Take Me To A Rest Stop
Tragedy is an earthquake. The aftershocks last in our body as tremors. We wrap ourselves in blankets and drink tea, take deep breaths, but the body knows better than to be so easily remedied. I take tragedy like an amphetamine. It is a scene from Requiem for a Dream and I am Ellen Burstyn’s character, vacuuming the walls, closed off to time’s natural rhythm, as if it will erase what I, in this moment, am: an animal conscious whose memory has erased its instinct. I complete things in double-time. I am fast-forward in a paused world. When a person dies, the world stops.
The grotesquery of survival: You were not taken, but will be.
As soon as the house is adequately cleaned, I need to leave. This is how grief takes me: away – from my home, which is the only place I have ever felt truly safe. Safe: definition 12. Noun. Slang. A condom. (How often condoms break.) And where does grief take me? To the highway, silently. There is a level of sadness that cannot contain music. There is no Mozart, no Coltrane, no Garland that does not sound like screaming.
What does Cage’s 4’33” sound like when you grieve? What instrument does your grieving not play?
Grief takes me somewhere in particular. It takes me to a rest stop. This seems almost like spitting-in-the-face of the dead. Why not a church? A pasture? Somewhere bucolic, or a tropical resort for ghosts? The rest stop is my chapel. Grief removes you from the context of your life. Your geography becomes nameless, because your sense of space does not exceed the boundary of your skin. What is a town, a state, a country? What, in these moments, could exist beyond the self?
Death is when you hide under your childhood bed and see your own young long walk toward you from across the room, when those legs climb under the covers and off the floor.
In a rest stop, you are confronted with a map with a small red dot that says “You are here.” After seeing this, you take the first actual breath you’ve taken in hours, because you were really never quite sure if you were the one who died. The acrylic toned map proves otherwise. You stare at the red dot and imagine every red dot you’ve been. You’ve been Indianapolis, Denver, Missoula, Oak Grove. You connect every red dot you’ve been until your mind’s map is a tangle, until you can no longer trace your history. You realize you live on a planet. A planet. Which means outer space. Which means a cousin of Mars. We are so small. We think we are larger than the red dot. We are smaller. We are smaller because a red dot does not have memory nor can it make love, but we can and we do so little with the bounty that we have, we reduce the fractions of ourselves to zero. Life is a network of geodetic triangles. We contain the potential to be planetary, orbicular, but cancel our doings with our non-doings until we are a mark on paper.
During times of extreme sadness, my handwriting changes to a left-slanted Baroque cursive that, in its posture and style, does everything to resist the future.
Flashback: Everything I learned about sex I learned from rest stops: from the Cosmopolitan Magazines I bought on school field trips. It was always the same, and in that way became a ritual, something holy: buy a bag of sugared peach rings and the magazine. In the darkness of the bus, I read “How to Give the Best Oral Sex – EVER!” and “What Your G-Spot is and How to Find It.” In those moments, the body transformed from its pillar of rot into a totem of pleasure. It gave hope that we are not meant to suffer, always.
The rest stop is a rotunda. From its center point, you see all the food they offer. Burger King, Roy Rogers, Starbucks, Pizza Hut. Corporate logos have mastered our senses. Just looking at the Burger King Crown paints our tongues with charbroil, lodges sesame seeds in our teeth. It could be no other way than this – if there was real, actual food, this would become a kitchen and lose its place in the realm of stolen time. Kitchens are Cartesian origins – the intersection of our ancestry and our becomings. (How many times has your kitchen table held you when you cried?) This is fast food. This is the attempt to quell hunger so fast that you do not lose any more minutes of your life. In a kitchen you wait, you ruminate, you taste. This is basal. A necessary satisfaction of need. Grief, in its infancy, if it needs anything, needs the artificial. It does not need the burden of processing the taste of an exotic spice or marrow meat. There are no words for the loss you just suffered. There are no quick words for the way saffron blossoms in broth. It needs the blessing of the holy trinity of fat, salt, and sweet, amen. It needs a questionable sandwich in a foil wrapper, something you can hold warm in your hands like a living heart.
In Angels in America, when Prior’s angel tells Hannah, “The body is the garden of the soul,” Hannah has an orgasm. It is no coincidence that the aorta is almost the diameter of a garden hose.
People are always entering and exiting the rest stop. This is not their final destination. This is the in-between. Duchamp’s infrathin (The namelessness of the warmth of a toilet seat after it has just been left). The neither here nor there. In this way, it is nowhere and without name. It becomes almost meaningless in its geography, a blank space in memory. Later, when we’ve recovered from tragedy, we can go back and fill in those blank spaces with something artificial and divine– a lavender horse, a man made of flowers.
I have, without success, searched for payphones in my town, in the next town, and the town next to that. The first place I’ve seen a payphone in years is at the rest stop. There is a list of free calls you can make, the first offering to “Get God’s Blessing/Daily Prayer.” I do not believe in god, at least not in the sense that god is something that resembles a man, with all the things a man has: feet, cock, sweat, pants. I envy believers. I envy the easy way they store their tragedy in the sky and say I’ll just keep this here, this must be the way god wanted it. How does one come to understand the wants and needs of a god? What kind of ethereal telepathy does it take to accept grief as any other Thursday? I dial the *10 and wait through the pleas for donations. I press the number that takes me directly to the daily prayer and the recording says, “We’re sorry, but all of our prayer warriors are currently praying with others. Please wait for the next available prayer warrior.” I imagine a few men and women in a field where a foot battle might take place. They are covered in armor, their heads are cocked to one side holding the telephone to their shoulder. What would they tell me if I waited the eternity until they were real enough to appear on the other end of the line? Would they have the weaponry to bring the beloved bodies back?
Flashback, in a rest stop, New Jersey: Once, as a girl, after kissing a boy whose name I never knew, I pressed the coin return on a payphone and could not stop the flood of quarters. That boy could be dead. That unearned coinage will be my only miracle.