. Would the breath come more easily in and out of my lungs? Would the knot in my stomach that leaps into my chest and tries to strangle me fade? I turn up the music and shift into overdrive. If I’m going to make it to Kansas City, I don’t have time for such considerations.

There’s a world of fringe wanderers whom you only see in glimpses at truck stops, random convenience marts and roadside dive motels. The kind of place that doesn’t even need a deposit for your dog to join you in the room. The dogs are the least of their troubles. I survey the parking lot and realize I am one of few tourists passing through. The rest of the inhabitants of the Budget Roof Inn are migratory road workers (who’ve decorated their space with mementos from home) and untethered families; people who live motel voucher to motel voucher. The kids are friendly, plentiful and less than clean.

I meet a three-year-old whose mother works the swing shift, and leaves him alone in the room. Not that he stays there, he’s playing happily with some plastic soldiers on the steps near mine. He immediately falls in love with Spot, marveling at the softness of his coat. “It’s like a bunny,” he tells me breathlessly. The kid is cute, all sad blue eyes and dusty blond bangs that hang like fields of grain to the tip of his nose. His feet are black with street soot and most of his lunch is lodged in the folds of his t-shirt and shorts. I tell him Spot and I are very tired and amble off. As I’m turning away he says, “I’m going to have me a dog one day,” and I murmur “Of course you are.”

Dee Roberts is a writer and marketing consultant who lives in Denver. Follow her on twitter @SilverHolloMuzo.

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