Unfolding the Map
I really don't have much in the way of introduction for this post. I'm just going to let it, and the subsequent two or three posts, speak for themselves. The only thing I will say is that this blog has been about my inner thoughts about the books I'm mapping, so I can warn you that the next few posts will be very personal and difficult for me, and are a result of William Least Heat-Moon's chapter where he picks up a runaway girl and gives her a ride to Green Bay despite his misgivings. The map will show you the area that I believe approximately shows where LHM picked her up.
"'Hey! Sir! Going toward Green Bay?'...
"'Do you live in Green Bay?' She shook her head. 'Look, I'm not picking up some teenage roadie unless I know what you're doing.' I kept checking the rearview mirror. 'Where do you live?'
"'Eau Claire.' She was trying not to cry.
"'What are you doing up here?'
"'Come on, man!' I put the truck in gear. Her face red with rage, she screamed, 'I split!'
"'What's in Green Bay?'
"She took a few steps up the road. 'Christ! I don't need a ride this bad!'
"'And I don't need your trouble.' I put the van in gear again.
"Through gritted teeth she said, 'My grandmother's in Green Bay!'
I checked the rearview mirror again. The truth was I thought she might be the bait on some scam. 'Hey!' she said. 'I'm the one's supposed to be scared.'"
Blue Highways: Part 7, Chapter 12
West of Minong, Wisconsin
I Will Never
I don't know what to call you. The only reason I call you ____ is because I'm not really sure what I would have named you or if you would have come to me with a name.
I'm writing this letter to you because this next set of stops in Blue Highways, where LHM rides with a young runaway girl hitching to Green Bay, seems to invite me to do something that I have been meaning to do for a long time. I need to come to some kind understanding that I will never know you. I need to grieve that you will never exist in my life.
You see, I'm 48 years old now. My wife and I put off having children until we began to consider becoming parents in our late 30s. Little did we know that was too late. Her body had developed conditions that meant that there was little chance of fertilization, and little chance of implantation even if fertilization occurred. That was terribly emotionally difficult for her - for both of us. I was supportive, assuring her that she had no blame, no reason for feeling guilty whatsoever.
We decided that we might try for adoption. After all, I was adopted. I am not particularly attached to my genetic material, and besides, I have always felt that loving and caring for a child transcends genes. But, despite initial explorations, we couldn't get it together. Then, personal difficulties and professional opportunities delayed us even more.
It is said that if you wait until you are ready to have children, you will never have them. That perfectly describes us. As I have gotten older, I think too much about things. I hope that you will understand that it's not selfishness that drives me to give up my dream of you.
I want you to know that I always assumed I'd be a father. I have always dreamed of raising a daughter. I don't know why a daughter in particular. Maybe it's the romantic notion of the bond that fathers and daughters develop, so different than the mother/daughter bond but just as special in its own way. I pictured myself helping you grow, teaching you, being proud of who you would turn out to be and all the the things that you would have accomplished. I saw myself not only playing with you and later, helping you learn how to throw a softball and how to bat, going to your dance or music recitals, and also being present at your birthday parties or taking you to your friends' parties. I imagined that your mom and I would share being with you in your myriad of activities, and the best times would be when all of us were together.
I could see you being strong and independent, because after all you would have your mother and me as role models. I also pictured in you an intelligence and a curiosity about what the world has to offer. You would have a renaissance of interests, encouraged by me. I would have only tried to give you a good basis for making the right decisions, but I wouldn't have tried to force you into being a younger, female version of me. Instead I would have encouraged you to explore and experiment and find your way in the world and hopefully, you would teach me as you made your discoveries.
I imagined you growing up. I saw myself accompanying you to a father-daughter high school dance. I pictured you bringing home boys. I would play the protective father and you would protest that you could take care of yourself and I would trust you to be careful. I saw myself proudly giving you away at your wedding. You would look beautiful in your dress and in your happiness. Your mom would dry her tears and I would choke back a lump in my throat. I imagined you tired but happy after delivering your own children, and myself as the silver-haired grandfather connecting with granddaughters and grandsons just as we bonded.
But that won't come to pass. You will be forever an illusory desire because I realize, at my age and after waiting so long, that it just .might be too difficult now. You see, when people are young, they have kids without thinking about the consequences. They just do it and work out the details later. When you get older, you begin to wonder whether you can step up. Latent fears, including that of being an older parent, step in. You wonder if you be able to change your lifestyle to accommodate a child's needs. You wonder if you have the right stuff.
If there is indecision, then I don't think it's right to try. You can't just give child-raising a trial and after a month say "this isn't for me." But it's hard for me to think about, because I really, really wanted you. And I know, in my heart, that I would have been a great father to you, whoever you might have been.
I think about the runaway that LHM finds in the middle of the woods in Wisconsin, and I know that would not have happened to you. You would have had no reason to run away, no reason to be scared and lonely and on your own. Our house would have been the place that you and your friends would have wanted to be. You would have been happy, and you would have been loved. I would have used everything that I learned from my life, which, as you will see in subsequent posts has taught me a lot, to not only teach you but protect you.
I know that I have a naive view of parenting. I know that there would be troubles, growing pains, arguments and fights, drama, heartbreak and other difficulties. But we would have worked through them, and even if you were angry and upset with me you would have known that you were supported and loved.
But right now, I just want to say I'm sorry, and that on days when I'm not denying to myself what my choices have meant for my chance at fatherhood, I miss you terribly and I grieve your loss.
When I first heard this spoken-word song, If I Had a Daughter, after we purchased Terri Hendrix album The Spiritual Kind, it brought a tear to my eye. Ms. Hendrix encapsulated many inner feelings I have. This video was made by someone Ms. Hendrix knows and was approved by her.
If you want to know more about Minong
Next up: Hayward and Park Falls, Wisconsin