fearless or reckless?

Steven Slater, JetBlue flight attendant,
curses passengers, jumps down
emergency chute, becomes folk hero.
Summer, 1994
MFA program at UNC Greensboro

As I sail my car over the border between Texas and New Mexico, the vista suddenly blossoms open, a burst of shimmering land, atmosphere, sky, each intensified and vivified by abundant oxygen and freedom.

A perfect 360 degrees of brown and sage desert wrinkles and flattens toward a clear horizon. No roof, no billboard, no smokestack, no fence. The only sign of humanity is the singular stripe of highway which arrows before me, beckons west. I realize have never seen the sky until now, I have never felt so small.

I turn up the radio: "Where the Streets Have No Name." If the landscape could make a sound it would be the cry of this guitar. If sound had a color it would be the color of this sky. If despair and joy could manifest into one tangible form, it would be the knot in my throat, wanting to fly out and burn and scorch into a black smudge under this piercing sun.

To arrive here from North Carolina on a whim, I've driven my '91 beige Ford Tempo, alone, for two and half days. Spent the first night in a rest stop, half drunk and dozing in the backseat. I reached Oklahoma on the second night. I rented a campsite and slept again in my car, a little comma sweating, twisting over seat belt buckles. Despite the 80 degree heat and humidity, I slept with the windows rolled up, afraid of mosquitos and vandals. 

I pull off the freeway and park in a rest area, which looks like a movie set from Star Wars. I've never been to the Southwest and everything is exotic, other-worldly. The picnic tables and benches are bright aluminum, with aluminum canopies reflecting the hot white sun. Each unit seems to be welded from a single piece of metal which might, in a strong wind, overturn and wheel through the desert like a tumbleweed. Everything man-made looks untethered and silly in this landscape, overwhelmed by proportion, easily smashed under weather's thumb.

This is a reenactment of Nate played by an
actor, emblematic of 100 hopeless crushes.
I sit and eat a peanut butter sandwich and think about Nate. My beautiful, dark, doe-eyed roommate, the object of a terrible crush. The night I'd run away, Nate had disappeared into his room with his girlfriend, a gentle hippie named Josie. I was in the kitchen, cleaning up the remnants of a dinner party I'd thrown and which no one attended as promised--only Nate, stupid Josie, and our other roommate Jonathan.

I'd spent the whole day tidying our rented house, shopping, preparing an elaborate seven-layer lasagna that could feed the UNC basketball team. As I wrapped up the pitiful pounds of leftover lasagna and downed the remains of the cheap merlot, I thought of Nate screwing in the next room. I thought of each of my 11 friends who did not come to my party. I thought of the bleak, hollow summer spanning before me, the poems I wasn't writing, the lack of gravity under my feet. Filling up the days, completing another degree seemed tedious chores.

The thought of leaving was a match struck in the dark: sudden light, a whiff of sulphur and heat, a space instantly transformed. It was 3am, the house oblivious. I threw some clothes into a duffel bag and threw the bag into my car trunk. In five minutes I was on Route 40 West. I headed southwest by chance, simply because the nearest interstate traveled there.

At my shining Star Wars table I light up a cigarette.  I have no credit card, no phone. I have a car, an atlas, and $200 in my checking account. I'm 22 years old, and can start my life over--if, in fact, I'd ever started it at all.