reconsider the sweet spot of the thing but come up wanting
During the early summer of 2005, I drove across the country in a caravan of various vehicles, all of which were peopled by my siblings and their children, my mother, and a large black labrador. The majority of us were relocating to the fertile farmlands of eastern Pennsylvania in a bizarre little anti-diaspora that was difficult for my most modern friends to understand.
It was difficult for me to understand. I was awash in that postpartum sea separating me from my pre-baby self. Bobbing farther away from the poems and the pool hall near the bookstore. The heady kisses, the conversations that ran long, the racy autonomy, and the ease. Drifting away from the desert in an easterly fashion, watching scrubby ranch land grow greener, more humid, more fecund, and more foreign. All of my possessions were boxed neatly and had gone with my husband two days before. I carried only a few changes of clothing with me, five CDs in my back pack, a nine month old baby still at the breast, and a disquieting itch in the back of my brain. By Oklahoma I suspected I was making a big mistake.
I’d chosen those five CDs carefully since space was tight. Dylan’s “Blonde on Blonde,” A Velvet Underground anthology, Jonny Cash’s “America IV,” Something Will Oldham-y, maybe “Ease Down the Road,” and Smog’s “A River Ain’t Too Much to Love.” Arguably five of the most perfect albums to play while taking in the lazy hush of the middle american landscape. But nobody would let me listen to them anyhow. Ten minutes into the Velvet Underground anthology, Bethany, who was driving while giving herself a full manicure on top of the steering wheel, said she didn’t think she could take any more of it. Actually, I think she said something like, “Uh, I don’t think so!” whilst ejecting the disk with a neatly filed fingertip. We were in the lonesomest part of rural America, maybe the border of Kansas or across it and into Missouri, passing field after field of corn broken up occasionally by raggedy little porn shops. Why so many porn shops, I wondered? Later someone told me that they do a lot of business with truckers on a long haul. That made me sad to know, that disconnect between a human and actual human contact.
After we left Amy in Chicago, I took up driving Kristen’s car with my mom riding shotgun. She couldn’t see very well by then, and she also must have felt accommodating because of the fight we’d had in the motel room that morning after she’d insisted we sleep with the air conditioner on high and the baby and I had woken up with earaches. This finally left me the run of the stereo. I put on “A River Ain’t Too Much to Love” and let it play straight through. God, what a revelation of an album! The slow rhythms and bottom notes suited the languid hurt in my tense body relaxing, matched the rise and fall of the soft green swells with their dark shadows and bright curves. My mom was quiet and thoughtful and Ohio rolled out around us. The baby made small and occasional baby sounds but mostly she slept a little fevered sleep. I considered hopefully how every road trip, every marriage, every move, and every single baby turns us into a boomerang, flung so far out from our center we become disoriented and foreign. But in all that frightful spinning an imbalance is created, a wobble that returns us more fully to ourselves. When it ended my mom waited a good five minutes before tentatively asking me “So, was that man talking or was he singing?” but all I could consider was the brilliant promise of that single line “Oh I cantered out here, now I’m galloping back” and the potential in the pacing of musical notes that followed.