Roads To Leave By

“I still don’t understand, Carrie – why do you want to go down … there?”

Nadine looks at me like she has just discovered that I am really an impostor – not the study mate she has known from Ohio State’s law school for over a year now.

“It’s not the Dark Side of the Moon or something, Di.”

I keep walking, clutching my bag tightly. I want to walk just a little faster than her, and then I can’t — because some damn bus stops right before we reach the crossing and a million people pour out in front of us.

” – You asked what I thought about it,” she retaliates.

Bus away. Nadine walks more briskly, getting a little bit ahead of me.

She is irritated. Big surprise. Since I started this conversation – (I dunno exactly why) – it’s become more and more an argument – me against her.

“I just thought you should know,” I try feebly. “After all, you have to find a new study mate in good time before the examen. And… and… ”

“Right. Thanks,” she scoffs; no intention of hiding what she really feels about my decision. “Look, I can understand that you are shocked and everything and this must be incredibly, terrible and – and I can’t really imagine – and  – ” … she casts me a glance I can’t quite interpret – ” … but is it really the right thing to burn all bridges and hitch-hike 3000 miles because of h- ”

“It’s not about her!”

I stop her –  a second before I discover we’re standing smack in the middle of the crossing

“It isn’t?”

Nadine cocks her head, knowing that it is Very Much about her.

A car honks to get us out of the way. We just glare at each other. I give in first:

“Okay – okay! – It’s a bit fucking hard just to ‘be myself’ after what she did, wouldn’t you say?!”

Car honks again. Much louder. A guy, neck the size of an ox, rolls down the window:

” – Hey, coeds – go discuss yer pretty books some place else, willya?”

“Hey, jerk – go drive some place else, ‘willya’?!”

I want to slap him, too, but the last shred of sense in me wins out. This time.

Guy rolls his eyes, and a split second before we reach the other side he speeds up and roars past, almost strafing us.

Nadine touches my shoulder gently. I feel like tearing away her hand.

“Carrie …  I didn’t want to say that you’re not allowed to grieve. I’d be devastated if it was me. I’d be – ”

“Yeah… ” I say, beginning to walk.

She follows.

So we both walk again, God knows whereto now. We were supposed to catch another bus but….

“Carrie… ”

“Really, Di. I’m fine! … what so wrong anyway about wanting to get away for a little while?”

“But to – what? – Bolivia? – and in the middle of semester?! And where are you going to get the money?”

“I’ll think of something.”

“And what about your examen? Scholarship?”

“Maybe I just don’t care any more. If my … best friend can just … kill herself like that – no reasons, no goodbyes – why should I care about some idiotic examen that just sends me on to another idiotic examen that just sends me out to some 90-hour a week job, where I end up defending scum or combing mountains of regulations – looking for tax holes for the rich?”

“I thought you really wanted this, Carrie …  law school …”

“I do! And … I don’t. Not right now. Maybe later. I just need to clear my head first. Staying here makes me feel trapped. Almost ill …”

“Have you talked to the counselor?”

“I don’t need to talk to any university counselor. What could he tell me that I don’t already know? – ‘I know you are feeling bad, Ms. Sawyer – It happens to all of us – I really don’t think you should jeopardize your studies to go hitch-hiking three months to South America – blablaBLAH.'”

We slow down, or maybe it’s just me.

I feel dead-tired suddenly. All of a sudden the world feels like it’s standing still where I am, and everything else is just moving past me – the droning cars, the loose leaves blown in from the park behind us, even the sprinkles of sunlight through the clouds.

I’m not really sure when, but at some point we just stop walking, surrender to a bench. Like reality just caught up with feeling.

“Maybe you should go talk to him,” Di urges carefully. “He’s a nice guy. I talked to him once, when I broke up with my boyfriend. You remember Derek, right?”

“I remember Derek.”

Yeah, and I remember that I kept hanging with you even though you were close to hysterical. We’d only studied together for a week or so and I never met the guy, but you made it sound like he was some kind of angel.

When you didn’t hate him, of course.

Maybe you feel you should be grateful to me, Di? Oh, God no – not gratefulness! Now you want to stick with me when I’m a total mess and can’t really do no good helping you memorize the whole Uniform Commercial Code.

Maybe I should be grateful …

“Do you want to go somewhere?” she asks, not with too much commitment, ” – the Northstar?”

“Too crowded, and no – I just want to sit here.”

“It’s a bit cold.”

“You can just go on home. Sorry that I’m such … I should just – ” I look down ” – I should just have shut up to begin with.”

