“The Night Mountain”

Highway 152 is scary.

In the moonlight just as 11 PM hits we’re still in the dark, driving in it and sitting in it as you turn up The Wall. This isn’t a road trip, not right now. Against the yells of Pink Floyd I’m traveling along a nightmare.

But you’re here this can’t be bad. And you’re silent, excited and know something I don’t. We’re really kept in the dark. But I’m starting to see it is an elegant dark. This is a stretched shadow over what I can make out in the shapes trees, hills, and the sky itself– things not new, but only in daytime. The road ahead is narrow and how this gray Dodge travels along it, I think think of skaters cutting through the ice like silk to whir round and round and carve figure 8s.

I want to sleep, but too excited to close my eyes into familiar blackness, sound blackness that confirms rest. The one outside my window is a whole new world, having never been on 152. It is scary, and I vaguely recall how we got to here. There was an exit from 101 just as we got to Gilroy, then narrow roads passing badly whitewashed barns that in the daylight ran plenty with cherries and peaches and almonds to sell. There is still a ways to go for Orange County, and so in the after hours we drive to save time and daylight.

Take it all in, because I really can’t be sure when I’ll do this again. This is a first for going 300 miles away in years– on my own. I don’t want to leave the Bay Area, but I know after a long four years of devotion to college and the unseen forces of chaos that followed with it, I want to go away. Asking and asking and reasoning with parents who feel uncomfortable about the distance– being out of reach from their protection and care– pays off. And I won’t blow it. I remember always to take in everything that happens here.

The now is what’s outside the windows of this car, pitch blackness and a winding road through trees and faded dead signs confirming mythical destinations beyond. The road can go like this all night, and it will all look different, each sign and turn and groves of trees we don’t see but are.

Then it does get different. Really, different. I know this was when “Hey You” ended; he’s debriefed with me how Pink Floyd is always a must for long trips, and especially for the night.

“It’s coming up,” he’s telling me, both hands on the wheel and eyes straight ahead to watch whatever’s next projected by our headlights. “It’s a brief silence and then this noise will come at you. It’s supposed to sound like sirens and a crash. You won’t really like it, but how am I to know that– just giving you a head’s up.”

“Alright.”
“It’s supposed to be what happens in the moment of that track.”

I’ve always known Pink Floyd, and a few familiar songs passing through old rock radio stations to get to my alternative. My late freshman English teacher said little, taught much– I blindly attributed his mystery to the big posters of The Wall and Dark Side of the Moon pasted high on the back ceiling.

I’ve known them. But I did not understand anything about them until now.

As we wait for the clash of the song the shapes appear. Ghosts are accepted as white specters, but really they’re black. Maybe I’m not seeing ghosts outside the car but the shadows of some things equally haunt, more so because of the shrill vocals piercing the air. Compared to most of the harder, racing metal he listens to, this is getting me. Its slow, aching music. Music that seems too perfect like a dream– after all this now feels like a dream as what I see grows and consumes the blackness. A mountain, it must be a mountain– it shoots into the air and I see that peak against the moonlight like a lightning strike. Amidst the hills we’ve come to here, at the base of the ghost in whom we try to evade in our gray car along a path that shakes around its claws. I won’t forget that, the shapes and jagged, vicious silhouettes against the only light in the sky, like a chorus stuck in the head. It is possible to hear nothing else but the blackness outside. You hear the wind, whispers, the sounds of other cars on unknown journeys and then the music becomes you, your thoughts, emotions. Only you hear them because they’re only inside you. It happens right then.

We’re away from that place now. The shadows have made it over the hills and here I see all rest at the crystaled shores of a sea. I know it’s not that, it’s the reservoir my map told me would soon appear. The feeling of it is endless, a soothing sheath over a frightening land.

And then I’m not alone. He’s still here, attentive to the road which has lightened. We never hear the tumultuous clash of the song. We’re onto a softer tune, and the track goes on like silk, like this sea below the road. I do know this song. I sing to it and we both become comfortably, perfectly numb.

When I roll the window down a burst of coolness fills us.

 

In celebrating a second year together with Matt, this is an essay written last summer just after we’d been on our first vacation time together: a road trip down to Orange County and in the middle of the night to get a head start of our weekend. I love you Matt!

 

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