The Benefit of Distance


There's a bottle of Evan Williams involved.  There's a picture, too.  Blond hair, green eyes, half a smile in half- light.
      There's distance involved.  A great deal of distance.

      The distance between the two towns is exactly eighty-nine miles, a measure that can be quantified.  It exists.  It's real.  It has been covered time and time again.
      Experience has proven that the easiest route between the two is Highway 41 south, then 10 west, then 58 south.  58 is a winding, two-lane affair, adding a good twenty minutes onto the trip.  These twenty minutes delay both arrival and departure.  They are excruciating on the way there, blissful on the way back.
      Scattered houses line the road into town.  There is a small lake on the right.  Every June, this lake is the scene of one of those peculiar events that only take place in small towns.  Grown men spend an afternoon trying to race their snowmobiles across an expanse of open water, hoping that the laws of physics will be on their side.  There are trophies, and picnics, and fireworks.
      There's a Pearl Jam song on the radio.  Something about a familiar face.
      People here do not lock their doors.  People here trust their children.
      On the left is a video store that doubles as a bar.
      Everyone in town knows what everyone else is drinking and what everyone else is renting.  Further down the road there is a school.  It has a carpeted gymnasium, one of only four in the nation.  No one has ever thought to ask why.
      Farther to the south, there are a few more stores, a gas station, and finally, some scattered farms.  The town passes by in a moment.  During the summer, the population might get as high as a thousand people.
      There are memories.  Sweet breezes.  Long nights of cigarettes and whippoorwills.
      The important part of town has been passed by.  It lies farther to the north.  The name of the road has been forgotten, but this is irrelevant.  The location is known.
      It is a white, one-story house.  It is about two blocks away from the white, one-story hospital.  The house is currently occupied by a talkative middle-aged woman and an uncommunicative middle-aged man.  Visitors are fed and glared at, respectively.  There is also an aging golden retriever.  And a bedroom door that is never opened.
      There is growth.  Eighty-nine miles have grown to a thousand.
      The town holds much to reward the dutiful child.  Home.
      Family.  A sense of closeness.  The comfort of familiar things and a life lived free of uncertainty.
      There are echoes of conversations.  Plans.  Hopes.  Dreams.  A future.  A future together.  One warm hand inside another.
      The town holds nothing to reward the wayward child.
      Scorn.  Indifference.  The slow pain of being unwelcome among the people who have been family.
      There are echoes of silence.  Silence can echo.  At the dinner table, at a birthday party, at a cousin's wedding.  Silence can echo.  Distance helps it fade.
      Yet for the wayward child the longing remains.  The longing for closeness, for familiarity, for the warmth of memories lived and people loved.
      There's a silent prayer.  Thanks for the distance.
      The distance between the two towns is exactly eighty-nine miles, a distance that can be quantified as fact.  But the fact has become irrelevant.  When the irrelevant has been discarded, what remains is the distance.
      There's a ringing phone.  Laughter.  Memories.  Silence.
      I'm using your hometown.  It's the setting for my new piece.  I changed some stuff, though.
      What's it about?
      It's sort of about you.  Maybe about us.
      What happens?
      Nothing.
  
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