Years ago, driving south on I-25 from Denver to Albuquerque. When the light shifted through the windshield of the Ford rental, I noticed a set of fingerprints like fossils in the dusty dashboard. They reminded me. It was there, on the road, that Joe and I loved each other best. In our ailing 1988 Chevy Nova, we drove the mirage of freeway, carving the snake roads of south central Colorado, where big sky meets horizon and dry plains shine like honey.
I could see Joe, his cool smirk and tender eyes, his body—long-limbed and wiry—as if he still filled the passenger seat beside me. His free hand scrawling endearments against the dash, leaning in to sing a line of the Everly Brothers song that sounded from the half-busted speaker, his tan hands kneading the flesh of my thigh, like a cat pawing its way to a familiar comfort. His crooning in my ear, “You’re something else, and you’re my girl.”
The passenger seat was empty, though, but for a dog-eared road atlas, a packet of cigarettes, and a bag of licorice I picked up from the trading post in Manitou. I hadn’t seen Joe in months, and over a year had passed since we drove together in the Chevrolet.
This was the same trip we had taken together every fall when we dodged our professors and fled campus for the adopted comforts of Albuquerque: the Sandia Mountains and Old Town adobes; neon lights along Central Avenue’s motel row; hash browns and green chili at the Frontier Diner where booths are wallpapered with busts of John Wayne.
Ahead, the road glittered, an impermeable oil spill in the distance.
We had met in college, each of us far from our respective coasts, and found each other 6,000 feet above sea level, at the foot of Pike’s Peak. Hailing from similar strands of bohemian upbringing and, ultimately, failed marriages, we shared a certain wariness of inheritance—we wanted the art; we feared the madness.
I was nine years old when my parents divorced and the once-cluttered walls of our Bronx apartment hollowed into silence—into separate apartments and alternate weekends—that lay the foundry for my restlessness, and in the same gesture, my admiration, because my parents were artists, after all, and young—so young.
Each fall, before the weather turned, Joe and I hitched rides down to the farmlands south of Pueblo, camping beneath the juniper trees of a deserted pasture. We rode boxcars to Denver and back again. One time, we caught big rig trucks southbound to Albuquerque until, just past the Colorado state border, we were held at a weigh station and questioned by the highway patrol. A toothpick-sucking officer who smelled of hunting season—firewood and jerky and hide—kept scolding, “This isn’t the Sixties anymore. You ever heard of the bus?” And Joe cupped my face in his hands, thumbing the crease behind my ears, fingering the slope of my nose, the tautness of skin against cheekbone, like a sculptor claiming the contour of his form.
These were the stories that fueled us. Stories filled with action and philosophizing strangers, The Dharma Bums kind of stories, adventure tales of wild hearts surveying the Wild West for new signs of life.