My most recent ex hated the song Hotel California. He didn’t mind the Gipsy Kings’ version, but he really hated The Eagles. I’m not a fan of all of their songs, but I’m also not a hater. Some people are. This song has meaning for me, and whether my ex liked it or not, it didn’t stop me from blasting it every time I heard it.
It only took hearing it once during a road trip with my mom in 1984 to know it would be our song. It was about 5am following an early morning breakfast at Steak ‘n Egg. We turned on the car radio and “On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair” would mark the beginning of a new journey, a move to Florida. I was 13 years old, and our Ford Pinto was packed to the gills.
Looking at the lyrics, we weren’t living in California. There were no colitas, though we were on our own special travel high. And there was nothing satanic about what we were doing. Though it was a passage into some place we thought might save us. We were trying to escape a small-minded world in Louisiana, and a family history of crazy, with the hope that something better might be on the horizon.
I can only imagine how Mom felt then – a single mother with very little money saved, packing up everything and hitting the road with her 13-year-old daughter. The doubts, the fears, the hope, the tears she may have shed making that decision. But it was an adventure, as were all of our moves. We had many. I would love to know now how long the road really was that she was running from and what path she thought lie on the horizon. For me, it was another fun trip. I was always up for a new one, and never once questioned why.
Mom and I made it to Saint Petersburg Beach eventually, but only stayed through the summer. After some sun, sand, virgin piña coladas and a few stealthy maneuvers past the grand hallways of the Don CeSar Hotel toward its crystal white beaches and Polynesian dancers, hard times hit and Nana convinced us to return to Louisiana, where it was safer, where we had family. But what could have been seen as a failure was to us a mere postponement.
We landed back into a world of twisted kinfolk madness, a grandfather with a history of alcoholism and possible schizophrenia who was losing it again, and now an uncle who was following suit. But this was supposed to be better than an unknown life in a new town with new people. Family was supposed to be grounding? Not so much.
Plunge ahead several moves and 24 years later, and my mother would be abruptly taken from this earth through an abhorrent act of gun violence by her brother’s hand. The brother, my uncle, who came from the same family that had convinced us years earlier to move back home, again that we’d be loved, comforted, safer.
So as soon as I hear Hotel California, I crank it up. It still reminds me of Mom every time. I pretend it’s her somehow sending me a message. I love it because of her, because of what it represented for us. Freedom. Defiant escape. We were going to get through the sedentary wall of family mental illness, anger and addiction. We were going to move on and beyond the heavy vortex. And to hell with whoever tells me to turn it down.
Once again, my head grows heavy as I travel the highway back to Louisiana. My mother is no longer here as my sidekick, my mentor, my rock. Instead I have to be that rock and I have to find my own comfort zone and my own escape route, even if that means often hiding out in my womb of an apartment, the past all around me, a reminder of how far I’ve come and where else I’d like to be. I am responsible for the well-being of my mother’s mother, my grandmother, while the man who took her life, her brother, is allowed to breathe and draw and cook and study and talk to HIS mother, though via a lifetime behind bars. Life is funny that way, isn’t it? I still think one day I’ll escape. I’ll break out of this place, my own self-inflicted prison, but then again …
Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
“Relax,” said the night man,
“We are programmed to receive.
You can check out any time you like,
But you can never leave!”