Twenty seven years ago, one of my best friends and I drove my 79 Ford Fairmont up a mountain road and got all the way to the gate at the top of a mountain, with Wyoming and Colorado on either side of the ridge we were running. A four door sedan, a light blue juggernaut skimming along through the tundra until we hit snow. Upon turning around and heading back down the mountain, I came upon a decision: to either take the high road which was an ice shelf or hit a section of washed out road. I took the high road and my Ford slid down the ice and into the washed out portion of road. We were stuck for the next three hours with one wheel compressed into the wheelwell and another high in the air, just spinning helplessly.
After lots of digging, bridge building in freezing runoff, and loading the trunk with about 300 lbs of rocks so both back tires made contact with dirt, we got the car moving again, leaving behind a carniverous cloud of mosquitoes that had probably drained us of about eleven pints of blood. A few days ago, I drove my Jeep up into the mountains on Jackson County Rd 8A.
This might be one of the worse sections of “road” I’ve encountered. I suppose it isn’t difficult to imagine that a quarter of a century ago, the road was good enough for a sedan to navigate and now in four wheel drive, I nearly overheated on a couple sections and broke out a tail light backing out of another. It hasn’t been maintained, and year after year of snowmelt is taking its toll. I made it to the top, but it was a pyrrhic victory. By the time I made it home again, I was tired, pissed off for having taken damage to my car, and my dog wanted nothing to do with me after a drive like that.
Yes, my Ford got stuck, but it was a friggin’ sedan! They weren’t made for this! My Jeep just barely made it. So much had changed. It is being left to return to nature.
I’ve taken a lot of these kinds of drives to places I visited all the time when I was a kid. Sometimes I recognize landmarks or something just feels familiar. But more often than not, a place might as well be somewhere I’ve never been before. I don’t recognize it. The landscape has changed, or maybe it’s me that has changed. It is a strange detachment I am experiencing with a lot of things. Maybe it’s my age too.
There are a few things that are decidedly unchanged, like the smell of the post office. But many other things are different. That happened at my old job too. There were some days that I remembered the halls of that building with complete clarity, like I could have sworn for a moment I saw my old friends working in the computer lab just like they used to do. But the building was soon changed and the ICET lab was turned into two classrooms. Forgotten.
I’m working on this house lately. My grandparents’ and home to now six generations of my family. Every time I rip out a wall or ceiling, or update something, it removes that sense of familiarity. The sense of coldness that has hung over my family for generations. My son and I fill these spaces with laughter and when he isn’t with me, I make the place my own, with my office and bedroom, and setting rooms up in ways that would probably baffle my dead forebearers. A bedroom? Here?! *Scoffing sounds* It’s never been done like that before!
I’m not here to do things the way they’ve always been done. There is a bittersweetness to changing this place, and in doing so, fading out a memory of this place. Truth be told, I’ve got much better memories of places. It’s nice to do things differently sometimes. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the places I visit are no longer as I once knew them. And I’m no longer the same.
It isn’t necessarily good or bad. It simply is.
I look back to how my life was a year ago, as many of us are doing. At the time I was experiencing heartbreak I was almost positive I would never recover from. I didn’t care about masks or lockdowns or any of it. I was experiencing a different type of isolation. I felt my solitude was just lost in the mix with everyone else’s. It didn’t matter. And I couldn’t resort to my usual methods of distraction. Chasing. Living it up. I had to sit in my own feelings for a long time. Eventually the fog cleared. It took a long time. It took calls to my mom, or friends, or just feeling wrecked. The strange thing is that by just dealing with these emotions, over time I did feel better. I got to know myself again better. The hits that might have laid me low before were no longer as much of a problem. I got to figure out who was really there for me when the chips were down. I also got to meet myself again.
I was wrong back then. My life is different now, but in many ways better. I find more fulfillment now. I know myself better. I have better people in my life too. Or at least I allow them to be closer now.
I still make mistakes. I still get angry about things sometimes. Frustrated. Fearful. And yeah, maybe I beat myself up occasionally too. But a year ago, the landscape was a lot different than it is now. Familiar now, but my own.