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Road Kill, Straw Sanctuaries & a Feeling That I’ve Been Here Before

A few days ago, a devastating thing happened. It doesn’t really matter what the thing was – and I will tell the story one day when it’s not as raw – but trust me, it was bad, and I’m not likely to forget about it anytime soon.

After the devastating thing happened, I took a walk down the shoulder of one highway and up the incline of another. It was rush hour, and cars zoomed past me going 70, 80 miles per hour. I could feel the speeding wind at my back, an unnatural sensation that ebbed and flowed according to some stop light that I had already past miles ago. I wasn’t prepared for this walk, I was wearing the wrong shoes and carrying the wrong kind of load, and I could feel the blisters forming and the muscles in my back starting to rebel. I pressed on, the devastating thing still coursing through my veins, impelling one foot in front of the other, as whole other layers of myself cracked and broke.

I could have waited for a ride. I could have stood - there. Except I couldn’t stand - there. I couldn’t. I needed to move. As far away as possible, and quickly.

There is so much death on a highway. Broken turtle shells, flattened birds, the decaying bodies of stray cats and squirrels. In the decades since I last walked on the shoulder of a busy road, I had forgotten the smell of exhaust fumes, tar, and sunbaked corpses. I had forgotten what it feels like to walk such a dangerous line, where every breath is a gift from the person behind you, who may or may not be paying attention as they eat their burgers, reprimand their kids, or fiddle with their radios. Thirty-six inches is all that separated them from me and the guard rail, and beyond that, the dark and murky Mississippi River, where a lone fisherman sat on a hollowed-out log casting his line .

There have been occasions in life when I’ve felt like a warrior. When I have fought through the muck and mire of circumstance or people, and stood my ground – when pride and strength and a sense of rightness propelled me forward, willing to face any consequence, no matter how harsh. At 16, with nothing but a Greyhound bus ticket and $4 in my pocket, I made it to California, where I walked the highways in sandaled feet, carrying a suitcase full of music and poetry, and a couple of pairs of jeans. I had nothing, but I was strong and determined, and my fear of the unknown was less frightening than what I left behind.

I think of those days, when I was hungry and penniless, and sharp-eyed and full of hope, and I don’t romanticize them. The gnawing feeling of an empty belly, the rains that fell, and the clothes that never seemed to dry, the sticking heat, the chapped skin, the chronic cough, the sleeplessness – they were not Halcyon days, but days of survival, sustained by dreams and quickly made friends on the streets. We traded stories and cigarettes and dire warnings, and then mostly forgot about each other as we went our separate ways. I remember few of their names, but I remember their stories. We were the unwanted children. The often brutalized never-should-have-beens. Our stories were full of anger, sadness and confusion. We trucked in despair and longing and nervous laughter, each of us looking for a niche – a people, a place, or a thing to call our own. Some of us found something to hold onto, others did not. I was one of those who did.

Thirty years later, I walk down a highway, the smell of death in my face, danger at my back, and I wonder if I could do it again. I wonder whether this devastating thing, coming on the heels of lesser others, should be a call to a different kind of battle. One that involves shedding everything that’s familiar, but wounding — omnipresent and unrelieved. The battle of running away from something and not just towards something else.

I know about the bootstrap bromides that would have me stand where I am, facing down adversity, eventually rising with more character or personal strength than ever before. I don’t feel in need of any more character or painful life lessons — particularly of the variety that causes the religious to want to pray for me, or to tell me that God will never give me more than I can handle.

Anyone who is breathing “handles” what they’re dealt. If you’re hit by a tsunami and live, you’re forced to handle the aftermath. If you’re a train hopping drifter surviving on cigarette butts and Listerine, you may stink to high heaven and be half-mad, but still – if you’re waking up every day or two, you’ll handle your life, for better or worse, because until your heart stops beating, you don’t really have a choice. The mere handling of life is not necessarily joyful or fulfilling. It’s a biological imperative – a hardwired response that leaves even the catatonic and brain damaged breathing in and out.

The fight or flight response is also built-in, and as I walk over the broken shells and torn feathers on Hwy. 101, my instinct is to run. Far and fast, past the smell of rot, the certain dangers, and the spirit that’s splintering with every step closer to more of the same.

I doubt my instinct to run, and question its rationality. I have stood so long, and so stubbornly, wielding every type of self-preserving weapon in defense of my right to eclipse the workaday survivor that others wanted me to be. I have built sanctuaries wherever I was, and nurtured dreams, and tendered the words that beat in my chest like a second heartbeat.

