Tunnel

Every time I make this journey, it seems shorter. The first time I took the interstate from my home in Tennessee, it seemed worlds away. I felt that I had been in the car so long I had become a part of the sweat stained seats, that I too now smelled like cigarette smoke and the remains of the many cleaning chemicals that had attempted to eradicate it. Each time I make this journey, however, I loose a sense of distinction. My two lives seem too close now. Even the mountains between me and home are no longer an opposing barrier, but rather a scenic drive, a slight inconvenience. This time as I drive back to school, it’s raining. It’s not the clean refreshing rain of spring that swells the creek and stains the tips of trees green. This rain is malignant as it hovers over us, following us on our road east, choked with smog and acid. This rain sticks to the back of my neck as I run into the gas station to buy a pack of gum to keep me alert down the winding road of the gorge. I listen to the radio out of Knoxville as I drive, listen until there is nothing but static. After that I change stations frequently, looking for the rock and roll that I like to drive to. I find myself hyperaware of sounds as I drive. There are so many rhythms. The windshield wipers are working double time, the squeaky one sounds like someone mock crying as it slides across the glass. The fan in my car is on, roaring away the mist that attempts to cloud the windshield. The radio sings a fuzzy Kansas song. I can hear my breathing, exaggerated sighs that unwillingly rise from deep in my gut. A mountain looms up ahead. I turn on my headlights as the tunnel draws near. Suddenly the mountain is on top of me, the rain is gone, the windshield wipers sweep away nothing. The song continues for a moment then fades into static. The song seems intimidated by the weight of the mountain on top of it. It’s suddenly dark and silent. I think I’m holding my breath. I can feel the weight of it, all rock and trees. In that silent hum, I feel a sense of expectancy, like the moment the light goes dim in a theater and the crowd hushes as one, focusing on the one column of light on a darkened stage. But there’s something more to it than that. There’s a tightening in my chest, a weight in my gut. There’s an eldritch timbre in the air. I feel like the world grew silent in order that something else might speak, some awful voice rumbling from the depths, whispering things that I must not hear. I am penetrated by my own smallness relative to the mountain above, the ancient earth around me. And then I see dull sunlight tainted by rain before me. The radio starts up and now Credence Clearwater Revival is singing about a bad moon against a rolling southern rock beat. I let out a long breath and turn it up.

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