the fog of my breath is like the spirit of April
CALEB JOSEPH WARNER
Have a beautiful morning—it’s on me.
After failing to procure a ride to the early service of church, I find myself enjoying the absolutely wonderful peace of solitude. Rare this is, oft I sleep.
I was thinking last night about a description I always end up using when I describe someone driving. This is pertinent, I suppose, to my situation this morning. As one without a license or much experience being in the driver’s seat, mine is the perspective of the passenger. And this has been true my whole life. Some of my earliest memories are of being in the car, looking out the window for the hours. I get a little sick when I try this trick these days. Somewhere along the line, I lost my car legs. Back then, when I stared out the window for hours perhaps on some road trip, I would watch the optical illusions created by the speed of objects moving past me. We all know about this.
Every time I have a character driving by cornfields—which happens quite often, since many of my stories happen in the Midwest—I have this gut instinct to describe the lines in the fields “ticking by.” Every time, it’s that verb and I can’t seem to manage getting out of it. Does the driver see the fields ticking by? No, not really. It’s instead the four year old boy in the backseat of the fifteen passenger van with his bony shoulder pressed hard against the cold window. It is raining sometime in April. The buds are green in the black soil. God bless it.
I read “American Childhood” recently by Annie Dillard. It is, as everyone suspected, sublime. She has in there a description of when she was a child in the car. At the time, she felt enamored with the colors in the world, the excitement of discovering new, exotic bugs or deep sea creatures. For me, anyway, it was the marine that really got my goat—and Egypt. We had this small cardboard covered book with a title page desiccated by the bathroom usage of many male toddlers. Who knows who the culprit really was (I think those who still kept reading the book shared some measure of blame) and frankly the siblings might not agree that it was the book on Egypt with the Abomination of Desolation on the title page. It might have been the other book with the big question mark on the cover, the one, you know, concerning the “special cuddle.”
God, why are we so obsessed with the special cuddle, even now?
Anyway, Annie Dillard found herself almost existentially bored by a particular route through the mountains. Blown out by dynamite to make way for them, the rock surfaces on either side of the road would be slick with rain. And that sight was such a tremendous bore, her only way out of the insanity was to imagine the beautiful, colorful crystals perhaps hiding behind the walls. She would then proceed to imagine that it were her on the slick sides with pickaxe in hand, uncovering the opportunities all the boring adults drove past.
I know what she means. Risking the boredom, I miss being the child not in control of where I was going. To imagine. I would like some of those moments again, to be able to stare out the window without getting sick, to find some solace from the boredom inside dreamlike fantasies which sometimes had as characters the blue and red floating cones and rods I could see with my eyes shut tight. The itch I’d hope it would scratch is the one about solitude, the one about getting a little bit lost, the one about having hours to pass being carried away by any thing whatsoever, the one about almost heightened perception, not knowing the destination or when the next stop is going to be, the one where I am completely and totally safe.
God, why are we so obsessed with being safe, even now?
My parents knew where we were going. All I had to do was sit and be patient—and praise and gummy worms would rain down upon my head. “You were so good,” they’d said.
I would have been good if there was someone there to drive me every day of my life.