Friday, July 21, 2006

Tornadoes, Family, and the Florida Turnpike

On Tuesday morning, after 3 hours sleep and another reoccurring dream of tornadoes hovering on the horizon, I set out at 8:30 for Atlanta. Five hours later, I was in the 100 degree parking lot at The Defoors Centre emptying my entire car in order to unload the painting that I was delivering to the Women’s Caucus for Art show. The painting fit so tightly into the back of my Honda CRV that it had to be loaded in at a certain angle, then midway through the process, the angle had to be shifted dramatically to have it lay flat and fit perfectly. Now, with the other Miami-bound painting and all of my luggage leaning against the outside of my car, sweat dripping down my face, arms, and legs, several other artists had come and gone from the parking lot while I wrestled with various angle combinations to liberate the painting from the back of my car. It was one of those moments that you mentally note, to be certain that you will never repeat that particular mistake. I was back on the road at 2, and planned on driving ‘till 6, but around 4:30 I decided that I was a danger to myself and others, and needed to get off the road.

After 4 nights of painting-induced sleep deprivation, I was just drifting off at the Ramada Inn in Cordele, GA, when my cell phone rang. It was 10:15, and I considered not answering. I saw it was my sister, and picked up: "Could you call, back tomorrow, Chris? I haven’t slept and I am exhausted…" She couldn’t call back tomorrow, because she would be in Asia tomorrow, and the latest family crisis was happening NOW. I got the various details from her, told her not to worry about it, go on your business trip, and the rest of the sibs and I will handle this one. I took a pill and a warm shower and tried to go back to sleep, but to no avail. I wrestled with the wireless internet service provided by the hotel, refining and publishing last night’s already mostly written blog, (below).

The last numbers I remember seeing on the clock read 3:30 a.m. I had a dream that I was driving a car, but I was in the back seat trying to steer, so I stopped the car, sensing that this was dangerous (I have this dream a lot, but usually I keep driving from the back seat, careening). I had another dream that one of my ex-boyfriends cleanly sawed my car in half, separating the front half from the back. At 6 a.m., the yip-yip dogs in the hotel room next door started to cry. At 6:30, I emphatically cried out "PLEASE!" very loudly, and they removed the dog sounds to I care not where. There was no sleeping after that, only trying, though I delayed my alarm and departure till 8:30.

The highlight of this particular drive (NC, Atlanta, Miami) is Gaffney, SC, the home of the giant obscene peach, and that was appreciated yesterday, so today there was a only a nine hour drive, punctuated by many phone calls from various players in the family crisis, to look forward to. I got the largest coffee that they had at the mini mart, and a bag of bourbon praline pecans, because, beneath the sugar, I rationalized, there was some protein.

The Florida State Line, 11 a.m.: The trees change, from deciduous to Spanish moss to palms. "Somebody has to actually go down there and sign a paper, saying that they will pay if he doesn’t show up."

Tampa, 12:00 p.m.: The burned-out spots near the turnpike, where I saw those fires on the news. "It’s too late for that, they want the money instead."

Orlando, 1:00 pm: I am pulling out of a rest stop, not going fast enough for the person behind me, and someone honks their horn at me for the first time in 6 months. "Where does she think the money is going to come from? We haven’t been paid back from the last time."

Fort Pierce, 2:00 pm: People start passing on the right, going 95 m.p.h. The knot of pain begins at the base of my skull. I am stretching my ever-tightening neck muscles by tilting my head from side to side. "She’s going down there anyway?.. what does she hope to accomplish? Could she be more enabling?!"

West Palm Beach, 3:00 pm: Someone cuts across 4 lanes in front of me to make a late exit. Pull your shoulders down and back now, not hunched up in your years. "I had to sleep with Mom’s car keys under my pillow, so she would not leave in the middle of the night, and just start driving."

Fort Lauderdale, 4:00 pm: I watch as a window rolls down, and a hand holding a Taco Bell wrapper sticks out, fully experiencing the flutter before letting it go. I flex my hands as I realize that I am clenching the steering wheel. "It’s not going to change his behavior to help him out again, I say we let him stay there for a few days."

Miami, 5:00 pm: Traffic has slowed to a crawl, taillights across 5 lanes of traffic, but on the far right shoulder are the fast moving lines of cars, containing people too important to wait in traffic with the masses. Back in the Land of Entitlement, I start deep breathing, long on the exhale. "This is the last time, I’m not doing this any more", I said.

I have gotten soft after so many months of living in NC. I have forgotten that, in South Florida, you do not put on your turn signal if you want to change lanes on the highway, because people will speed up to close the gap, so that you cannot change lanes and get in front of them.

I arrive at my friend Barbara’s with just enough time to find the key, let myself in, bring my stuff into the house, and shower before meeting friends for dinner. But, with 5 minutes to go before I must leave, I realize that it is overcast, and a perfect day to photograph the new painting, rather than waiting for tomorrow, when it might be sunny and impossible. In 5 minutes, I have set up the tripod and photographed the painting, leaning it against each side of the car, to be certain that one of them will be perfectly lit. I am sweating, and the mosquitoes are biting as I press the shutter release for the final time, whisk the painting back into Barbara’s house, and get on the road to meet my friends.

My family is the looming tornado always on the edge of my subconscious horizon. Along with occasional bouts of insomnia, they have given me my obsessive art making techniques, the steely nerve to drive on Florida Turnpike with 2 hours sleep, and the ability to snap the perfect photo on a 5 minute deadline, unflinching, while being eaten by mosquitoes.

I slept last night in Barbara's guest room like I used to when I was single, with the painting I have just finished in my bedroom with me, so I can see it first thing when I wake up…. at 11:30 a.m.


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