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At eighteen the road offered him the freedom of youth and sunshine. Have thumb will travel. He was free at last from the twelve stifling years of public school, free from the oppressive undercurrent of violence that characterized his home. He was free and self-reliant. No one could touch him on the road, he travelled fast and travelled light and those he met were transient blots on the landscape, a landscape in constant flux, fused with hurried emotions.

He told her that he was just passing through, would be gone when the tobacco fields were a fallow wasteland. At first he was amazed at how readily he could translate his young body into cash. The sun slapped at his bent back like a merciless master, salt-tasting sweat dripped from his nose but his spirit remained. The ache of his muscles, of his joints was nightly quenched as he lay on her warm body. The blistered and torn hands she cured with kisses and cries of ecstasy and he was renewed. A dull stiffness was all that remained each dawn as he walked toward the land. Each night she applied the soothing balm of love and when the tobacco had gone he remained. He had intended to linger only a moment, to hitch to the coast as he had last fall but the weather cooled, the ground froze and he remained. He found work in a sawmill. He pulled green timbers from the chain with easy regularity and life went on pleasantly enough for a time. He did not know when it happened but the ache in his arms, in his chest, in his back refused to subside and the dollars ceased to console him. The years of routine ground his early amazement into daily dread. Work was an affront to everything human about him. Most sickening was the knowlege that he was locked into this cycle; it whithered his youth and the years crashed past him like crinkled leaves in autumn.

A chill blew through chinks in their home and the passion that bound them together cooled into sadness and longing. They consumed his earnings as starved animals led to fodder but the void within them, between them, only grew. He mistook it for hunger and thirst, insatiable, unquenchable and grew fat from food and whiskey. He exploded outward in an expression of discontent. She forgot the man she married and grew to despise the one she lived with. One day he again sought the freedom of the road....

He travelled more slowly now, his luggage heavier with remorse and regrets. At eighteen he was vaguely aware that he was going somewhere. Now he was all too conscious that he was going nowhere and was in no hurry to get there. He abandoned the car on the first day of his escape, its rusted body could go no further, so he rode icy rails to the coast where he spent a season trolling for salmon. The sea was harsh and wore him thin again, gaunt, its spray, like spit, chilled his body. The lonely waste of water offered no warm solace for his restless spirit.

He drew his meager pay and returned to the road. Cars rarely stopped now, but whooshed by with a whisper that lingered behind: "kerouac...kerouac... kerouac....* Highway grit pelted his face on the tail of this ominous sigh.

He crossed and recrossed the land, sometimes stopping to work, no longer free, sometimes riding freight, no longer free, always going forward never looking back at a past that pursued him like a shadow. When times were good he sat quietly on a Greyhound drinking slow anger from a bottle and the landscape whirled past him in confused profusion.

1982




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