Once, I used to want to keep driving. I’d be going to the store for carrots, say, and as I got closer to my home on the return journey I wanted to keep on going, to drive and drive, to disappear into something unknown and unexpected, the night closing in behind me.
At the time, I listened to an overabundance of John Prine songs. It seems to me it’s difficult to listen to John Prine without emptiness stealing in and over-whelming you. Try it for yourself:
I used to glance at other people’s houses as I drove by. I would look at the yellow-lighted panes of glass and imagine the other side of them, imagine living rooms with comfortable couches, plants in the corners of the room, a slender woman playing the piano, a bearded man on the guitar, the smell of fresh baked cookies. Children reading on the couch, a homemade afghan across their feet.
This was not what my home life was like. This was not what my internal life was like. It wasn’t gentle and cozy, nor quiet, nor filled with peace. So I would imagine these other homes and be filled with longing, the sort of longing that drives you to your feet in restlessness or makes you desperately want, as you drive home with a bag of carrots, instead of turning to the right to get into your little subdivision, to keep on driving to some place else instead.
Arrive in a little truck stop at the three in the morning in some town you’ve never even heard of. Walk into a future you can’t even see yet. Cast off all the days and people behind you like shedding clothes while walking across a field, slip into water on the other side free and clear, like the yourself you haven’t seen in years, the yourself you could be if you stripped everything else away, all the people and the disappointments, all the labels you’ve stuck on yourself until you’re so bound up you can’t break free.
I never did keep driving. I’d go home and sit for a minute in the car, steel myself to walk into my own home, where loneliness crept into all of my corners. There is no loneliness worse than the loneliness inside a marriage, worse than the loneliness you get when in a room full of people, when you are secretly on the outside looking in.
I haven’t felt this way in years. Now, when I pull up in front of my house, I feel giddy with excitement for a moment. Ah, home. I know exactly what waits for me beyond those windows: a pale brown couch, a basket of clean laundry on the living room floor, bookshelves with haphazard piles of books upon them, as though the books were stacked up by a gnome on crack. It is a little chaotic, and a little bit loud, and there is contentment in every corner of that house like there is contentment in every corner of me. But I remember that haunted feeling. Sometimes I see it in the eyes of people I am at school with, behind the faces of people I chat with in the hall.
I know how that feels, I want to tell them. I know you can feel the wind blow.