In May of 1999 I was driving our black '91 Subaru Legacy, which would eventually be stolen from the driveway of my parents' house in the middle of the night and then recovered 2 weeks later in fine condition save for the chemical smells and economy-sized tub of Vaseline in the backseat, home from college, fast. It was a few days after graduation, campus was dead, my family had come and gone, and I was Fully Feeling My Feelings. Four years of my life in Worcester, Massachusetts, had come to a close, and the future was annoying. OK Computer blared from the tape deck and I-84 was riddled with other station wagons loaded with trunks and tapestries and framed museum prints, and I was speeding like a 21-year-old speeds when she's listening to moody music and leaving one life for another. When the cop pulled me over, my tears were genuine--I just graduated college and I'm trying to go home!--but he wrote me the 287.00 ticket anyway (I think I was going really fast and also Connecticut is the f'ing worst), which I paid for with the graduation money well-meaning relatives had given me.
This past Sunday I drove to Florence, Alabama, to be by myself and write for a couple of days. It's about two hours from here, and although I'd expected to revel in the opportunity to listen loudly to whatever I wanted to, I ended up making most of the drive in silence. It was a beautiful day, and the route was scenic with lush farmland and distant mountains, and while I spent the first twenty or thirty minutes mentally organizing all the stuff I wanted to do, and the stuff that would need to be done when I got back, the bulk of the drive left me curiously, wonderfully blank. I watched my speed, sipped my water, and willingly entered that third space proffered by the solo road trip: I was no one, I could be anyone, and the person I was choosing to be was myself--an active, exciting choosing.
HOW TO BE ALONE WHEN YOU HAVE A FAMILY is a book I'll never write, but doing the research is pretty great. There's a distressing culture of apology that I think a lot of parents unwittingly participate in: I love my children but; I "earned" this day away; I feel bad that I got a sitter so that I could x or y, etc. I'm a parent with a salaried job who happens to work from home, so my relationship to "home" can be fraught, i.e., my entire world, at times, is here, so here that I fear it will crush me. I'm lucky to have a spouse who understands that I'm not a robot, grateful to be in a relationship with someone who values the highly impractical work that I do in cobbled-together hours when I'm not pulling that paycheck.
I thought about 21-year-old me as I drove my gold minivan the speed limit on AL-157. I thought about recklessness and wreck-lessness and reclusiveness and refusal. I thought about how one miracle of getting older is the great gift of discernment, how the simple things can be simple so that enough vigor can be stored for what's hard. I have this image of my younger self, speeding, speeding, then getting to wherever I was going and sort of idling around, waiting for something to happen, until it was time to zoom off again. Here and now it feels good, to quote Roethke, to "take my waking slow," but to be as awake as possible.