West Texas Highways and Lingering Essays: A Wandering Wednesday by Lauren Bailey

It’s time for another summer installment of Wandering Wednesday: Guest Post Edition. Today I’m honored to host Lauren Bailey, who regularly writes for online colleges. She welcomes your comments at her email Id: blauren99 @gmail.com.

Lauren, let your wandering tale now commence:

It was a late December day at maybe five pm or so. The sun was setting to the west and throwing colors of grey and pale orange all across the desert-y landscape. I was driving in my small silver car down the two lane highways that, as far as I can tell, make up most of western Texas, travelling home from college for Christmas break. Having successfully completed the first semester of my junior year and the most difficult period of schooling I had experienced to date, I was exhausted and elated to be leaving my small liberal arts university and the city of San Antonio behind me. To get “home” I drive west for 12 hours into the setting sun and the dried desert expanse. I’d done the drive at least a few times before. It wasn’t that it was unfamiliar this time around—but it certainly was different. I was alone this time.

I had created a playlist on my iPod that would last at least half the ride. As the sounds of Matchbox Twenty and Third Eye Blind (a 90s throwback) lulled me along the vacant roads, I entered somewhat of a daze. This drive takes a traveler through many steps. You start on Interstate 10 in all of its six lane glory. Flying at 80+ miles an hour, school, essays, dorm rooms, late night taco runs, library books, and musky classrooms are left far behind you and fade surprisingly quickly. It’s funny, really, how just a bit of space—a few highway miles—can eliminate all the stresses that consumed your life only moments before. That’s the first step of these kinds of trips home. You leave behind your new life. Only for a bit of course, winter break would be over soon enough and I would be making this trip backwards all over again in no time. But, as the first step goes, that new-found freedom and new-found sense of “adulthood” leaves you like the painted lines moving on the street beneath you.

The next step this drive takes you on is harder to explain. As you make that turn off of I-10 and enter the world of deserted two lane highways and sparse opportunities for fuel, your mind jumps right back to those stressful times of the past. I found myself reliving the essay I had just turned in for my class on Gender Issues in Shakespeare. Phrases like “patriarchal designs” and “female rhetoric” flooded my consciousness as the skies grew darker and my sense of direction and place failed me. After moments—or possibly hours—of considering Queen Elizabeth I’s effect of a contemporary Shakespearean audience and exploring Isabella’s characterization as a representation of male anxiety over female power, I realized I had no idea where I was. Not in some existential sense, I was literally lost on some faceless highway. I had missed a turn, or made a miss-turn, or who knows—I was lost.

Now, I’m the kind of person who does not like being lost. I like to know where I’m going, when I’ll get there, and how I’m going to do it long before I embark on any type of excursion. But, here I was, lost. Not only lost, but lost in the middle-of-nowhere west Texas with a quarter tank of gas and, well, nothing for miles to see. Rather than breakdown and cry (as I normally would), I was exhilarated. Maybe it had to do with spending the last 72 straight hours tapping away at a laptop, creating some subpar essay that I was initially really passionate about or maybe it was that I was totally exhausted—maybe those are the same thing—but, I let myself get lost. I continued to drive. I stopped listening to music from my adolescence and stopped thinking about essays I would never perfect the way I envisioned and just took in the desert around me. There were bugs smashing on my windshield, wispy clouds streaking the sky, barren desert earth that was actually much livelier than I had thought. It was beautiful and lonesome—and I loved it.

Eventually, without much trouble or worry really, I came across a highway sign that said “Roswell 95 miles”. This was the direction I needed to go. I knew my path once I was in Roswell, so following this sign, though I’d never seen it before, was my solution. I was back on track after only a slight detour. Now, I can’t say that I necessarily learned something magnificent or life-altering from this experience. I guess when you boil it down all that really happened was that I was careless, got lost, found my way, the end. But, this moment has stuck with me. I remember the feeling I had at the point when I realized I was lost and realized I didn’t care and that it would be alright. I remember the things I saw when I took the time to really soak in my drive rather than think about unfinished assignments and regretful thesis sentences. I realize now, being lost that evening somewhere between San Antonio, Texas and Roswell, New Mexico on a nameless highway in the desert was the first time I’d really learned to be present in my surroundings.

If you’d like to submit your own Wandering Wednesday this summer, check out this infotastic post and shoot me an email at onetz53[AT]gmail[DOT]com to make it happen, cap’n.