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Davis, California

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Column: Love song to the I-5

Half a tank left of gas. The speed limit is 45, but I’m driving 60. The rain can’t make up its mind if it wants to pour or sprinkle. On my right is a man wrapped in a plastic, yellow poncho like a Buddhist monk. On my left is a field where I had hotboxed with my housemates and got stuck in the mud for four hours. I’m driving 65. Then 70. 80.

Once, when I drove up from SoCal on the I-5, I was stuck in traffic with my friend Frankie. She had the window rolled down so the smoke from her cigarette wouldn’t fill the car up. The smoke kept her awake. So did the wind.

It was late at night, and we were talking about something pretentious like love. Or death. I don’t remember which one came first.

“What’s your suicide of preference?” she asked me as if it were the difference between Davis Sushi Buffet and Fuji’s.

“I would drown,” I said. “I think there’s something gorgeous about sinking.”

“You would,” she said. Apparently, that was predictable.

I asked her. She said pills. It symbolized a complete surrender. The body is the last thing you lose control of, and when even that is taken away from you, you’ve long left this world. That’s when we become robots, controlled by pharmaceuticals – living, breathing and responding to sensory neurons, but never loving. Back then, she had this theory that the pharmaceutical companies were trying to dumb down the masses to be better consumers.

A little later, she asked if I’ve ever been in love. I said yes. She asked again, because there’s a difference between loving someone, and being in love.

Most other times when I drive down the I-5, I drive it alone. I wake up at four in the morning while it’s still dark out. The sun doesn’t come up until I reach Kern County. When I drive into the grapevine, it’s still night. But when I leave the mountains, the sun floods the valley as I drive down full speed.

Once, David told me he thought love was just a hormone that gets released when responding to stimuli. It’s something we can program robots to feel. Or show signs of, at least.

But at the same time, he thinks love is the anti-survival. When we’re born, we’re born as isolated individuals with our ego that separates us from everyone. But love tears down that ego, and the barriers between people.

Caitlin thinks love is asymptotic. The more you know someone, the less you understand them. But the more you drift away from someone, the more you think you have them figured out. Love, then, reveals your oblivion. The most you could ever know about someone is they will never fully make sense.

Micah thinks that humans love, but within limits. When God loves through us, though, He takes us beyond our limits. It’s like standing at the edge of a cliff, and when God whispers in your ear to jump, He promises to send His angels to carry you.

I say love is inherently selfish. Those who love the most are those who have the most greed. Love is insatiable. The fact that it will never be satisfied is what sustains it for an eternity. It keeps hungering until it devours you whole.

Earlier in the year, my friend Mark broke up with his girlfriend. He said he didn’t love her. He didn’t think he ever could. He did, at one point, think he loved her.

“Is it possible to fall out of love?” Mark asked.

I said yes.

“That’s all I need to know,” he said.

A week later, I saw her at a friend’s birthday dinner. I never told Mark, but when I saw her, I said I disagreed with all his reasons for breaking up with her. She looked back at me, irritated that I brought that up in front of everyone. I told her no one should ever hear that from someone.

Frank thinks love is an otherworldly thing, some transcendent experience. But love is, in fact, about seeing all the beauty in the ordinary life around you. If you’re looking for something greater than this life, then you’re not looking for love.

To love is to give everything and take nothing in return. But to be in love is to be inside of love. When you are consumed by love, it sanctifies you. Love goes through you, in you, by you, for you, from you, to you, out of you and because of you. All that beauty in the world is so great that your miserable soul dissolves at the sight.

She asked me why I was telling her all this. I didn’t have an answer. I never mentioned it again.

There’s a quarter tank left of gas. Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61” is playing on repeat. On my left is a Taco Bell in the shape of a mission. On my right is a burning bush. I’m driving 40 miles over the speed limit. It’s 300 miles until God catches up with me.

GEOFF MAK is broke. E-mail him at gemak@ucdavis.edu.

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