I remember this stretch of highway as I experienced it alone.
Now, riding along with my lover driving, it feels like a foreign place. I cannot count how many times I drove it alone, at 5 pm., 3 am., every hour by the time I was done with these places. This stretch of highway is an in-between place, a place that gets me from one place to another.
I see the Whataburger where I bought toquitos and Diet Coke, drunk and depressed, searching for something to ground me in the middle of the night. I am not able to experience that place now, but for some reason it comes back to me as a strong place. I know I experienced it as a lonely place, but it was all me. I was the one doing the driving. I was in a quiet spot between meeting people here and meeting people there. It was a space where I could meet myself.
This is how memory works—this re-feeling. I know there was the period of time during which I wanted to kill myself. Then there was the period of time when I could remember wanting to kill myself. I would be watching a movie, and suddenly someone would be hanging from a light fixture. I would be able to feel that in my body, my entire being having a reaction to something I understood so completely. It wasn't like longing. It was remembering someone who I used to be. It was empathizing with myself. Now I look at pictures of me and think, “That was during the time I couldn't stop imagining my car wrapped around a tree every time I drove.” I know those things really happened, but I cannot remember them. I look at those pictures and cannot bring to mind the way any of it felt. It's as if I'm looking at someone I know I know but cannot name.
I cannot remember her.
I'm thinking about this as we drive south on 35 from Denton to Dallas at one in the morning. I can feel that sudden memory. My body says I should be here alone. He is not supposed to be here. This is supposed to be my place. I wonder if I really want to invite him in to all these places. I want to defend my right to posses something I know I didn't want—my body has forgotten the memory of the loneliness. I suddenly miss something that I'm certain I hated at the time. I miss it as if it were freedom. This is how memory works. It brings back events and rearranges them to meet a new person. I can't really have memories, can I? I feel like I've died a couple of times, been completely destroyed once or twice. In little ways each day something is gone and something new comes in to take its place. This is how memory works.
It's a thinking about something that doesn't exist.
I remember driving this exact piece of road the night before my 24th birthday, drunk and crying about how old I was. I felt ancient. My body felt like I was on the brink of death. I was bloated and hysterical, constantly grasping at moments hoping that one might anchor me. I was ancient, and when I stuck my hand out to hold on to something, there was nothing there. This is the funny thing about memory. I remember it that way right now, but I know that I grasped a lot of things, letting them go the moment I got them. My days were like rivers that flowed over my hands, through my fingers, but never yielded any fish.
I was always conflicted about wanting a life. It's not that I wanted to die, although at times I translated it that way. It's more that I didn't want to be wrong. I didn't want to choose something and fail at it or, worse, have it fail me. I didn't want to be a fool. And then one day I woke up and realized that all of that had happened. I'd been wrong. I'd been a fool. But I still woke up. When I was 18, my mother told me that I shouldn't have sex before I got married. She told me that I might have sex and then meet another man. This other man might be the man of my dreams, but, if I'd already had sex with someone else, he might not want me. I laughed. And I've had sex with more than one man since then.
What's funny is that last night, as I made out with my lover, I kind of wished that neither of us had ever kissed anyone else. But that doesn't mean I don't love him because he did.
I miss the wildly dramatic expression of youth, the pressure on each moment. I miss the way that describing life always seemed to easily come out poetically, the hyperbole in describing such vacillating, frenzied movement. I wish that I had words like that for my life now, but I don't. I know that all of that hyperbole was born of the same place that gave birth to immense misery, to that wanting to die. I used to sleep walk a lot. I once woke up in the middle of the kitchen floor, on my knees, holding a huge knife to my stomach and shaking with sobs so deep they forced screams. I was 9. No one came. The house was too big; no one could hear me. Where did that come from? I don't know. I have cycled through cells too many times to remember on anything other than an intellectual level that it even happened. I didn't outgrow that impulse until I was almost 30.
This is no more living than that was living. It's just more of a life.
I think about all of this now, at 1 am., riding in the passenger seat while he drives. I think about who I have been. I think about who I am now. And I think I'm finally ready to admit that I like it that he's here, driving me home. It means I can be still.
It means I can sleep.