It’s a pretty simple drive: 690 West, to I-90 West, to I-65 South. That’s all. Fifteen hours, six states, three tanks of gas, maybe two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and four cups of coffee, and nine-hundred and forty-seven miles. It’s a toll-filled, construction-zoned, street lamp-lined road that connects my two worlds: where I was raised and where I live.
It is a poignant point of realization in life, when where you spent the formidable years of your youth no longer aligns with the place you subconsciously speak of when someone asks you, “Where do you live?” It’s a process I’m beginning to wonder if we ever get over. Or do we carry around this dual-identity feeling forever? I become uneasy at times, never knowing whether to identify myself as the girl running barefoot and chasing cats through neighbors’ yards, my feet black from hot summer pavement and my skin worn down and faded by Alabama heat and humidity, or as the glasses-wearing young adult who loves New England summers and Thruway drives from Syracuse to Albany.
I mean, are we honestly entitled to consider our past selves when determining who we currently are? You know the old trope, “hey, people change,” and I would agree with that. People most certainly do change. I’m clearly no longer the muddy and timid child with hair covered in tree sap and knees painted brick red with scrapes and scabs. So I’m wondering, if we do change over time, then what is the point of even concerning ourselves with who we used to be? Why are we so obsessed with attempting to muddle our tangled and disjointed lives into something coherent? I don’t live in Alabama anymore, yet I still feel like I have some right to define my current self through an Alabama lens, as if I could ever conjoin my two worlds.
But still as I drive north, away from Alabama and towards New York, I can see my brother jumping out of an oak tree in my grandparents’ backyard, laughing, and I’m scared his knees are going to buckle beneath him. I see red clay and cotton fields plastered against blue skies. I watch river birches and hickories transform into Norwegian spruces and I see white roof tops, chimney smoke, and canoe paddles floating down river currents. Somewhere in Kentucky, the time zone shifts, the clocks move forward and who I was drags her feet at a slow, southern pace a precise one hour behind who I am.
It’s a fifteen hour drive that keeps me living two lives, whether I’m entitled to them both or not.
I guess I’m lucky I love car rides.