Surviving My Mistakes
60 Weeks of Gratitude - Week 11
Between 1993 and 1997 I lived in San Diego, California. I made several trips back and forth between California and Illinois through the years, usually by plane, but occasionally I drove. It was a very long drive. Twenty-three hours of forward progression as the landscape morphed until I reached the desert and finally, the ocean. It’s a journey I chronicled in Icara: Alison Falling, the third book in Alison’s series. While Alison’s life is not necessarily my story, she did go to many of the places I went and met many of the people who influenced me. The writing advice my father gave always stuck with me, “Write about what you know.” I do write about what I know although I haven’t lived everything I write. It is possible to know a truth because you missed the train to go there. Alison caught some of the trains I missed. I caught a few Alison missed.
One summer, after being home in Illinois, I was driving back to San Diego, not quite finished with that life, but skirting close. I was driving through Texas and I was exhausted. I had been on the road for a good twelve hours and when I pulled off the interstate I got turned around because the gas station was much further away than I expected and nothing was marked. I had no idea where I was. I have a terrible sense of direction and GPS did not yet exist. I pulled into this two-pump gas station. The light from the canopy made a dome over the small building, the pumps, a tire rack offering retreads, and me, in my yellow RX-7, wearing blue jean cut-offs and a v-neck t-shirt. I went inside to pay because the sign said I had to pay first. I pumped my gas, yawning and stretching. I could feel the miles behind me and the miles ahead and for a split second, I didn’t think I could continue. When the tank was full, I pulled to the side of the store, into the shadows, and parked. I locked the car and tilted back, thinking I would sleep for just a little while. I barely closed my eyes before the old guy from inside the station was tapping on my window.
“What are you doing?” He asked when I cracked my window.
“I was just going to rest for a minute,” I said, as a prickle of apprehension traveled up my back. Was there a sign saying that I couldn’t loiter?
“No.” He shook his head with force. “No, you can’t do that. Not here. You got to get going and get wherever you are supposed to be. You ain’t supposed to be here.”
I was a pretty obedient thing back then, and even though he was not my father, he kind of sounded like a father, and that was enough for me to nod, pop my seat up, and get the car back on the road. I told him I was a little lost, and that’s why I wanted to rest, to let the morning come so I could see a little better. He gave me simple directions that took me to the interstate and I drove.
It wasn’t until years later that I really understood that moment. That man thought it was dangerous for me to sleep in my car in that gas station lot. That is why he sent me on my way, not because of some rule against loitering. He may have saved me some struggle, strife, or pain, or he may have saved
my life by telling me to hit the road.
We all have moments like that when we skirted close to danger without even knowing it was there. Much of my life in California was lived on the precipice. I don’t think I had any idea what the world was really like when I moved to California with stars in my eyes. It took me years to really process the experiences I had there and the myriad of close encounters with a danger that I slipped past. I came through it physically unscathed, although it was years before the chaos in my soul from that era of my life calmed.
Mistakes and near misses. Those are the stories we tell. Those are the stories that fill the pages of the Alison Hayes Journey. I am not all of her, but she is most definitely me. Off the Dark Ledge and Hush, Delilah are both less self-reflective because I think I was fictionalizing my life when I was writing with Alison. When I was working on Off the Dark Ledge and Hush, Delilah I was no longer processing my life, I was considering the human condition, contemplating growth through loss, and considering the resiliency of the human spirit in general.