Today, I took an impromptu road trip to Boscobel, Wisconsin.I think a big part of the reason that I've been driving so much lately is the promise of escape. A jerk of the wheel, a wrong turn, a missed exit, and I could be halfway to Mexico before anyone noticed I was gone. For the first time since I moved here, I'm really profoundly unhappy. In the past few months, I've lost six friends to airplanes and u-hauls and my voice is hoarse from saying good-bye. I am ready to go, too.
My grandfather is from Boscobel or, at least, I think he is. Maybe I just have family there. Or maybe my grandfather visited there once. Or maybe I just bought cheese from there and got the name mixed up with something else. I suppose it doesn't matter; truth is illusion and illusion is truth and my grandfather is from Boscobel and I went there today to try to find some piece of myself that I either lost or maybe never had to begin with.
It's a few hours from here to there and it was just me and Josh Ritter in the car, me: quiet, thoughtful, him: turned up loud. I couldn't have picked a prettier drive or a better soundtrack. His spare, haunting twang sounds best when drifting across sun-baked corn fields, curling up like a cat on a farmhouse porch.
My landmarks were windmills and rustic barns, grazing cows and sleepy towns, gravel roads and a crisp blue sky that belied the freon-cold air, still in the grip of a tenacious winter.
Boscobel is a tired little town, all clapboard and burned-out neon. I walked the length of downtown and ate lunch at an empty little diner where I devoured a cinnamon roll as big as my head and drank the best cup of coffee I've ever had.
I asked my waiter if he'd lived there long. He shrugged as if to say 'not really' and then seemed to be counting in his head.
"Fifty-two years," he said.
I asked him if he knew anyone in town who shared my last name. He said he didn't. He told me that about 3,000 people live in Boscobel. "I reckon I'd know your folks if they lived here," he said. "But, then again, people come and go."
I said, yes, they do.
When we lose certain people, or when we are dispossessed from a place, or a community, we may simply feel that we are undergoing something temporary, that mourning will be over and some restoration of prior order will be achieved.
But maybe when we undergo what we do, something about who we are is revealed, something that delineates the ties we have to others, that shows us that these ties constitute what we are, ties or bonds that compose us. It is not as if an 'I' exists independently over here and then simply loses a 'you' over there, especially if the attachment to 'you' composes who 'I' am. If I lose you, under these conditions, then I not only mourn the loss, but I become inscrutable to myself...
Let's face it. We're undone by each other. And if we're not, we're missing something.
- Judith Butler, Precarious Life
Simply cutting off ties entirely is almost a godsend in some cases. What's worse is that intimate relationship that, displaced by time and distance, devolves into those two coldest words in the English language:
Those words are a shower that's run prematurely cold, they're a cyanide nightcap, they're the door that hits you on your way out. They're part of growing up and moving on, or so it seems.
The closer I drew to Madison, I felt my chest tightening, my stomach knotting. A jerk of the wheel, I thought, a wrong turn, a missed exit.
I could be halfway to Mexico before anyone noticed I was gone.