I had a lot of trouble sleeping when I was in college. Often, I would give up trying around four in the morning, throw on some clothes, and stalk across the dark, dew-damp campus to my car. My first rule for these early-morning journeys was that I had to drive West, away from the rising sun; my second rule was that I had to turn back when the sun touched my car. So West I would go on Route 44, through the thick mist over the Hudson River, past the sleeping shops of New Paltz, their blinds drawn tight against the creeping dawn, and up into the Shawangunks. When Route 55 split off, I split with it. As I wound higher and higher, past snowmelt waterfalls and indifferent deer, the pumpkin-orange rays of the rising sun would catch the rocks above and below me, but as long as they did not touch the car, I kept driving. When at last the sun cleared the horizon and soaked me through, I turned around, and drove back through the same mountains, woods and towns, so different in their waking.
West has always been the direction of possibility to me. It’s the most American part of my psyche, the ingrained dream of the frontier. West is the way to things that could be. Living in Los Angeles, the westernmost part of my country, has elicited in me a battle of the imagination. I fight to keep this town new and strange, and myself a stranger in it. It’s not comfortable to live somewhere as a stranger, but I fear the alternative; when the possible becomes pedestrian, dreams sicken and die.
Oddly, as autumn begins and this town grows gray and cool in the halfhearted, resentful way it does, I become acutely homesick for the East. I miss the turning leaves, the bite of cold air, and the smells of woodsmoke and apple cider. I miss the rain, thunder and lightning, the lacework of frost on the window, the shining tips of the morning grass. I miss all of that, but even more I miss the idea I had of the West. I miss the mystery of it, and the way I could drive until dawn and never get there.
What do you miss?