Driving along the highway of West Texas in the early morning dark, it is easy to believe I’m in a state of suspended animation, punctuated by brief moments of lucid, hectic movement. Ahead and behind and all around me is an unlit expanse that feels so close it’s claustrophobic. Compelled along a road that defines straight lines, shooting into nothingness, a steady, rhythmic stillness so complete and total I feel completely still.
The effect is heightened by my singular focus on the lights of towns hours away yet, a buoy in the dark, visible only because of the straight-edge flatness of the terrain. You could stare at those lights as you bear down at 70 mph and yet feel you’re never going to arrive. They seem at once fixed and yet always receding. Then, a sudden twist in the road and there they are-whipping by you and gone just as quickly, as if they were never there to begin with. It’s easy to believe I’ve imagined them.
The place where land and sky meet is seamless even in the day, lending a sense of wild freedom to the landscape. But now, pre-dawn, it compresses me, my world narrowing to a tiny pinprick of space, a density from which I cannot escape. Am I dead? For hours each morning, the uncanny feeling of barreling almost recklessly forward yet being pinned still mirrored my inner experience so completely I felt as if I was a soul trapped in amber.
It would not be a cliche to say I felt as if I were in purgatory. I’ve died but I refuse to realize it, so I’m forced to relive this moment over and over until I can break the spell. Traveling down this road in the dark feels like I should arrive at a conclusion, a break that will ease this feeling of being digested and dissolved. A confession of my sins, maybe, or a sudden realization of something that makes sense of it all. I ache for a righting of a wrong. A just hero to grip me tightly, painfully, and raise me from my own perdition. To feel anything at all.
The unanchoring from own my life did not happen as a sudden rupture or clean break, which would have been better: a sudden violence I could mistake for rebirth. It was a sudden veering shift, a vertigo-inducing swing toward an odd angle off of center. The kind of physical swaying sensation one might feel on a ship at sea, one that usually entails an equal but opposite compensating righting of the ship. Like being in a sudden crash, pushed to one side but rebounding back almost immediately, a feeling that something has happened but because you’re in the same spot as seconds before you don’t realize it’s happened. But the ship didn’t right itself, and I didn’t rebound back. I kept waiting for equilibrium, but I felt stubbornly askew, locked in a tangent. I was drifting away from my life in slow motion.
It would have made for a perfect noir film: the small, orange light in the dome of my car barely illuminating the interior, a tight-angle shot of my face staring into nothingness, the dark crowding in, a sense of panicked fleeing tempered with the stillness. The tagline: you can’t go anywhere because you can’t escape yourself. Wherever you arrive, there is just you.
But I had the strong feeling I was in a horror movie, exacerbated by that strange dolly zoom sensation that caused me to objectify myself: that kind of outside of myself yet inside of myself perspective. That point in the film when you finally see that everything is not what you thought it was, that the horror all along was hiding in plain sight. And this interpretation seemed more valid when I realized that, from somewhere deep inside my mind, someone was screaming for help.