Roads To Leave By

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

Nadine looks at me like she has just discovered that I am really an impostor – not the study mate she has known since high school.

“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 it has become more and more an argument – me against her.

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

“Right. Thanks,” she replies warily. “Look, I can understand that this must be incredibly, terrible 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 her?”

“It’s not about her!”

I stop –  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! – It’s a bit fucking hard just to ‘be myself’ now, 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, but I also need it there now. More than anything.

“Carrie …  I didn’t want to say that you’re not allowed to grieve. I am devastated, too. Lin, well, we weren’t as close as you and her, but if it was me. I’d be – ”

“Yeah… ” I say and begin to walk.

She follows.

So we both walk again, God knows whereto now. We were supposed to catch another bus but now we are just walking. As if we have somewhere to go to. Some solid goal that will make everything all right when we have reached it.

We walk in silence for a while and around us there is only the bustling traffic, people, the buzz of Columbus, Ohio – a city full of life, full of spring. We move along its streets like zombies.

“Carrie … ?” she finally says.

“Really, Di. I’m fine.” I cut her off. “What so wrong anyway about wanting to get away for a little while?”

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

“Lin actually left me some.”

“She knew she would – ”

“No,” I say. “Not like that. It’s something she did long ago, when she first … got those depressions. I tried to get around it. I joked about it. I couldn’t take it seriously.”

Suddenly my eyes are full of tears and I turn towards Nadine. She hugs me, right there on the street. People stare, but … what of it. I shiver and I shake and all that has been coiled up in me just come pouring out. I tried not to make this conversation end this way. And here we are.

“Oh, god … it was a year ago, and she insisted,” I ramble. “What if she had it all planned then? Or what if she somehow knew?”

“No – no,” it’s Nadine’s turn to say. “I don’t believe it. You can’t know those things. She wouldn’t … ”

“Well,” I sob. “I have to get away.”

She lets gently go of me: “And what about your exam? The scholarship?”

“Maybe I just don’t care any more. If my … best friend can just … no goodbyes – why should I care about some idiotic exam that just sends me on to another idiotic exam 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.”

We start walking again and I wipe my eyes, but they sting. There is too much traffic here. Too much exhaust. It gets into my throat, my eyes. That must be it. It makes everything worse. I think that is it. But I just keep walking down Silver Drive, when we should veer into Glen Echo Park. But I don’t feel like walking in there. Lin and I did. So often …

“I just need to clear my head first,” I say, by way of some conclusion. “Staying here, in this city, makes me feel trapped …”

“Have you talked to the counselor?” Nadine asks in a low voice, barely audible over the traffic. But I hear it just fine.

“I don’t need to talk to any university counselor,” I say. “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 which is now 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.”

I don’t remember what number he was, though. But that’s Nadine for you. She is okay, anyway. She really is.

“You were there for me,” she says and takes my hand, and it feels awkward but I don’t try to push her away. But I am somewhere else.

My body is here on this bench. I am watching the cars rush on 71 just outside Silver Drive. But my mind is rushing somewhere else. My mind is like spindrift tossed to and fro against a desolate shore, but it’s not white anymore. Somebody just poured a bunch of chemicals into the water and now it’s puke-yellow spin drift and it sticks to the shore of my mind in these big poisonous-yellow splotches, but there is nothing in them. I don’t want to go near them, to see what is really inside the splotches.

I hate you Lin. I hate you for leaving me.

There. That’s as poisonous as it gets.

“You were there … ” Nadine repeats, as if she has become nervous of my tense silence ” … for me.”

“Yeah,” I say and drift off again.

Does she feel she owes me something? And now she wants to stick with me when I’m a total mess and can’t really do no good helping her memorize the whole Uniform Commercial Code.

“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. And the cars … oh, god. We really should go into the park.”

“You can just go on home,” I say and let go of her hand.

She still clutches her books, stares hard at some indiscernible point between the lines on the ground. ” – I just want to help, Carrie. I … don’t think I could’ve made it through this semester without you. Frankly, 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.”

“It’s not about ‘getting past’ – I’m never going to get past that.”

