Thursday, April 23, 2009
Open Road Song
And I wonder where I’ll be in a year Probably sitting right here And if you know the answer Don’t tell me anyone ‘Cause I don’t wanna know --The Refreshments, “Don’t Wanna Know” It’s been nearly two and a half years since I’ve found myself on the back roads of Wisconsin. It’s all so familiar, like I never left. Even though I’ve never been here before. The blacktop passes beneath my Bridgestone Insignias at a mile a minute as dusk fades slowly to night. The last time I was doing this was a bitterly cold night in January of 2007. I don’t think it got above 0 that weekend. Simply walking outside made the hairs on the inside of my nose freeze. Sadly, that was far from the worst thing about that weekend. No, that was the weekend that god spoke to me. The guest speaker on the retreat ran us through that setup I knew all too well. “Pray,” he said, “Ask god to speak to you. Then be quiet and wait for the voice.” I nearly broke down crying. I suppose lots of people do, just not for the reason I chose. I couldn’t handle it again. That voice of god had nearly driven me mad once. I wasn’t about to let it happen again. I couldn’t let it happen again. It’s strange. I’ve spent a lot of time driving to Wisconsin by myself. I was usually sure I was doing something ever so slightly wrong, so I always had to have an excuse. They were usually pretty flimsy. Except for that one time. One of my best friends had cancer. Twenty-one, twenty-two, I forget how old he was, but it was sure as hell too damn young. He told me on a Monday. I had a retreat the weekend at Lake Geneva Youth Camp in Wisconsin. I went there by way of Rockford, which really isn’t on the way. I bought my buddy and his girlfriend dinner, commiserated for a while. Stopped at the Belvedere Oasis on the way, bought him a pack of cigarettes at his request. “Let’s take notes this time,” I said when I tossed the Marlboros at him. “That way we’ll know how to deal with it when you get lung cancer.” Later I’d spend my Wednesdays at the oncology ward while he went through chemo. We told cancer jokes to pass the time. That detour through Rockford and all the things I did after were far more Christian than anything I could have done on that weekend retreat. Funny how that works. The miles continue to fall behind my little blue Chevy. I look around and for a moment I’m back in Macomb, taking one of those drives down a two-lane highway stretching forever through the farmland. There was a girl in one of my classes my first semester out at WIU. The first few times the class met she sat at the table in front of mine. One day she started sitting next to me. I told myself it was because she wanted to sit next to her friend who sat a couple seats down. I might have been right. Who knows? I was too chickenshit to find out if there was anything else going on. There was another girl, later. We sat next to each other in a minivan all the way to and from Bloomington on a class trip. I was too chickenshit to try anything then, either. I told myself the real reason was because she wasn’t a Christian. That was also the semester I was slowly going insane. I’m better now. Something’s happened in the last couple years. Something inside of me broke. I don’t think I’ll fix it any time soon. 73 cuts across 151 in two places. I’d wanted exit 120, but accidentally got off on 115. I suppose I could have stayed on 73, followed it on its parabolic course across the Wisconsin countryside, taking it to where it again met 151 and taken it where I needed to go. Instead I’d swung a U-turn around a concrete divider, remembering all the times She’d teased me for not doing exactly that. I was more rigid then, more prone to following my own internal rules. I thought they made me what I was. Who’d have thought, though, that I’d be once again shooting across Wisconsin, on my way to a conference center in the middle of nowhere. Just me, my music, and my ghosts. We used to have rules. No phones, no CD players, no laptops. We were going to commune with god, you see. Worldly distractions get in the way so they’re not allowed. This time I’ve got two laptops in my car and an mp3 player in my bag. I could hijack the wi-fi in the main building at the conference center and do a full day of work if I wanted. I could then play Empire: Total War all night. Somehow I don’t think I will. That’s the thing I don’t think the people I used to head up to Wisconsin to hang out with ever got. Taking everything away is a cop-out. If it’s truly important I can put my laptop away. There’s no challenge if that option isn’t there. I had my mp3 player with me that bitterly cold night in January 2007. I’d made a flimsy excuse that I couldn’t go up on the bus with the kids because I had to work. I’d drive up myself, meet everyone at the camp. Truth is, I could have made it. I just hated the bus. I told myself it was because yellow school buses, four or five hour drives, and my 6’2” frame didn’t mix well. Truth is, I just hated those bus trips when I was a student. I wasn’t about to do them as an adult with other options. I like being alone in my car with my music, my thoughts, and even sometimes my ghosts. They’re comfortable. And quieter than junior higher. There was bus trouble that weekend. I’d expected to just barely beat the buses up, but ended up arriving significantly earlier. I went and took a nap. I’d brought my old Dell Personal DJ in with me because I didn’t want it to freeze in my car. LCDs and sub-zero temps don’t mix so well in my opinion. I listened to The Saw Doctors while sitting alone in that cabin outside Baraboo. I listened to “World of Good” and knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it was a song about what I was going through. I still loved Her at the time, still wanted Her in my life more than anything. “World of Good” is a song to a dearly loved soul who’s leaving. It’s a long, heartfelt goodbye. Later that night when we were supposed to be praying and asking god to speak to us, god did speak. He told me to hang in, that in the end She’d be mine if I just had faith. I suppose in the end it was a good thing. Yeah, it freaked me out. But I finally knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the “voice of god” was just my own wishful thinking. And I learned to trust the wisdom of the Saw Doctors over some pastor with delusions of mysticism. I kind of wanted that drive to never end. But it did. And not quite as tragically as it could have in the moments after I crested a hill at sixty in the pitch black night to find a deer standing in the middle of my lane about thirty feet in front of my car. I’m here now at some conference center run by Lutherans or something in the middle of nowhere in Wisconsin. But I’m not here for the Scripture. I’m here for the stories. I got here just in time for a story slam and the day starts early tomorrow. So I think I’ll put the laptop away. The day starts early tomorrow and I need sleep. Maybe I’ll grab my mp3 player and take a walk down to the lake in the moonlight first, though. I could use some moments of peace. Maybe I’ll let those ghosts rest for the night.