I was driving down a highway recently in Ohio. It is a wholly mediocre highway, as most highways are, and it was the first time I had driven this stretch of road in nearly ten years.
It was a strange feeling, the bursting familiarity of it and shocking disorientation. And then, the feelings. Every exit, another sensation. Each number, a perfectly clear still frame of a memory. A song. A moment. A night. A face. A drink.
Exit 46: This exit is where the amusement park is. We would ride rollercoasters and scream our lungs out like the Yellowcard song said and we’d learn what it meant to feel infatuation and fear and lust all at the same time.
Exit 43: This is where I would drive to see the boyfriend I’ll always wish I’d never met when I was 19. Where I would approach anxious and prayerful and confused and once got a call from my friend Jess who was hearing Death Cab play “A Lack Of Color” at a show in Tennessee. This exit is where I buried myself in shame and deceit. Before I knew i could do better, before i walked across campus to the police and called my dad and stayed in bed and was scared and scared and broken and then still scared. Exit 43 is my least favorite exit to pass, even ten years later.
Exit 38, 46, 32, 14: These are the soccer exits. There are so many. There were so many tournaments and practices and heartbreaks and lost games and… It is hard to think about soccer. I cannot play like I used to, and I was always only almost great. And still I cannot play like I could when I was eighteen and my gangly legs flew across the field and my heart never seemed to stop pumping with passion and pride and blood for that game. Sometimes it seems that every ounce of me was built by that sport and even so much as passing a field feels like a tiny exacto knife on the edge of my heart vessels asking me to remember that which I can no longer do.
Exit 69: This exit is home. It comes with a sigh of relief and tremendously mundane stoplights and, oh the quiet lurk of suburban midnight.
Exit 68: This exit is home now. It still feels foreign and misunderstood.
Exit 73: This is the exit for the two lane road to the sealed bubble of college. I have not been back in six years but it feels like it could be eighteen. twenty. forty. It is—in my head—a castle, frozen in time, bursting at the seems with all of my best friends and memories and ambition and joy. It’s as though I’ve forgotten each of the six hundred times I cried in that castle, tumbling along outside of the red brick buildings and brochure-perfect lawns. I cried almost all of the days of my senior year of college, and yet I look back on it as the most beautiful year of unbridled joy and love. My boyfriend had dumped me (!?!) and I was desperately, pathetically sad. Exit 73 floods with pictures of his face and the moment he told me in his driveway while I wore my green blue and yellow sweatshirt and I knew his roommates could see us sitting there. But it also floods with Chelsea’s face and the time we used a coat hanger to unlock an unrented room to let her in. And Maggie’s face. And Garret’s. And Sean’s. And Ben’s. And Jess’s. And Kevin’s. And all the boys I kissed and all the friends I’ve forgotten. This exit is Jack’s Mannequin’s Everything in Transit burned in 2005 on a black Memorex CD that still sits in my Honda Civic. It usually only plays songs one through six before basically blowing up. This exit is Green Beer and The O.C. This exit is the perfect amount of time: where you don’t want to leave, but you know if you don’t then you’ll never feel that way about that place.
*Note: the numbers of these highway exits are probably mostly wrong.