Tennessee comes at us in bouts, in pockets, like the rain driving into Memphis. Big clouds, then a torrent. The next day, sun. And the two of us so bone tired that we spend most of our time in Memphis looking for food and beer. Like we’re boiled down to seeking out creature comforts. And Tennessee seems full of them, for us. All firm handshakes and goofy pets with big personalities. But so many people, and we are getting brittle.
Tennessee seems full of water towers and cows crowded under single trees. Pockets. Contained pockets. Distinct, intentional, flowering pockets. A disjointed experience in a disjointed state.
Sometimes these pockets feel like creases in the universe, or the state, and oftentimes I can’t find the fold where I can slip in. I look through the double layer of sheer fold and sort of see the haze of that alcove, but don’t have access to it. I can’t tell if I don’t have access to it because I don’t want to, or if it just doesn’t want me.
I go out for errands and can’t find the house in Memphis when I return because I flip the numbers in my head. I go to the party by the bonfire down by the sweat lodge where there is finally music I like, but I’m too sleepy to dance more than a side to side sway. We sit in the fenced in screen porch with a dog named Mr. Baby and plastic shelves found on the side of the street and one of our hosts talking to us through her bedroom window, and this feels like one pocket we wiggled our way inside.
It’s in Tennessee, on the mountain, that we leave the car. The road too steep for two-wheel drive, we park a mile away. And this, for some reason, might be the most destabilizing thing to happen on the trip so far. We’re told to pack out everything from the car — an impossible mission, and one we can only partially fulfil, haphazardly emptying our whole life from the tightly and once-neatly packed CR-V into the truck, out of the truck onto a gravel road, lugged down the gravel path to a site that might be a site, we don’t know — we’re allowed to camp anywhere, so it’s all a site. Sort of.
Everything gets hazy and brightly colored, backgrounded by this ancient mountain with a history only pieced together in recollection and a lot of people there to celebrate — what? Spring? Themselves? A body? Each other? An idea of sacrament, a weekend in the woods.
We talk to a chattering bird who tells us stories, some of which end with “that was a trauma, of course.”
A stranger shows us a deck of Animal Oracles and the card I pull is the Flamingo – “The In Between”. This seems fitting. In front of where we sit on the grass that makes my butt itch is a tree with a little mirror hanging on it that has scrawled in red pen “B HER NOW”. We try to b her, which for us means creating our own pockets away from people, it means not performing, it means being told by Brigid smoking us out at her altar to go the fuck to sleep. We carve our own spaces, we create our own rituals, we celebrate Beltane the way we need.
And here we are, so tired, feeling one ring removed from all the glitter and the hungry eyes. We take a hike in the woods for three hours in near silence. There are crawfish in the river. There are aspens overhead. There is mud everywhere. At the end, there is a cold spring and we are in it but we are not clean and that is okay. We’re purer, somehow.
Five days since parking the car and listening to others revving up the hill by our tent, only sometimes making it, I run to it. I feel like kissing it. I do kiss it. I sing along with Hilary Duff, right where we left her: this is what dreams are made of. The pocket that is our home. The pocket that we love most. We are giddy as we drive down the mountain, clumsily saving two turtles from a crunchy end on the way down, like a thank-you, or like an apology.
We celebrate by being frustrated to be trapped in this metal bubble behind a line of cars desperate for a glimpse of a bear. We make a fire and grill veggies for what feels like hours, and there is no noise from the tents near us – aside from the sounds of a family playing guitars and singing and the smattering of applause from neighboring campsites before it dwindles as the sun sets. Everyone is sealed in, separate. Some have American flags. Some have welcome signs with their last names staked into the ground. And I hate to admit it but it feels something like a return. The lines are clearly delineated, and this is something important that we are taught to crave, even in temporary spaces. Them, with their camp chairs. Them, with a birdcage in the gigantic front windshield. Them, with the two kids and the dog. Us, with the grill and the charred peppers, waving to the rangers as they drive by. A mobile American suburb.