Once, when I was younger, I thought I could be someone else. I’d move to Casablanca, open a bar, and I’d meet Ingrid Bergman. Or more realistically – whether actually more realistic or not – I’d tune in on a better life, something more suited to my true self. Toward that end, I had to undergo training. I read The Greening of America, and I saw Easy Rider three times. But like a boat with a twisted rudder, I kept coming back to the same place. I wasn’t anywhere. I was myself, waiting on the shore for me to return.
The afternoon was warm, I crossed the asphalt parking lot that shimmered in the heat, coat under my arm, loosened my tie, rolled back my shirt sleeves, wiping sweat from my brow. Slumping into the driver’s seat, I fired up the ol’ girl’s venerable 6 cylinders, they rumbled to life without protest besides the fan belt squeaking a bit before settling, thank God for German engineering, at least when it comes to motors and leather seats; the rest of her was falling apart. Tuned the radio, slapped the dash lovingly to un-stick the tachometer’s needle.
Everything was bathed in a dull orange haze, the shadows of the palm trees lining the boulevard growing as the sun lazily sank across the sky to the west. Oldies on the radio, AC is hardly functional, so it is all the windows down, that’s ok, I like to feel the breeze. Pulling to a stop at the red light, right to home, or left? I could make it to the beach before sunset, park, leave my leather shoes in the sand and feel the cool sea water between my toes, smell the salt in the air. Look out at the golden waves next to the pier as I’d done many times before, ask them for answers, but the answer would always the same: “the tide tarrieth for no man.” Maybe I’d get back in the car, continue South, as far as the old girl would take me, I bet she could make it to Mexico, Panama, maybe beyond. I used to dream like that when I was in high school, that I’d just keep driving, and when the car broke down I’d pull a gas can and match from the trunk, douse the car and torch it by the side of the road and watch it burn before continuing on foot, I’d make a new life at the next town, starting over with nothing but the shirt on my back and shoes on my feet. But no, not today, I’d go right, away to home. Passing Sierra’s apartment as I go; I always avert my eyes from the parking lot there, stop myself from searching for her car, just press the gas and keep driving.
The sun sinks behind the mountains casting a long shadow across the valley. The hills are a vibrant green with the recent rains, clouds were dark and full in the distance towards home. When I was a kid, I remember imagining what this valley looked like millions of years ago. Many of the mountains are the ruins of old volcanoes, little more than hardened magma chambers remained, ancient overlooks keeping their silent watch as the eons march on. My young mind would imagine dark, towering spires billowing smoke and belching fire, pyroclastic flows streaming down the sides, glassy obsidian scars across the scorched black land, pretty much the land of Mordor where the shadows are. Of course, that was silly, it was probably all under water at that time, a verdant archipelago formed as the plates shifted thrusting the volcanic range upward above the primordial sea. I remember resting my head against the window as my parents drove back from the city at night, I’d doze in and out, looking up at the star filled sky above the cold mountains, it certainly looked like a scene from Middle Earth. I remember a night sky like that one as Saul and I drove down the road at 2 am. We’d spent all summer under the hood of that beast of a car, I put the hammer down as I dropped her into 2nd, torque spinning the rear wheels throwing me back into the seat, I’ll never forget the growl of the intake and roar from the exhaust as the fuel dumped into those insatiable cylinders, like some awakened beast. I hadn’t expected it to terrify me as it did, freezing the blood in my veins, my skin tingled, but I shifted upwards through the gears whenever the roar of the motor reached an unbearable scream, the scenery flashed past in the headlights. I didn’t dare take my eyes off the road for even a second even though I knew every undulating curve like the back of my hand, Saul watched the speedometer for me, “150… 155, what have we created?!” In contrast, there were no stars the night I drove that road with Sierra next to me in the passenger seat, the fog hung low as a shroud beneath the sky as we spoke in muted voices as if in a dream (now it was a dream of a dream I suppose), her hand resting on my knee, face lit by the glow of her phone’s screen. We knew what we were doing, we’d made our choice, the sexual tension and anticipation between us was palpable, you could cut it with a knife, tingly sweet, chill warmth of the first day of spring, a calm before the storm, a volcano waiting to erupt. The feeling at that moment made everything that would follow worth it all, or so I tell myself. As I lay in bed at night, I can still see us, play back the moments, I have it mapped out on the bed exactly, like a diagram of some perverse dance steps. On my side of the bed she was laying with her head at the foot as I pulled off her pants, her tanned body lit by the dull glow from the lamp on my nightstand as she pulled me close, kissing my lips, her breath quickening, moaning desperately, and hungrily thrusting her hips against me. We rotated around the bed as we went, counter-clockwise, until we were spooning where my wife’s sleeping form is right now, that was where we climaxed together. As I lay here squinting in the darkness, I remember, but it doesn’t seem like my memory, it wasn’t me, it was someone else, in another time, and another age. I keep coming back to it though, maybe it changed me somehow, or perhaps it was just confirmation of a change that had already happened. But, now I’m wondering what the future may hold. Where does this story go? What is this new-found muse which stirs my imagination? Why am I still doing this? Seeking what I hope not to find. Is it just the thrill?