[ENG] HWY 97

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Watching yourself smother. You’re ok, you think–you have good friends, you party a lot, you’re paying off debts. But the boy who met you before the routine settled in, he leaves because you aren’t the person you were. You sleep too much and spend money on food because it’s easier than dumpster diving. You don’t realize how much of you has lost oxygen and died until almost two years later. It is such a shock, then.

I run into a boy I lived with during that choking time. I see him here, later, randomly walking up to friends on Gyro Beach. I jump into his line of vision, he freezes, says a quiet “no”, then scoops me into the first real hug I’ve had in a month. Later we reminisce, cross-legged in the shade. He seems to be apologizing for how crazy he was during that time, without actually saying the words or naming the drugs. That lifestyle. Coming home to the garbage still gurgling away on the kitchen stove, waking up to kids with facepaint and dreads drinking wine from a Frisbee in a Jacuzzi they pooled to buy. Earplugs, accidents, and fully-clothed pass-outs were par for the course.

“We all did stupid things, then,” I say–that house brought it out in everyone.

“Not you. You were perfect. Except you were tired all the time.” He pushes his sunglasses up onto his forehead. “Man, t’as pus de cernes!”

I got so used to working a job that drained me that I began to assume that I was depressed. Vacillating constantly between caffeine and alcohol, letting my hobbies sit and rot. Maybe I’m not depressed, naturally. It’s a revolutionary idea for me. I just got too used to feeling wrong because I was doing wrong, assuming that the broken feeling was right.

My uncle has had heart trouble these past years, but reports were optimistic. He was exercising lightly, minding his diet. I am on the road, sitting in new summer parks, when things end. In the space of a week, he is in the hospital, out of the hospital in palliative care, then gone. I hadn’t prepared myself for it, and I could have. In the days after the news, I cry randomly when the sky is too beautiful because life sometimes still seems like a curse more than anything else and I let people just assume I’m an over-tired fruit-picker.

I wake early, before the tent becomes an oven, and try to memorize the pink and perfect half-moon, the scrubby desert mountains, the deep lake of morning mists and midnight loons. There is whiskey and crackers for supper, sprouts on the dash, cold brew in the trunk, and dried wild Dakotan sage flaking all over the back seat of the car. This hot valley is full of happy vagrants, all choosing to shift and to risk. They leave farms instantly when the pay is bad and wax poetic when I ask them about their plans for winter.

Cedar and sage. Summer solstice with strawberry moon. I’m doing what I can to let the light back in.

- Emily Hoges

Illustration: Alex Dornier

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