Fearless Rear-view of Roadside Attractions.

I pride myself on my fearlessness, but even those of us in head-to-toe armor will fall with enough impact.

In my late teens/early twenties, I was a free spirit that ran with the wind.  The open road lead to far and away worlds, and I drove fast.  Experiences, people, and breakdowns moved quickly through windshield-view and passed like a blur out my unoccupied passenger window until I could see it out my rear-view.  So long roadside attraction…off to the next destination.  Those roads, streets, paths to various destinations were sometimes long and lonely, sometimes short and winding, sometimes average in length and quality, but the music remained the same.

My poor mother watched her fiercely independent daughter depart so many times – sometimes picking me up upon arrival, sometimes rescuing me from roadside breakdowns, sometimes guiding me at unexpected pit stops, but always welcoming me home.  She never asked to drive because she knew I wouldn’t let her, but mostly she knew what I didn’t; the thrill fades in time.  Her only rule was to keep my eye on the road and to pay attention to the signs along the way.  When I did, it got me the farthest.

Stranded in Buffalo, New York, during the 1997 winter storms, I experienced my first whiteout.  This Oklahoma girl knew a blackout, but what the hell do you do when the world instantaneously goes white and you can only see that which is inside your car with you?  You stop, pull over, turn up the music, and let your thoughts roll through.  Once the white dissipated to a soft fog-like view, I got back on that road but this time I went home.

I still get out on that open road from time-to-time, but with a passenger, unlimited supply of digital music (RIP CD’s), and a GPS – no armor required.

The long snowy road of this week…

From The Archives (circa 2003): Good Whatevers


My brother, Jeffrey Lee Ben, turns 21 this August 23rd.  We made a pact some time ago that we would ring in the occasion by drinking his first legal beer together.  It has been two years and seven months, give or take a couple weeks, since I have physically been in the same room as my brother.  This August 23rd I will keep our promise to drink his first legal beer together despite the absence of his physicality.


I get chills, in my car, more so in the winter months of the year.  Initially, it’s frightening and I want the feeling to go away.  Later, it feels like the homecoming warmth of all my favorite feelings in one split-second before I feel the chill.  My brother is sitting, relaxed, in the backseat of my car listening to the whirlwind of thoughts in my head.  We are having conversations of silence for hours before it is time for him to go, wherever he goes. 


Before he goes, we share a moment; that moment binds lifetimes of images that I cannot see as clearly when he leaves.  I never want to open my eyes and return to the continuous world around me, reveling in circular bliss and breathing in love all around me; I open my eyes.


Trying to make sense of who my brother was to me and who he is to me now, I think about the infinitesimal memories that make the life-size memories seem so much more immeasurable. 


The curvature of his slim feet, I remember that.  His nostrils flaring from excitement, I remember that.  The tiny scar above his eye; the imperfections that made him so beautiful, I remember that.  His chest slowly moving up and down while he snored during his sleep, I remember that.  The illumination of his face in reds and greens during an excited Christmas Eve night, I could never forget that.  The textures of his long, thin fingers that would carve out his life, I can see them clearly.  His deep dark expressive eyes that could give him away so easily, crystal clear. 


Good whatevers that move us along seem to be life’s way of holding onto the best parts of change.  Easily enough, I could fall down the spiral of anguish to feel the thick ridges in my side.  I keep climbing, though, hearing the voices of my childhood that will never evolve into adulthood.  I am swimming in the sounds of wishful imagery and his voice grows, deepens and makes those would-be words. 


He sings for me, he writes for me, he paints for me and I grow without him still yet with him soaring in and out of my being.  I am truly lucky, to have spent eighteen years without an epiphany of how overwhelming a person could be.  Had the epiphany of his amazing existence hit me, long ago, I do not think my heart could stand another life-luster beat. 


While I sit, in any bar in any town, waiting for my brother to show up for our drink on August 23rd, I briefly wonder what I would say or do if he walked through the door to meet me for our drink.  As his bottle of beer sits across from me, I will raise mine and send him a toast when the clock hits midnight.  “Happy 21st Birthday my little brother, here’s to ‘good whatevers’ and many more.”

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