If I weren’t involved in a thirty-eight-year-long marital relationship, when I awoke this morning just after 4 a.m. I might have thrown a few clothes in a bag, tossed the bag in the car, and headed west. That’s what I felt like—feel like—doing. Just beginning an impromptu road trip that might take me, eventually, to the San Francisco Bay area. Or, instead, I might have veered north after getting as far as Dallas, opting to drive to the Twin Cities. I haven’t been to Minneapolis in many, many years. I’d like to see whether I remember anything at all about it or its twin. I do remember that my wife and I once boarded an Amtrak train in St. Paul bound for Whitefish, Montana. The thing I remember most vividly about that train ride was the stark, desolate scenery along the way. And I remember hearing comments from other passengers who found the desolation boring. I, on the other hand, found it enormously thought-provoking. There’s something about a naturally barren landscape that clarifies for me the nearly meaningless role humankind plays in this corner of the galaxy. I get the same sense of wonder when I’m in parts of west Texas and New Mexico. The vast sky and endless flat terrain emphasize how inconsequential each of us are, in spite of the enormity of our egos that tell us otherwise.
If I were a better psychologist (can one be better at being something one is not?), I might understand why I feel such a strong desire to just get up and leave this morning. Even if I were single with no commitments of any kind, it would be madness to head out this morning. Heavy rain, punctuated by brilliant flashes of lightning and violent cracks of thunder suggest driving in the predawn hours would be more than a little stressful. But I suppose whatever it is that might compel me to get in my car and go isn’t apt to be deterred by a little bad weather. Or volcanic eruptions. Or cataclysmic ice storms. I just get in these moods sometimes. I want to shed all my responsibilities and begin life anew. Would that we had the option of doing that. Just erasing the past and, in the grandest do-over of all time, putting all the lessons of a lifetime to use in creating a new lifetime. Without the maudlin lessons of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
These thoughts remind me of a story I began to write a year or two ago but haven’t finished. It’s set in an undefined point in the reasonably foreseeable future. All people have bio-magnetic chips that can be programmed to erase memories implanted in their brains. The central character, a very wealthy lawyer, learns he has a terminal disease. In this future, an economy based on a bio-economic conversion algorithm enables individuals to buy back up to thirty years they had already lived, effectively purchasing youth. Purchases are limited to terminally-ill patients, who—through their purchases—can revert to an age-state prior to that at which their diseases had manifested. The purchase price, though, involves the individual’s erasure from the memories of everyone with whom the person had ever dealt (through the bio-magnetic chips). However, the beneficiary (the terminally ill patient) does not lose memories of his life. My main character wrestles with whether he wants to live, knowing that he will completely disappear from the memories of his family and friends or whether he wants to finish his life surrounded by his loved one. There’s more to it than that. For example, my wealthy lawyer also has to wrestle with whether he can cope with losing his wealth and professional prestige, inasmuch as his “new life” would be involve a time-limited financial stipend and a low-level administrative job.
With rare exception in my adult life, I’ve not just gotten in my car alone and headed for parts unknown. In fact, I can remember only one time. My wife and I got into a terrible argument (over what I don’t know) and I told her I was going to leave for a day or two to clear my head. And I left, just like that. I drove for five or six hours and stopped for the night in a small town. I ate dinner in a crappy little diner, stayed in a crappy little motel, and spent the night wishing I were back home. The next morning, I got up and drove five or six hours back. There’s nothing romantic or compelling about that. That’s not the kind of impromptu road trip I have in mind. But I suppose the trigger that launched it—a wish to be away from the turmoil and consider a different direction—is related to what put the thought in my head this morning. Not that I’m in the midst of a particularly tumultuous time. But I’ve been feeling a little caged in of late. Too many obligations (most of which I could easily break without significant consequence), too many claims to my time (again, few that I couldn’t control if I simply exercised my control), too many diversions from whatever it is I would rather be doing (which, if I knew what that was, I might be doing).
Last night, we were scheduled to go on a Lifelong Learning Institute trip to North Little Rock to watch an Arkansas Travelers baseball game. The appeal, for me, was that a guy I’ve met once or twice, a guy who lives in Hot Springs Village was going to throw out the first pitch. He is , Bill “Youngblood” McCrary, who played in the Negro League in the late 1940s. I’ve met him once or twice and have a book about him, written by a friend of mine who also lives in the Village. I expected it was going to be a nice time. We would drive to a church parking lot in the Village and be taken by coach to the game, where we’d dine on hamburgers while we watched the game. Unfortunately, my wife wasn’t feeling well for much of the day yesterday, so we cancelled. While I was sorry to have missed the event, it was an example of the things that fill my calendar that I sometimes just want to erase but feel like I can’t. But we did and I’m not the lesser for it. I could just as easily bow out of a the string of dinners on my calendar, dinners with people with whom I’d like to dine. I could stay home on Sunday morning instead of going to UUVC. I could opt out of a writers’ event on Monday. I could excuse myself from the Village history committee meeting scheduled for next week. I could disappoint my artist friend by not attending his showing. Yet I’m not going to cancel my participation in these things because the relief of “free” time would be offset by guilt or…something.
I think I’m just complaining for the sake of complaining. Maybe that’s what I’m doing. Maybe I don’t really want to just hit the road and be a free spirit. But maybe I do. If there’s a chance I can over think something, I generally try.
Soon, it will be daylight and I’ll be able to hang the hummingbird feeders. I wish I could leave them out, but if I do the raccoons get to them and spill sugary water all over the deck. Damn raccoons. See, there’s something else I can complain about.