It may be that the sanctuaries were made of straw and the dreams were made of impossible things. That the words were just words after all, to be replicated and repeated by any of the thousands of brick-and-mortar writers who are far better qualified and more substantially connected than me – but joy can be found even in a squatter’s paradise, as long as it’s safe.

I no longer feel safe. My sanctuary has been torn apart, the footsteps of predators have shattered my peace, and the ground beneath my feet has grown shaky.

Run run run. Fast and far into the unknown, risking everything for the chance to feel unviolated and whole. Or stay, and take the blows, and count down the years it will take to recover – yet again. Neither choice is easy, and there are no ready-made answers.

There are feet, itching to run,
and a spirit that’s breaking.

There’s a falling in, and a falling apart,
and a want for something miraculous,
or at least attainable.

There are doors that need to be shut
and windows that need to be opened &
a sense that I’ve been here too many times before,
pressing my luck against the jagged glass
until scars felt like good fortune.

I know how to survive. Breathe in, breathe out, put one foot in front of the other, and whether running or staying, don’t give up. Look forward, not back. Hang onto some hope, even if it’s tenuous or temporary.

What I don’t know how to do is build an inviolate sanctuary – one made of bricks and steel, and far removed from mayhem. Tonight, as I stretched out under the light of the moon, it seemed to me that one moment the stars were showing me a blueprint, and the next, Orion was offering me his sword. Even the constellations aren’t clear. I took a deep breath, folded my hands under my head, and closed my eyes — my foot tapping to some ancient drum, my heart pounding against its anchors.

35 comments to Road Kill, Straw Sanctuaries & a Feeling That I’ve Been Here Before

  • Gia

    first of all…. I’d have to disagree with your statement “…writers who are far better qualified…”

    I think you are wonderful with words, better than most even!

    This is a compelling story…not sure what to make of it, but I hope you’re okay now.

  • Neil

    You’re never going to get a lot of comments on your blog, because it is fairly useless to comment after reading something you write.

    It should just stand there.

    Hope you are OK.

  • Tammy

    I agree with Neil that it’s sometimes such a challenge to comment in the wake of your writing - the words I can string together just don’t seem to compare or to speak back with the same spirit or depth….

    The empty sayings about building character and carrying “God’s heavy load” as if one has a choice have never brought me any solace either - I don’t want any more character, I don’t want any new shit to test my resolve.

    I do realize I have no choice in the matter. On any given day - I will be the patient in the bed, the love of my life will die, my brother will be injured.

    The only peace in knowing this is that it’s universal, we all suffer, some more than others.
    As you say, survival is innate, we push on and see what the waves bring.

    I wish you peace wherever, and however, you find it.

  • Marcie

    I’m not sure there is “an inviolate sanctuary” in this world. But I do know there is survival and that often survival is piss poor painful and no matter how long or short, too long for the soul.

    Whatever happened, happened and time will at least give some clarity. Sometimes it’s the right thing to do to stand and fight. More often than we feel comfortable with flight is the sane thing to do.

    You are gifted with wonderful talent. I’m never sure if that is a blessing or a curse — mostly both.

    You know, deep in your soul that you will survive or you wouldn’t have written about it. Catharsis helps heal and we all know the old saw about how much stronger a healed wound is.

    But it don’t help now. All the words in the world don’t help now. Curl up in a ball and bawl. Beat the pillows (not the dog!) and be like Scarlett O’Hara — tomorrow will be another day.

    Blessed Be.

  • Monica

    The effect of stunning and powerful writing like this is so mind blowing that I can almost hear my own heartbeat (or was it yours?) over a million other noises around me right now.

    I agree with Neil when he says “it is fairly useless to comment after reading something you write”. In part. I actually do tend to run away with my thoughts, or just very quietly hang around, after reading what you wrote again and again. Unlike “quirky” and somewhat shallow writing, it hardly ever makes me want to scream, “ME TOO!!!” because the relating is deep and the thoughts too profound to be so quickly deciphered. Beauty is like that, I think. But then how can I not be here? How can I be silent when you can’t see my face or feel my (responsive) energy? Maybe I should just type, “deep silence. Echo”.

