Highway of Veins
Like the 100,000 miles of blood vessels in my body, the 160,000 of highways in this country tangle inside me. Like artery, vein, and capillary, the asphalt pulses and folds back on itself. It both tucks into the deepest center of me and lies right under my skin.
My father headed to sea and when he returned, we hit the road. The roads moved like the water he came from, flowing into other roads, other places. The roads we started from are named the same way I can point to aorta, carotid, jugular, pulmonary, femoral, brachial. digital. Boswell Avenue, Jensen Way, Main Street, Albacore Circle, Beckwith Avenue, Buosh Street, Greenwood Street, Old Carriage Drive, and a dozen or so more. These are the names I came to and left from, these are the names that try to pin down the blood pumping from my heart. My father, mother, two brothers, and I drove the roads of this country together. Together, we all learned the ways to leave.
I was born with the rush of moving in my veins, stronger than any drug. When I wouldn’t sleep as a baby, my young parents bundled me in the car and drove me to sleep. At six months old, my mother breastfed me as my father drove us from Connecticut to Washington. We drove that route again, in reverse, and then forward again. Again and again.
The road came to contain science, history, art, and literature. I learned why the moon chased us, how the road ahead shimmered in the heat, why the blue sky looks so brilliant against yellow sunflowers in a South Dakotan summer, what it means to flip the bird, and why crayons shouldn’t be left in a car’s cup holder in July while you run around a truck stop marveling at the expanse of fields so far from the water you’ve known.
I learned to read through distraction in the backseat of a car between my two brothers, to dive deep down into the thrumming pulse of the road for solace, to absorb the landscape singing by. I learned how to let arguments over music fall and let the lyrics of whatever won etch themselves on me. I collected colors and town names and graffiti on overpasses and characters at roadside stands. I studied where roads intersected, where they led and how fast you might get there.
Roads are the space between two things. The way veins carry blood from heart to brain. But roads are the destination; the way vein walls also need what the blood carries. Roads are the space between what you are leaving and what you expect.
One year, it snowed in Yellowstone in July. I think about it every time I head out on a road trip. You never know what you might learn to believe in or forget.
I’m sure my brothers were there when it snowed. There is probably a home movie to prove it. But all I remember is thinking how good the snow felt after days of hot wind through the open window dried my throat. I remember how the heat of Old Faithful endured as the snow hit my cold face. I remember knowing then, moving so quickly between places and temperatures and memories, anything was possible. Nothing was a given.
Getting on the road is like giving you an ellipsis. Three dots like cars in a line of traffic, waiting to move forward. Or if these dots were drops of blood, they would contain over to 10 million red blood cells. They give the space and excuse to leave things out.
My brothers live thousands of miles away. We are connected only through the intricate network of pot-holed asphalt shown as smooth blue lines in my atlas. Even our red blood cells do not reveal our connection, DNA is absent in what we consider familial. But red blood cells have no nuclei, no center.
When I graduated from college I got married 6 days later, packed my few belongings in my husband’s car, and drove across the country again. In that same car I’ve learned the way roads expand and contract in the desert, how mountains in Canada pull you forward by the stomach, how stars are so bright through a windshield during August on a dusty pull-off in Montana that you can’t sleep. The road isn’t all about moving forward, there are cheap hotels and later, hotels with white sheets, there are countless gas stations, there are handmade fruit stands, there are the magnetic oddities, the break downs and accompanying auto shops rising from nowhere and offering ice water and time to pace in the lobby.
And the traffic jams. My favorite is the kind that stacks up in the middle of nowhere, perhaps between Missoula, Montana and Billings or in Wyoming when it seems you haven’t seen a car for hours. Traffic slowing from 70 to 30 in an adrenaline-filled instant and creeping past orange cones or sirens and flashing lights. The way a heart attack survived makes someone slow down; sudden traffic creates time, space, and reason for contemplation. It’s in the slowdowns that bring me back to my body, the place where neurons fire along their pathways fed by blood that thrums its route.
Family is often spoken of as blood. But what happens when shared blood disappears from memories? Doesn’t speak for years? What happens when shared blood only returns with sharp stabs of pain when someone asks about yours? In those moments, I want to lay my body along the rough asphalt, close my eyes, press my ear to the ground, and listen for the rumble of oncoming traffic. Instead, I climb in the car.
MEGHAN MCCLURE lives in Washington. She is Co-Director of the non-profit, Zimbags and helps edit A River & Sound Review. Her work has appeared in Water~Stone Review, roger, Superstition Review, Mid-American Review, Bluestem, Existere: A Journal of Art & Literature, and Floating Bridge Review, among others. Her favorite road to travel (though any will do) is through the desert, specifically the 29 Palms Highway to Joshua Tree, California.