Wrong Exit

20150310_170430-1-1-1I was seventeen. I was driving my father’s Toyota Camry. I was smoking, let’s say a Marlboro Red. I was listening to U2 at full blast. War. I was by myself. I was driving with the sunroof open. I cannot tell you what month it was. Let’s say it was September. It was a Saturday. Pacific Standard Time. I was on the 10 West.

There were ten lanes, or maybe it was twelve. There was no time not to know. I was not wearing a seatbelt. I was confused. I was singing out loud. I was alive. There were too many choices. Too many exits.

This, before I’d found the entrance into my own anger, the key to my locked throat. I doubt I’d eaten any breakfast. I was going to Santa Barbara to visit my oldest sister for the weekend. I took the wrong exit and drove around Petaluma. I asked for directions. This did not help matters. I was determined. I’d written out careful instructions that did not match up with the huge green signs.

There was no Google. No cell phone, no GPS, no Siri, no service. There was self-doubt, damnit. There was an exit–yes, that one, no, no, no, that’s not right, I changed my mind. There was a median. There was a patch of dry land. There was an ocean somewhere on my left and a desert somewhere else swallowing my name. There was a jerk of the wheel, too fast. There was slow-motion swerve. There was an eternal stillness.

There was mind looking up at the passenger-side door and body climbing out of the sunroof. There was U2. War. Still. There was pacing and oh my god, oh my god, oh my god. There was traffic 80 miles per hour slowing to sixty to see me standing there. There was a year when I blinked before a woman was asking if I was ok. I did not understand how she got there. There was a tow truck from Van Nuys. There was the wonder for years to come that I wasn’t raped. There were angels, we say. There was luck. Was it good luck or bad luck? There was what we called “losing control.”

There was a pay phone. There was my father. There was his totaled car. There was a crick in my neck and Russian class Monday morning. There was my mother saying it would have ended their marriage if I’d died. There was a tiny girl-woman. There was an exit, and it was the wrong one. There was a weekend with my sister never spent. There was fire in my mouth, months later after the perfect, empty winter, when finally I roared back to life and left that Inland Empire for a city with trains.


This unedited freewrite came early this morning, in response to a prompt in my current writing group (I practice alongside with everyone–how else could it be?). Even though I obviously knew in advance what the prompt would be (this one was “Exits”), I still had no idea what on earth I would write when I set the timer for 10 minutes and hit the “start” button. Every day is a surprise.

Late last night, when a first-time participant wrote, “It’s only been two prompts and I already feel more invigorated and excited to write than I have in a very, very long time,” I swear my heart actually skipped a beat. Just like it does when I read the words here.

This is the reason why:

  • I get up at 5:00am;
  • I’m committed to creating ten new prompts each month;
  • I’m putting together a free PDF of prompts, in case you prefer to write alone, or want to give the whole thing a test-drive before joining a group;
  • I pinch myself (this is not a figure of speech) every time I get an email or someone I have never heard of signs up;
  • I’m adding more groups and more dates;
  • When I told Mani my inner critic said I better not get too big for my britches, she quipped back: Tell her you’ll buy a drawstring skirt and to shut the f**k up!
  • This practice works the way it does. Because without editing, judgment, and comparing, we’re no holds-barred, hands-down liberated. The prompts are springboards that take all of us in wildly different directions, and Oh My God, the comments people share on each other’s writing go beyond encouraging; they are insightful, warm, wise, funny.

I am so crazy moved by what happens when we take a deep breath and jump in, then come up for air and realize it wasn’t so scary after all. That it was, in fact, kinda fun…

I’m currently filling spaces in upcoming groups in April, May, and June. Join me!

9 thoughts on “Wrong Exit

  1. Pamela says:

    Oh I love this. It was so visceral I could smell the dirt and the California desert and taste the Marlboro Red. (BTW I am so impressed you smoked those. I tried to once and almost fell over.) This line:

    This, before I’d found the entrance into my own anger, the key to my locked throat.

    I can list many more. Gorgeous.


  2. Kristi Campbell - findingninee says:

    I love this so so much. Your voice and the imagery is incredible and brought me right there, in your car, looking up at the clouds from the sunroof. I was a Marlboro Red girl myself and remember as if it were yesterday the driving seatbelt-less, cellphone-less, navigation-less… it almost feels too easy these days.

    PS love what Mani said when you wondered whether you’d get too big for your britches. She’s wise, that one.
    PPS I’ve said this to you in private, but am putting it here for all to see – I adore the writing group. It’s the best thing I’ve done this year.



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