Last weekend i had the good fortune to be able to visit Columbia and see several of my friends. i’ve been meaning to write about this experience for about a week now, but it can be difficult for me to express the emotional complexity that i usually feel during such visits, much less the added layers that came into play this time… To begin with, this time i wasn’t able to just go myself. Because of my recent seizure, i am not allowed to drive until October or November. So i had to wait until other events could facilitate my trip.
In this particular case, it was the combination of my mother going to a conference at Lake of the Ozarks and my sister visiting from Boston for three days. Because of the way things fell together, we all wound up going to the lake and staying in the same hotel room. While my mother did her conference stuff during the day on that Monday, my sister, my father, and i took a day trip up to Columbia.
The original plan was that she and i would go up, have lunch at Shakespeare’s Pizza, hang out with people, get some ice cream at Sparky’s, have dinner at Flat Branch, then eventually go back down to the lake later in the evening, after having spent an entire day back in my favorite place in Missouri with some of my favorite people in the state… people who i hadn’t gotten to see for over a year at this point, because my customary semi-annual trip for New Years was canceled due to a combination of lack of budget and lack of interest on the part of The Woman.
Not so much. About three days before the trip, my sister gets into contact with me and asks me if we can shorten the Columbia excursion so that we can get back to Lake of the Ozarks in time to have dinner with Mom. She says that she wants to be able to spend more time with Mom, and she doesn’t really know my friends that well, and pretty much all of her Columbia friends have moved to other places. i get it, she would have felt like a fifth wheel, and she barely sees Mom whatsoever because she only manages to visit about twice a year. But this was going to be the only time i was going to get to see these friends, who i honestly consider to be my second (idealized?) family. Showing up, having lunch, and then leaving again after only a couple of hours just felt… insufficient. Still, i’m a team player, and a bit of a pushover (especially when pressure from pretty much every person in my immediate family drips with the implication that to do otherwise would only prove that their opinion of me as a self-centered prick is accurate… yeah, they know just what buttons to push to manipulate me), so i of course relented. So i resigned myself to an even shorter visit than i was already going to get (and no Shakespeare’s, because Flat Branch was the higher culinary priority). Still, i tried to reassure myself that any time was better than nothing at all…
Finally, the day came to pick my sister up at the Springfield airport and head to Lake of the Ozarks. Even on the trip up there, i started to feel curiously blended emotions. Usually i can keep the temporary nature of these visits from affecting me too much until the end of the trip, but this time the necessary shortness of the visit felt like it was hanging over my head like the Sword of Damocles the entire time, and as we started to pass the familiar sights of the drive between Branson and Columbia (though technically just the Lake of the Ozarks to begin with on this trip, a combined excitement and melancholy began building within me.
i was alright for the first part of the trip; going to Springfield and heading up I-44 is pretty common to get to almost anywhere from Branson. It wasn’t until we exited at Lebanon and made the turn northward on Route 5 that things really started to get interesting. Passing the familiar sights that mark the way toward Columbia, the emotions started to flow into me. As we drew nearer to the interchange onto 54, it was almost as if they were manifesting physically within me, a growing tightness and pressure in my chest that became more powerful the nearer we drew to Columbia (and no, i wasn’t having a heart attack). This pressure combined with a twisting knot in the pit of my stomach that also grew tighter as we went along. It’s an overwhelming sensation when my emotions manifest physically within me. It took everything in my power to keep from letting them escape in the presence of my father and sister (and of course holding them in only made them build more intensely).
i think the reason i’ve imbued that particular stretch of road with so much emotional weight is because of how much Columbia has come to mean to me. It is probably the city i identify most strongly as my “hometown.” i may have been born in one city, and spent most of my early childhood in another town up north, and spent the majority of my living years in Branson, but Columbia is the one place where i’ve lived that feels the most like home. It was my haven from Branson. It was a place where i could escape the rampant mindless conservative fundamentalist drones that infest this place (and most of southwest Missouri, for that matter). It was a place with real culture, not the manufactured plastic faux reality that Branson tries to pass for such. It was a place with diversity, where i could walk down the street and see people of all races and philosophies coexisting. Because of all this, it was a place where i could feel free to be me. Columbia is the only place where i actually did “come out three times” to most of the people with whom i associated regularly. And Columbia is far enough away from my parents that i could visit them just regularly enough to avoid guilt trips, but not have to see them too horribly often. And even though i’ve managed to carve out a relatively comfortable niche and existence within the rotted husk of Branson, mostly made livable by the wonderful people who i have gotten to know, and with whom i choose to associate, Columbia, Missouri, will always be linked in my mind with the very ideal concept of freedom.
But now i wasn’t going to Columbia completely freely. i was fettered by the expectations and desires of the family members upon whom i depended for transportation. i was being taken to the place where i usually feel least restrained, and i was being taken there on a leash.
The emotional pressure finally eased a bit when we pulled off 54 in Lake of the Ozarks, and things stopped looking entirely familiar. i could still feel the tension in the back of my mind, an ever-present reminder that the pleasures of this trip would be short-lived and bittersweet.
Monday came along, and it was time to go to Columbia. My sister and i (with the new addition of my father now that we were going to be back for dinner) headed up the rest of the way on 54, switching to 63 at Jefferson City. Again, i could feel the emotional pressure starting to build, but it was less intense this time, perhaps because i was more focused on enjoying what little time i was going to be afforded with my friends. We went to Flat Branch, met up with my friends, ate, drank, and generally had a good time catching up. When we finished with lunch, my sister and dad walked to campus, then downtown to Sparky’s. The original plan was that i would accompany them. Instead, i chose to stay sitting outside Flat Branch with my friends, talking and laughing and getting an extra hour or so to visit before they came back. Even so, it was still incredibly difficult to leave when i finally had to, and i found myself facing a new kind of emotional pressure as the car began its journey back south on 63.
Every time that i have visited Columbia since the move, no matter how long i was able to stay, when it comes time to start back i have always started sobbing in the driver’s seat of my car and had to pull over until i got it out. This time as we left, i felt the familiar critical emotional containment failure starting to build, but i wasn’t alone. i was still in the car with my dad and my sister, and i wasn’t about to lose it in front of them on this trip. So i did what i have become extremely talented at doing in these situations: i pushed it down with all of my mental might. i made those containment shields stay in place. i held in what would otherwise have come gushing forth (and is one of the few situations in recent history, even in private, where i have actually allowed myself to fully give up control without being taken into cryspace during a BDSM scene). My emotional states during my visits to Columbia are something that i consider an intensely intimate part of myself, and there was no way i was letting either my sister or my father see that part of me.
So we left Columbia. We went back to Lake of the Ozarks, and eventually returned to Branson, and i diligently masked my emotions like my life depended on it.
Come to think of it, that’s actually probably a big part of why i’ve been craving a trip to cryspace even more extremely than i had been before…