She was headed cross-country. I found the tape in the backseat under a Mexican blanket soaked with beach sand. She was picking up a basket of freshly picked veggies from a neighbors porch and I couldn’t take another minute of bluegrass. Handwritten in the white stripe across the top, it read: A little soundtrack for wherever the road takes you. An older woman had made it for her; the kind of friend women in their twenties don’t realize they need till they get their first UTI or broken heart, both of which they can remedy in their kitchen.
My ex’s ex and I had become the best of friends, not in the biblical sense, though our names suggested otherwise; Mary and Elizabeth. Oh, you found it! Mary stuffed the wicker cornucopia on top of the mountain in the backseat. Leafy carrot and beet greens kissed the peak of a pile of rumpled blue jeans, flannel shirts and a milk crate attempting to corral records, loose sandals, used mason jars, seed packets, a lighter and a box of incense. The mix tape? Yeah. Is it any good? I asked. I think you’d like it. Deena made it for my trip but I already have it. Keep it.
Mary tossed the tape back to me, tucked her unbrushed curls behind her ears and planted her sun-dressed self in the drivers seat. I was still just a curious passenger.
Long after she’d stewed and eaten all the root vegetables but before she’d come to take me away to the house in the mountains that one summer I chose rest over a heart attack, I listened to the music. Incessantly, actually. Backwards and forwards on a loop under a screened in window; a coffee can ashtray by my bare feet, Nag Champa burning from the dirt of a potted Pothos. Can’t help but wonder where I’m bound. Though I have an inkling.
Mary was fearless, while I remained unconsciously tethered to fear. For the record, I hate country music and everything it stands for. Folks is different, if you know what I mean. Just this mourning he told me, don’t be scared, I’m here. I know and someday I’ll act like it. Back then, all I could do was sing at the top of my lungs and hitchhike. Now I have a license which hopefully counts for something. Simultaneously, I can feel you looking down on me, noticing how little I’ve changed. Still hitching a ride. Still screaming at the top of my lungs, if not harmoniously. Still scared.
Like last night’s dream, somewhere along the coast of Bali, I sat under the window screens as wet palm fronds slapped wire mesh faces, their body mass suffocating all the air from overcrowded rooms; fat children, meddling aunts, boundriless family desecrating the concept of sacred privacy with used clothing, thickly frosted coral lipstick, thinly sliced Persian rugs and a plethora of baggage; the old hotel metaphor. After pacing yet another path through the center of the earth, I sat in their shadows, watching the world dissolve in drops of rain and lyrics only I could hear. Other rooms. Other voices.
I was forced to stay up past my bedtime and tell you this story. It’s all true. How do you feel about the speed of loneliness?