Planning a holiday trip around a murder scene should have been my first inclination that I was out of ideas in 2016, but it took six days in Dallas to really get the point across. I had agreed to end the year there with my folks, who would be flying in from Iowa via Omaha. The last time I went to Dallas I wasn’t all that impressed, but agreed to try again because I wanted to see Dealey Plaza, a desire shared with my dad who has never been able to reconcile first hearing of the place as a 5th grader.
I finally decided there was no other way to get to Dallas than on I-35, in my own car. For weeks I debated in my head about renting a car in Austin, or taking a bus to Dallas and getting a car there. My mother had emailed to tell me she rented one just in case. The day before I left I texted her to cancel it, which was the most communication we’d had in weeks. Time took up my time. I wondered what else I’d have to say when we were all together.
I leaned into my own fantasies about being stranded along the interstate as I vacuumed the floor mats which were covered in mud from various séances in the woods I’d grown accustom to having this year. I was averaging two days of 20 minute meditation a week and struggling to accept the fact that my feelings were my choice, the most adult thought I’ve probably ever had.
Low grade car anxiety is not reality, but it ends up creating one that looks like pulling off the road a lot.
I heard about George Michael at Buccee’s in Temple. I put his music on shuffle and hit repeat on Freedom90 a few times. You can’t help but wonder how people die; can’t help but wonder if they saw it coming or not.
I was unsatisfied with Dallas right away, unable to grab more than a few brief glances of the glowing skyline while I weaved through the downtown exchanges. I waited in the cell phone lot at Love Field and tried to write a few sentences in my journal. I only had a few pages left; I wrote so little for public consumption in 2016. Early in the year, when I met my boyfriend's father for the first time, he asked where I was from and if the Klan was bad up there. I decided then that I was just going to listen.
Carrie Fisher was alive when we started the tour on the sixth floor of the book depository. I held the tour device to my ear and listened to an overload of information about the 60’s, Kennedy, Oswald, Texas, investigations, conspiracies, bullets, eye-witness accounts, books, brain matter. I saw two “X’s” on the pavement causally driven over by daily traffic. To the East I saw the sight of six more murders. When I got cell phone service back Carrie Fisher had died.
To save from drawing conclusions we went to the George W Bush presidential library which is something of an art gallery showcasing multi-media work desperate to make a point. Multiple screens play videos clips of his speeches that create ambient lines of a poetry about insecurity, “There’s no going back/Pride turns into prayer”.
Bush paints to relieve stress and it shows. Ted Kennedy also painted and I saw that, too. A bunch of daffodils for Laura Bush. I saw “Love, Forgive, Evolve” painted on a garage door of a house at White Rock Lake as we rode our bikes along the path. I caught my parents in a few cute pictures in between their intolerable bickering.
I dreamed of cutting my hair off while drinking cocktails, pouring liquor straight down my throat and wading through clear water with my skirt in my hands. Warren joined me toward the end of the week and together we tried to see the Jenaro Goode pieces at the Goss-Michael Foundation but it was locked and surrounded by memorial bouquets. Shekhar Bhatia, a journalist from the Daily Mail who was parked in front of the gallery, waved us over and gave us the information. When someone from the gallery did appear, he took off away from us exclaiming “No Comment” before any of us had a chance to ask questions.
If you don’t want to talk about it, 2016 was your year. The troubling avoidance to recognize pain or meet each other where we were really at, not just at the show or the bar or the reading or the conference or the debate watch party or the protest or the voting booth meant we would have to acknowledge that some of us couldn’t quite make it there all the way.
We spent the last night in Dallas at an arcade where men in wranglers and cowboy boots played rhythm and fighting games alongside teenagers in hoodies and piercings. I died immediately in a shooting game that had a lagging frame rate but I couldn’t even blame that for my early demise. My avatar spent the entire game staring at the wall while being bombarded by bullets from all sides. Warren told me to look out but I couldn’t even turn around.
On the drive back to Austin, we stopped in Killeen to see Warren’s dad, a disabled veteran of both gulf wars. Our arrival woke him from his afternoon nap but once awake he was uncharacteristically playful, a heartening sight given that he just started chemotherapy again. Who knows where that energy came from, but I did realize I’d been chasing down that holy ghost for the past year, trying to figure out what motivates me. I don’t expect that to change in 2017.