Years ago I was driving across Tennessee and came down toward Chattanooga just at dusk, and it looked so pretty looming up out of the impounded waters of the Tennessee River. I was moved—and I thought of moving there. I told a girl I knew then about my dream of Chattanooga, but she was unimpressed.
“You probably won’t be any more happy there than you are here,” she said. “Or unhappy.”
Which might have been true. Heck, was probably true. I never found out, though, for I never ran away to Chattanooga. But still—the main impulse is right, I think. Sometimes you just have to pack up and go. Hit the road and leave everyone and everything behind….
Janet put on a jacket and gathered up her purse and a battered Rand McNally road atlas. Seven times in the last eight weeks she had dropped Jay off at Steve's, then set out on long drives out of town, driving eight or ten or twelve hours, thinking, thinking, stopping late for a motel room—twice sleeping in the front seat of her car—then turning back in the early morning and heading home. Each drive—to Dalhart, Clovis, Carlsbad, El Paso, Big Bend, Wichita, Little Rock—she saw as a dry run, practice for when she really left town for good.
The opening scene with Janet and her son is taken from one of my earliest memories, a morning when I was sitting at the table with my mom when we were startled by a sonic boom….
“It's when a plane goes faster than the speed of sound,” Janet said. “You know what that is?”
Jay shook his head.
“Okay, let's say that airplane came busting through the wall just now”—Janet pointed with her cigarette at the wall just behind Jay—“and I yelled 'Get down, Jay!' But no matter how fast I yelled at you, the plane would still run you over, 'cause it would be going faster than my words.”
Jay twisted around in his chair and looked at the wall, as if judging the likelihood of a jet bursting through it at any moment. Then he turned back to his cereal and began eating, every now and then looking up at his mother. He didn't say anything.
Janet thinks, “…at the speed of sound, you could get a long way away, maybe before anyone even noticed you were gone.”
Several people have pointed out, correctly, that Janet’s decision to flee—to bolt and leave her kid behind—would be a selfish one. But sometimes we write about selfish people, and sometimes we are selfish people. Life is like that.
There are jets--RF4Cs, in fact--in this story, and so I'll run this video again....
Here is a story about being depressed and then having your life turn to shit….
I had only been working at my new job for seven weeks but I was already dreading going to work. Every day I grew increasingly depressed. It wasn’t the job itself that depressed me—I corrected billing statements, boring and repetitious and stupid billing statements, for a big law firm—but the woman I worked with, Debbie Peterson, who shared my office cubicle, and who seemed to be slowly, steadily, scarily, going mad.
Each morning’s elevator ride up to our office was stressful: sometimes Debbie would show up early to answer the phones until the receptionist arrived, and the doors would slide open and Debbie would be behind the reception desk grinning at the doors, at me, grinning happily but with cold blue glittering eyes. I hated that. I so much preferred to start my day calmly, to step off the elevator into an empty, quiet room.
And on my last day at work, I got what I wanted—got that much, at least….
The first time I read this in public, a woman in the audience asked, “So, did that really happen?”
I was an inexperienced performer then. I was surprised and thrown off by her question.
“What?” I asked. “No, not really.”
“Well, how really? Is that crazy woman based on somebody?”
“Uh…I’ve known a lot of crazy people.”
Some crazier than others, some crazy like this bat in the audience, right?
“But are any of them the inspiration for the woman in the story?”
Fuck no, crazy! I thought with an exclamation point, but I answered with a mumble.
I handle some things better now—I hope….
At one point several years ago I was reading Larry McMurtry’s novel, Duane’s Depressed. It’s a good book, but I had a “Hey, wait a minute” moment at the point where Duane—who’s, well, depressed, and has decided to change his life by breaking ties with his family and moving out to a cabin in the country—decides he needs a bicycle, and he whips out his wallet, which is stuffed with cash he’s won playing poker, and he buys the bike. Hey, wait a minute. Does Duane not realize how privileged he is? Does McMurtry? I couldn’t stop thinking about all the non-white, non-oilman depressed people in the world who didn’t have a pocket full of money or a place to go hide from their families.
I was writing my novel, That Demon Life, at the time, and so I put in a little passage reacting to Duane’s Depressed:Linda almost laughed out loud thinking about it—start life over and do absolutely nothing. Why not? She had the resources—a trust fund from her mother left her in a position where she didn’t have to worry about a paycheck, ever. Linda knew how lucky she was to have a rich dead mother. There were plenty of other people out there who were sad and messed up and still had to soldier off every goddamn morning to work in some dreadful job or other. There were some brave people out there. Heroes. Linda was glad she didn’t have to be one of them (106).
So my book got published, and some people have read it (and more people should). One of them said the other day, “I finally figured Linda out—she’s just a trust-fund baby.” Well, no. The reader didn’t get it. Not “just.” Linda understands her privilege, and is in the process of developing a little bit of empathy. But as far as the reader goes, there’s nothing to be done. You write something down, and it’s not yours anymore—it belongs to the reader. And, of course, one of the main themes of That Demon Life is that you cannot control what other people think—and the book takes the further, Classical Stoic view that because you can't control what other people think, you shouldn’t care what other people think. But I’m not always a very good Stoic.