If I counted the times I've made the New Mexico→Utah→New Mexico drive, I'd likely run out of fingers/toes so quickly that I'd need to start counting on gray beard hairs (I've got about 24, which is hopefully more than enough). I've gone from my adopted home to my former one enough times that I know the backroads and rural highways like a family tree, drawing me down dirt toward the place that's given me more baggage than a Samsonite outlet.
I'm sitting here in a motel room in Monticello, UT, an hour from Moab, four hours from home, sipping on crappy 3.2% beer that tastes more like rainwater than it does malt. Fun fact: I've never had any kind of hangover from Utah beer, presumably because the dilution of it keeps one far more hydrated than real, good beer would. So that's neat, I guess.
And this is how I remember the landmarks in my brain, how I know which roads to take to bring me back. It goes something like this:
Go to that Jack in the Box, the one where you bought a cooler full of sandwiches to impress a girl-you-liked's sister, thus impressing her family, thus having a fun story for her to tell during her toast at the wedding.
Travel on to the little hotel you stayed in after your car broke down last Christmas, and nod in recognition of the motel room where you got drunk on your company's gifted bottle of Wild Turkey 101 and wrote a four-page, holiday-themed apology letter—epistle, really—to that girl who loved you so much that it gave you panic attacks and you dodged her calls and threw away every sweet gift she'd ever given you (except, of course, for the bottle of 12-year-old Jameson, which you hated yourself for enjoying so goddamn much, eventually savoring the last drops on the actual year-to-the-day anniversary of when you told her to "give [you] some space").
Head to the gas station in Farmington, NM where you deleted that text message reply you almost sent over three years ago to that girl who cheated on you, the one where she said that you "could've had everything," where you filled up on enough gas and indignation to keep your engine running and your eyes open and your toe tapping until the next stop, which is, of course:
the stretch of highway just over the state line in southwestern Colorado where you never get phone reception, except for that one time you did, and right when She called, and you talked for about twenty minutes about stupid bullshit while your voice jumped at every syllable and you finally noticed that you were going 20 MPH over the speed limit because any second spent further away from Her was time wasted.
Miles later, you'll hit the gas station where your old phone went dead as you tried to tell Her how excited you were to see Her. You'll even see the singular paint chip on the white fence slat behind the gas station where you threw your phone out of idle frustration. No one's bothered to paint it over (there's a metaphor there somewhere).
Keep driving. You'll get to Moab and see the restaurant where you'd made reservations for the two of you, dinner on a let's-meet-halfway trip that never happened. You have your suspicions as to why, but leave them behind: they are you too heavy to carry with you. Fill up, reset the odometer, drive on.
There's more. Now you're winding through canyon country, and you'll come across the spot just past the "FALLING BOULDERS" sign that you laughed at only seconds before swerving out of the way of a falling boulder, proving that bullshit life-flashing-before-your-eyes cliche to be a very literal truth. They still haven't fixed the guardrail on the other side, but it will serve as a reminder that you are not only on the right path back, but will also remind you of the very specific image of Her that shot through your brain like a flashbulb, and that will give you the energy to get to
Wellington, where you checked your voicemail and heard Her say that She missed you, before getting to
Helper, where you made the "Helper? I didn't know she was my responsibility!" joke and She laughed and told you to drive faster and you said "Faster? Didn't know I could eat her!" and it wasn't a very good joke so She asked you what you meant but you felt too embarrassed at how bad it was so you changed the subject and then you'll get to
Spanish Fork Canyon, where you saw that little property with just enough acreage to have a horse and
I-15, which you always had to drive to get to Her from your house in central Provo and then to
the Center Street exit, which you'll pass but still remember where you picked Her up on your motorcycle the first day that you had it and then keep going until you hit
the 500 E American Fork exit, two blocks from which Her family still lives and then
take it and pass your old office where She brought you dinner when you were working late and things were still new and the wounds you were nursing didn't seem to matter much anymore
but go north on the highway and pass the snowy park where you took Her dog on New Years' Day after you made love for the first time
and go up the hill toward the house where you introduced Her to your family
fall asleep on the couch you two sat on when you heard your folks tell you how much they liked Her
and wake up in the morning,