The hardest drive

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I wrote this in my head as I drove today.

That will have to serve as an apology for what follows.

I sat in the cab of the big U-haul truck and wondered how many emotions had bounced around the interior during the course of its life.

We pulled out of a cold and rainy Missoula at noon. Carson rode shotgun with his leopard gecko Morris. Carson cried for the first twenty minutes or so, especially as we passed through the neighborhood.

My closest friends came by to see us off, and it was all I could do to hold it together to keep thinking about what needed to go in the truck next.

I don’t cry much. In fact, I shed tears so infrequently that my wife freaks out a little when it happens. All I wanted to do today was find some quiet place to be alone and think about all I was leaving behind. Instead I fought wind and rain behind the wheel of a big orange and white truck, stacking emotions like clothes in my suitcase.

The cab was a cathedral of sorts. A noisy, bumpy place to try and reflect on the events of the last two months. Carson and I tried to chat off and on, but we were both aware of how easy it would be to totally break down.

Missoula is apparently located in some state of mind people call the last best place. Sometimes I think certain situations are the last best…

Our goodbye get together on Friday served as a last chance to enjoy a beer with good friends. A last best party. Saturday evening was an impromptu last best dinner with a few close friends who had helped us move the detritus of our Missoula existence into that U-haul.

This morning when we were packing, I just wanted to be done and on the road. I knew that if I stopped long enough, all the emotions that have been building up would come pouring out, and that wouldn’t be a pretty sight.

And still, in spite of keeping my mind focused on my task like a brain surgeon must, when my friends showed up for one last best goodbye, I felt myself slipping into that familiar pre-cry moistness. I looked the other way instead of making eye contact, and when I’d catch my wife losing it after hugging our neighbors goodbye, I had to start talking to myself out loud to keep from going there.

I wanted to harden all the soft parts and numb anything that felt sharp and uncomfortable. I don’t have time to grieve right now. The hum in the cab of the U-haul was cathartic in a way. Like monks chanting. I started to try to match the tenor, but I found myself easing into memories too swiftly when I wasn’t focused on something other than everything cascading into whatever pit that is within me that collects whatever fuels those stormy emotions.

Eastern Washington is cathartic too. Something about the way it has been scoured out by the many Glacial Lake Missoula floods stirs up sediment in my soul that keeps me from feeling much. I think about ancient floods and how so much land owes so much to such powerful forces of change outside of its control. I thought about Lewis and Clark and the fact that I’ve spent much of my life along a big portion of the trail they carved across the country. I thought about adventure and overcoming adversity, but too much thought like that shrinks you next to the giants of the past.

 Somewhere along the way I tried to cap the bottle by making notes about the future. This is what needs to be done by tomorrow. I need to finish this task by Thursday.

Then I got a text message from a friend in Missoula, and my world tilted a little bit, loosening whatever fastener I had tried to seal in those emotions with.

The kids all cried their little hearts out in the morning, and by late afternoon, they just wanted to be somewhere familiar. By the time we rolled into the driveway at grandma and grandpa Akimoffs’ place, the kids were onto something new.

The sadness of leaving people you love is a very individual emotion. Everyone suffers something privately. There is no collective feeling that can be understood. For some it’s visible, like tear-stained cheeks. For others it’s a very personal piece of heart luggage with few visible signs of existence.

Long drives are good for sorting out thoughts and feelings. I’ve always felt collected after driving. Today was different. I should have let that U-haul-cab cathedral be my confessional, but I’m not quite ready to suffer. I know that will come. Like a good journalist, I like to put off the suffering until right before deadline. Somehow it sharpens the wit and creates beauty.

But my heart still hurts tonight. My longing for what used to be kept me from listening to certain songs I knew I would feel too much.

Ah, I miss you!


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