Today’s Women in Horror guest is Susan Hicks Wong. I love hearing about people’s life experiences and how it relates to their writing, and she provides a post today that’s poetic, poignant, and a little unnerving in its intimacy. No wonder I like it. You can find Susan’s work in State of Horror: North Carolina
My current living space, which I share with my husband, is the size of a modest American bathroom. As if in compensation for these limitations, my windows often overlook herds of dainty antelope; shy, clumsy moose; stunning bald eagles; and tidy but carnivorous black-and-white magpies with tails like scissors. Our semi truck traverses plains, buttes, and canyons of biblical proportions; places where you can drive for fifty miles and, except for the highway, barely see any human residue. This view is generally restful and soothing and I feel rather self-righteous that it is all mine, though it is not. Experiences like our semi truck engine catching on fire while laboring up a Montana mountain definitely put solitary grandeur and rugged individualism into perspective.
We also spend quite a lot of time hovering around the periphery of modern life. Affluent suburbs, gritty industrial ports, and gentrified metropolitan loft neighborhoods—if you look closely, you’ll see our semi truck parked there, trying hard to look as inconspicuous as a seventy-two-foot long vehicle can be. We are the invisible ones who slide our rig in behind the entertainment movieplex, the pet superstores, the Starbucks, the Walmarts. My husband and I are quiet and sneaky, like a couple of spies roaming across North America. And as I roam I listen, I eavesdrop on your conversations. I take note of what you are wearing, your accent, and your concerns.
The transition of the landscape we move through tells a story. Jagged mountains give way to hills and plains furrowed by rivers that shimmer to the sea. Each farm and town and city we pass through is a fixed point in your world, which changes constantly in mine. The inhabitants of these places create their stories, unaware that I am passing through and listening, nosing around, feeling the particular air of their town. The humidity, the loud laughter, the animals trotting alongside the roadside all pass by my truck window. Abandoned grocery stores, trendy shops, shade tree mechanics, and trailer parks flicker along as if they were in my own private movie.
Sometimes we park in a pull out under the stars, in the high desert, beside a river, next to a train that wakes us up all night long. Sometimes the only joint in town in the middle of the dry, cold wood smoke-smelling Oregon outback says, sure thing, you can park across the street for the night. Come on in. We got pizza, beer, pool tables. Once we broke down in Michigan and spent the weekend of the summer solstice watching a huge fireworks display over the water and fighting jet-sized mosquitoes, in a tiny lakeside community that appeared, like Brigadoon, as our truck sighed to a stop in a restaurant parking lot. Often we stay in loud truck stops that stink of diesel but are bursting with overheard conversation.
I fell backward into this life. My old life, the one where I was both a single woman living with hundreds of books in a Pippi Longstocking house by a cemetery and the life where I was a visual designer who went into a windowless corporate cubicle every day to pay for my front porch swing and my art supplies and my martinis with friends, that life flew away. I miss the books. I miss seeing my friends and my mother every week. I miss my loft art studio. I don’t miss the windowless office. My husband and I visit the house we own together every five weeks or so and we catch up on cookouts, yard work, paying our taxes, just like normal people, albeit with a certain schedule to adhere to. The rest of the time we get paid to travel and I observe the whole continent.
I have a makeup bag, a smart phone, a laptop and an e-reader. I can carry all these things, plus a few of pairs of clean underwear and some jeans in my two hands. There is a feeling of stunning power and freedom when your entire world and needs fit next to your bunk. Before I was laid off from my job, before my old life changed completely, my husband encouraged me to start writing again. When I was younger my love for writing used to intimidate me. I enjoyed doing it a lot and I took creative writing courses in college but it seemed so isolating, too demanding to consider as a career. This thing, storytelling, could suck you down into itself forever. Visual art seemed friendlier somehow, more social; easier to let go and pick up again.
Now, writing fits under my pillow, I can take it out any time I want.
It connects me back into this world I pass through.
While the other children were playing outside in the fresh air, Susan Hicks Wong was scrunched down in a tattered armchair inhaling the miasma of H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allen Poe and Shirley Jackson. After stints as an art director and textile designer, she now travels wild and free across North America as a long haul truck driver with her husband. She attended the 2013 Odyssey Writer’s Workshop. Susan reads and writes as the prairie rolls past and she still loves the funk of decaying old books.