Volunteer State- Part 1- “South”

IMG_5420I came to Nashville for the same reason that I’ve done a lot of things in the past 11 years­– to get away, to make a clean break, to start over. This is one of the less dramatic iterations, seeing as I don’t want to fully wipe the Etch-a-sketch clear and start over altogether, I just want to get clean, I want to unmuddy the internal so I can resume the life I am and have been building back in Detroit. Thank god at least for that.

I found this place on Airbnb, I liked the idea of going South, a direction I’ve never traveled on my own before, maybe if I go north and back, south and back, it will be like a seamstress reinforcing a stitch, making it hold tight. This particular place seemed rather perfect– a “writer’s cabin,” a “spiritual retreat.” Done.

It was hard to get away. I spent the night before driving down here sleeping on the kitchen floor of my childhood home alongside the heavy-breathing body of poor sweet Tansy, the dignified elderly doggy now struggling through her 14th year. We didn’t expect her to survive the night. I fed her water by hand an watched as her large head, slow motion, sagged one millimeter per second until it got low enough to where she could drink it herself. Time was slowing for her.

My alarm went off at 4am, signaling my cue to hit the road, I re-set it for another hour. 5:00. 6:00. 7:00. Maybe I wouldn’t go at all. Dad came downstairs and promptly reported to me that my cell phone appeared to be sitting at the bottom of Tansy’s water bowl. Ouch. Maybe I really wouldn’t be leaving.

The phone was revived magically by a bag of rice and Tansy even stood and went outside to pee. I was morbidly upset that she hadn’t died in my presence these past few days, would I now miss it? Do I dare leave only to have her perish while I’m halfway down America’s rusty spine? Did I even want to go? I went.

For the first hour. I leave the radio off. First I sit in silence, then I sing at the top of my lungs all the songs I secretly think I’m good at singing until my throat hurt. I put on a series of books on tape, alternating between The Warmth of Other Suns and Eat Pray Love. That book- why have I avoided it for so long? It’s as if someone else’s spiritual journey is a challenge to my own. As though someone else’s personal writing makes mine derivative. Well I haven’t written anything much yet and this is good stuff. I’m glad I finally relented.

I drive and drive. It gets dark, then rainy. I’m trying to make it to Penuel Ridge by 10pm and that doesn’t leave much time for refueling either the car or myself. Without much conscious thought, I reach into the back seat for the grocery bag and treat myself to an apple. Then some Triscuits with humus. Then all the Triscuits and all the humus. Fuck. My mind immediately switches into all-or-nothing mode and I scan the highway exit signs for indications of big box grocery stores that might provide me with a deeper fix. Ice cream sounds good. Maybe a box of cookies. Will I throw up what I’ve already eaten and then get more food? That will necessitate another stop. The rain is dangerously thick. I pass exit after exit but never so much as turn on my signal. I keep driving straight.

By the time my gas tank indicator comes on, I am safe. I will not buy food, I willnot un-eat what I already consumed. What’s done is done, no need to make it worse.

My right butt muscle is aching and I stretch in the gas station under the 60 foot concrete pedestals. Gazed up at the glaring fluorescent lights I am grateful to be safe from myself. Thank you.

Not perfect but not horrible. Keep going.

I finally see the road sign that says “Welcome to Tennessee, the Volunteer State.” I remember doing a report in 4th or 5th grade on Tennessee and learning that they were the volunteer state– as I recall it is because they up and volunteered to join some war or the other1 without actually needing to. How very American of them. At the time, I thought it was a lame nickname, but I smile to see it now. There has been no intervention. I am here entirely as a volunteer, to do some tough internal work, to wage another battle in the war with the parts of me that have been pushing the front lines for far too long. I have been waiting to arrive at the state of willingness and strength to actually rid myself of my addiction. The submission to it doesn’t seem like a choice, but at some level I know it is. Here I am, to face it once again.

I pull into my destination just shy of 10:00. Mom sends a text that Tansy is still hanging in there and then I lose service. Maybe it is a good thing I came so far. I love my little cabin, my little twin bed, the water basin for washing my face and the bird feeder hanging outside. I am exhausted and I sleep.


1 Google advises it was the “Mexican War”. Hopefully my battle is more noble than disenfranchising a bunch of poor Mexicans of their native land.

Previous Entry: Part 2: Sleep

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