Soundtrack “In My Own Way” by Ray LaMontagne
We headed up highway 1, through the rugged northern California redwoods. The Pacific Ocean lingers to the West, reminding me that there are no new lands to discover. We continue north into Oregon. The long drive gives us time to talk about “all things” and the “nothings” that come with idly watching the miles and moments tick by. Our mission is to take my best-friends daughter Taylor to Eugene to start her first year of college. The ritual of watching ones child head out into the world for the first time is worrisome. Our long drive up the coast will draw out the emotional baggage that comes with slow goodbyes. There is no word for that feeling that comes with knowing this indifferent world is waiting to test the character of someone you love.
I sat in the backseat listening to my iPod, arranging my song-list to play like a soundtrack to the blur of scenery outside my window. I’ve always liked the soothing hum of the road under the wheels, it made me sleepy. I doze and daydream. There is a comfort in knowing that in spite of myself, I’m getting somewhere——anywhere. I listen to the rain falling on the roof and against the windshield, the wipers fall in and out of rhythm with the music. I want to stay in this state of mind for as long as possible. I imagine myself to be a sailer aboard a square-rigger beating its way around the treacherous Cape Horn——-struggling against opposing currents and head winds.
I unplug one of my earphones and listen in to the conversation in the front seat. “Why did you invite your weird friend to come with us?” “What do you mean weird? He’s my best-friend and we’ve logged more miles together than Lewis and Clark.” I can feel Pat’s eyes in the rear view mirror checking to see that I’m asleep. Taylor sighs, “This was suppose to be our road trip. I swear, his breath smells like a stale bar rag and he’s always laughing at his own cheesy jokes.” “I know his jokes are corny, but it’s his coping mechanism. Besides, you use to love goofy jokes. When you were a little girl you’d constantly check out joke books from the library.” “Yeah, but that’s when I was eight years old——not old and——old and obnoxious. He’s socially incontinent, he blabs on and on about whatever shit comes out of his mind.” Pat retorts,“Socially incontinent, is that the type of metaphor they teach in AP english? He’s a guy. He’s direct.” “No, he’s rude and you’re sexist. I hate when you say things like “He’s a guy”, as if being a guy excuses men of being mature.” Pat sternly replies, “I don’t appreciate being called sexist. Everyone is so PC these days. If I don’t substitute every gender specific pronoun with the term ‘person’ I’m accused of being sexist—–‘Garbage-person’, ‘Mail-person’, that’s stupid. If a guy holds a door open for a woman she thinks he’s being demeaning. ” I could hear his tone becoming frustrated and agitated. I figured it’s time for me to compensate with some of my “so called” obnoxious-chessey humor.
I pop up and put my head between the two of them. “So, whatta-ya-all-bitches talking about-all-up-in-here?” Pat breaks into a snide snicker as Taylor roles her eyes. She addresses me, “I see that the misogynist has awoken. Have you ever heard the word misogynist?” “I think so, I had mine removed along with my appendix. Or, is misogynist someone who massages the places a masseuse misses. Get it?” Pat offers up a cursory chuckle. I decide to stir it up, “I’m sorry if I offended anyone by calling broads bitches. Did you see what I did there? That’s called sarcasm.” Taylor flips me off, “You’re not funny asshole”.
Pat gracefully changes the topic, “It’s getting to be dinner time. Why don’t we stop for a bite to eat and after dinner Vic can take over the driving duties.” I stretch and yawn, “Sounds good to me, but lets have Taylor drive. A man doesn’t always have to be in the drivers seat.” Taylor responds, “Wow, we can drive and even vote these days. Some day we may even get equal pay.” I interject, “I’ll second that motion. Testosterone and masculine bravado has been the ruin of all civilizations. I offer up my deference to the female gender. And that’s truth, not sarcasm.”
We pull into the parking lot in front of the old cabin looking restaurant. Taylor puts on her coat and gives us instructions, “Guys, please don’t embarrass me in front of the waitress. You both always try and be so clever and flirty when there’s a cute young waitress. Old guys trying to hit on young women is creepy.” I feel a need to provide a little push back. “For one we’re not old, we’re seasoned. And two, we’re not creepy, we’re provocateurs. Old is a number, youth’s an attitude. Besides, chicks dig older guys. In France men with a few years behind them often have young mistresses. We’ve got experience on our side. We know our way around a woman’s anatomy. And the only thing trickier than a woman’s mind, is her body. Women want men who appreciate romance. Ya see, fellas’ like us, we’ve got old-school class.” Taylor raises her voice, “Stop. Yeah right, you’re both so classy———that’s why you go straight to the senior section of the menu and shamelessly pull out your AARP senior discount card when it comes time to pay. Your wink and a ten percent gratuity doesn’t pay the bills.” Pat interrupts, “Okay queen of the PC police, I’ll buy dinner and you can leave an extravagant tip.”
