Heidi Isern

writer. thinker. whiskey drinker.

The Road to Nowhere

Location: A long road to Fort Stockton, TX

Mileage: 1544

Music: “Life for Rent” by Dido

Meal: Too many helpings at a Texan Buffet

Anytime you travel you always get asked the same perplexing question: “Where are you from?”

Nowhere. Everywhere.  I don’t know how to explain my movement over the years.  “My parents were carnies,” I lie.  “We traversed the earth.  I also spent a lot of time in a box being sawed in half.”

But it was a box I wanted to escape from. Being from ‘somewhere’ immediately puts you in one.  I was also trying to unbox the women along my journey, hear their complexities, undo stereotypes…I just wasn’t prepared for how it would affect me, the woman across the table.

I left Tucson to head across southern New Mexico to Texas, my silver car a shiny dot propelling across the vastness of our country, a non-distracting vastness that can only make one turn inward.  My mind whirled with the words of the women I had so far met.  I couldn’t shake Tess’s interview, the events she had been through, and the numbness she was battling.  We had some similar skeletons, she and I.  Although she was confronting hers, mine were packed up in suitcases and had been traveling with me from city to city, country to country since I was 16.  And then along the southern part of New Mexico, it happened.  I entered a raging hail storm.  The dark clouds descended, the wind turned sidewise and sheets of icy pellets bombarded my car.  I gripped the steering wheel with both hands, my knuckles white in determination to stay on the road.  Visibility was low to begin with and suddenly became non-existent as tears clouded my eyes and sobs shook my chest.  I must have been driving over a Native American burial ground for my suitcases flung open and the skeletons came out and jeered at me.  A hail storm was no time to have your own demons unearthed.

Resolute to survive the storm, I forced the skeletons back into their places and accelerated through weather war zone to finally reach dry, open Texas.  The open road before me was once again full of opportunity.  I let out a victorious hoot and rolled down the windows.  The smell of sage brush infused my lungs.  Sage reminded me of childhood trips to Montana, and made me feel instantly safe.  My safety, however, was short lived.  In reliving my past I had forgotten to focus on the present.  The present of my gas tank.  In this vast, vacant part of Western Texas my gas light brightly smirked at me.  Darnit! I was going to be stranded with the rattlers.  All I could do was pretend I was in a Seinfeld episode, hold my breath, and wait for a gas station to magically appear.  20 paranoid miles later, a tiny two pump stand did.  And there is a Lord.

With my gas tank filled, my mind then turned toward replenishing my stomach.  The only option was a large buffet, one of those all-you-can-eat places my father refers to as “Feed Barns.”  I entered the barn and got a large plate that could easily serve a family of four.  Another skinny girl was across the trough by the pasta options.  We eyed each other suspiciously.  And then laughed.  Pamela was a petite blond San Antonio lady driving through her state to reach Phoenix.  “I usually fly,” she said, “but I needed the open road to clear my mind.”

Pamela and I decided to forgo judgment on second helpings and feed together.

After years of being a housewife, Pamela had a new job as a sales rep and was excited about her new position on the road. “Finally my life is starting!” she said.

Pam married her San Antonio high school sweetheart, playing out the 1950s American television fantasy; he was the quarterback, she was the cheerleader.  “I had my whole life planned out for me at age 16.  I knew who I was going to marry, how many children I was going to have, where I would live…it was like a game of MASH.”  Now however Pamela was considering a different life.  Her children were in college, her husband absorbed with spectator sports on ESPN, and Pamela was free to define herself.  “I know it sounds terrible,” she confided, “but sometimes I wonder what it would be life to just start all over now.  I’d like to be a Bohemian and travel the world, meet new people, have exotic love affairs…..”

Unlike most women I know, Pamela looked at my single-dom with envy instead of pity.  “You have had all these experiences!  You can do whatever you want.”

It is true I have had more lives than a cat, but I am not sure my schizophrenic approach to life is a good thing.

Pamela explained that she had a possible lover in northern Phoenix, where her sales meeting was at.  “He is a friend, but I think he would like to turn it into a romance.” Pamela sighs.  “He is so charming and poetic!  I feel like I am 16 again!  But even though my husband may have lost interest in lovemaking, I cannot just go and have an affair!  Or can I?  I would rather die than hurt anyone, I just want to reclaim my sensuality.  I have only been with one man my entire life…….”

I was not sure what to say.  People have been having trysts for centuries.  There is a school of thought that challenges the notion of a life mate, claiming it impossible for one soul to fulfill us at each life stage.   And then there is another mentality that understands the beauty that can be built from learning to grow, change and sacrifice together.

“I cannot believe I am telling you this…..” Pamela was obviously conflicted.

“I’m the last person to judge,” I reassured her. “I have stared down the gun barrel of conventional morality.  Everyone has her own recipe for happiness.  But it would be a terrible thing to have high expectations for an exotic occurrence and then just be disappointed.”

I thought back on all my “on paper” exotic experiences.  Yes there had been motorcycles rides through the streets of Rome, beach rendezvous with Australian surfers, sensual dancing in Latin America….but all of these experiences happened without any consistent thread or other person.  In fact, sometimes I wonder if they even happened at all.  Perhaps I had made up all of my experiences, my entire life one concocted fantasy.  Although I usually challenge the doctrine of American convention, sometimes its grass looks greener.

As Pam climbed into her new pickup truck I gave her a hug and wished her the best, new lover or not.   I knew she would the best decision for her life.  And as for me, well, it’s a crapshoot.  I have to battle some skeletons first.

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