A remembrance by Katy Tucker
Originally published in Midnight Mind Number Three
He was a scruffy artistic type, always wearing a bleach-stained brown leather jacket with a book stuffed in the pocket. Dark hair, light eyes that looked beyond the world and guitar-string callused fingers – he was a dream. I stared at him as he drifted through the hallways, wishing for his coolness to recognize mine, for his songwriter soul to recognize my poet soul. Then one day it happened. A book fell out of his jacket pocket and I saw the title: On the Road by Jack Kerouac. I bought the book the next time I went to the bookstore, hoping to be reading it conspicuously the next time my high school bard wandered by in his leather jacket, the same book tucked safely in his pocket.
But when I began to read the book, I realized I had found a new bard, a new inspiration. My high school crush was nothing compared to the freedom of the soul that had written On the Road. He was the imitation; Kerouac was the archetype. I still dreamed of loving him, but now because he was the closest thing to Kerouac I could get in the small world of high school. I took Kerouac and his vision into my heart, an inspiration for a way of life that no longer truly exists.
The world is a much more dangerous place now than it was in Kerouac’s day. Most people will not pick up hitch-hikers for fear of unsavory intentions, and those who will pick up hitchers are likely to have unsavory intentions of their own, especially towards a young and attractive girl like myself. But I had my own road, my own way of experiencing the freedom that Kerouac had so cherished. Approximately every two years for my entire life until the point at which I made Kerouac’s acquaintance, I had moved, living on different coasts, in different states, and, once, in a different country, Canada. In the relative safety of these experiences, I was able to relate in some small way to Kerouac’s cross-country questing. My life was my journey on the road. I learned from Kerouac a new way of looking at my life. Instead of lamenting all the people whom I was forced to leave behind, I learned to celebrate all the new people whom I met. Instead of longing for the beauty of upstate New York, I learned to see the beauty in the mass of humanity that is northern Virginia. Kerouac’s love and passion shone from the pages of his novel, and now my memories shone with that same love and passion.
Not long after I assimilated the lessons to be learned from On the Road, my scruffy high school bard noticed me. Perhaps he finally sensed the kindred spirit lurking behind my eyes, which now looked, as his did, beyond stark realities to the joy to be found in them. Perhaps it was only that he did in fact see me reading Kerouac in the hallways. No matter what the reason, it was too late for us. I had already discovered a love waiting for me in an old friend. But I thank him and consider him an inspiration to this day. Today On the Road means much the same to me as it did in high school, perhaps even more. Now, as an English major, I can see Kerouac’s writing style as representing a poetic innovation. As a student of religions, I can see his philosophy on existence as an admixture of faiths and coherently discuss the tension between Buddhism and Catholicism in his life and writing. But as a human being and a poet, I can see Kerouac’s writing as coming from his soul and as touching the souls of others.