How I Rebuilt My Soul in Washington, MO (May 2008)

This week marks 4 years since I started this blog. I considered briefly writing a piece on that anniversary, a state of the blog post. But the thing is, I think the state is fine and hasn’t changed much in the last 4 years. When I find a topic worth writing on, I write on it. I am debating a few new ideas but I’ll come to them.

What I’m doing instead is telling a happy story from my past and for a good reason. I’ve been battling severe depression and anxiety for the last couple of months. I’ve been in a dark place that I even wrote about. But I am on an upswing because I’m forcing myself on an upswing. I’m fixing myself. And to that end let me tell a story about a trip that got me out with yet another story that belonged in the book but didn’t make it in.

I want to start by using Google Street View to show the exact locations I’m talking about. To look at this location it might be impossible to imagine that I found anything to heal my soul here. It’s perfectly generic. A few fast food joints. A grocery store. A Super 8 motel. There is no reason that this should sit in my head for 10 years as an important place. But it is an important place for me. Because there’s a small part of me that knows I found my will to live walking around this area one night.

Let me begin by addressing that idea: the will to live. Mine was running low during this weekend. Not gone, I’ve never reached that low, but low all the same. I didn’t think I was capable of much in life. I mean to be blunt I only had my part time job due to who I knew. What good was I?

I was nearing a year since the West Memphis incident. Going to Missouri for a job interview was an act of desperation. Since I was desperate I convinced my father to go/drive with me up to Washington, MO. I had no idea where it was but if they’d interview me, fine.

The day before, we drove up. It’s bizarre the memories I have. I read Essential Rampaging Hulk on the way. I ate Mountain Dew flavored Doritos. I remember driving through Harrison, AR. Dinner at Golden Corral in Springfield. Then driving through the wilderness. We checked in at a Super 8, dad’s chain of choice. It was about 9 and I wasn’t quite tired so I opted to go out.

A word about towns. Towns that sit in the midst of a lot of things aren’t special. Nothing towns in the middle of nowhere are nothing. But sizable, real towns in the woods are like stumbling into civic oases. That’s Washington.

Look at that view. The details are fundamentally what I saw on my night stroll. A Jack in the Box, alluring to someone from a state without one. An Applebee’s. A Michael’s a Lowe’s. A Jewelry store. A Mobil. And a Schnucks.

I made a beeline for the grocery store. Why? Well for one thing it was the only place open. I also feel a deep draw to grocery stores. They’re places of order. They’re all alike. They’re designed as sensory free zones. And I needed that.

That feeling of being adrift hurt. We define ourselves by our station in the world. I had no full career. I had no love. I had nothing to make me a man of standing in this realm. My only status I had was that dark word I so despised. Autistic. I was low.

As I perused the soda section, I found some trace of myself. I was a fan of these generic places, grocery stores. I had a sweet tooth. I liked alcohol. I liked finding oddities. Those were my traits. They weren’t great traits but they were mine.

I didn’t buy anything though I lingered a while in the store. I walked out into a lovely June night on my way to the Mobil. Crossing that sizable lot was a zen act. No sound but traffic. The halogen bulbs casting false daylight around me. Just my thoughts. Which I try to ignore.

There is one sure way to ignore those thoughts. I find it at the Mobil in a 16 ounce plastic bottle: Mike’s Hard Lemonade. There’s an odd moment where the clerk is confused by my driver’s license but finally he lets me take my cold, delicious drink.

I walk back to the hotel. My dad watches sports while I drink my alcopop and read the magazine exploits of the Hulk. Comics have helped in this age. Brand New Day. Doctor Strange: The Oath. Secret Invasion. I feed on the distraction. The alcohol helps too.

Then it’s dark and I’m stuck with my thoughts. I’m scared now. I’m scared more than anything else. I don’t get to escape that fear either. I’m scared of everything changing. I’m scared of nothing changing. I’m scared of failure. I’m almost scared of success as much. I’m scared! I’m so weak. Here I am in a strange place and there is nothing I can do,

I cry. I don’t make a big deal of it but I do shed a few tears just from the sheer, crippling fatigue of being at my low. I’m tired of being in strange towns hoping for a crumb. I just want the approval denied to me in this year. I want to matter.

And then I sleep. At dawn, all is new. I awaken. I eat. I get dressed. I’m not ready for this. I can’t be. But I go anyway.

The downtown area is lovely. There’s no other word for it. I stop in at a ridiculously idyllic corner store and drink a Cheerwine. It’s almost absurd how pleasant all this is. I could do this.

Then I have my interview. I go in and I do ok. I fumble some questions and my nerves shot but I try. I give great answers about my background and make me a good candidate. I know I won’t get this job, and I don’t, but I go to the end trying. It’s all I can do.

And then I’m freed. As we drive away from Washington and to St. Louis because why not, I let go of everything I’ve carried. My pain, my angst, my fear? They were left here. Now I know I can at least try.

I’ve never gone back to Washington. There’s no reason for me to do so. I’ve gone to that section of Google Street View often but going back in person would destroy the magic. Washington can only exist in my head as a place where I confronted my issues and came out ok. Sure I would love to visit the used bookstores in town. But it must be the site of my dark night of the soul.

We all have these places. These strange, ethereal phantom zones. These places where we were only there once but it changed us. This is mine and I’m grateful for it.

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