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Map Questing My Life

by MISSY BEATTIE

Last week, I heard a disturbing story that sent me home to bed at a time I’m rarely horizontal.  I held a pillow, like a security blanket or a lover.  No comfort.  I could not detach from the woman’s words.  So rattled was I that I made a decision:  road trip to North Carolina to visit son Hunter and his girlfriend Casey.

With a MapQuest printout in my lap, I neared the Capital Beltway and renegaded, heading east instead of west for I-95.  And, then, I saw a sign:  “DRAWBRIDGE AHEAD PREPARE TO STOP WHEN FLASHING.”  I thought of the Thelma-and-Louise option.  That I could slam the accelerator and either soar or sink.  But the warning lights didn’t dance.

Approaching Richmond, I noticed:  “SPEED LIMIT ENFORCED BY AIRCRAFT.”  I visualized a car, traveling above 70 mph, and a lightning bolt from the clouds,   hitting the target, as well as a funeral procession or a van, with parents, children, a pet. Droned to cremation.  “YOU ARE ENFORCED BY AIRCRAFT.”

Meanwhile, Adele mournfully sang.  When static obscured, I tuned through radio evangelism to a station and heard:  “Lately, I’ve been writing desperate love songs.”  And, yes, that’s what I’ve been doing for months. I listened for a title: “All Your Life” by The Band Perry.  More static.  I turned the dial again to country rock—the tragedy of unrequited love, excessive booze, and betrayal.

Somewhere, there was a big-as-bigotry billboard, with this:  “Chick-fil-A.”   Never would have dented my memory, except for the recent antigay flap.

Pulling out of a rest area, I saw:  “Purple Heart Trail,” as I found another radio station whose announcer, coincidentally, spoke about a paralyzed veteran’s triumph over catastrophic injury.  A website was provided.

With war images streaming my consciousness, I crossed the demarcation between Virginia and North Carolina—another sign: “Nation’s Most Military Friendly State.”  (Later, I Googled to learn that North Carolina has more than 416,000 jobs sustained by the Military Industrial Complex.)  But when I saw the “Welcome,” my mind tangential’d to the recent killing of three US troops in Afghanistan.  From “friendly” fire, though, since the weapon was wielded by a US-trained Afghan soldier.  Then, I thought of borders.  That a sign and a welcome-station/rest area delineate what’s, really, a flowing acreage.  Or that a land mass or body of water separates with a distinct declaration. Not a “state” of mind, but a state”ment,” like, “I’m from Texas” or “I’m from Michigan.”  As a friend said to me, recently, and I paraphrase: “I’m the same person wherever I go.  I don’t change because I leave one country and enter another.”

I considered all this as I drove.  I left Baltimore to escape distress, knowing, though, that diversions deliver temporary relief.   Discomforts lurk beneath the distractions. Still present in my head.  And in my heart.  War scars the soul.  Another person’s tale of woe becomes my own.  There’s no margin, no precinct, preventing the rippling of suffering.

I could wrap this up, now.  Maybe, I will.

I didn’t.  Because I’m in motion, emotional, and emoting.

The Carrboro/Chapel Hill community is a bumper sticker for peace and responsible living.  A small sign in front of a cash register at a little place where we lunched said:  “Heck, don’t give it to Wall St. in the first place.  Pay in cash!” Walking Franklin Street, I photographed a store’s handwritten sign: “WHICH ACTOR ARE YOU VOTING FOR THIS ELECTION?” In Hunter’s backyard, he’s built a coop, for a family of nine chickens I call my grandchildren. And in the front of his house, he’s attached large barrels to downspouts, for water conservation. This is not NYC, that energetic frenzy I love; yet it’s energy I need.  Manhattan or Bucolic-boro?  “Could I be happy here?” I asked this over and over, as I ran one morning.

Messages are everywhere, communicating the signs of our times: discord, warnings, awareness.  I am reminded and re-minded of something I already understand—that there’s no such thing as a geographical cure. I can leave a physical address behind.  I don’t take the state of Maryland with me, but I do take my state of mind.  And I think about this.  I think, think, think, as I map quest my life.

Missy Beattie is tripping from Baltimore to Carrboro and back and forth and all around the mulberry bush.  Email:  missybeat@gmail.com

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Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in BaltimoreEmail: missybeat@gmail.com

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