We finish our dinner and pile back into the car. Taylor sets the cruise control allowing her to sit cross legged indian style. I shake my head, “Are you going to drive or meditate?” “Driving is a meditation. Everything I do is a meditation. What you think about or meditate on is what you’ll attract. I stay mindful of my thoughts. If I don’t feel like smiling, I smile anyway. Take your body and the mind will follow.” “Damn girl, you’re a hell of a lot more insightful about life then I was at your age. You’re a smart cookie.” “No that’s not true. I’ve never been a natural at anything. I’ve had to work harder than the average person to achieve any measure of success. My dad says I have tenacity, and that’s more important than talent. My credo is, ‘I’m willing to do the things today others won’t, so that tomorrow I’ll have the things others don’t.” I nod in appreciation, “I like your style kid.”
Taylor pushes her hair back “How long have you known my dad?” “I’ve known your dad over fifty years, we’e brothers, we’re a rare breed, we’re lifelong friends.” “What makes someone a lifelong friend?”
I pause to gather my thoughts “You’ll make a lot of friends at different stages of your life. Childhood friends, high school friends, college friends, social network friends, work friends, but lifelong friends stand the test of time. They’re like the ocean, even when you can’t see them, you know they’re still there. The older I get the more I realize how remarkable these friendship are. My sisters and I shared the same parents, the same up bringing, but we’ve always lived in different worlds. To remain connected to somebody across a lifetime is a beautiful thing. A lifelong friend is someone you can go months or even years without seeing, but once you come together its as if time stood still and you can pick up right from where you left off. It’s sharing the good times and helping each other survive the bad times. This life will tests everyones fortitude and can leave you lost and confused. But if you’re lucky, you’ll have someone who’ll stick up for you, listen to you, restore your faith and give you hope when you feel you can’t hold on for one more day. They’ll forgive you and love you in spite of your flaws and fucked up ways. Not that I have any fucked up ways.” I allow myself a cocky snicker. “That kind of friendship is all that matters in the end. Lifelong friends will be there till the end. They understand you, and to be understood is to be loved.”
“It’s to bad you guys don’t live closer to each other.” “Maybe not. We respect one another, but we have had our share of disagreements. Seeing each other to often might ruin things. Your dad is stubborn and I can be a son of bitch. I guess were best friends because no one else will have us.”
“Your dad has been there when I needed him and I don’t forget things like that. When my Mom got sick he took time off work and flew out to help me. When she got up in the middle of the night and needed to use the bathroom he’d get up with me. He’d say, ‘Vic, is everything alright’. We’d get on each side of her and walk her down the hall to the toilet. In the morning he’d make his silly ass jokes, just to take the edge off the dire situation. No, I don’t forget shit like that. We carried on pretending things were gonna get better. But they didn’t, they got worse. Long nights, bad pain and that goddamn morphine giving her hallucinations. He had a way of making Mom laugh. She called him her Patty. She’d say, ‘Patty, can I fix you some eggs and bacon.’ She couldn’t get out of her chair but if she could, she’d of made us a Sunday morning breakfast with eggs, bacon toast and pancakes. Patty could aways light up a room, turn a dark moment around. Lifelong friends will do things like that for you.”
“And by the way, my breath doesn’t smell like an old bar rag.” Taylor’s mouth droppes open, “I thought your were asleep.” Taylor laughs and shakes her head. I feel her letting her guard down. She smiles, “I’m glad dad invited you to tag along. Do you want a tic tac?” We drove on through the moonless night in a comfortable silence.
A couple of hours later I asked Taylor to pull off the highway into a gravel parking lot adjacent to a country store. “I gotta take a piss and get myself a tall boy. Patty, get your ass up. It’s your time to take the helm.” I grab an empty coffee cup from its holder and throw it at his head. He responds in a sleepy voice. “What the fuck are you doing?” “I’m waking your lazy ass up.” I feel the paper cup bounce off the back of my head. “Now that wasn’t very nice.”
