Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
One has a certain sensation, when hitchhiking, akin to that of a fish seeking a hook. To get where one is going one will have to risk one’s flesh, risk at least the skin under the lower lip where the hook will punch in: one has the sensation that every car that stops will be a single man in a large, white, windowless van.
But I thought that—as a lone young white girl on a bicycle in the middle of the forest—I would have my choice of bait. What could be more harmless, what could appeal more to both matriarchal and patriarchal notions of pity?
They did not, I guess, want to ruin their leaf-watching. They wanted to sit & sit & be all eyes & then get out & eat lunch & take a picture & then sit some more. Fifteen minutes passed, then another. The cars did not stop. I adjusted Alexander so that he was leaning very clearly against me. I could not decide what expression to arrange on my face.
They would watch me from inside their passing cars, full, inevitably, of empty seats. I would watch right back at them, from the lip of the road, from behind my stiffening thumb, waiting to be caught. Then our gaze would meet at the glass of the passenger window: and they would not even slow down. I wanted to say: if you’re not going to give me a ride, at least don’t devour me as Something Even More Interesting Than The Foliage To Look At. Hard-to-say-what in their eyes, their gaze not like the gaze of passing motorcyclists, or the gaze of chewing cows. It was the gaze granted to matter out of place: some hitchhiking girl in the midst of the trees gone orange.
An hour passed. Then a pickup truck slowed suddenly and pulled onto the grass just ahead of me. Watch it be a lone man, I thought. A lone man got out. He was only going a few miles south, he said: that I should have a sign that read Asheville: he looked around the back of the truck for materials, stood up empty-handed. I think the only thing I can do is wish you good luck, he said, and pulled away.
The road to my right did not exist: that was where the North-bound cars came from. There was only the road to my left, bending itself around into the tunnel of trees. The grey of the pavement rose hesitant & still from the forest floor: & I stood staring each engine-sound into being. Every car going South came as one summoned. The road was a river that I could not cross and could not walk on. I could not swim.
A feminism-lite adage began to stir: a woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle. And a woman is like a fish when without a man but with a bicycle, such that her hands, from clenching the ram-horn handlebars, turn odd, fin-like, the index fingers twisting into the others, the thumbs suddenly wayward; a woman, hitchhiking, is a fish with fear of nets and hooks in lips, of ending up altogether as another’s dinner. She has, amongst other images culled from the road, that of a ten-foot-long-Jesus fish cut into a lawn somewhere three hundred miles east of here:
I had Faulkner on the brain, had Verdaman My Mother is a Fish-ing: how you know you are coming to a river when the road pitches down, there then the short dark cool as you cross, then the climb on up the other side: I was Addie’s dead weight, I was Dewey Dell’s bread in a basket: Anse in his obstinacy. A woman with a bicycle in a tent the shape of a coffin—there was Jewel, homeless & Socialist, the revolution blackening his back; there was, everywhere, the sudden specter of Sisyphus, of rolling down mountains. Hospitality: I don’t –ere a man.
A pickup truck pulled up beside me: the same man got out with a woman. Here: she said, brought you some cookies & a yogurt, & we made you a sign: ASHEVILLE in black sharpie on a white cardboard box top. & Oh! Kindness of strangers! If only Career Services could see me now!
Not fifteen minutes later I got my ride. Watch it be a lone man, I thought. It was a lone man. I promised my mom I’d text her the license plate number if I ended up hitchhiking, I said, pushing random buttons on my long-dead phone and feeling both ridiculous and very, very clever. We spoke in Spanish for 70 miles: Jorge, from Mexico, with a good job repairing software: then the ruins of a marriage. The mountains climbed up and fell away, passing by overlooks and a handful of (guiltily) bikers. Sometimes, a fellow liminar told me, you get the feeling that people help you out as much for their own sake: No quiero estar solo:
[in which the man with rounded eye, cigarette behind ear, slides into booth]
“Hey, whatcha writing?”
“About being a fish.”
“Sort of a reference to Faulkner.”
[defense mechanism: how delicious to be a feminist literati asshole]
“Oh. Hey–I like your hair.”
“You know–I really love your hair.”
“Ok, well, I should probably get back to writing.”
“Hey, well, I hope to see you again.”
[still even sitting & staring across the interminable grateful table]
[finger to eye finger to nose]
“Eye Nose I’ll see you again.”
[: I can see why Joan Didion went to write in bars: how on earth did Joan Didion go to write in bars]
Thanksroll: Teresa for the ASHEVILLE & cookies & yogurt (even with spoon), Jorge for the ride, Kyle & Joel & Jamie & Mike & Fig for the Southern hospitality, Asheville Public Library for the interesting range of liminars on view, Luna Moth is beautiful, Rosetta’s Kitchen for the rice & beans, Ellie for the paints, Iz for the thoughts, people of Dobra.
Photo by Leah Gallant/The Daily Gazette.