“Don’t say that.”

“I just did.”

” – But 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.”

“Oh, okay.”

Another bus drives by, this one I know will stop near the empty apartment which is waiting for me now. 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.

A week later she was dead.

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

Me neither, I guess. 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 … ”

“Alan did the Inca Trail last year – did I ever tell you?”

“No.”

So she still has contact with Alan? Wish it was me. On the other hand … maybe it’s best not.

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

“That’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 … the Lake?”

“There is no reason, really,” I say. “Except … ”

“I need to get away. I’ve never been outside the States – well, except Scotland, of course.”

She nods. She knows we don’t have to talk more about that, too. So I move on to the only logical place, where she craves to be: The place where you find a reason for what you are doing.

“Lin had this picture on the wall in her room – of the Lake Titicaca. Never asked her why. She said she just liked it. It made her feel … peace. I could need some of that now.”

“Peace,” she says. It was not a question.

“Yes.”

“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 … which got lost in a box somewhere after my parents’ divorce, when mum and I moved back to the States from Scotland. Lost … like so much else.

Oh, god – mum. What do I tell her? Maybe I should not tell her? Or only after I have gone, I suppose.

“It has to be there,” I just say.

Nadine 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 say jump up from the bench as if I had discovered she had contracted a dangerous virus or something.

I might as well have slapped her.

Nadine’s eyes glisten. She looks up at me:

“Maybe I was so naive to think that you actually wanted me to hold you back or something. But you are hell-bent on going, Carrie.”

I feel 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’.

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 squat in front of her and take both her hands. Like some imitation of a proposal that would be funny, if it wasn’t all so fucked up and I didn’t hurt so much.

“Nadine – ” I say again, almost pleading like this is the truth – that I have to have her blessing. Not her advice. “I’ll go crazy if I stay here.”

“But why, Carrie?” she asks and her voice is higher and trembles, like she is going to have a breakdown now. Like I asked her to condone that I threw myself in front of those cars …

She wipes something from her left eye, taking one of her hands away from mine. She still lets me hold the other.

“Jesus,” she mutters. “Sometimes I just don’t get you.”

“Yeah, I don’t get myself either.”

The joke falls flat but she allows me to pull her up from the bench and we keep going, letting everything pass us out on the road. We walk like sleep walkers until we finally reach East Hudson Street and now would be a good time to turn. If we want to ever reach university in time and a normal life.

We stop and look at each other, Nadine and I. She is the comely looking, slightly freckled, rust-haired all American girl. I’m the icy blonde from Scotland who no longer has an odd accent but doesn’t fit in either. Maybe I am not the odd-girl-out anymore but I always felt like that, even after we started at Moritz.

Yeah, the college of Law is by far the most normal part of university. When you get to that part of campus you know life is governed by rules and predictability.

Don’t you?

“So – you wanna come?” Nadine asks.

I nod, but I don’t mean it.

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 what can’t be explained:

“I need to go, Nadine.”

“To the Lake Titicaca?” She puts up a brave smile.

“Yeah, I guess. Or just out – out of the States. On the road. Hell, I don’t know, but it feels so.”

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. It’s a coincidence, right? That she would say the line from the song I was thinking about half an hour ago? Like, just like seeing the bus with that movie ad – the movie Lin and I should have watched.

But that’s crazy. That’s definitely not Moritz Law College and order and predictability.

And there’s no Big Man in the sky sending signals to me about having to do anything, right?

The only one I can count on to make this decision is … me.

“You’re not mad with me?” I ask warily. “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 find someone else to study with. 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 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. Lin didn’t leave that much. She spent most of her inheritance, after all. But 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,” she says, smiling weakly.

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

She hugs me again.

“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 for eight weeks. Or eighty!”

More 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, towards the still far-away campus, still cramming her books.

She’ll catch another bus. Me – I don’t know what the hell I will catch.

I just know that when something like this happens, you can’t just go back to normal. You have to do something, even if you don’t know what you are doing.

I’d like to think that is healthy, but ask me again when I come back. If I come back …

What would you do?

*

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

 


Last edit: 24 Sep 2019

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