Last Day (L.A. → Corona, CA)
Driving into work Tuesday morning you never thought it might be the last time. Creeping along the 101, with the LA skyline rotating to your right, you never considered it. When traffic on the 60 slowed to a stop, as it had been doing lately – when did that start, anyway? – you never wondered will I miss these lonely treks into the desert? You never wondered because it never crossed your mind that the year-long gig might end.
A year ago you still called yourself freelance. It’s what you were on March 19th, when you showed up for a two-week TV shoot. The show had no buyer and no budget and at the time you were thankful for ten days’ work. When the crew was called back for a third week everyone knew it was just for pick-ups, just tying up loose ends.
Two months later you joked it’d become the “shoot that’ll outlive us.” Six months later it wasn’t a joke. A year after that you didn’t call yourself freelance anymore, and you drove into the desert one Tuesday morning without ever thinking it might be the last time.
The gig ended just as you’d been taking stock. You’d spent the last couple nights considering the ongoing project that was your life. Where was it headed? What was it all about? You felt detached from your career, as if you could steer its direction but had little control over the pace, details, or purpose.
Over the summer the TV show had taken you to Chicago for a week, and when the week was up you’d decided to push your flight and visit your grandmother. She lived by a lake in northern Indiana. You hadn’t brought trunks but dove in anyway, and once you were in you figured you’d might as well swim across. It was a big lake and you were alone – swimming alone had been against the rules when you were a kid. It probably still was, and with good reason. That muddy shore seemed a mile away.
Halfway across you were breathing heavily. You shrugged off the idea that you were out of shape and pushed yourself harder. Almost immediately you had to stop to catch your breath. Surveying the water around you, it struck you how black the lake looked. How deep. You swam again, stopped again. Swam then stopped. You couldn’t recall much of the latter half of the crossing, at least not much beyond the labored breathing and the treading in place.
“Treading in Place.” There’s a fitting title for the autobiography of your life in LA. On Tuesday morning you were driving to work and even though you didn’t know it was your last day, you knew you’d been treading. The reactions in the room were all over the place when the producers admitted the show was done. But yours, to your own surprise, was relief.
It wasn’t a smart reaction. There was a literal, physical stack of bills on your desk back home, just left of your computer. But that’s the nice thing about gut reactions. They don’t make a lick of fiscal sense.
On the way home you’d take stock again – but of possibilities. Maybe you wouldn’t make rent and you’d have to crash with your engineer friend in Portland. Or move home, hole up, and write. Or maybe you’d just travel: to Chicago, where they actually have winters; Austin, because you’d never been; San Francisco, where you felt most alive. Maybe you’d make it to Minneapolis and finally impress the woman whose art had made you feel like a child ever since you were one.
On Tuesday morning you drove into the desert and you didn’t think about seasons, or Minneapolis, or whether it was your last day. On the way home you’d mull over all that. It was time to push yourself – and own up to a life that was out of shape. The lake was long, the water was dark – and you, after a year of treading, had a muddy shore to push toward.