My tablet tells me that we've climbed to 20F this morning. Yesterday, as I shed my heavy coat and wound my two thick scarves around the coat rack's hook, I remarked to my secretary that in August, we would be lamenting the heat and wishing for cooler weather. She laughed. "We should take pictures now," she suggested. "We can look at them next summer and remember how cold we were." I finished shedding my down-filled skin and moved to the coffee pot, but my mind, as minds will do, wandered to summer, August, after my second year of law school.
I stand on the sidewalk outside of the building in which I live. The man who has been my companion since the beginning of the year stands beside me, compact, quiet, his feet planted slightly apart in tightly tied sneakers. I cannot discern his thoughts from the expression on his face. He has gently set my suitcase in the back of my Nissan Sentra wagon and checked to be sure that I have jumper cables and extra windshield wiper fluid. Neither of us speaks. There is nothing to say. I am bound for Santa Fe, taking a vacation in the guise of job-hunting. He will shortly leave for Montana. He will not be in Kansas City when I return. I've timed this trip precisely to avoid being the one left standing on the sidewalk.
I don't glance in the rear view mirror. I don't know how long he waits before getting into his own vehicle and returning to the apartment in which he has one plate, one cup, one set of silverware and two pans, one shallow and one deep.
I have an interview with a firm in Santa Fe but will spend a few days in Albuquerque first. I've reserved a hotel for the next night, and I plan to stop along the way, somewhere charming, somewhere that I can eat breakfast with people that have accents different from my own. I want to sleep in worn motel sheets and drink coffee from a heavy mug on a Formica counter. I set my car on cruise control and head south by southwest, with the radio louder than it needs to be and the air conditioning on high.
But I never find anywhere to stop.
My energy soars as I whip through Wichita, going a dozen miles over the speed limit and singing with whatever pop music I can find on the car's tinny sound system. I barely notice my surroundings. I shed my anxieties as I drive. The sun bears down on my car but inside I don't feel the heat. I drive through a fast food joint and eat fries and a diet soda and keep going, thinking I will stop when the high settles or I feel sleepy. I drive and drive. I don't think about the law firm in Santa Fe where I have scheduled an interview or the man in Kansas City who is selling the three pieces of furniture he owns and heading to Helena.
Around dusk, I see a few motels with "No Vacancy" signs illuminated. I wonder if I should have called AAA to plan but keep moving forward on the roadway. I fill my car with gasoline around midnight, and get another soda, not diet this time, the real thing, the sugar and the caffeine surely combining to fuel my body. I keep driving.
Ten hours after leaving Kansas City, I realize that my journey nears its end. Darkness surrounds my vehicle. Few other cars occupy the highway. Mountains loom around me. I keep driving.
About three a.m., I pull into a truck stop. I realize that I have been driving for fourteen hours straight. I haven't eaten anything since the fries-and-diet-coke southwest of Wichita and the trail mix I got at the gas station. My head buzzes and swoons. I lock the car and fall asleep sideways in the driver's seat, my head against the window, my hands tight on the steering wheel until just before I lose consciousness.
I wake with a start to a hard bang on my window. A highway patrol officer stands in the harsh glare of New Mexico morning, with his heavy gun belt and short-sleeved uniform shirt. I roll down the window and ask him if something is wrong. He backs away from the car, shaking his head. "I thought you were dead, for a minute," he admits. I see how young he is, how fresh, how clean-shaven. I get out of the car and for some reason, I shake his hand. He gets back into his cruiser and pulls away, into the morning traffic on a ridge just above Albuquerque. I watch him leave.
From where I have parked, I can see the town below me. I stand by the metal rail for a moment, looking down, thinking about the next few days. I don't delude myself; I know the firm in Santa Fe won't offer me a job, but I think I might possibly figure out some other reason to move here. Some other draw, some other inspiration to pull me out of the rut in which I find myself.
I run my hand along the scar on the outside of my right leg. Two scars: One from the surgery to reduce the 32 fractures in the shattered bone, one across the top where the patella had to be repositioned. I close my eyes, briefly, and feel the sensation of my body sailing upward, propelled by the impact of the car, the VW driven by a man unable to see in the glare of the setting sun, last February, on the 09th, at 5:00 o'clock in the afternoon. When I open my eyes, I realize that several cars have pulled into the rest stop and three children stand nearby, watching me sway in the soft sunshine. I smile at them a little, but they just move closer to each other and the smallest one takes the biggest child's hand.
I get back into my car and start the engine, and continue down, into the town, to find some breakfast.
Here in Kansas City, the temperature has moved up a notch to 21. The tablet's clock shows 9:30 a.m., and I realize that I've missed another chance to see the men's figure skating competition replay from Sochi. The house is quiet. But I am not alone. I stand up, and go into the kitchen, and start my day.