I don’t know why I was so determined to go it alone.
I mean, for the record, I didn’t really want to drive from New Mexico to New York by myself–at least, not at first. I wanted, of course, to drive with the Guy Who I Met Right Before I Left Who, Just Before I Moved, Flaked.
(Every time I move, by the way, I contemplate this precise fantasy, with, roughly, the same guy: what could be more romantic than a cross-country road trip, fueled by budding romance? A lot of things, it turns out, beginning with lunch or dinner at Red Hot Chinese Takeout II. But no one ever told me this.)
And even when said Guy didn’t come through, I had options: friends who weren’t sure they could get the time off work but might have pulled it off with more aggressive coaxing; a brother who told me he’d buy the one-way plane ticket as soon as I gave him the word.
I didn’t, consciously, decide not to. But weeks passed, and then more, until I’d somehow, passively committed to driving by myself. The notion began to sink in that anything less would signal profound personal failure: a lack of maturity, of independence, of ability to be and do alone.
There are a lot of reasons this feeling doesn’t make sense. Mainly, I take pride in my chronic capacity to depend on other people: whether it’s sewing a button or assembling a chair or navigating a city, I’m much sooner to ask for help than try my own hand. I’m good with people and not-so-good at a lot of basic tasks: the approach strikes me as altogether more efficient.
But driving felt like something I could–and, for some reason, should–do.
Until, suddenly, it didn’t. Until, suddenly, the day before my intended departure, my dog ran away (four hours and countless hysterical phone calls later, she appeared, shame-faced, in the backyard); until it became clear that no one was going to buy my car and I’d have to drive the thing, instead of a rental, all the way; until I asked my mechanic what he thought about my VW’s cross-country prospects and he shrugged at me the way a devoted Knicks fan might if you asked them about the team’s 2013 championship odds.
“I’m starting to panic.”
I was standing in the front room of my Albuquerque house, all the doors splayed open in hopes of Bonita’s return, flinging plastic hangers alternately in boxes for shipping and bags for trash–talking, on the phone, to my mother.
She started enumerating options: I could leave my car in Albuquerque with a friend! (Not practical.) I could fly! (The dog.) Finally: “Maybe I should…I don’t know…what if I met you in St. Louis?”
I threw a pink hanger in a box. “I don’t know what to say, Mom.” I swallowed. I didn’t want to say yes. But I didn’t have it in me to say no. “I’m not going to tell you not to.”
“Well, let’s think about it,” she said, and we hung up.
Ten minutes later I was on the phone with one friend as she assured me Bonita would come back and emailing with my sister in law, who had heroically produced Lost Dog flyers, when I got a voicemail from my father: “I guess I’m meeting you in St. Louis!” he said, eager, into the phone. “Call me about flights!” (This, by the way, is apparently how marriage works.)
All day, a part of my brain had begun to hatch elaborate visions of being alone on the highway, smoke piping from the back of my car, oblivious highway drivers refusing to let me pull over. That part, as I heard my father’s message, heaved a sigh of relief.
Another part clung, stubborn, to the fantasy of going it alone: that part clenched and twisted in disappointment.
And then, it began to fade. It began to fade a few hours and less than 400 miles into my journey, when my car stopped accelerating–mysteriously, it turned out, out of oil. It began to fade further when, thanks to a highway closure and a hotel clerk posing as the real-life Kenneth from 30-Rock, it took me three hours and multiple, misdirected stretches of dark, dirt road to drive the last twenty miles into Oklahoma City. More when I clocked nine hours of driving the next day on four hours of sleep. By the time my phone charger and then phone died a couple hours outside St. Louis, that part of me was entirely gone.
“What is the universe telling me!?” I texted a friend. Short of a clear answer, she offered a sequence of cheesy platitudes in reply: “It’s always darkest before the dawn! Tough times never last, tough people do! Stay the course! You want more?”
I didn’t. But I did wonder: why was I so determined to do it myself? What was I trying to prove?
For a long time I’ve felt as though I need to demonstrate my capacity for solitude. Perhaps it’s to counter the self-crafted persona of someone who is always looking for a relationship; “I may really want a companion, but that doesn’t mean I need one!”, I seem desperate to say.
I seem slow to accept that companionship is rarely a matter of need: sure, it was great having my dad with me when the car did, actually, start to smoke nineteen miles outside of Cincinnati. Just as it was great having a friend to help me pack up my minimal supply of kitchen appliances.
If they hadn’t been there, I probably would have figured it out. But damn am I happy I didn’t have to.