After I came home from work, I packed my suitcase for the trip. In went my clothes, bathing suit along with a few select items from my bathroom to ensure my cleanliness away from home. Just an overnight trip halfway across the state but it was something I had been looking forward to all week. After I finished packing, I made sure I didn’t forget anything and switched off all the fuses at the circuit breaker to render my house completely without power. No sense of it using electricity when nobody’s home.
With suitcase in hand, I stepped out the front door and made sure the house was locked before walking to my car. I tossed the suitcase in the back seat and then left the driveway to leave this awful civilization behind. As usual I yelled at the traffic lights and other drivers conspiring to block my escape but I persisted and soon got on the legendary Highway 80, already an excursion in itself as the noisy city life grew softer with each mile and the city lights growing smaller and dimmer in the distance behind me. Finally, I was alone on the dark highway, except for an occasional car that passed me by. I didn’t mind the traffic here as I felt they too shared my desire to escape the city for a while.
I was happy to be doing this trip despite it defying the concept of Thanksgiving, normally a time for friends and family but as for myself, I have no family. My parents live out of state and had invited me up for Thanksgiving but I lacked the funds and the vacation time, so my father called me up and berated me as usual, calling me a “hermit” and a “cheapskate”. That conversation turned so unpleasant that I lost my temper and hung up on my father, which to him is the worst insult of all. Luckily I left my cell phone at home, switched off to prevent further harassment.
The other thing plaguing my mind was my ongoing loneliness. I have no friends and am still single, even at 45. I don’t have a girlfriend and am not sure if it’s worth having one considering how expensive it is. I can’t afford the fancy jewelry and nights out on the town. I have enough bills to pay without needing another unnecessary expense. And those are the key words that have kept me single. “Unnecessary expense”, right up there with cigarettes and beer.
Girlfriends, cigarettes and beer. All bad for you. None of them worth adding to the shopping list.
There I was, driving along the highway, passing miles of sugar cane fields marked with the occasional road sign of a farmer driving a tractor. It was dark except for the lights along the highway but the peace out here was liberating to my senses long since beaten from the ongoing stress and anxiety. I found the scent of smoky nighttime air most welcoming as I ventured deeper and deeper into Sugar Country.
I arrived in Clewiston a short time later. I smiled when I saw the sign that said “Welcome to Clewiston – America’s Sweetest Town”. I blended in with the local traffic as I drove past the shopping centers and shops along the highway. I stopped at a Subway to get the famed “Clewiston Sandwich”, which was my name for their meatball marinara sub. I enjoyed my sandwich at the restaurant and then returned to the highway to arrive at the Best Western motel a few minutes later. This was where I had booked my reservation the night before. I pulled into the parking lot of the motel, retrieved my suitcase and checked myself in. I got the key to my room and walked along side the building until the door bearing my room number was in sight. Room #121. My home away from home.
I entered my room, put my suitcase on the dresser and collapsed on the bed to fall asleep. The last thing my eyes saw before they closed was the clock by the bed. It was 7:35pm, exactly one hour and 35 minutes since I left work. It was a long day, and this was exactly how I wanted it to end.
I woke up at 11:30pm, then turned on the TV and flipped through the channels while alternating between watching TV and dozing off. This went on through the night until I fell into a much deeper sleep later during the wee hours of the morning.
I woke up at 3:00pm the following afternoon. I couldn’t believe I slept so long. Then I realized it was Thanksgiving Day. While other people celebrated with their families, here I was staying by myself in a motel 63 miles away from home. I felt very sad and lonely and my having come to Clewiston in hopes of escaping from my dismal moods seemed rather dashed. I felt like I made a mistake coming here but I couldn’t just leave now. So I got up, filled the bathtub with water and took a long, long bath that reached well into the afternoon. I just sat in the tub, staring at the wall ahead as if expecting something to materialize there. I could only stare in disbelief at the consequences of this ostensible excursion. Since arriving at Clewiston I had not left my room the entire time I had been here. I could have gone on a walk by Lake Okeechobee or drove around town, but no, I locked myself in my room and hid from the world, thus fueling my loneliness and the sadness that came with it.
When I emerged from the bathroom it was already 8:30pm and it was dark outside. I felt even sadder. There was nothing left to do but check out and go home. I packed my suitcase and returned to the lobby to check out. The clerk asked me if I enjoyed my stay and I found it very hard to look like I had a most wonderful time. He could clearly see I was deeply troubled and gave me a sympathetic smile as he took my key.
It was a very, very long drive back home. My drive to Clewiston did nothing to cheer me up or ease my loneliness. In fact, the only thing it did for me was slide me deeper in my personal despair. As I usually do when driving home from Clewiston, I took a detour that took me through the neighboring town of Pahokee. There’s a park there with a fishing pier that reaches out into the lake and I stopped by for a nighttime walk. As usual there were people fishing along the pier and they stared at me as I walked past. I usually don’t mind the stares but this time it got so uncomfortable I turned around and left the park.
On my way out of Pahokee I drove past a small crowd of people standing along the street under the streetlight. This seemed to be a popular place for people to hang out, ride their bikes and just have fun. In the past I had driven down this same street without incident but this time things got scary. I had just driven past the crowd when suddenly my rear window was shattered after someone threw a rock at my car. Rather than deal with an unruly crowd that outnumbered me 75 to 1, I stepped on the gas and drove out of town. Then it dawned on me. That crowd was a street gang.
I got back on Highway 80 and resumed my long drive home. There was too much going through my mind for me to even need the radio on. My empty Thanksgiving, my loneliness and now my shattered rear window. No matter what I thought about I had reached the same conclusion.
This is not how one celebrates Thanksgiving.