Here is what I remember: Heat.
Not the recreational variety, that makes you pull out a lawn chair and pour an iced tea. This was the heat that drives a thousand pinpricks through the skin; that transforms even a light cotton sundress into a cargo of oppression. The kind of heat that sunburns fingernails. This was driving across Oklahoma, the Texas Panhandle, and into New Mexico in August, during a heat wave, with no AC.
The gallon of drinking water from Love’s truck stop had warped into a squat, sweating gremlin on the passenger seat, which I glanced at sideways from time to time, uneasy. It was the dead of night and stars were out in force—no longer individual specks, but long seams of light. Even the stars seemed to be recklessly shoveling heat onto the world.
Buddy Holly, my forever traveling companion, belted from the speakers—we were in his homeland now. Armadillo eyes shone from dark roadside weeds, and mayflies sailed through the high beams, seeking one another with the crazed purposeful passion of a minuscule lifespan. I shunned the homogeneous interstates and kept to back roads, passing small towns situated as though they’d dropped from the sky at random, and deserted dustbowl farms with gabled roofs and black windows like wounds.
My summer internship with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Oklahoma had just ended. I was twenty-one and bumping ...