Once a road has been travelled, once it has been driven and experienced it ceases to exist. The light falling on the yellow rocks and looming cliff faces that look as if there is no way around, just a mountain in the way of the path forwards, until having driven right up on them, a sharp turn, a road that hugs the side of destruction, the rocks and the sea, the music and the surf, the hands that reach over the divide, the moments in time, and the experience of that layer of rubber on blacktop cannot be inexperienced, cannot be recreated. I could go back to that geographical time and space and sit in the same seat, same point of view, the eternal passenger, and still I could not quite recapture the feeling of the road as it was back then and there. That America was new to me, this America has worn into a smooth groove of wheels ruts and sadness. My America used to be the NYC rooftops, a touch of tourist sea to shining sea pleasuredome. This was not my States, not yet, and I was shaking at the vastness of it all. The waves crash on the rocks, the road winds along with nothing between wheels and sheer drops, the mountainside looms and crowds, and the sun reflects off sunglass lenses, glass, road and water, blinding and bright. White light flash of driving into some velvet sunset with only the white lines and the feeling that everything has to be ok. We cannot crash, we cannot slide off the road, we cannot cease because it is not time yet. This is the time to create, not to be murdered or massacred.
Instead of feeling light and free, the weight of the open country piled heavy on my shoulders, broke my back and shattered my mind. The road which I had barely gone down, kept on coming and coming. As we left Los Angeles and pushed into Castaic, it felt like being cast adrift on the huge ocean, launching into the unknown of an America that was closed off to me. Jack in the Box burgers, hot greasy fries and burnt coffee, gas station granola bars and Walmart rising up in the distance like an oasis in the food desert of modern America, offering the remote possibility of fresh fruit and vegetables. Roadside carts selling avocados, a huge bag for a few bucks were keeping me alive, handsome young men with firm hands and bright smiles dispensing tomatoes and creamy green goodness while the country slid further and further into hatred of the people that keep it running. Obama was still in power, yet the feeling in the air, the twitch on the spiders web of the zeitgeist was forebodingly scary. The backlash was real mean and real.
Flowers in soda cans, bleached out days, lazy drifting always north, always wondering when we were going to tip over the edge, when I was going to be told that that was it, game over. Time allotted had and gone. Hour to hour, day to day, moment to moment, I never knew when it would end. Trying to balance children, a half crazed travelling companion, myself now freed, but with no help or support to work out how to be me again, after years of beatings and Japan, motherhood and life had beaten it out of me. I held onto that guitar like a liferaft. Somewhere within those six strings I still existed. I bought a cheap notebook and a sharpie, started writing again, a song here and there. A few words. People around me didn’t realize how fragile I was. Overwhelmed by leaving, overwhelmed by the road, overwhelmed by the hugeness and vastness of my new stage. America came and went and kept on coming. More road, more towns, more mountains and lakes and rivers and plains and forests and trees larger than trees are meant to be in my little shrunken world. I tried America on like a pair of pants ten sizes too large, that started off in shades of yellow and palm frond and ended up bell bottom vast, half ugly half beautiful, part this, part that, and however I tried to pull the material around myself, to cover myself up in it, it never seemed to fit right round me, swamping me, swallowing me whole. Everything always seems to be in the rear view mirror, a hundred miles behind, or three hundred up ahead, north, east, always looking eastwards.
I wasn’t interested in dragging anyone down, I wasn’t interested in taking responsibility for problems that weren’t mine, I wasn’t interested in anyone else’s hang ups. I didn’t feel I had to pay for my trip: I thought it was a journey of love and long held affection, not owing and gratitude continually being demanded and spent and wrecked in the ditches. I just wanted to live. That was all. Live and do some living with someone who I thought wanted to live too, and not only live, but live with me. Nothing is free, least of all the road. Nothing is free, not even love. Nothing is free, and when I asked “what does it cost?” and the answer bounced back, “everything you got,” I really didn’t take ’em seriously. Not the pale faced boys, nor the grown men who towered over me in years and experience, not the pretty girls who held my hearts in their hands, not any of them. It was all a laugh, a trip, a giggle. Turns out the joke was on me. Everything I got. Almost.