She still clutches her books, stares hard at some indiscernible point between the lines of the pavement. ” – I – I just want to help, Carrie. I … don’t think I could’ve made it through this semester without you. Frankly,” – She looks up again – “I don’t know why you keep up with me? With your laser-brain you could be two semesters ahead already.”

“Maybe I don’t want to be ahead. Maybe I just want to control-alt-delete everything now … ”

“I thought you just wanted some time to get past … ”

“It’s not about ‘getting past’ Lin’s death, Di. I’m never going to get past that.”

“Don’t say that.”

“I just did.”

” – You’re the one who always complain about money – So why go on the road for such a long time?! And where? The Lake Titicaca in Bolivia?”

“It’s both in Bolivia and Peru. The border goes through the Lake.”

“Whatever …  Look – even if I had the time – and the money – I wouldn’t be going there. Where did you say it was, in the middle of the friggin’ Andes? I mean, it’s bad enough when my dad lures us away to his homemade cottage in the Appalachians for some ‘quality time’. I positively hate the cold in the mountains. And this Titi-whatever-place is, like, three miles up?”

“Something like that.”

Another bus drives by, this one towards the south eastern suburbs where my 1 room apartment is waiting for me. On the side it sports an old advert for Leo’s new movie The Beach. Lin and I had agreed to go see it, but I felt there was too much to read before a term paper and butted out at the last moment.

‘We can always do it later,’ I told her on the phone.

A week later she was dead.

We sit for awhile saying nothing. Nadine was never very good at this.

Me neither, I guess … but she buckles first:

“So, Bolivia, huh? You’re seriously considering this? Well, maybe you do need to get away … and there’s a lot of really ancient culture, and mountains … and Indian culture and … ”

“Yeah … ”

“One of my friends from high-school did the Inca Trail last year – did I ever tell you?”

“No.”

“Well, she did and it was really awesome. The Machoo Pitchoo was really an awesome place, she said.”

“It’s in Peru, Di.”

“But close to Bolivia, right?”

“I guess.”

“So … do you want to go there, too, or – ”

“Maybe. For now I just want to go to the Lake, though.”

“But why … there?”

I am quiet for a long time.

“It feels like peace,” I finally say. “And I need that now. Peace to just … be.”

“And it has to be in Bolivia?”

I look at her, not sharply – but hard enough to let her know that I’m too tired for this again.

But I’m not sure what I should do. I asked her to talk. I wanted to tell her. And now she’s being just too helpful without really helping me at all.

I really want to be left alone, take that next bus to the airport, no matter how many people aboard. ‘Just pack up my things and go’, like Morten Harket sings on that record I loved as a teen … but which got lost in a box somewhere after my parents’ divorce, when mum and I moved back to the States.

“It has to be there,” I just say.

She shakes her head. “… If that’s how you want it. But if that’s really so, then there’s another thing I don’t understand … ”

“What?”

“I thought you were asking for advice. I thought – ” Now Nadine’s eyes glisten – ” maybe I was even so naive to think that you actually wanted me to hold you back or something: But you – you are hell-bent on going, Carrie.”

I just felt us edging dangerously closer to some kind of line.

I want to be alone, yes, but not that kind of alone.

I’m not talking too well with other people these days. Nadine may not be what Lin was, but she’s still someone I can call ‘friend’. And maybe that’s why I finally wake up; when I hear the slight tremble in her voice.

Because I don’t want to push her away. For good.

I’m not talking to my mom. Dad’s gone – off to God knows where. I rarely show up at university anymore. Lin’s … And now I’m doing my best to sever my final connection with the human race.

Suddenly I feel scared.

“Nadine – I’ve got to do this. I’ll go crazy if I stay here.”

“But why, Carrie? Jesus, sometimes I just don’t get you.” Her eyes gleam. Not tears, but still …

Oh, God. I’ve  really freaked her out.

I just keep forgetting: Nadine comes from a family that’s so incredibly normal that it makes someone like me only slightly less freaky than a Jerry Springer guest.

And Lin…

– Well, let’s not even think about how Nadine’s folks would think about a girl such as my late dear Adeline Christakis: eternal author-wannabe, roleplayer, techno-rock addict and … oh, heck…

Not many matches there, but from day one we hit it off like we were lost sisters or something.

And now she’s dead.

And I should let her be dead.

I really should. Move on …

I can’t.

“Carrie? … You there?” Nadine asks gently.

I shake my head. “Yeah, sorry – Look, I think there may be an answer. You may not like it, though.”

