Leaving Melbourne felt like wading through molasses, sticky and slow-going, a series of blunders and clumsy patch-up jobs. Like a half-drunken stumble down the hallway in the middle of the night: hit your shoulder on the doorframe, slide into the dresser, trip over your own feet, claw at the wall to stay upright.
Much of the country I?m travelling now, we travelled as a family in 1997. The trip so far?and it?s just over two weeks since I left Melbourne?has already been punctuated by flashes of recognition and re-evaluation, constant moments of this is where. This is where my brother, this is where the river, this is where the rain, this is where the butterflies. Doing it without them is like rewriting part of my childhood with no points of reference but those in my head. Did I come here? Do I remember this? The vague memories are overwritten, the vivid ones are detailed and deepened. Experiences now have price tags and responsibilities attached. Every 500km costs me $100. Every overnight stop is a negotiation between energy levels, fuel availability, community dynamics and the elements.
The Land Cruiser is a dogged but shuddery old thing, and I promised myself when I finally hit the highway that I wouldn?t get distracted by the romance of the road. But even monotony has its aesthetic, and pretty soon I was trying not to veer off the bitumen while typing text messages to myself so I wouldn?t forget the colour of the grass, the way the light fell, the sunset reflected on rainclouds. At one point, the car climbed a hill and the very road was glowing?luminous pink and orange, like when you peel the skin from a nectarine?the crest all but bursting with colour and light, and then the bonnet dipped and plunged in the cold, dark hollow of the valley behind it, sinking into mournful, wet blue-grey. ?Watercolour? doesn?t do it justice; it was richer than that, like saturated sound. And the muse squeezed my lungs and said, Capture this.
Sometimes I catch myself thinking that it doesn?t even matter where I?m going. The movement is enough; away is enough. It was always the blur of the country rushing past, soothing and stirring, and the rhythmic lilting of the car that made travelling inspiring. Even the bus trip between my house and high school was scope for imagination. I was never an ?are we there yet?? child. Arrival ruptured my reverie.
But when I run away from myself fast enough I catch up to myself from the other direction. And I?m not only running to, I?m running from. The road between Brisbane and Melbourne was tracked with mud and rainwater, bloodsoaked carpet, alcohol and leaking engine coolant, and I stumbled along it clad in clothes that smelt like smoke and sweat. This was unsurprising, given the state I was in before I left. I know the danger signs because I?ve seen them in other people. When the catalyst for all your epiphanies is consumption of a substance. When someone pours their heart out to you, tells you exactly what you mean to them, and you have to ask them the next day to repeat what they said. When you are sabotaging opportunity after opportunity in favour of momentary, beguiling, artificial warmth. When people you love finally, angrily explain to you that while intoxicated, you have criticised, insulted and offended them well past the point of friendship, and you hear the words: ?I am at the end of my tether.?
Last Monday, I was that person. And perhaps sometimes it?s good to know how far you can push it before it gives, but it would be better yet not to reach that point in the first place. I don?t understand people who can create under the influence. I drink so that my head will shut up, except that it doesn?t shut my mouth. I have sex so that I will feel better about myself, and then speak like I am putting myself on trial. It?s not about guilt or shame, it?s about control. Getting out of control to feel in control. But apathy has always been a problem for me, and the abuse that I put myself through, not just physically but mentally and emotionally, in order to somehow untangle these knots eventually takes its toll. It?s not that I don?t care; rather, I get to the point where there is so much to care about that in order to cope I have to sequester all cause for concern. An oxymoronic embrace of neglect.
As I post this I am 9 days celibate and sober. No sex, alcohol or drugs for 100 days. A self-imposed fast. I will have 100 days together with my own mind and my own body. I will remember what it?s like to be whole. It?s a good time to do it. I have a novel to finish writing and two thirds of a country to explore. And then, we?ll see.