I talked to Barb from an Oklahoma truck stop and hung up the phone without telling her that I loved her. She’s spent a lot of time getting used to short conversations and I figure, why change things up this late in the game. It’s hard for a woman to love a man of the road and I know this because she tells me every chance she gets. Barb’s a good woman but every good woman is entitled to hate the man that loves her every once in a while. Barb is more entitled than most.
I slammed the phone down not so much out of anger but rather exhaustion and when that trucker spun around from his slot machine stool and gave me that understanding look, it was an all too familiar feeling. I walked across the street to a low class motel and booked a room for the night. I caught a shower and came out dirtier than I had felt in years. The dirt wasn’t so much on my skin as much as it was under it, and there’s not a lot I can do to change that. Years of living out of truck stops and bad motels had finally gotten the best of me.
Two years ago Barb asked me to settle down, retire from the highway, put my guitar away and just stay with her. I tried and I failed. You don’t get it unless you live it. Life on the road is just like that. It changes a man and his perspective on life, love, and all of the people in it. You just don’t look at things the same.
I sat in a dingy motel room and wrote out a letter to Barb that did the best to explain my feelings without using verse chorus verse and then picked up the cold receiver next to my bed and sent a phone call to Jon. He’s a good guy and he does his best to keep me rational but he just doesn’t understand it—I can never go home again and that’s where everyone wants me to be. I’ve lived out of backseats and pick-up trucks and suitcases long enough to know that it’s where I belong and there’s nothing that’s going to change that this late in the game.
I hung up the phone with Jon and rolled over on the bed wondering who was the last person on it and if they ever felt like I felt. I wondered what was on the mattress and who was under those sheets and who washed them and if they got all the dirt off and if I am ever going to get all this dirt off of my chest. The usual questions that keep me up at night.
I got a restless night of broken sleep and hopped out of bed in the morning ten minutes before the alarm went off. The shower had horrible water pressure and I find that’s a given—either the water is boiling lava hot or freezing or too hard or too soft; motels will never get it right. I gassed up the truck and dropped the letter to Barb in postal box and set out on the road again.
I played a few more shows in Oklahoma before making it to Colorado two days later than I had planned. I’ve got family up in Boulder and had called ahead to ask if I could stay with them for a week or two. It’s never any problem, they’ll always say this to me; they’ll always let me in. I would have shut myself out years ago. Barb had sent a letter ahead to me in Boulder, knowing I would show up there. I won’t go in to details; the details said she was tired of me, lonely, and not in love anymore. That she was gone.
I left Boulder headed south on the Interstate towards Trinidad and spent a few nights playing in a run down bar and sleeping out of my truck. I didn’t call home for a while, not even to Jon. I had a show in Sante Fe and left Trinidad a day early in hopes of finding a decent hotel to rest in for twenty-four hours.
I made it into Sante Fe around midnight and tried to phone Barb. No one answered but it was not a surprise. So I made my usual call to Jon.
When you’re friends with someone for long enough you get to know their mood by the way their voice sounds. Jon picked up and it wasn’t an easy hello. When I asked him what was wrong I knew it before he said it. She wanted to know what the pull of the highway was and never made it off of Interstate 72 into Missouri. A drunken trucker had left his bar stool and set out for his destination and Barb never got the chance to get to hers. I hung up the phone and tried to cry but couldn’t.
I called up my manager and asked him to cancel my shows. I set out for Illinois again and put a mix tape of the Rolling Stones in the tape deck. Wild Horses came on and I turned it up loud and rolled the windows down for miles along the highway. I kept rewinding it and rewinding it. It was a long ride home. She was finally as gone as I was and this was the last ride home for both of us.