I have no real survival instinct.
If ever I was trapped in a rock slide on the Appalachian trail and had to saw off my own arm with a butter knife, you might as well start the funeral march now. I wouldn't leap from a 10-story building or crawl across the Sahara or kill a bear in the Alaskan wild. Sometimes just walking across a too-long parking lot, I'm tempted to collapse in a heap and give myself to the mercy of Jesus.
And so it is with some eye-rolling that I tell you of my plan to escape.
When other girls are listing baby names in the margins of their Five Star notebooks, I'm listing aliases: Eva, Sofia, Natasha. All the names I come up with make me sound like a Russian spy. I think more than anything I'm drawn to the drama-- waiting tables at a diner, sleeping in motels, bleaching my hair in the bathroom of a JC Penney. The truth is it'd be three days before I called my mother and the jig would be up. In addition to my supreme laziness, I haven't a drop of cunning.
My reasons for escape are the usual: debt, ennui, a complete sickness of myself. I've been down too long, and sometimes I think Eva, Sofia, Natasha might know the way back up.
This is all to say: I went on a road trip last week. Road trips are good for people who need a break and are bad for people who are broken. I gazed through the window at hillsides and farmland, rusted bridges and seaside cafes, and imagined myself in a new life. Passing through a rundown Kentucky town, I thought, "Maybe I could be happy here." A little shack behind the Church's Chicken, biscuits from the dumpster and sweet tea from the soda fountain. Something different.
Oh, who am I kidding. I wouldn't last through lunch.
It was the last ferry of the night. We were tired and hungry and sick of being in a car. We sat in white wooden chairs at the dock and let the wind tangle our hair. The ferry arrived and we shuffled on, heavy bags, leaden feet. We sat in a small, dark room in the ferry's hull. I folded my arms on the cold, Formica table and lowered my head. The ferry swayed from side to side, rocking me to sleep.
The girls picked us up in a golf cart. I perched on the edge of the rear-facing seat, laden down with bags, nearly toppling out the back with every lurch and turn. It was nearly midnight and the island was shuttered tight, wind rustling the palms, big, empty houses looming up from the ground, dark against the moonlit sky. The road turned to sand and gravel, crunching under our wheels, and we were home.
The house was sprawling, an endless maze of halls and double doors. There was a plate made up for us in the kitchen: oranges, Cheez-Its, little muffins from a gas station.
My bedroom had french doors leading to a balcony that overlooked the Atlantic. I stepped outside and my breath caught in my throat. The whole world was a deep moonlit blue. The sky and sea went on forever, as far as my eyes could see. A full moon hung heavy in the sky and the ocean surged and swelled, waves crashing against the shore. The sound was enveloping, relentless. The air smelled like fish and my lips were salty from the ocean breeze. White wooden deck chairs gleamed in the moonlight like crooked ghosts.
Once inside, I burrowed under my quilt, but the sound of the waves and the howling wind felt like an army battering the doors to get in. I tossed and turned for hours until finally, exhausted, I fell into the deepest sleep.
In the morning, the waves had calmed. Pelicans dipped lazily in the sea and a gentle breeze rustled the paper-dry fronds of the palmettos. We set the long table for breakfast: hot coffee, orange juice, a plate of buttermilk pancakes. A ceramic bowl of fluffy scrambled eggs. We opened the french doors and the big bay windows and let in the cries of the gulls.
The days went on like this. We'd walk to the market, we'd swim in the sea, we'd bathe on the sand just beyond the dunes. We'd eat oranges in the ocean as the waves crashed against our backs, juice running sticky down our arms. We'd curl up in rockers on the porch and read until dinner when the smell of charcoal filled the air, a pitcher of sangria sweating on the counter top. We'd gather around the table until the ocean swallowed the sun.
A dull anxiety permeated my days. Each morning ran into the next, looping like a worn-out cassette. An endless, aching longing surged through my veins, like the last rush of blood before the sputtering cry of death. It’s a childlike feeling, it’s a feeling I had as a child. It’s a feeling I had two springs ago in a one-room house near the San Francisco Bay. It feels like running out of time.
We left on a Friday. We drove to the mountains where we slept on cots and woke to the sun rising over the Blue Ridge mountains. We drove to Nashville where we stopped at a taqueria for lunch. It was 95 degrees and we were the only gringos stupid enough to sit outside. We baked in the sun and sipped margaritas, too hot to order food.
It was the year of the 13-year cicadas and the buzz was deafening; a shrill, chorused hum that sang from every tree and flower. Ominously labeled The Great Southern Brood, they coated the city like a plague. They're born by the millions deep underground. They live in the soil for thirteen years until some spring evening when they all climb to the surface at once. They fly to the trees and the lamp posts, a teeming, screaming plague, and then they molt, they mate, and they die.
It seems like a lot of waiting for so little life. But maybe there's life in the waiting, too.
We sat under an umbrella on the roof, our legs sticking to the hard plastic chairs, ice melting in our glasses. We sat in silence, bad Mexican pop blasting through a speaker just behind my head, cars honking on the street below, cicadas humming in the trees. I felt the sudden sting of missing something, or someone, but the feeling passed before I could place it. We were a day away from home and I suddenly felt so terribly alone.
The next morning we left early, piled into the car with hot coffees and sleepy limbs. We drove eleven hours. We stopped for sandwiches, but not much else. In Illinois, lightning lit up the sky like a pinball machine. We were pelted by hail the size of golf balls, bouncing off the windows like rocks. When we got home, the rain had stopped but the streets were wet and it was greener than I'd remembered. Spring had finally come.
I spent the next three days in the sun room, staring out the window at the tree-lined street. I woke at 10 and slept at 9. I drank three liters of water a day. I didn't go to work. I didn't change out of pajamas. I only cried once.
On the third day, my roommate came and sat beside me. She ate a sandwich and I drank a cup of tea. We sat there for awhile, not looking at each other.
"Do you ever," I asked suddenly, my voice louder than I'd meant it to be, "think about running away?" I was tipped forward in my seat, turned to her, embarrassingly earnest. I don't know why I wanted to know.
She laughed. "All the time."