Last year at this time, Mike and I were in the middle of a cross country trip across America, an impetuous odyssey we embarked upon like a pair of draft horses suddenly finding themselves loosed from reins, harness, and dray. We were giddy, light, unencumbered, reminiscent of nineteen, only this time we had a late model vehicle and plenty of cash to fuel the experience. As I remember it, it was four months of almost uninterrupted bliss. I loved sleeping in tent, having no kitchen to keep, no floors to scrub, no schedule to mind. We were free to travel the little chicken scratch roadways off the main arteries whenever the mood would strike us or stay for an extra day in a particularly picturesque local on a whim. We walked miles and miles of trails, listening to water run over rock and birds cry in bottomless sky. We cooked under trees and brushed our teeth beside lakes and stood silently before Technicolor sunsets. We met interesting characters, treated ourselves to expensive restaurant dinners once or twice, and spent countless quiet nights huddled in camp chairs watching movies on a computer perched atop an ice chest set between us. We lived for a month in a creaky cottage perched behind the dunes of a tiny beach town on Chesapeake Bay. I have a multitude of pictures from that trip and I keep returning to them again and again and again these days, longing for the gratuitous expanses of America that taunted us just beyond the windshield for a magic season in our lives.
Why is life so much kinder to us in retrospect? How artfully it soothes us by softly tinting and blurring our memories, embellishing and erasing as needed to make the captured occasion coyly play to our looping hunger for dramatic fulfillment. Life seems fuller, grander, more satisfying in retrospect, whereas our daily life in the present often seems fraught with cotton balls and mush. The soporific of ennui is so pervasive, pernicious, and stultifying, it dulls our senses and makes now less preferable to then. We don’t know how to engage our boredom, where to find its chokepoint, how to lay our fists about its bland face. We only feel ourselves increasingly short of breath, narrowed down, pinned in, suddenly beige and unsatisfied. And that’s when we clutch about spastically, searching for a lifeline somewhere amidst the photographs forever bobbing in our wake, little pincushion reminders that every once in awhile we are granted a reprieve, jolted alive and awake for a period of time when it all made sense and environment, emotion, and intellect were all knit together in a warm and recognizable pattern that comforts us to look upon later.
I shored up some more of these life savers again during the last two weeks – capturing scenes and freezing impulsive actions that will serve as nourishment over the long, lonely months ahead. I could not explain to you why people I met four months ago have become so large and significant in my life. Perhaps because those photos of America are receding now on the horizon, despite my desperate attempts to anchor them vividly in my mindscape. The human mind searches for purpose, endlessly trying to trace patterns, establish significance, imprint meaning into experience. This is the mechanism of memory – the why of remembering one thing over another. Perhaps it is also why the memory of something tends to be so much richer sometimes than the actual experience was when it occurred: it has the opportunity to soak in and establish connections with other memories and become embellished by subsequent experiences and tie together all the loose, unarticulated longings that reminiscing can evoke.
America may be out of reach for awhile, but it is good to know that other memories are being formed right where I am now.