Riding east towards Florida: a mix-up, a massage, and a surprise treat from Maya Angelou



Tomi Ungerer, 2003. He is an author, illustrator, sculptor, inventor, and architectural designer. 

(I wrote this two years ago. Almost to the day.)

It’s about a week and a half since I drive away. 

On my way out of the neighborhood, I stop and ring the bell of the first friend I made when I moved to Denton. Nancy’s golden retriever greets me at the door with an upward glance and gentle snuggle. (Nancy and her husband plan a similar drive-off in a couple years. They have a farm and vineyard in Utah that will become their permanent home.)

Wordless, we weep those tears that say I’m so glad we met, you’re in my heart, I’m happy for you, travel on, dear friend.

It’s the same exchange shared with other friends over the last weeks.

“Here,” Nancy says as she cuts a huge magnolia blossom from her tree. I hold it, look her in the eye, and leave.

I set the magnolia on the passenger seat.

That fragrance —it’s hard to describe—sweet lemony lightness with a tinge of night jasmine, gently wraps me in warmth. The scent becomes a symphonic accompaniment to the roadside wildflowers as I drive east towards Shreveport. In farewell, I goodnight moon call out the names of the wildflowers as I pass: Goodbye Texas Paintbrush. Goodbye Indian Blanket. Goodbye Green Thread, Winecup, and Firewheels. 

I finish and ride on my breath in silence.

My husband and I drive separately. He leaves an hour earlier. Before parting, we share the address of a hotel we’ll meet up at around dinnertime, which becomes the source of a hearty laugh when he calls later in the day.

“Where are you?” he asks. 

“I’m in Jackson, Mississippi about 15 minutes from the hotel. I can't wait to see you. Are you there?”

He isn’t.

He’s in a small town outside of Baton Rouge. That’s Louisiana. A different state and about 300 miles away.

I wonder how that happens and then remember an earlier conversation about how he found a catfish lunch by punching a side trip into his navigator. And there you go. He's driving south and I’m heading due east.

Perhaps the wildflowers distract him.

We do meet up in Tallahassee the next night.

And find a massage where I beg the masseuse who speaks no English for gentle. She laughs at me! She is not gentle. “You’re tight, too tight.” I laugh-groan and erupt into a laugh attack, kicking one leg up and down. She chortles and deepens her effort. I feel like she's going for a release of every muscle in my back and neck.

After the vigorous workout, I am ready to call it the best massage ever until I see the red line on my forehead from special attention to my face and head. That henna-colored red line lasts for a half week.

Terry says I wake him laughing in my sleep that night.

I begin the next day’s drive listening to Gary Zukav’s audiobook The Seat of the Soul. (My first read was in the early 80s. All I retained from that read is that I am a soul. I think that is a good piece to retain.)

I slide in the discs and yelp like a happy puppy when I hear Maya Angelou's voice.

I turn the volume up. It’s an anniversary edition and this is the preface.

Angelou admits that Zukav’s concept of a soul never dying is new to her, well—not really new, it was part of her youth, but its connection to daily living confused her. So she covers her book with plastic and sets it on the kitchen table, a place of everyday access. (She totally gets it now.) I relate to her confusion (and desire to understand).

She tells us the book is not really for summer reading or vacation entertainment: “The reader who chooses this book should put it on a lamp table that boasts a good strong bulb.” With a smarty pants voice I say out loud, “Okay, okay, I have my listening ears on.” (And I will need them. As I listen, I track back, then forward.)

But here’s the good part. At the end of the preface, Angelou sings! She sings a Negro Spiritual about going home to meet her Soul. And my heart melts. I loop listen and sing it with her. (I love to sing. I sing simple songs I learned while on retreat and I even sang to my friends before leaving Denton. Which is saying a lot because I’m sort of tone deaf.) 

I pause the disc for a few minutes to quiet. And prepare to fly with what Zukav tells and sing my way home.