Yes, this is Leahpeah’s blog. No, she is not in. Instead, a treat for those people that like great writing and absolutely inspiring photographs by Brandon. Each fabulous image is linked to the original size.
It’s not until after my trip is over I remember I’ve been past all these places before, when I was very young, and the names of these towns and bodies of water were too difficult to pronounce at the time, and you were too embarrassed to say them out loud, anyway, phonetically clicking through each letter in your head, which would at least have helped you arrange them in your mind’s storage, the boxes stickered with embossed red labels. Wash-tuc-na. Al-mi-ra. Te-ko-a.
I am driving these roads trying to see if the story unfolding resembles any place like where I imagine the characters inside my head reside, cutting their way through hopeful fields beneath threatening skies, the wheat reaching to their outstretched fingertips. You picture a small town production where the director tacks feathers to the arms of the actors and says, “Imagine you are a fish, and in a fit of drunken humor, God has just granted you wings. Now fly.” The first person in my story always stays very low to the cardboard waves, and flies in timid, confined circles, all around the round. And what is that? Are his eyes welling with tears? Does a tiny, repressed part of his childhood recall what it was like to look straight up into the air and believe, truly believe he could defy gravity’s will and soar? The brief, exhilarating moment as the tips of the toes begin to bear the weight come off the backs of the heels? Even in descent, the first character holds onto the fantasy, imagining a falcon in stoop.
The second is found a week later, 1,000 miles away, unconscious and in a ditch, surrounded by emergency personnel wondering aloud whence the goddamned feathers.
If this is 1989, then gas in Fruitland is 89 cents, and I am flying through this, my dwindling supply of antidepressant, still per gallon cheaper than water, still no elixir like 60 miles per hour with the windows down, and this is 10 years before I turn into a drunk, so there’s no cost to the state, neither. This is where I start talking to myself, out in the open, and the passing drivers smile, because they assume I’m singing, and that we have this in common. Connectedness is king out here and God bless them, but we don’t. A capella, honeyed agony, practicing the words for the heartbreaking what’s gonna come.
The prescription’s a bit more expensive these days, and every time I splurge, I know it’s just another drop of blood in the bucket, but I can’t allow myself to go crazy waiting for the order to get filled on my flying car. And I’m out here on the Palouse, praying for overcast heavens to apply a coffee filter diffusion to the harsh contrast of these high plains, bathed in tones of red and yellow and 1964.
Today, I am the second character in my story.
In the morning I am on Highway 2 to Spokane, and I have forgotten that there is an air force base out this way, so it strikes me as odd that the few abandoned barns out here have the considerable protection of a fleet of ghostly air tankers and bombers, swooping in and out of the clouds. I imagine instead some eccentric millionaire, isolating himself out here on the Palouse and reenacting WWII battles his old man told him about.
It’s the isolation and perception of moving impossibly slow along this highway that gives it the dreamlike quality. I dreamt recently that a boy had hired hitmen to kill me off, only he couldn’t afford real professionals, only local riff-raff still working on single 0 status, and it’s a long, drawn out affair, with plenty of missed shots and temporary hiding places betrayed by pointing monkeys and unstoppable sneezes and all the usual suspects, and I decide right then and there that the nightmare death is so much worse than anything reality can offer because in your mind, the both of them are equally real, but at least in reality you can run at a normal pace.
Dying frustrated is far worse than dying alone.
The day hit me like a freight train, what with a speech that failed to move anyone in the audience save me to tears, and not the good tears, but the tears of the prom queen runner-up busting out of the auditorium through the panic-bar doors before she can watch her prom king beau skip-to-the-loo. ‘At least,’ I think, ‘it’s spring-time,’ and flowers are made for good cheer, but this is the Palouse in March, and there are still patches of snow unmoved by the sun’s persuasions, and not even the peaches or plums have begun to show their lipstick.
All along the most primitive routes are funny signs like, ‘SUMMER ROAD ONLY NO WARNING SIGNALS’ and train tracks with, sure enough, no warning signals. I have a couple of pictures of trains that I was racing, and when I finally passed them, I’d come up to train tracks in the middle of the road and not even have the sense to slow down, because, well, there weren’t any warning signals. I think the engineer gave me the finger.
I pump my fist to get him to ‘toot the horn,’ but I think that only works on 18-wheelers.
Of the 500 miles I cover, I make but one promise, and that is to avoid Waverly, because the very name reminds me of a word I once invented to describe my ability to talk out of both sides of my mouth at the same time, ‘ambideclatory,’ like when I told her I knew what singer she was talking about, and when the stars lit up in her eyes, ‘Really?,’ not only did I lie again, but I lied in the worst way: matter-of-factly. If you had only just wavered, maybe ended with a flourish and a smile, she could have called you on it and you would have had an easy out, the just-kidding egress, ‘No, really, who is he?’
But no matter how much I tried, and how many turns I took, Waverly just kept getting closer and closer, and it was maddening. I imagine this is what it feels like to be a farmer’s kid, the only son, and you know, you just know you’re going to inherit that farm, get some local girl pregnant and no matter how fast you drive, you always wake up in Waverly. It’s that kind of beautiful out here. Once I finally rolled up to the town, I parked and turned around to go back, but in the end I realized that I would only wind up back here, so I turned around again and drove straight through it. The town was full of magpies and flags and once I got through, it released its hold on me and let me go about my way. It was just a sad, lonely old picture of a town.
Still it’s like when someone takes a lovely and yet somehow unflattering shot of your profile, leading you to think, ‘Good color, good light, good composition, good depth of field. Why does my nose look so goddamned big? Ugh.’
I’m racing now across the Palouse River, trying to run down the last bit of light before I have to resort to the Ludovico Technique on my camera’s diaphragm. There’s an old house makes you imagine that one day, long ago, someone put the final nail into that sonofabitch, stood back and proclaimed, HOME SWEET HOME. But that right there reminds me of something I once said in a hotel room, where you made a rule on our vacation that we couldn’t wear clothes. On Thursday, I stood next to you brushing my teeth and said, ‘I wish I were taller,’ and you bit me below my right shoulder and threw a towel over my head. On Friday, I lay on the bed and said, ‘I wish I had better skin,’ and you plucked a hair from my chest, and pushed me onto the floor. On Saturday, I sat in the chair next to the balcony and said, ‘I wish we did this more.’ You finished latching up the suitcase and I watched you fret over a zero-balance receipt.
I hate it when they ask you, ‘Have any regrets?’ and your impulse is to say NONE, NOT NARY A ONE, as though there are only 2 or 3 regrets possible, and not ten thousand. So having a few dozen, in the grand scheme of things, means you’re still pulling As on the report card, but people want their love to seem A+. So, ‘A few,’ I say, but I’m still thinking good enough for a scholarship. I’m definitely on track for grad school at a public university, anyway, and I even took a few of the AP courses out of my league. Then I get to Othello, which has a wildlife refuge specializing in sandhill cranes, and sure enough, my trip coincided with when they practice their flying formations, and they were all over and everywhere, all at once. This is where the Palouse ends, and the waterfowl picks up on this side of the Cascades. It’s just a beak and webbed toes what separates me from the loons, I think. A hundred photos, a thousand words worth per each, all perfectly aligned with the story I want to tell, all how I pictured it in my mind, all reminding me that I have, in fact, been this way before.
Now I just have to fill in the words.