We begin walking again, slowly. It’s like the afternoon’s become colder, like some strange cold light has seeped through the clouds and blanketed everything. We expect it to be good when the clouds finally break, but what if it’s not? What if we really don’t want to see what’s on the other side?

But right now there are just my attempts to explain the unexplainable:

“It is another world, Di. That’s what I need right now. I don’t need good old Erie, or Michigan or any other lakes here with children screaming for ice cream and love-sick couples glued to each other. I need somewhere … where some part of the sky that fell down, and became a … big blue piece of azure crystal.”

“Titicaca?”

“I don’t know, but it feels so.”

Nadine looks pensively at the pavement again.

“Look, Di, I haven’t really planned every last detail. I’m just going to do it and … I guess I wanted you to know.”

She nods, even looks a bit sad.

“Okay, Carrie – do whatever you have to do. Pack up your things and go.”

I freeze when I hear that bit. Just like seeing the bus with that movie ad. But that’s crazy. There’s no Big Man in the sky sending signals to me about having to do anything. The only one I can count on to make this decision is … me.

“You’re not mad with me? For leaving you with the books?”

“No – no, of course not!”

Di shakes her head vigorously and her long red-brownish hair swirls. “I’ll just find someone else to study. You’re my friend going away, to do something … I’m just a bit worried, that’s all.”

“I’ll come back, finish my studies.”

“Sure.”

I try an arm around her shoulders. Nadine looks  at me as if we had just agreed that the world is going to end:

“You know, I always wanted to …  go … somewhere, just travel or whatever. But what about my degree? And how would I be able to afford it?”

I try a grin, too: “I don’t know how to afford it either. I’m thinking about a Greyhound to the border and then hitch-hike some of the way, maybe all of the way through Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador … ”

“You’re crazy.” (A weak smile.)

“Yes, but you want to be crazy too, Di – one day. Just almost admitted it.”

She hugs me.

“I want to … ” Nadine says as she withdraws from the embrace. ” – But not that far away. But far enough – for me. Maybe we could go together. The next time …”

I nod and try not to notice that her eyes glisten again. “That would be nice.”

“So … ” she says, readying herself for the conclusion, looking relieved, “I guess that’s it then. Carrie Sawyer – going to to Latin America in eight weeks. Or eighty!”

Mandatory smiling.

“Big adventure, huh?” Nadine continues, and hugs her books now, the glistening in her eyes very close to running over.” – Big adventure, once-in-a-lifetime. Carrie-Thelma-and-Louise-Sawyer. Oh, God, I wish I had the courage, Carrie. Yes, I you’re right. I really wish so.”

“You have next time …”

“So you’ll call before you leave?”

“I’ll call.”

“Yes, do that.” She kisses me on the cheek, one final hug and then she walks briskly down the street, still cramming her books.

*

I would have told her.

I had planned to tell her … The other reason I’m going: Not just to find some strange undefinable  ‘peace’ or whatever.

Maybe it is there, but I doubt it.

I think that Lake is something really special, but it probably gives you what you ask for. And what I ask for isn’t 2 weeks of meditation, looking at reed boats.

I want to know why my best friend killed herself.

And I want to know if there was anything I could have done to prevent it.

Some more leaves float by. I can hear the cars but I don’t really notice them anymore. Everything’s truly stopped now. Around me …

*

Lin didn’t even leave a note.

No explanation.

But I have decided that there is an answer. It is somewhere … out there.

Yes, I have decided to be as crazy as this whole situation.

And maybe that’s my own homemade peace that I desperately need right now. (Do you have a problem with that?)

And maybe I wanted desperately to let someone know, someone I could trust.

And now Nadine ‘knows’ that

– I’m not myself after Lin died and
– that I need a break
– and that it is time now for a ‘great adventure of a lifetime’
– ending up on a peaceful shore somewhere by a mountain lake
– where the water is so blue it hurts
– and she also ‘knows’ that I’m going to heal down there
– be all right
– come home again
– pick up my studies again

And she ‘knows’

– that maybe one day
– I’ll take her on much the same tour
– and we’ll talk carefree about how I felt really bad
– when I did that crazy Bolivia-trip
– but then I slowly began feeling better
– I was able to let go
– and I could go back and become a good lawyer
– meet a cute guy
– get married
– maybe a guy who wanted to be a dentist in Botswana treating poor black kids for free
– and we could buy a house in Michigan near the Canadian border
– where we’d always be able to see the beautiful forest.

It must be good to know what’s going to happen.

 

*

There’s many roads to leave by
But few come back again

 


Last edit: 30 Nov 2018