It was 1940 and the devastation of Dust Bowl had also ravaged Humphrey, Nebraska. One horribly quiet morning, my grandparents and the remaining young children got in their old car and simply drove away. I can imagine my mother, age ten, turning around in the back seat and watching their farm house get smaller and smaller and the dust thicker and thicker until she saw nothing. They drove away from Grampa’s failing business because no one could afford gas any more or getting their cars fixed. They drove away from a home that had birthed eleven children even though they still “owed on it” because that became the remaining and last option. They drove away with a car packed with their lives, the portable parts, and reached Mt. Angel in Oregon’s Willamette Valley to start over. Being in their early fifties, starting over was not easy. But they did it with Great Depression stubbornness and the tenacity of survivors.
There is something compelling about the thought of simply driving away when the shit hits the fan. How many times in our work and personal lives have we wanted to just say, fuck it, and walk away from it all. Simply drive away. Distancing ourselves from that which is fucked up — your relationship with your boss, a big blow up with your spouse, or, you know, a pandemic — can almost seem like a fairytale. The chance for a fresh start and leaving your problems in the dust has the allure of a clandestine affair, or at least eating chocolate when no one is watching.
From the sounds of it, lots of people simply drove away from COVID. Packed the car and drove out of cities. Quit their jobs and drove away from their desks and shackles. Ended a relationship that was already spent but now accelerated to a more abrupt end with the realizations brought on by our globally uniting pandemic and the truths we can no longer hide from.
I’ve done my own version of driving away. I’m guessing you have too. Maybe that’s why I’m enamored with the driving-away fantasy. Feeling stuck and in need of a Great Adventure, I went straight from college to six years in the Kalahari Desert. Still not ready to settle back in Oregon, my spouse and I bought a sports car and drove across Canada, landed in Boston, cold-turkey, and found jobs and an apartment. When my sister died 15 years later and I realized that life is more fleeting than I imagined, and I left a dream job with great pay (and benefits!!) in Boston and moved back to Oregon. My Dust Bowl mama and raised-poor Portland papa weren’t going to live forever. Then six months into the pandemic I drove away from my job. I hit the wall. I was done. My Mom died. I moved to the beach.
My spouse and I had a fight a few weeks back. We were pissed at each other over something ridiculous. It was likely both our fault. But in my head I wanted it to be all his fault. He escalated when he should have backed off. He went back to the bathroom. I drove away.
Not quite as dramatic as it sounds. I was leaving anyway to go pick up the groceries 12 miles away (we live in a rural area). But I dilly-dallied. Let him stew, I thought. I took a detour on the way home, down a beautiful road next to the Salmon River with a park and boat ramp at the end and an artists’ colony near by as well as hiking trails.
But then I realized that someone was coming to my house to pick up a couch I was giving away, so I had to turn around before I wanted, and my little fantasy of driving away was thrown under a shoe and squashed out like a nasty cigar. When I got home my spouse came up to the car window before I got out and said he was sorry. I said I was sorry. We unloaded the groceries. And then like old married people, we forgot about the fight in about five minutes and were back to our usual routines of the day: writing, unpacking from our move, talking, looking at old photos as they fell out of boxes.
No, I won’t let go of my driving-away fantasy. The idea of leaving troubles behind, gaining distance between me and my problems, will always be my stand-by. An old friend who I call up when I need to. A bittersweet departure that might bring something different, like a happy ending. Or a happy beginning. Or maybe just a reunion at the car window where you both apologize, and the sun shines on the porch steps when we walk up, and then I gently flick the Ladybug off the door handle. Letting it just fly away.