— A Destination Left Behind —
“The nature of human longing and how an individual’s life is shaped by such dreams…”
(Texts: “The Nightingale” by Kristen Hannah & “Be Still” by Elizabeth Gadd)
The day was sharp as the breeze rushed by the open window of my 1976 Triumph convertible. The radio and wind were as deafening as the sun was blinding, but I never needed my senses to know what direction to go. Anywhere would suffice, I just needed to get away. My whole life I’ve never had a destination, my path always endless, and that was ok – as long as I never went backward.
I left home, Nashville, Tennessee, over a year ago and have been a free spirit on the highway ever since. The only time I stop is to sightsee and meet the locals of each new city that crosses my path. I’ve been to Chicago and Minneapolis, to Kansas City and all the way down to Dallas, experiencing every story in-between. This time, it was a small town south of Albuquerque, New Mexico. I drove in and rolled up to the cheapest looking bar I could find. This was the usual routine because bars always promised interesting people and something new to drink. While parking, the neon lights above the entrance flicker an attempted, “Billy’s Bar and BBQ.” I lock my car – keeping my one possession safe inside. As I enter the crusty-looking establishment and order a whiskey, I sit at vacant stool beside the bar and wait. I drink and I wait because I know eventually somebody will come and join me in my solitude. And so someone does. Someone so ignorant of who I am and why I’m here joins me. It always starts the same. Silence. Then some side-comments, today about the football match displayed in the crappy 1900s box of a TV. Comments lead into questions, and questions lead into lies. I never tell the truth. Why should I? There is a value in forgetting which many people find insulting, but I could never resist the lure of reinvention. We talk about our ‘wives’ and our ‘children’ and our ‘god awful jobs’; both of us secretly thankful for the company. And so we continue into the night, the bar closes, we go our different ways, and I’m back on the road with maybe one too many drinks intoxicating my blood.
My fairytales are never the same. I’m always switching facts – playing with names – testing identities. It’s become second nature to think of myself as a “John” or a “Michael”. So much so that even my dreams indulge me in that same facade. I’ve lost track of my own name so often that I’m no longer sure of what it is… “J- James? No, no can’t be. Ja… Jay? Jaimie? ….shit.” I know that I know it, it’s somewhere inside me, just always on the tip of my tongue.
Sometimes I wish I could remember.
I wake up in the middle of the night from a dream of my past and I try to recall what it was, but the whole memory fades moments later. I miss home. As much as I try to run from it, it’s always just behind me waiting for me to turn around. My brain knows this and mocks me into giving up and driving home. But there are some things in life that I cannot escape…
…so instead, I wish to forget.
So, I drive. I follow the flow of the highway and let it take me along its curves and hills. But as the days past and nights bleed into tomorrow and tomorrow, I start realizing that I have not seen any cities, signs, or people. Gradually I begin to realize it’s emptiness. I drive day and night on empty roads between the future and the past, the entire time my mind taunts me with images of home – of the life I ran from. The life that no longer has a name to put to it. My eyes water as tears hinder my vision. And I try to wipe them, but the road has already been blurred into an unknown and endless path going nowhere.
I have to stop. I hit the brakes, and in the middle of the road I just stop. The world goes silent and still, but my mind is still in perpetual motion. I step out into the scorching sun and either way of the road goes on for miles. Nobody. Nobody for miles. Nobody to hear my lies or to entertain my false dreams. Nobody but myself. So here, in the solitude of the emptied highway, I pop the trunk and face my one possession – my one reminder of the past and the only gateway to my identity.
There, hidden behind my shadow, is my grandmother’s ancient steamer trunk – her only gift to me. She died to one disease or another, but before she passed she gave this trunk to my father as a gift for his first child: me. The travel stickers which entirely covered the old trunk were worn and dirty. All of them had been decorated with foreign names of lands I could only dream of. I want to open it, but can’t bring myself to do so. What lies inside is a history of me, a time capsule to make sure that wherever I go I never lose myself. I have ignored my own identity for so long that, like the trunk, I have decorated myself with stickers of different stories and names. Who I am has been so covered up that even I can no longer see what’s inside. My identity so lost, but, like this trunk, I never really let it go. I open the rusted latches and lift the lid. And there in the center of it all scratched into the wooden top… is my name. My name and all the belongings that truly were mine, each unraveling a new memory. My mind was cast back, a line thrown across the years. Against my will – or maybe in tandem with it, who knows anymore? – I remember.
When one’s identity is formed to hide their past, they will long for nothing more than to reconnect with what they have left behind; consequently, this longing prevents them from moving on. Their dreams will mirror their longing desires as they attempt to run from who they were. It is only when one embraces their true identity and thus fulfills their longing desires, that are they are able to form and aspire to new dreams.