Friday, September 11, 2009

Up the mountain

It was surprisingly difficult to leave town today. My plan was to leave directly from work mid-afternoon in time to arrive at the conference center on Petitjean Mountain before the students arrived on their chartered buses.

Yet after my class ended at 1 pm and all the e-mails were answered, I kept stalling. Part of the reason was that my unit had just been hit with another budget-shattering mortar shell, just when we thought the enemy was surely out of rounds and no more buildings remained upright to be demolished. I heard about it from the staff, and I was in no hurry to come face to face with my boss who'd just climbed out of his debilitating depression from the last crippling blow. Part of it was that I was leaving my kids behind, stretching the bonds of family another fifty miles when they were already pulled taut from Noel's flight out of the country.

And part of it was that it felt just a bit pointless to be driving out of town for the night, only to return less than twenty-four hours later, then to do it all again after a brief three-hour sojourn in the city where I live. I have responsibilities up here -- it would seriously inconvenience my colleagues if I didn't show up for tomorrow morning's session -- but all the back and forth wasn't something I could relish, given the stressors mentioned in the previous paragraph.

But I have to admit that something in me wanted to escape. Not the kids, not the grandparents, not the basement-dwelling morale in my office, but just in general. I've always both feared and been exhilerated by driving alone. It's a potent symbol of freedom that I'm both drawn to and profoundly spooked by. Out on the highway, listening to Fountains of Wayne and rolling farther from home and closer to some distant destination, I usually have to face with some greater degree of honesty what my conflicted feelings mean. I didn't want to leave, but I knew that I had wanted to leave, had been looking forward to leaving, all week. What does it mean to be caught between that yearning for flight and some combination of safety and responsibility?

Once I arrived and the students began pouring in, I became giddy with the energy of it all. Once I sat and talked with my boss and his wife, venting our frustrations and trying out existential responses to the increasing intolerability of our position, I was glad that I didn't have to bear those burdens alone -- that there is some solidarity even in our marginal state. Tomorrow will be too busy to think much, except in those couple of hours of driving, betwixt and between, feeling with gut-level urgency what I am approaching and on what I have turned my back.

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