Looking back from Lookout Mountain

Photo credit: Bobby Jones - The Sentry

Photo credit: Bobby Jones – The Sentry

There’s a hill somewhere in Denver with a startling nighttime view. As a child, I’d hold my breath as we approached the crest of it, viscerally anticipating the moment when the dark pavement would drop out ahead of our car and give way to the expansive network of city lights that make up the metro area. It was a moment I wanted to live inside of for as long as I could.

I don’t know where that hill is now. I don’t want to find out. Chances are, I’ve driven my own car over its crest a hundred times, but I’ve lost access to the arresting sense of wonder I once hoped I’d feel every time my family left the house. If that’s true, my stomach no longer tricks me into thinking I’m riding a roller coaster on the descent, and my brain can no longer convince myself I’m on top of the world in my everyday life.

During my freshman year of college, before Uber and Lyft were operational in Colorado, my roommate developed the expensive habit of renting cars just to reclaim the pleasure of aimless driving. I encouraged her. Together we ignored our many responsibilities in favor of feeling the texture of the pavement beneath the wheels of the day’s Ford Focus or Hyundai Sonata or, when we were feeling especially adventurous, low-end BMW. She was already ZipCar’s most frequent renter in Denver when she discovered Lookout Mountain and drove me up its midnight shadowed roads for the first time in my adult life.

And there it was again, the feeling I held my breath for as if the ache of my lungs would slow the pace of time—there was the whole city grid, its highways ablaze with crowded headlights, its  individual houses lost against their neighbors’ quiet glow. I’d spent the last decade living in Florida, which was too flat to see in totality, and in Tennessee, which was too unpopulated to look magnificent at a distance. We went back at least once a week until the school year ended.

Since then, I’ve moved into different apartments, known—and grown apart from—different roommates, and become a different person myself. Through it all, I’ve always found myself at Lookout Mountain. Whether I taxi visiting friends or drive up its winding roads after pitch meetings just because it’s raining, just because I used to love driving in the rain, I go to look at something whole. Even when we feel like we’re going alone, there’s something about seeing all those individual lights meeting each other at their blurred edges that reminds me how inextricable we are from one other.

I’ll be moving away from Denver soon, and part of that adjustment has involved going to Lookout Mountain three times in the last week. When everything else changes, these are the things that remain the same: the same city grid, at once celestial and indistinguishable from others like it (as I am both the same and indistinguishable from the last version of me who ascended the mountain); the same sense of wonder I still fear losing; and the same desire to hold my breath as if I can hold onto the moment just a little bit longer. 

Taylor Kirby
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