pages fly away 51

The Shenandoah National Park is part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which are themselves a region of the Appalachian Mountains.  These were all storied names to me, and though I may have passed through them once or twice, I’d never set out specifically just to see them.  I’d done the math and it was about two and a half hours to get to the park.  I could drive travel north through it until I reached the 33, then take the 29 south to Charlottesville and be there by late afternoon. 

It was a relief upon reaching the park to find that my National Park Pass was still opening doors.  It had been one of the soundest investments in a long time.  The road into the park was called Skyline Drive.  There were leafy trees, oak, chestnut, and ash on both sides of the roads and hardly any traffic.  I leaned into the Mountain Bluebird, making the gentle ascent with ease.  First, I pulled over at the Calf Mountain Overlook, then at Sawmill Run.  When I got to Horsehead Mountain, I stopped the car and got out, finding a stone to sit on and contemplate the sprawling green valley below.

Was I meditating these days or simply just mind traveling?  It was hard to know what to call it, outside of trying to sit still a few moments and practice awareness.  There was a pine tree right in front of me and the ever-present rattle of insects.  Some gnats began to swarm around my face immediately.  This was going to be fun.  A breeze was running through the treetops, making a slight stir on the floor of the valley.  Instead of focusing on that, I mostly just wondered what it would be like to see Jenny again. 

She’d done me a great favor nearly thirty years earlier by leaving me and breaking my heart, the first and last woman ever to do so.  Most of the songs I’d written before then I promptly tore up and started again.  They were too sarcastic and smart-alecky, the product of a cynical youth.  When I got my heart broken, I immediately understood why everyone writes about love.  Songs about love leapt out at me from the radio and reduced me to sobs. 

I’d sat in a bathroom after slashing myself with a razor, crying and bleeding all over a scrap of paper that I’d just written a new song on called My Beautiful Dream.  All the songs that followed sprang from that battered lineage.  Many years had passed since then.  There were no hard feelings by now.  She’d gone on to get married.  I’d rambled the world like I’d always been threatening to do.  What would it be like to see her again?  I could hardly imagine but had no expectations.

The trees below were mostly green, with a little bit of red sprinkled in.  The breeze started whipping around, barely keeping the gnats at bay.  There were purple flowers in the grass in front of me.  The electric outlets of the world were all humming as one.   

By the time I got to the 33, it felt like I might be running late.  I called Jenny to let her know I was still on my way and give an approximate time of arrival.  At Ruckersville I got on the 29 south.  Now I was just thirty minutes away.  I had Karen directing me on Google Maps, not even paying attention to where I was going, just knowing I was getting closer and closer to my destination.  Then I was there, driving through an ordinary-looking neighborhood, and pulling up in front of a brick duplex.  I took a breath and knocked at the door.  Here came Jenny.

We’d met studying in Oxford and been friends before we fell into a relationship.  Now we were old, grizzled veterans of life.  There was nothing to be explained or forgiven.  It was only how is this and how is that.  Her teenage son came down the stairs and met me.  Later, her daughter came down as well and we decided to walk downtown and get some dumplings.  It was a hot afternoon.  The pedestrian mall we sat outside and ate at seemed fairly tame, outside of some gutter punks bunched up at one end of it. 

Later, we went back to the house, and I got out my ukelele.  She’d been my entire audience for a few years, still loving and requesting certain songs that I’d gone on to disown.  If anything was true it’s that I’d never really known what I wanted, just to be free.  I’d had ideas, thousands of ideas, about places I wanted to go and things I wanted to see, but there’d never been a plan.  One time, outside of a cemetery, I’d picked her up on my back and began to leap up and down, so delirious to ramble that I could barely contain myself. 

Jenny had longed for something more stable, a nest of her own, and she’d had it for a while and then lost it.  Now she was trying to build it up again for her kids.  The beautiful thing about being young is that we all still have our dreams.  She asked me to play a song called Jim White and though I’d forgotten half the words, I still played for her and sang as if I’d finally made it to the stage of Carnegie Hall.

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