joreth: (being wise)
So, everyone already knows how much I hate living here in Florida. But I've been here for 18 years now, so while it doesn't feel like "home", it's *familiar*.

I've had 2 dysphoric driving episodes recently that are making me think that I really need to get the hell outta Dodge soon whether this whole Canada thing pans out or not.

The first was last week when my car tanked and I had to drive my RV to work because gas for the RV is still cheaper than calling Lyft.

I was driving home from my retail shift, so it was about 10 PM-ish. My car hasn't had a working radio for almost as long as I've owned it (maybe 10 years now?), so I've been listening exclusively to my iPod in the car for much longer than most people (because cars weren't easily converted to be able to listen to iPods at first).

But I actually like listening to the radio. I don't like commercials, but I like keeping up with what's new in the music scene in several genres. So, since I drive alone and there's nobody else to annoy, I just channel surf to avoid commercials.  Since I haven't had a radio in so many years, I have a tendency to listen to the radio whenever I rent a car or have another car with a working radio, even though iPods are ridiculously easy to hookup to a car system these days.

So I was driving home in the RV, late at night, listening to the radio and channel surfing when I came across a '90s rock station. I'm extremely susceptible to music. It immediately, noticeably, affects my mood, whatever is playing.  Because of that, I have specific playlists that I've carefully curated for driving with no songs that will make me angry or anxious, because I used to race cars until I rolled mine down a hill, so I need music to keep me calm while I'm driving.

I'm on the interstate, with no traffic (for once), surrounded by darkness, the streetlights whipping by, sitting up high in the seat and hauling 5 tons of metal and fiberglass behind me, listening to rock from the era of oversized flannel shirts and Doc Martins with really short skirts, and I'm instantly transported to October, 2000.

In October of 2000, I climbed up into my 1979 skoolie - a converted school bus into an RV - and set out across the country and away from home for the first time. I was sad and hopeful and more than a little terrified. But mostly I was excited.  For a few minutes in October of 2018, I considered just not turning off the interstate at my exit, just keep on driving north, and see where I end up. And I was sad and hopeful and more than a little terrified, but mostly I was excited.

To realize that I was not, in fact, driving my old skoolie and I was not in my twenties with my whole adulthood still ahead of me and that I was not leaving for an epic adventure across the country was such a disappointment, it was visceral. It was so strong that I'm feeling crushed by it again now, just remembering it.

But for that moment, with Steven Tyler screaming out at me from the speakers, I loved the road again, which the various city governments in Central Florida seem determined to teach me to hate with their piss-poor planning and reconstruction.

God I LOVED to drive! I still do, but there was a special quality to being 23 and on a road trip and leaving home to start an independent life that isn't like any other driving experience, even other pleasant ones like vacation road trips.

And I felt that same exhilaration tinged with that curious broodiness and loneliness that teenagers in Gen X seemed to take on as though we owned that feeling and nobody else would ever feel it again or ever did before.

Grunge rock brings that broodiness on for me, the way that Air Supply brings on the depression from the '80s I was in when I was being bullied and thinking that nobody would ever fall in love with me because I was so ugly and weird. Like I said, music affects me. But I digress.

Exhilaration tinged with loneliness edged with hopefulness, just as I felt in 2000, driving my ancient old school bus across the country with nobody but my sweet, possessive little kitten, frightened of the noise and the heat of the big engine. I was right back there, in that time, in that moment. I half expected to hear her distinctive squeaky meow behind me, as if to complain that we had been driving long enough and it's time to make the loud noises stop and curl up together to sleep.

Arriving "home", usually a relief after working a retail shift, was disappointing instead.

Then there was today.

I had a gig in a town 2 hours away, so I got a motel room over there for a few nights and I drove home today. Every time I think about returning to the place where I live, the word "home" pops into my mind out of habit as the word to use for the place where one lives, but then my mind corrects itself "this may be where you live, but this isn't home".

Every time. Every time for the last 18 years. I have never once thought of this place as home, even though I have used the word to label my dwellings as "home".

