Dateline West Memphis, Arkansas –
And he’s on the road again… roughly three years after the last time I did the cross country drive. I seem to do them when I am in turmoil. Disconnecting from my usual life and patterns and driving for hours seems to help me recenter in some way. At least this time, I’m not in acute grief over the death of a partner, but I do figure I’m grieving in some rather odd ways – mainly connected to the ongoing saga of Covid that’s defined all of our lives over the last fifteen months. It’s led to lots of little deaths. Deaths of plans, deaths of certainties, deaths of possibilities. And then for me, there’s been the very real deaths that I’ve had to help people through – children grieving parents, parents grieving children, spouses grieving and adjusting to widowhood – as there are now 576,000 empty chairs at the American table and some of those are for my patients and their connections.
The vaccine has been a game changer, of course. My patients, many cooped up for over a year, are able to venture out some without being panicked and families are able to gather together for the first time in a while. Even with that, the legacy of mental health conditions that have been left behind is enormous and I’m only just beginning to unpack that particular box. A large part of my day is spent working through grief and depression and anxiety left in Covid’s wake as that’s now the major thing affecting my patients’ health, far more than their blood pressure or their diabetes. I feel a bit inadequate to the task but I usually muddle through somehow.
I finished up my usual work day around one thirty this afternoon, ran by the accountant to drop off my tax paperwork so I can get my refund, and then headed home to pack. I like to travel and can usually pack pretty quickly and get supplies for anything from snowstorm to desert heat into a single suitcase (one of the things one learns growing up in Seattle when the weather can do anything over the course of a weekend). Suitcases packed, trusty laptop in its bag, I kissed the kitties good by, threw things in the car and headed out. I’m making this trip up as I go along. I have nearly a week to get to Seattle and a continent full of possible routes. We’ll see where I end up.
I decided Northwest was as good a direction as any so took I-22 out of town past all the Walker County towns I know and love from VA house calls, and then on beyond into Mississippi. After Tupelo, which seem s to have little reason for existing other than housing Elvis Presley’s birth place (will he be remembered in another few decades, after the boomers are gone?), I was driving into a glorious sunset straight out of Gone With the Wind for an hour or so as Mississippi gave way to Tennessee. I figured Memphis was far enough and stopped in the West suburbs, on the Arkansas side of the Mississippi for the night. With the crossing of the river, I guess I am officially in the West again. Can’t say much about Memphis. The famous civic pyramid seems to have become a Bass Pro Shop and it was too dark by the time I got to the bridge to see anything of Mud Island.
Tomorrow, I’ll either head west towards Little Rock and Fort Smith or north towards St Louis. We’ll see what I feel like after breakfast. Twenty three years ago, on our drive across country from Sacramento to Birmingham to start our new life, Steve and I stopped for the night in Fort Smith. It was Halloween weekend and, while in the motel room we turned on the TV and a local commercial blared for an Evangelical church’s Harvest Festival party, an alternative to demonic Halloween. Biblically correct costumes were encouraged. Steve looked at me, rolled his eyes, and announced that he wanted to stay an extra day so he could show up as Jezebel. (He would have too, if I had let him, but we had a van full of furniture to meet in Birmingham and could not afford the extra time).
My stops for gas and Dr. Pepper show that masks appear to be unknown here in the heartland. I’m trusting in my vaccinated status and I’m still wearing one when going indoors. And keeping my hands washed and sanitized. And keeping a wide berth. It’s not over until its over.