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Jack Kerouac’s On the Road may have a little to do with why I am still alive today.
During finals week of my senior year in college, I suffered the breakup of the relationship I had spent my entire childhood dreaming about. I was so sad—numb and despondent, even.
Sitting at the bar spending half my graduation money, I remembered Sal Paradise, Dean Moriarty, and Carlo Marx. It hit me like a bolt out of a drunken haze.
I needed to get on the road.
My parents were unhappy about this decision, to put it mildly. I had just spent the last six months doing everything possible and jumping through far too many hoops to get accepted into the graduate English program at The State University of New York, but as far as I was concerned, that was off the table.
I knew that if I saw my ex-girlfriend walking down Main Street with another guy, I would be paralyzed. I really just needed to get away.
So, me and my roommate packed up a puke-green Westphalia Volkswagen van and headed west. During the long stretches through the Great Plains and much of the Midwest, I re-read Kerouac’s masterpiece and discovered something about him that I don’t think I was ready for when I first clapped eyes on it in tenth grade.
Although he will always be remembered for his romantic American pilgrimage and his philosophical observations along the way, his understanding of love and loss—in my opinion—transcends almost everything else. It inevitably led me to the study of his poetry and a deeper appreciation of his lyrical sensibility, which exists in his prose, as well.
I have compiled a list of some of his greatest thoughts on love:
1. “We turned at a dozen paces, for love is a duel, and looked at each other for the last time.”
2. “It’s not that I can’t fall in love. It’s really that I can’t help falling in love with too many things all at once. So, you must understand why I can’t distinguish between what’s platonic and what isn’t, because it’s all too much and not enough at the same time.”
3. “Life must be rich and full of loving—it’s no good otherwise, no good at all, for anyone.”
4. “Her little shoulders drove me mad; I hugged her and hugged her. And she loved it. ‘I love love,’ she said, closing her eyes. I promised her beautiful love. I gloated over her. Our stories were told; we subsided into silence and sweet anticipatory thoughts.”
5. “And the story of love is a long sad tale ending in graves.”
6. “I wished I was on the same bus as her. A pain stabbed my heart as it did every time I saw a girl I loved who was going the opposite direction in this too-big world of ours.”
7. “She talks with a broken heart. Her voice lutes brokenly like a heart lost, musically too, like in a lost grove, it’s almost too much to bear sometimes…”
8. “…most of the time we were alone and mixing up our souls ever more and ever more till it would be terribly hard to say good-by.”
9. “Lying mouth to mouth, kiss to kiss in the pillow dark, loin to loin in unbelievable surrendering sweetness so distant from all our mental fearful abstractions it makes you wonder why men have termed God antisexual somehow.”