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The 1600 Mile Purge

July 26, 2006

The volume contained within the bed of a 1998 Chevy S-10 is roughly equal to three boxed computers, maybe forty books, two weeks’ worth of clothing for two people, and various and sundry antiques and art supplies stuffed in the chinks between the boxes. These are the essentials; two weeks ago when we announced we were leaving for the midwest, these were the objects we shuffled aside to take along. It is me, the lover, and the thirty-pound cat in the cab of the truck. Everything else has been left behind, the ocean and skyline, my favourite cafes and the trees I am acquainted with. The imperfect moldering apartment four blocks from the sea where I had awakened every morning for years and years and years.

Long Beach to Las Vegas is the briefest of the legs. Out of respect for the cat, he is not boxed up but sitting warmly huddled on my lap. Every flickering streetlight terrifies him. The radio stations are still familiar and easy to find – too much Bob Seger on 99.9. Mythical desert sound waves of pirate radio stations. For a brief hour on the edge of Nevada, nothing but Spanish.

After Vegas, amid the miles of desert that terrify my driver (born in Kansas City) and comfort me (born in the very stale sepia deeps of Southern California) we are entering territory that is all new to me. The break with the coast resulted in energy so massive that I have propelled my companion, our possessions and my thirty-pound cat across six hundred miles so far. Since I have not yet looked back, I am not worried that the momentum will leave us short of Kansas City. Instead, I am afraid that it will carry me so far past it that I will not be able to settle there even briefly. I want to go East.

Somewhere in Utah the forty-eight hours of packing items and willfully blinding ourselves to the things left behind has exhausted my driver. I am not tired. I have just been sitting here with a heavy cat, listening to the tape of Led Zeppelin and the Doors I made for him to listen to, something fast to keep him going. He has to drive for me. He carried most of the boxes, loaded the truck. It is just my wanting that has gotten us here. I do not realise until Colorado the importance of this, that my will can be so furious and uncontained.

He calls his father just before Colorado, after we sleep for four hours in an insanely priced room just off I-70. I don’t remember where we picked up the I-70. This disappoints me somehow – I wanted to add it to my collection of Favourite Highways Travelled. The Ortega Highway coming in at number two on my list, just after PCH. It doesn’t matter. This is the first time we’ve been travelling in daylight, and now the radio is on and the fear has creeped in a little. Not of the geography, but of the kind of places like Utah whose radio stations are all about The Word. He warns me that it gets worse. I shuffle it aside and find another tape. Led Zeppelin again, but slower. I figure the momentum can handle it. The song is “Going to California”. And his father is going to meet us wherever he can. We name Burlington, on the edge of Kansas. It is three pm.

Somewhere in Colorado the earth opens up to meet the sky, and the soaring limestone that looms above us provokes exclamation and maybe even some excitement. The cat is still lodged firmly on my lap, hiding his eyes. I forget to take pictures. I ask “Is this the Great Divide?” but neither of us are really certain what that is exactly. I am sad when we pass by it. The otherworldy landscape had lulled me into a fantastic sense of adventure, a sense akin to what I felt the first time I saw the coast of Norway. Nothing in my life would have led me to believe that such landscapes truly existed.

Colorado was the longest part of the purge. In California I left my family and possessions, which some might argue was the greatest of my leavings. I left familiarity in Nevada, and the idea that people are all connected in Utah. In Colorado, we slowed near a truck stop and decided to go in. He called his father again, but received no answer. I’ve done some math during the last hour, and figure that his father will need to drive roughly 133 mph in order to reach Burlington when we do. My driver, my lover just shrugs. He was his father’s crew chief many years before, and he’s seen things.

The truck stop feels wrong, we are glared at and cold-shouldered by the ancient waitress and her shuffling, equally antique busboy. My anxiety spurs us on, putting us back in the truck and back on the road within five minutes. The cat has not moved, though occasionally he growls. The seat below him, my lap and shirt are covered in fur, and my eyes have been watering for five hundred miles.

I see the signs for Burlington at ten p.m. We reach the exit just as a silver Camaro reaches us. His father opens the door and inside my heart I marvel at momentum. 133 mph worth. They haven’t seen each other in a year.

I don’t remember Kansas. It exists as a void somewhere in the middle, and though we frequently cross into Kansas from our new place in Missouri, I can never tell that we’ve been there. I left nothing in Kansas. An hour before we reached his parents home, where I would jump out of the truck, fling the cat at someone and then cry hysterically before promptly falling asleep, the sun began to rise.

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