[This is a snapshot from the summer of 2005, when I was on my way around the world. Hunter is not the truck driver’s real name.]
These wounds won’t seem to heal/This pain is just too real/There’s just too much that time cannot erase….
I hear a woman’s cutting soprano keening these words, as I stride past the back entrance of a dull brown building just off the main quadrangle of the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Inside a concrete-and-cinderblock utility room is a thirty-something Hispanic man, lounging against the wall, smoking a cigarette, listening to the music. Or perhaps not listening—perhaps counting the hours left in his shift, perhaps wishing the radio would switch to a tune not quite so bloody with heartbreak.
I met Hunter when I was hitch-hiking from West Virginia to Arizona, in the fall of 2004. I had just been kicked out of the cult I had devoted myself to for five grueling years, and was more completely adrift than I had ever been. He was a truck driver—unhappily married, with two teenage daughters. He seduced me, in the cab of his truck, on the Texas/Oklahoma line. I did not resist.
He was torn, and I was torn; he by his allegiance to his family, I by mine to the cult. I was willing to fall in love, but only with a man who would leave me crying, and thus prove to me that lasting romantic relationships were impossible—for me—in the outside world.
Hunter complied. After a couple months of weekend trips from Arizona to California and back, he disappeared. The last time I saw him he gave me a CD he had burned for me, titled “Something Soft.” It began with a woman pleading: Take me by the hand/Take me somewhere new/I don’t know who you are/But I—I’m with you. It ended with a man warning: You gotta leave me now/You got to go alone/You got to chase a dream/One that’s all your own/Before it slips away. Somewhere in the middle was the wild pain of that wracked soprano voice, grieving her loss that time could not erase.
* * *
I hurry on, past the dull brown building, out of range of the radio. I am headed for the main library, where I will meet a friend—recently accepted into graduate school at UH—with whom I used to work on an organic farm in California. After spending a few hours with her, I will take the bus to the airport, to board a midnight flight to Auckland. As I flee the siren’s song, my internal soundtrack segues from desperate lament to ironic encouragement: You can’t run away forever/But there’s nothing wrong with getting a good head start.