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Twelve Misty Mountains

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Back to the road in the cloudlands. At first, I’m not sure I can make it beyond the cool shadow of the rainforest, never mind escape this wet and weird state. I stop at an espresso joint in dumpy Allyn, reeling from the first forty minutes of driving. I nibble pathetically at a cookie and find a new itinerary I might maybe handle.

I struggled on the way up here from Vegas as well, but it was never really the driving that was the problem. I was tired from the war in Vegas, from the Lizard, from the players and the games, from the hysteria of covid, all set to the flickering frames of the slow-motion familial decline. Now, after two months of looking after my divorced parents, I am not merely tired, I am worn. My clothes don’t fit, but my body doesn’t fit either: I gave up all my activities to punish myself and now am some sort of immobile slug who negotiates physical space. I have a terrible toothache but won’t see my dentist; I’m using it as some sort of incentive to get a few more things done, I guess.

I planned it all well, though. My car is in excellent shape, my bags are packed, my conscience clear enough. Students are taken care of, finances are recovering. The surgeries, the visits, the tasks, all complete. I can leave and should. My whole life was already an escape from these roads and hamlets; more accurately, an escape from the dumpy little strip malls, especially the ugly groceries with their terrible spread of rations: the feeling of no ambition that pervades. To stop the hammering of shoemakers. Now, I am learning to find the good in them. I’m a mess but nobody can really tell. I’m almost a local. In fact, it seems I keep coming back in order to leave again.

My father is not just leaving, he was never entirely here. I am not carrying on his life or his name, it seems. I wanted to be more than him, to make up for his absence, but now I see he was only a distraction while my own opportunities disappear. I look for the cradle he made for my mother’s children while she nursed, but it is gone. I remember seeing it in our garage when I was a child, knowing I would use it. It would have ripped me apart to not see it only a few years ago, now I am more comfortable with destruction.

The northwest is large and the locales are not close together. I want to go to Thunder Valley and repose for a while, but the time has grown short. Each city I will visit – Vancouver, Boise, Reno, Salem, Sacramento, and others – are a day away given my current capacity. I want to pay attention, and I will make my incapacity work for me. I will be slower, wiser.

These misty places seemed similar and unimportant when I was younger, but I was wrong to not appreciate the west. It is the national story, and the detail underneath are our lives. When we get beyond the clichés, life is better because our curiosity returns. Even if I don’t get away from these misty lost places, I will see through them, as I learned to see through Las Vegas and to know its central place in our lives. (The roads of that study lead north, though, to Salt Lake and our secret animators in Utah, where even the federal government balks at interfering.)

I make it all the way to the hotel. I know to rest. I lounge, I am restored. I can do it again, all of it.

I had shown my dad If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast, trying to get some sort of rise out of him. Saw it before, enjoyed it. That’s not the point, for fuck’s sake. Fine, take your leave. It’s sleepy here and the mountains and clouds and water don’t move. They roll on.

He staggers to the door to say good-bye. What will you do now, my blue-eyed son?

Off I go.

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