    This is so incredibly beautiful. My god. I remembered being told about my “shell” and the fact that it was always too thick or just not there - when it should have (should it?) been like a filter that sheltered and yet let the water reach me… so that I could still be touched. Being as intense as I am, it’s still there in its full thickness or simply not at all - although I still believe that in the end it’s a matter of choice.

    Always the choices.

    You’re amazing. (You know where to find me, for whatever).

  • Monica

    Jesus, when I started typing my comment there was only Gia’s and Neil’s up there. How long have I been here?? ;-)

  • Donna L. Faber

    If you want to talk about it, I’m here …

  • Ann Parker

    I don’t know what to make of your story but just let me say I love you if that helps.

  • Lonnie

    Jesus woman, you can write. Like Marcie said, I don’t know if that’s a blessing or a curse for you, probably both because I know you haven’t found a way to dedicate yourself to it as you’d like, but from this vantage point, your words ring beautifully and then linger. I know you don’t like alot of this kind of stuff, but I can’t help but think that the stuff you’ve been through is for some higher purpose. I hope one day that purpose is known, and that it’s the attainable miracle you’re searching for.

  • Suzanne

    Dear Jane,

    I am so sorry this devastating thing has happened to you. I am sending you my love.

    It is NOT less honorable to flee than to fight! An animals first response is to flee if it is able, not to fight.

    The only lesson to be learned is what is the best way to keep yourself safe, healthy and alive.

    Do that, and know that whatever it is, it is honorable.

  • Doris Rose MacBean

    Again you take me back to days of surviving. I don’t know if I could do it now, I really don’t. My thoughts will stay with you and this piece…

  • SusanS

    Choosing to walk away from something
    does not quite feel the same to me
    as to ‘flee’.

    “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to
    TAKE it any more.” comes to mind.

    There is strength and determination
    that makes it feel like ‘choice’,
    not chance.

    You go girl!
    You can do anything!
    I am certain of it.

  • Marcie


    You are a most fortunate woman to have such a large number of cheerleaders. No matter what happened, you are blessed among humans.

    Hit that pillow a few more times, wipe the tears away and hold your head up high!

  • Kate McLaughlin

    Dear Jane,
    Sending light and love and reminding you of the connections and support that exist for you.

  • kris D.

    mmm, i’m pickin’ up what you’re puttin’ down, my friend….

    but i must say from experience working with *ahem* people that some do not or can not handle what is dealt. no matter what the belief is about who or what is shuffling the deck and playing for the house. that is the truth. so to that i say, i applaud your strength and gain some myself by your example.

    (what’s up with all my card references today? i think i need a game of poker….)

    day at a time….sometimes a moment at a time…and whatever you decide, me and the legion of strangers are here to [read] listen…and give our support

    oh, and have i told you yet how much i love your writing?

  • Jake

    Fuck “It” and what ever “It” is.
    I get that. I get that you don’t want to fight for it anymore. I get that you don’t NEED “life’s little challenges”. I get that all of this malarky is shit that we fabricate to make ourselves feel better. I GET that you don’t want to hear “it’s all part of a bigger plan” for you. No. Fuck it!

    Albeit heart-breaking for me to have read this, it is beautifully written.
    And I get that none of what I said provides you any solace. Except: Jane. You rawk and inspire me. But I guess if you’re feeling like this, that probably doesn’t ease whatever “It” is.

    As many have said before me: You know where to find me.
    [Oh- I forgot to tell you. I'm on an island in the South Pacific now. 20 degrees south, 165 degrees west. Close to Nim. Shh. Don't tell anyone. C'mon down.]

  • Mary

    Jane, I’m sorry to hear something’s troubling you.

    Your words are not “just words after all.” You’re an artist and your art is beautiful.

  • Julia

    Another amazing article.

    Thank you.

    Sounds like you may be ready to come home to CA? Click your heels and get here any way you can! I would love to sit and have a cup of coffee with you. You really are an inspiration.

    I think you, Linda and Karen should get together and do a women’s retreat somewhere in Northern CA maybe around Mendocino??? I would be the first to sign up!

    Peaceful warm thoughts to you,

  • Pamela

    Hey Jane,
    Sorry you were dealt a blow to the spirit. I guess we’ve all been there and the only positive while we’re in it is that we know we will find the exit again.

    I know you will - because the lay down and die phase of life couldn’t have written this.

    I know you have best friends to turn to - but put me on the cancelation list - if they’re all tied up - you have the number.

