I brought the Magnetic Fields with us. He had procured a bottle of ephedrine from a 7-Eleven on our way out of town. There was this billboard just before the on-ramp that read, "Alcoholism and Depression: A Deadly Combination." We had Big Gulp sodas full of whiskey, and dark summer air with the windows rolled down. We had my fear and desire and his insensitivity and escape compulsion.
Life takes on significance at night. Perceptions are clarified, elucidated with particular vigor by alcohol. There is neon and halogen, and I become moth-like. I possess enough highway ambition to want to circumnavigate the universe with the hum of reflective yellow lines at my left. He, I think, just wanted to see the East Coast, because he'd never been.
"I'm never going back to Jackson/I couldn't bear to show my face."
We had 23 short hours before we'd be somewhere. I was disappointed by the fact that he kept track, measuring our experience quantitatively. I, equally damaged, asked him lots of questions and gauged his answers against my own expectations. I had become the kind of person who was greedy for other people's emotions, as though my own weren't enough. Three things I wanted more than anything else: deep night, meaningful connection, and highway.
"Lonely Highway, only friend/You've got me to keep you warm tonight."
The road is not the same in daylight. It's inanimate. It just looks like a layer of tar on top of the Earth. At night it's a parallel universe, replete with distant silhouettes of the Earth's cursive, the hypnosis of approaching headlights, the pull of the unknown, and the push of escape. He was laughing out loud, which is what he substituted for singing along. The alcohol was thicker than either of us was accustomed to it being. I tapped my stomach and heard it, as through a bag. It felt strangely sexual.
"You have become like other men/But let me kiss you once again/You have the sun, I have the moon."
I sang along and watched the sky above us through the windshield. I had my feet up on the dash, and my chin resting on my right knee. The sky was vivid in its darkness. I imagined that the moon had charred the clouds black. I kept having this impression of thickness in everything.
He wanted to stop for a piss. We stood side by side at the urinals. I told him how happy I would be to never go back to Madison, or to never wind up anywhere. I wanted him to tell me he felt the same, that we were alike somehow. I was thinking how good it was to have my body back, like I could feel the soles of my feet for the first time against that very tile floor. He just laughed, which is what he substituted for response when he preferred staring at a dirty bathroom wall somewhere in Ohio. It pissed me off at the time, but it was the best thing for both of us.
"The roads don't love you/and they still won't pretend to."
I guess we stopped talking altogether at that point. I drove and he fell asleep. I just kept listening to The Charm of the Highway Strip. It's a concept album, essentially. The Magnetic Fields' version of country, or Stephin Merritt's love affair with the road and his many selves. For me, the record is mostly about aloneness.
Love is elusive: The only time it seems like anything is at night. We drink and smoke cigarettes and say meaningful things to one another that don't really mean anything at all. Some day I am going to let go of everything and just drive away from it. I'm going to die in love all by myself. And when I die I want to be on an interstate somewhere in the middle of nowhere, beneath a wide-open sky, a sea of complete darkness. And I want the wind in my face. It will be a perfect night. I'll have a conversation with my essence.
"Take a look in your photo book/I'm not there anymore."