So, I had to drive "home" today, and the usual voice in my head made its usual objection that I mostly ignore. But part of all this construction on the roads have given them a lot of false altitude changes. Florida is basically a flat swamp, but as we drain the swamps to make room for more parking lots and McMansions and hotels, we cart in more "ground" from other areas, and we get a few rises in the roadways that like to pretend that they're hills.

As I topped one of those rises, something about the combination of literal heat waves and smog in the air, and probably my perpetual homesickness, made a mirage. I crested the pseudo-hill, and my brain insisted that the horizon was not the flat blue of the Florida sky, but the faint grey, blue, and white of a snow-peaked mountain range, so far away that I could only barely distinguish it from the surrounding crisp California sky.

This is something that I've only seen in a desert state, where there are miles and miles and miles of flat land surrounded by miles and miles and miles of mountains. Everywhere else I've been has either been just flat with no mountains, or hilly and mountainous with no flat vistas far enough to create mirages. And the air has to be crisp and dry too, in order to create that illusion and allow you to see that far into the distance at all.

There is a confluence of circumstances where the mountains are so tall and yet so far away, that you really can't see them, but you can. Sometimes they're actually below the horizon but optical illusions bend the light and make a reflection of them appear to float above the horizon. But sometimes they really are just that tall and the surrounding area is just that flat.

They turn a different color at that distance, with the atmosphere doing the weird things that it does, so it's almost more like someone put a layer of celluloid with the picture of a mountain on top of the horizon but turned down the transparency so that you see more of the horizon and sky behind it than you see of the mountain itself.

I crested that hill and my brain insisted that there was one of those transparent mountains right in front of me where the road cut a swath out of the surrounding skyscrapers and buildings and trees.

And it didn't matter how many times I told my brain that Florida doesn't have mountains, let alone snow-capped ones, and that this was a memory, not real, I couldn't make that mountain go away. I had to look away from the horizon and only when the view changed angles did the illusion finally break.

My dad was hinting about me coming home for Christmas this year. I haven't done that in several years. I have mixed feelings about holidays with my folks. But I just came back from a trip there in September, and I was out there twice last year - once for my own wedding in August and once for my sister's wedding in October. And I'm getting really tired of traveling when what I really want to be doing is *moving*. I'm also especially tired of spending money that I could be saving up to move.

What I didn't tell my dad is that I also don't really want to go home because it's getting harder and harder to leave and come back here. Every time I get off that damn plane in California, and I see those mountains in the distance, and I open the door to the outside and I breathe the thin, dry air instead of choke on the feeling of being smothered by a wet blanket, my brain screams at me "NOW WE ARE HOME!"

I feel like Adam's mom, in Blast From The Past, where Christopher Walken built a bomb shelter underneath their house that was an exact replica of their real house except underground and the family got trapped down there for 30 years and they finally got out and Brandon Frasier's character built another exact copy of their house but on top of a hill surrounded by empty land, and Christopher Walken just kind of sniffs and says "it's just like the bomb shelter" and Sissy Spacek is standing on the back lawn admiring the sunset that she hasn't seen in 3 decades and she turns back towards the house and throws open her arms and says "No, THIS is different!"

Everything here is kinda the same as there - we have houses and restaurants and things to do, and a lot of those restaurants and things to do here I really enjoy and I think we might even have more of them or better ones than back home - but back home is *different*.

And it's different in a way that my brain and my heart feels as a sunset over a lightly wooded field on top of a hill surrounded by hills after having been locked in a basement for 30 years different.

Most of the time, when I feel dysphoria over my surroundings, it comes as a kind of surreal realization that I'm living in a TV show, because the palm trees and ocean views and the 348 days of blue skies and bluer water and fluffy white clouds are what the rest of the world watches in movies and travel destination shows but nobody actually *lives* there, right? Except I do.

But this week, my dysphoria is different. I'm no longer here, in Florida, in this reality TV train wreck of a state. I'm on my way out or already gone. I need that to be my reality before my brain finally cracks and convinces me that it *is* reality when it's not.
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