“Hello my ghost, I’m here, I’m home
I hope you know about the long lazy road
Behold, the stone it gleams like gold
Out of control the beasts unknown and untold”
-from the song “Build Voice” by Dan Deacon
I started with an epigram because frankly, I don’t know where else to start. I don’t know what the lyrics mean to me, or even what they mean to their author. I don’t know why they came to me.
I don’t know what I’m doing exactly, or why. I don’t know how to describe to you what my life has been like over the past 10 months, the months that have passed since the conclusion of the first (and, I presumed at the time, only) iteration of Ghost on the Highway.
At the time it seemed like a successful sojourn of consumption; a narcissistic sabbatical from the responsibility of life that I somehow deserved, or at least got away with. I didn’t die, my car didn’t break down, I didn’t run out of money or break any bones or get arrested. This was the summer of Charlottesville, of “Fire and Fury,” of the seemingly endless cycle of outrages to which (much as we’re loath to admit it) we’re slowly acclimating. It was exhausting, of course, but I escaped unhinged. My beard was a bit longer, my breath may have been a bit shorter, but I was all right.
I went back to my parents’ house, settled back into my old room. I took a new job at a new coffee shop that didn’t pay well but would give me just enough breathing room to relax and focus on my writing. I expected things to quiet down. I expected predictability. I expected some kind of normal.
I could not have been more wrong.
Six weeks after I got back I got a call during my work shift. My dad told me I had to come home right away; mom wasn’t breathing. I drove home at a consistent speed five miles under the limit, listening to classical music on the radio, trying to reason my way into accepting the likely probability: that the worst was true. Which, of course, it was. There were no warning signs. No prolonged battle with cancer, no pill addiction or close calls in recent memory. She just woke up like that. Or rather, didn’t wake up.
I spent the following winter digging my way through a glacier. It was cold and bitter and constantly threatening. I had to keep moving, keep digging, keep pushing myself forward to avoid being frozen solid. I went sober and started eating healthy. I worked out every day and rode my bike to work; an hour each way. A good friend of mine commissioned me to write a short film screenplay for him and I jumped at the opportunity. All of it just to keep warm, to avoid being frozen solid. For a while, it felt like it kind of worked.
In March, my father died, four months after my mother. Same story; he died in his sleep, a total surprise. They were both in their early sixties. They had both been my best friends, biggest advocates, and tireless promoters of the silly little blogging adventure I’d conducted what now felt like a lifetime ago. I had just turned 30, I had never contemplated what life would be like without that. The rug was completely ripped out from beneath me.
Winter seemed to drag on forever that year, even by Wisconsin standards. In addition to managing my own grief, I found myself managing my parents’ estate, a task for which I was totally unprepared. I watched my siblings struggle through mental illness and drug abuse, each of us feeling helpless to rescue each other. To be fair, we did get a lot of support from friends, family, neighbors, and sometimes total strangers, but nevertheless I spent the better part of the year feeling absolutely overwhelmed.
There’s no end to this drama. What I’m living in now is, at best, an intermission. Things have quieted down somewhat. The house is about to go up for sale. My siblings and I live in an apartment now. I’ve quit my low-paying coffee shop job and am about to begin a reasonable-paying job at a different coffee shop.
In between, I have something I feel I haven’t had for quite some time. I have an opportunity. It’s been almost exactly a year since I hit the road. I miss those long meditative drives, the breezy rest stops and plastic bags of granola. I need it now. I need to go back. I need to figure out who I am again.
Maybe this is a terrible idea, but fuck it. Let’s do this. Ladies and gentlemen, ghostlings one and all, I bring you,
GHOST ON THE HIGHWAY 2018: A POST-TRAUMATIC RETREAD TO THE ZEN OF THE OPEN ROAD
Get excited, ghostlings. I’ll give you the specifics tomorrow.