I'm going to tell you about a trip when our friend Jack drove the three of us through a long western night; determined to get us all home in one 35 hr go.
The first hours were the easiest.
No matter how tough or grueling a tour is, I always get a boost when we leave our final hotel. So it's no thing to pass 8 - 12 hours trading playlists on our phones and burning pavement. But at the 16th hour, just barely approaching halfway, that feeling turns into something else. Some new kind of exhaustion. Cause I know the only thing between home and me is time.
"Why don't you get some sleep? You can rotate back in the morning," Abe said jumping from the backseat up next to me on the middle bench.
He caught me in a bit of a daze, lost in the green numbers of the radio. "Did you rest?" I asked crawling to the back.
He shook his head, "enough. I'm ready to get driving though."
I fumbled over in the dark: clearing the bench, taking off my shoes. I could feel the tunnel vision hitting me. To make it worse all the caffeine had worn off and my body was coming down.
Looping around America the band had done 6 weeks of heavy touring. Up the east, then west through the north, occasionally popping up into Canada, we finished with a night in Seattle and one in Vancouver. So why we decided to do this drive straight through, I'm still not sure.
But like a good dream most of it seemed to fade with only flashes and fragments remaining. Good thoughts for another day, then all I wanted was silence.
3 to 5
My time to fell in and out of sleep as we slipped further away from the Vancouver, the last club, a really nice Holiday Inn that we didn't get to enjoy, the mountains, the tall pacific trees that are nothing like the brush of Texas, the desert, going south and south.
I closed my eyes.
The radio, the guys talking stories of future plans, the noise of the road; it all hung distantly on my consciousness pulling me awake.
I buried my face deeper into the back of the bench, feebly hiding away so I could try to sleep. I was tired. Really tired. I felt the weight of sleep taking over me. Pouring down the back of my brain, down into my chest flooding my lungs with it's gravity.
The other guys need noise to help them drive, you don't complain about things like that. It's an unspoken rule. I'd rather them blasting the speakers then have us all fall asleep while driving. We've had our close calls before, I don't care to relive that again. So I just listen to the road, slow my breathing and drift...
"Are you... Are you happy with this, the music?" Mom was reclined in her chair, a worn black leather massage station she'd bought for Dad many Christmases before. In her corner of the bedroom, two steps from her pillow. A place to watch TV, look out the window, and drift into a nap when nausea or insomnia kicked in.
"Of course," why was I remembering this moment? Lying on her bed, watching For A Few Dollars More, she had fallen asleep early on. I hadn't noticed her waking up, "it's not easy, but it's still fun," I said watching the desert and the steel eyes looking back at me.
"I used to think," she started, then stopped herself at the sounds of gunfire and cowboy groans. Her head rolled to the window. Mom never liked violence. It wasn't so much the killing, she told me, but the way he smiled afterwards that bugged her.
There was a bump in the road that jolted my body. And laughing from the front. The crackling foil of an empty gas station snack. The engine let open, pushing harder as we started rolling up hill. And I fought to keep level on the bench.
'Am I happy?'
The sound swell like the rising of sustained strings. A breath. A wave of violins. And down the road, bells breaking across the desert. The hum of her rollers gliding back and forth against her back.
The morning tinted by soft blue curtains broke around the floral scarf covering her head. Mom never changed for me. Her hair was gone. She had lost weight. Her skin had turned from olive to a pale white but it only made the green of her eyes stronger. Those were only superficial things. She was still as bright as ever.
"I used to think you get what you put in," she was looking back at me again and I lowered the TV to listen, "but things aren't balanced are they? Things aren't going to be fair for you."
I waited for her to continue as she looked me over, but she wanted me to share too.
"I don't know, the band's doing alright."
"You won't always be," she said understated like she was talking to herself, "I hear stories... You boys are talented, but that's not always enough...talent I mean... I worry."
"Every job has politics Mom... that's why you gotta enjoy what you do, right?" I smiled, turning the volume up again for the bang of timpani's, "if we weren't having fun... that'd be a different story."
"You can't feed a family with that René. You won't be ready." Such a Motherly thing to say.
I remember the way my heart sank a little and felt it again.
I remember the way my heart sank a little and felt it again.
The van slowly swung into a turn, as we slowed down for an exit. There was a jolt at the stop sign.
"A quick bathroom stop if anyone needs it," Jack whispered, unsure if I was sleeping, whipping the van into a spot under an orange light.
I kept still as the guys left the van running, locking me inside. And for a moment the van was quiet. I wanted to finish that dream, 'I am happy,' I wanted to tell her. 'Back to her room,' but my mind had other places to go.
The wind cut in over the water hitting my chest. I kept my jaw clenched tight, breathing between my teeth. Wishing I had brought a jacket or a least a long sleeve.
"I want to stay," Mom stood at the bank of the Guadalupe, in the smooth gravel, the ice cold water barely hitting her feet, "just a little longer. We don't have to eat here."
This. This memory. A weekend drive. We hadn't been ready for this trip. The whole family off on a whim, and the weather was cold, much colder than we planned. We had wanted to go tubing, but the water was low, and the wind was powerful.
"You might think right now that work matters, I know we've told you boys that, but it's the people. Of all the things I remember," she continued, "the things I want to remember, I never go back to my job. Sometimes I'm sorry I let it take so much of me," Mom kept her eyes on the drifting river.
"Mom," I walked up beside her, looking back, Jaime and Dad were at a fire pit working on getting a fire going.
The river was dancing with the sunlight, turning, jumping quickly on itself.
"You might think right now that work matters, I know we've told you boys that, but it's the people," Mom took a step into the cold water then another. "That's what I want you to keep. You should always do what makes you happy," She went deeper in, the water hitting at her knees, "When you're happy the others will follow."
I threw off my shoes, stepping in after her. And the river was so cold, so brilliant, instantly jumping up my body. I wanted to get out of the water. I wanted to head back, "Mom," I called but she was deep in her thought. The river felt like it was moving me away. Or pulling everything away from me.
The song grew louder. The dancing lights flickered faster.
"Mom," I thought looking up at her in slow motion, like she was water, like she was light. She dove in the air. A slender flicker. Suspended above the river. Like all sound held on one note waiting for her to land. And the river pulling me down and down.
"New Mexico... and coming up on sunrise," Abe said from the driver seat, "who's ready for breakfast?"
I sat up on the back bench. Feeling like the dream was still in my head, but every second disappearing.
Jaime flipped through the GPS menu looking for a food stop, while Jack searched yelp on his phone.
The highway had tapered off into a narrow, winding two lane stretch. The sky was still dark purple, but I could feel the daylight coming. Soon the mountain sides would be splashed with the orange glow of dawn.
We were getting closer to home now. And only 14 hours to go.