The thing they never tell you about an open road is that while it’s a long way forward, it’s a much farther way back when you look over your shoulder and see how far you’ve come.
No turns, no budges or bumps or hills, it’s all just flat horizon trailing behind you. The thing they never tell you about an open road is that if you look back over your shoulder and squint your eyes just so, you can see exactly where you started out from. And that point will just sit there, watching you watching it, clucking to itself like the mother hen it is. Going on and on about how foolish you are for leaving when here there’s food on the table and a roof over your head and warm yellow windows smiling brightly at you, waiting to welcome you inside and wrap you up in a blanket all snug and cozy.
I’ve never been fond of blankets. They always seem to feel like they’re smothering me. And they can itch something fierce. But the worst part about them is that if you stay under one long enough, it starts to feel like your lungs are filling up with the very fabric itself instead of air.
My mother thinks I’m crazy. A good-for-nothing, lazy excuse of a son who just can’t seem to sit still, shut up and do what he’s told. And maybe I am. I mean, I never did care much for school. Sitting in a desk all day when I could be out doing anything and everything else, who would want that? In fact the only class I ever did like and pay attention in was Mr. McCarthy’s photography class. Now he was something that Mr. McCarthy. He said he’d traveled to every continent at least once, even Antarctica, that he’d been a photographer for National Geographic. Makes you wonder how he ended up teaching high-schoolers in a place as dusty as Rose Hill Tennessee.
I asked him about it one time. He just sort of looked at me funny for a while before sighing and chuckling sadly to himself. Then he got real quiet for a while before saying,
“My Grandma talked me into it. She told me she wanted her only grandchild to be with her during her last years. So I moved here and I just haven’t left since.” I asked him why. He told me he didn’t know.
It’s kind of funny because my mother never liked Mr. McCarthy. Or maybe it was that he taught photography, a class she never did approve of me taking. Or maybe it was both. But no matter how you slice it, the fact is she blames him for me wanting to travel instead of just going to community college. Just like my older brother. She also blames him for me not wanting to help her run the family general store, also just like my older brother. The problem is, I’m not my older brother. And why in God’s name would I want to spend my life in Rose Hill when I had an entire world to see? The itch to travel had been pumped into my blood stream and it became the definition of my ambition to get out and see all the world had to offer. Through my own eyes though, not just second-hand sources from other people’s pictures.
My mother never did understand that. She never really understood me either. Called me ungrateful for not wanting the life she wanted me to want. But I’ve never been the type of person to listen to others and just grovel in submission. So I left.
The thing they never tell you about an open road is how lonesome it is when you drive it by yourself. Everyone needs someone to talk to, it’s just human nature. But the thing is, I’d rather be on my own and going places I want to be than just stuck in a town that I didn’t want to be in and quite frankly probably didn’t want me there either. The thing they never tell you about an open road is that while it’s lonely, it lets you breath like you’ve never breathed before. It’s invigorating. It justifies every choice you’ve ever made. The thing they never tell you about an open road is that it is the definition of pure freedom.
I still talk with my brother from time to time. He doesn’t really understand why I left, but he supports me all the same. My mother doesn’t know we still contact each other. My brother says she’s taken all my pictures out of all their frames. It’s like I never even existed he says. My name is now just as much a taboo to her as photography and McCarthy and travel and anything else she decides she doesn’t like.
Not that I mind. It’s good company to have my name compared to. And it’s her fault really. She forced me to make a choice. So I did.
The thing they never tell you about an open road is that it sometimes is built with regrets and what-ifs and could-have-beens. The thing they never tell you about an open road is that when you’re looking over your shoulder back where you started, those regrets sometimes seem to rise up out of the ground and wrap themselves around your neck. It’s just like the blanket all over again. But I think the most important thing I’ve ever learned about an open road is that it is so easy to snap your head around, aim your eyes down the road and charge forward, leaving your starting point far behind you. Even though you can always see it, eventually it becomes just a dot in the background of a much bigger picture. And why would you choose to focus on that when you’ve got an entire horizon in front of you, an open road just waiting to be driven off into the unknown?