The cashier is east indian. The little store reeks of curly and musky incense. There’s the fracas of timbales and the wobbly atonal sound of a sitar coming from a blown out speaker. The restroom has that good ole American smell of Lysol veiling stale urine. Americans are good at hiding things beneath a thin veneer of flimsey civility. At the checkout stand I ask the cashier where he’s from. In a thick indian accent he responds “Pittsburgh”. I detect a sense of indignation in his response. In this day and age those from different cultures feel a need to be as American and patriotic as possible. “A Steelers fan?” He shakes his turban clad head, “No; I’m a soccer fan. Go Delhi Dynamos”. I smile, he smiles, humor has bridged the distance between us.
The car’s headlights guide us on our way through the narrow windy mountain roads. It occurs to me that the headlights only reveal fifty feet of our trip at a time, and such is the nature of life unwinding. God only knows what tomorrow may bring. From my cracked window comes the smell of damp earth and fresh rain. I open my beer and stretch out in the backseat.
I eavesdrop as Pat launches into a fatherly lecture. “Now be careful and watch yourself. Don’t take rides from strangers. Everyday in the news I hear a story about some poor girl getting murdered and dumped in a ditch. If you go to a college party don’t over drink. There’s guys out there who’ll take advantage of a girl who’s not in charge of her faculties.. And I’ve heard stories of guy’s slipping drugs in a girls drink. Don’t let anyone make you do anything you don’t want to do. I know that you know wrong from right, but the world these days can be dangerous.” In a stern voice Taylor interrupts, “Stop”. I’m not a naive little girl.” Pat snaps back, “Sometimes I think you are a bit naive and it makes me worry about you. Your sisters isn’t like that, she’s grounded.” Taylor turns her head towards the window, her reflection revealing a tear. “Why do you always have to do that. Why do you have to compare me to my sister. I’m the older sister. What do I got to do to make you believe in me? I’m smart, I’m talented too.”
Taylor opens her window creating a hurricane force wind throughout the car. It’s freezing cold but I don’t say a word. “You might be my father, but you don’t know shit about me. You don’t understand me. Don’t you see that people are scarred by the stupid things people put on them. A coach tells a kid they’re to slow to be first string, a minister condemns someone for being gay, an english teacher writes ‘fail’ at the top of their paper in large red letters. Or, you telling me that my sister has talent for singing and acting but I’ll have to work hard and have tenacity. You don’t know anything about me.” It was suddenly quiet. It was one of those unexpected painful moments when someone says something they’ve concealed and held in for a long time. The silence augmented the sound of the rain. Pat nervously breaks the silence “I never said that.” Taylor’s voice quivers, “You did. You were driving me to high school and I was telling you that I didn’t get a call back for Brigadoon. Maybe you were trying to be nice, but those thing you said hurt me.”
I could feel the pain in her voice. I didn’t dare say a word or try to lighten the moment with humor. For a moment, in that darkened backseat, I could feel the absolute sadness of all those who’ve been hurt by the words of others. Words that cause the fragile cloth of self worth to fray and come undone. We all carry these disembodied voices from our past that do battle with our better angels. It’s unfathomable how we carelessly hurt one another. Ironically, the ones who have the power to hurt us, also have the power to save us. I suppose the painful words spoken are as damaging as the kind things that go unspoken. We’re all waiting for someone to recognize are uniqueness, to make us feel important, valued———understood———loved. Why do we withhold these basic tenant’s of compassion and love?
Does anyone ever really know anyone? We trace one another’s shadow with our fingertips, we unknowingly project little pieces of ourselves on to them. Everyone carrying their own wounds of broken friendships and incomplete love. Companionship isn’t an idea or a mental construct, it’s an emotion that we wait for others to fulfill within us——it’s what we all came here for.
I watch as Pat puts his arm around his daughter. I’m a father too, so I know how it feels to unintentionally hurt your child’s feelings. Even after daughters grow into adulthood, at some level fathers still seek to protect them. “Honey, I’m sorry. You’re not your sister, you’re a brilliant and beautiful individual. Maybe those words I said to you were really things I felt about myself. I’ve always had to work harder than the average guy to achieve success. It was a poor attempt on my part to try and protect you from the struggles and pains I’ve suffered. But life doesn’t work that way. I know that you must find your own way. I have complete faith in you. I’m your biggest supporter. I don’t know why I’ve never told you this before——-I see greatest in you.”
Just like the final scene from a melodramatic B movie, suddenly the winds shift filling our sails, the currents turn in our favor. We’ve crossed an invisible lattitude. Just over the horizon I see the lights of Eugene.