    ALSO: If McCain takes office - we get fake married and raise gay boys. See - there is even an emergency exit!

    Sending light your way.

  • Paula

    I can’t find the words to explain what this piece means to me right now. But my higher power knows what I needed at this very moment and I needed to read this. You are a gifted writer Jane, I hope you do not give up. I come often just to read your work, never thought I would comment, but this moved me. God bless

  • Jeanne

    jane - no comments….just sending white light and good thoughts your way. — jeanne

  • Monica

    I can’t believe I’m going to do this on this post. At least if it was a WTF… But I said I would, oh god. Tagging duty.

  • Anne

    I’ve been reading your blog for some time. I’m not sure why this and Belladonna have led me to comment. Perhaps it is the emotions that the pieces elict each time they are read. I hope that writing serves as a catharsis in your life. It certainly seems to be so for many others—– Positive energy to you—-

  • John Mc.

    It’s been a long time, Jane. I’ve been visiting silently…..reading, wondering, loving the ongoing life and tales unfolding.

    I’m going up to Oregon next week to see my favorite sis and her partner at their summer place on the coast.

    I’ll be thinking of you; I’ll look up at the stars in that dark sky and think about you. Those stars are never so bright here in the city of angels.

    I sometimes wonder how something as wondrous and precious as our life here on this planet (given the ridiculously unlikely odds it should exist at all) could be so fraught with sorrow, misunderstanding and conflict….

    But tonight, only love to you…….JM

  • Rhea

    Your words touched me. I agree with what a fellow commenter wrote: It’s hard to comment after reading something like that. I feel silly. Your words were so great and full of life.

  • the sits girls

    We were so blown away by your post. Very real and raw and inspiring.

  • linda woods

    Run away to California and I will make you a kugel.
    A kugel solves everything.

  • Donna L. Faber

    Mmmmm … a kugel is wonderful. Good jewish deli food … I mean REAL jewish deli food can fix many boo-boos.

  • Pirate Queen

    This last six months of my life have been a fruit juice concentrate of what most people ‘live through’ over the course of decades, so your piece is especially close to the end of the rope for me, Jane.

    But these last months of concentrated traumas have served to remind me, and maybe this could be drizzled over you too, Jane, (given the replication of pain in all its permutations) that: ENOUGH IS FUCKING ENOUGH!!

    Jane–The event is over. The fallout is upon you. Running serves a purpose. Staying when you feel so buried can be remedied by running (and I don’t mean in Nikes with matching lycra suits).
    I have built a haven here. You are welcome at any time. I built it to be a writer’s paradise. You can make that so.

    Follow your guts, heart and instinct Jane. Don’t ever trust the paradigm.

    I’ll go prepare the guest wing.

  • V-Grrrl

    Oh Jane. Shit. Is there anything worse than being at the bottom of the well and looking up and seeing clouds, not light?

    I’m sorry. Sorry that I’m late in offering any words at all, even useless words.

    Once when I was faced with an unexpected and emotional turn of events that shook my whole world, a friend who has known me for 30 years told me not be afraid, not to dwell in fear, not to explore it, not to indulge it, not to let it rule my mind, my heart, or my actions. He said, “Remember who are.”

    It’s hard to describe how empowering those words were for me, especially coming from him. They mean nothing to you but I share them anyway. They’re all I have. And when I feel threatened, not just beat down but threatened, I repeat them to myself: “Remember who you are.”

  • Cara

    I hear that Linda’s is the BEST kugel EVER!

  • You’ve all made me want to pack a suitcase, grab the dog, hop in a van and take a road trip, from New Jersey to New Mexico, through Canada and then California.

    Thank you.

  • Perksofbeingme

    I found this through the general way you find random posts in the blog world (aka- I have no idea how I found this) but I wanted to tell you that you are an amazing writer. Words can’t really express what I want to say, but if you want to come to the south and soak in the smell of the lake and marsh air, watch the grass blow in the breeze and listen to children laughing into the night feel free to to come South Carolina to visit.

  • Melissa Cunningham

    This article was mesmerizing…the imagery seized every one of my senses….my heart is still somewhere up in my throat. If you need a sanctuary in Dallas, you’ll always have one.
    I’m sending you a little picture…..and lots of good thoughts.

  • Jenny, bloggess

    Heartbreaking, beautiful…all at once. I wish I could give you a hug and make it all better, my friend.