We’re holding on tight together in the shower, hot taps running down skin and between fingers and toes. We’re falling into fresh sheets on the feather bed, our bodies wrapped tight in blankets, covered in pillows. Touching and laughing about nothing.
There’s a small bar at the end of the block – an old and rickety place that smells like cigarettes even though they banned smoking indoors years ago (except in casinos, where rules don’t really apply). It’s hot in this bar, because it’s so small and so full of people. Even (or especially) in winter. People yell for drinks and cheer for their favorite team on the screen overhead.
Potato chips hang from the wall behind the bottles: the only thing they have to eat. There’s a dartboard in the back – slightly crooked, like an open mouth with sharp teeth. We throw darts and I let her win. She lets me win. And then we have one more drink while the football game or the baseball game plays overhead, with everyone watching but us. We cheer when they cheer. Everybody stands crowded around the bar holding glasses and magic wands that will make their problems disappear. We carve out a little space of our own to throw darts.
We talk about leaving – about long road trips across the country the way used to do – before – when the wide open spaces of the country were still a mystery and the open road could stretch on and on and on until, finally, it stopped at the edge of vast and insurmountable ocean. And everyone knows that anything is possible at the end of the road.
America is no longer a mystery. Her corners and unconventional conventions brought out into the light; her rolling hills and long prairies and badlands documented and developed. You can see pictures of just about anything online. But we talk about it anyway. Talk about getting away, getting away from here. There’s no need to look back, is there?
“Is there?” She’d ask. “There isn’t, is there?”
The world can still be a big place. It’s the little things that make the world a big place: It’s happiness in small bars throwing darts and drinking beer that the snobs will tell you is swill (and you don’t care) and listening to townie shouts and the cadence of sports announcers’ voices. It’s walking back home as snow begins to fall and listening to your boots go crunch crunch across it on the sidewalk. It’s the warmth of the apartment when you get back inside. It’s cooking dinner, and breakfast, and lunch. It’s falling, and flying, and falling, and catching, dropping, getting up again.
And it will never be anything more than that.
And if we’re going to leave, we’re going to leave together. If you’re going to run, I tell her, I’m going to run, too.
“If you’re going to run,” I say, “I’m going to run with you.”
And to that she smiles, and nods her head, though her mind is elsewhere and she’s thinking something like, That’s what all the boys say, isn’t it? and it’s true that actions speak louder than words. I can say anything that I want. I can whisper sweet nothings in her ear. But when she’s getting into the car and asking if I’m coming with her, asking if I’ll leave everything behind and start fresh somewhere new, start over, fresh, again, somewhere we’ve never been, well, that’s when she’ll know if my words were true or if I was only trying to get in her pants.
So we drive and we drive. We watch the lights change on the street. We listen to music on the radio. There are words around the windows, brought by the wind because in the city you’re never truly alone. But then, when you leave the city behind and it’s nothing but open road and Iowa grass and Nebraska corn and Texas tea, then, then, you’ll start to hear the things that can never be captured in pictures or the internet. And here she’ll laugh, her head thrown back, because we don’t know anyone around these parts. Here we’ll find a lonely hotel on the side of the road where we’ll take a shower together and the taps will run hot down our skin, between our fingers and toes. Where we’ll fall into the bed, even though we know someone has probably slept there before, wrapped up tight in blankets, and where we’ll laugh and forget, for a while at least, that the world outside the door is still a real world. That the words we heard on the wind are still real words, and that no matter what, at some point, we’ll run out of road, and there won’t be any hotels left and we’ll have to see whether or not dreams actually do come true at the edge of the world.
We leave in the morning. The sleepy former sergeant who runs the front desk, still wearing his uniform from the war, will takes our room keys and hand us the bill and nod as we pay and then slump again at the desk next to his bottle of rye whiskey.
Gogo takes the bottle of whiskey, slipping it into her shirt against her skin and winking at me while the sergeant snores and we run back out to the car, covered in dust that’s now turned to mud with the morning dew, and we start the engine and we keep driving, driving, driving. We know that the edge of the world is coming closer; that soon we’ll come to a skidding halt and the tires will smoke and we’ll say something like, “Well, now what?”
And so Gogo speaks less and less, taking long drinks from the bottle of rye, they call it hooch around here, and looking out the window into the vast forever of countryside and listening closely, hopefully, for the poetry supposedly hiding there.
The ocean sparkles like diamonds, and that might be enough.
“We’re far away from home,” she says, “and that might be enough.”
It’s hot and we’re sweating. We’re always sweating in stories like these. If we weren’t, if we were cold, if we were still shivering in the dead of Minnesota winter we wouldn’t be able to think like this. We wouldn’t be able to have these thoughts. We would have to scrape the ice from the windshield and windows before we could drive anywhere. We would have realized that the warmth of the apartment, the warmth of drinks from the little bar down the street, the warmth under blankets cuddled up on the couch while watching old movies with happy endings or endings that at least make you think… we would have realized that the warmth of these things is better than running south. South where we don’t know anyone. South where the ocean is supposed to give us the answers we could never find on our own. And this, in the heat, on the dusty Texas prairie, across the general rumble of the road, surrounded by country whispers and the wind, this I understand. This, I know, is what it means to be truly, completely, in love.
Gogo smiles, and finishes the whiskey in one last drink. She throws the bottle as far as she can into the Texas prairie. She jumps into the sea.
Header photo by Jamakassi