In My Father’s House there are many rooms…

July 25, 2009

Gatesville

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Confinement

I drove alone from Jemez Springs to Houston in fifteen hours as the finale of my summer travel. Most of the route was secondary roads, speeding up, slowing down, and feeling the camber of turning pavement…tedious and lonely.

I just wanted to be home.

Over this summer I’ve driven roundabout my personal Mobius Strip twisting memory and diversion from the Gulf Coast to the Blue Ridge to the Gulf Coast to the Sangre de Christos. Hour after dulling hour of deepening my carbon footprint and struggling with my tiring self to hold on to my concentration at highway speed limits brought me back to the same bed I left early last month.

From a lifetime of long drives I have discovered some disagreeable things about myself. Not the least of which is that my general ability to concentrate on a single idea while driving by myself seldom reaches a half an hour and even less seldom comes to any fruitful conclusion. Other than the quick physics of passing and avoiding, or the arithmetic of distance to destination divided by mph—not much gets solved. It becomes, as my friend in marketing calls it, windshield time. Merely time spent stuck in my seat, time I spend listening to books on tape, the yammer of the radio, or music designed to be a soundtrack to the passing scenery. It remains a boring prelude to nothing happening…

During my summer’s travel I’d gone sliding and rattling on steep washboard roads, been washed sideways into another lane by flooding rainwater pouring through a narrow valley, and waited out a passing tornado trapped in a gas station helping the clerk hold the door shut. I’ve amassed the equivalent of weeks of seventy mile per hour hours pretending I wasn’t jailed in Flipper, my Ford Explorer Sport.

Most of those moments of blithe danger, boredom and scenery were spent strapped in the same chair, in the same posture, confined in the same twenty-five cubic feet—waiting for something to arrive, hoping something bad wouldn’t happen.  Confinement is the one of the fees I pay for travel, and Flipper’s front seat is more spacious than the seat I rent  on an airplane.

One of the fundamental desires human beings have is confinement—we’re fascinated by confining ourselves, other people and things. Whether it grows from the embryonic experience, the safety of the cave, the warmth of the lodge, the privacy of our own room, the security of our homes, the eternal rest in a grave. We dutifuly restrict ourselves to all kinds of orthodoxies, dietary restrictions, literature, clothing styles and television programs or refusals to watch. The dogma of the over educated is nearly as severe as the dogma of the less educated. I have amassed a pocket tearing collection of keys that allow me to lock and unluck, houses, cars, schools, bicycle chains, luggage, cars I no longer own, friend’s houses, cars my late father owned, lost locks and locks I’ve re-keyed…not to mention spares.  The weight of them in my hand gives me pleasurein my power to open restricted places. To be possessed and possess, to be held by a thing larger, to be familiar with the devices of our confinement are deep sunconscious drives.

Perhaps my favorite novel is Marcel Proust’s“ A la Recherche du Temps Perdu” (In Search of Lost Time). It’s about confinement. The physicality of reading it demands confinement, being trapped in long complicated sentences demanding patience and concentration to be able to progress slowly on to the next sentence and the next—struggling to remain in the constrictive plot which over time becomes no more than to remain within the fictional mind of the narrator. During my time reading I was forced into a kind of relationship with M. Proust as confining and suffocating as his legendary cork room. The relationship was (or is) as gorgeously engaging and intimate as a bad love affair. One can’t get out—only look for suitable furniture. Readers of Proust can often describe their own Proustian moment when they re-capture an instant that had been lost or left behind by time. Like pan perdu, french toast, resurrects stale bread, we seize a personal morsel on the edge of becoming stale and forgotten and devour it—perhaps our most primal act of confinement.

Sometimes, like this, someone attempts to keep it for themselves fixed on the page.

I drove one long day from 7,000 feet to sea level as the prisoner of my own desires to both get to my home and find my driving limits. A windy morning drinking tea passed through to an afternoon of eating dry Cheerios, smoked provolone and celery. It was a long summer day on cruise control to darkness. When darkness fell I was in Gatesville, Texas watching the yellow gold light drift out of prison windows as I drove past. That’s as attractive as these buildings can appear (excepting in the rearview mirror following release). There are nearly 8,000 human beings living inside those walls. Many of them will never leave prison. It’s a harsh ugly place where the State of Texas metes out punishment by confining men and women to serial numbers, cells and units. Gatesville holds the women’s death row where Karla Faye Tucker was imprisoned. There are 9.2 million people who wake up in prison on our planet. We also share a common need to confine.

In infancy we swaddle, carry and pass infants from embrace to embrace before we teach them to be alone. We school our own children in time out corners, send them to their rooms, deny them various licenses and liberties, schools assign them detentions and our taxes pay for a system of juvenile incarceration. And all of this most of us would list in the category of good, as necessary even as kindness. The constraints that encircle the ring on my left hand seem too complicated for such a small chain link. Who can be married, what defines a marriage, what are the grounds for terminating a marriage are all political and legal issues demanding so much more a personal pledge. The same judge who can marry you, also has the power to incarcerate you. There isn’t a village, city or town without its own jail. Corrections Corporation of America, the largest private prison corporation in the industry, is large enough to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange [CXW]. There are nations we are free to visit for business, pleasure or the exchange of ideas and others, like Cuba, we circumscribe from entry.  Human history is marked by more  by captivities than victories. We have an abiding need to confine others (Proust knew this too).

Now I’ve returned. My vacation has ended. I’ve returned to what I vacated six weeks ago. I’m stiff and dulled—the familiar is vaguely strange. The sounds I used to sleep through wake me. I get up in the middle of the night and finish unpacking. I take the camera out of my cargo shorts and toss them in the pile to be washed. I won’t need to capture any moments in the camera’s digitalized room for awhile. I’ve returned to the invisible rules of the ordinary.

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4 Responses to “In My Father’s House there are many rooms…”

  1. Kelly Says:

    Gorgeous writing, but for your mental health maybe you should start driving with the windows open…

    • domzuccone Says:

      The limited capacity I have for thought while driving would even further impaired by the deadening roar…plus I’d have to listen to my book on tape so loudly that it would be mistaken for an arhythmic rapper.

  2. Mike Says:

    “How do you find your way back in the dark?”
    “Just head for that big star straight on. The highway’s under it, and it’ll take us right home.”
    –Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable heading home in their last lines on film, the last in John Huston’s The Misfits (Screenplay by Arthur Miller; based on his story) THE MOVIE QUOTE BOOK, Harry Haun


  3. Beautifully written testament to our search for home. Love your comments on Proust, and wonder some about “confinement,” so not me, but you are probably right about most people.


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