i was driving. very fast. due west. i couldn't remember exactly the events that had lined themselves up to lead me to this point. it was all a rushy blur. my heart was pounding as i thought back in time. but i couldn't get past that morning in my mind.
but i was driving and i was HAPPY. i was beaming, smiling, ear to ear. teeth showing and all. my face hurt from smiling so hard. my cheeks ached. a headache was forming.
when we left, it was warm. far too warm to be january in florida. somewhere midway through louisiana, it started to cool, and now i had the windows down and the heater set to high, blowing up from the floorboard. a favorite sensation.
it had been a rough road. literally. i had tried to fit everything that meant anything to me in my car. i had made a clean break. my life had changed so many times over that i was a completely different person. barely recognizable as my self. even my reflection was different.
i woke up one day. and i wasn't the same. and never would be again. i suddenly knew what i wanted, and would stop at nothing to get it. being confined for so long, i had broken free, flown the coop. i was making a new life, for myself. for ME. for the first time in my life.
it began in a tiny apartment. very, very simply. a bed with a bright red comforter. a small round white kitchen table with two chairs. a furry white rug. a white laquered table, long and skinny, topped with a tv and a stereo. and one painting on the wall - i'd painted it within weeks of waking up.
everything was white. everything was clean. everything was quiet.
i went on in my day to day life, feeling empty and awake. like i had been deprived of my senses for years. nothing looked the same. the leaves on the trees were a shimmering green. nothing smelled the same. coffee made me want to be in my bed, dreaming again. nothing felt the same. the cool metal and warm plastic of my bicycle beneath me made me want to rush to wherever i was going, especially when i was riding home. nothing sounded the same. lyrics that had passed me by had a whole new meaning, applicable somehow in my life before, but now as they were intended to be applied. nothing tasted the same, pumpkin cheesecake and chocolate chip cookies made me long for my mother's kitchen.
everything had awakened in me. at first, there was an immense sadness. i was so sad that my life had become something that was so unhappy, so dulling. like a headache that sneaks up on you, slowly irritating and ruining your day until it is substantial enough to elicit a response.
then a dramatic fear. one that kept me from eating for days on end. and i am a girl who loves to eat. there is no shame in filling a third plate at the indian buffet.
a vacation from my life, a new beginning based on epiphanies i could only have realized in the precise situation i was immersed in. if any one aspect of my time away had been different, the end result would likely not have been the same. it was a perfect storm. it was devastating.
but a few things happened then, and once realized, there was no turning back. no going back. no coming back from that. i boarded a plane filled with such dread. i didn't want to leave, which was nothing new. but it was never from the dread of returning back to my life.
when the plane pulled away from the gate, taxiing to the strip to take off, i wanted to scream LET ME OUT OF HERE, i can't go!!!' instead, i quieted my screaming mind, and cried silently, hiding my face beneath the brim of a hat. and i couldn't stop. i finally calmed myself down, mostly out of embarrassment, and read more of a book that told me all the problems i was dealing with, and what would most likely come of it.
i fought it. i fought it long and hard, tooth and nail. holding strings that no longer held balloons. trying to fight the inevitable. out of sheer stubbornness, and a desire not to fail in life. wanting to keep my parents proud, not disappoint them.
but time passed. and all the work was in vain. and we called it quits.
it was a slow untangling that followed. amicable, yet stressed. strained. tense. separating ten years of time spent together, piece by sad little piece. into boxes. and up. and out. and away.
everything else in my life stayed the same. i did the same things, i went to the same places, i kept the same job. believing that, one day, if i stayed how i was then, life would be its new version of normal, and that i wouldn't feel so horrible and awful anymore. that i would be forgiven.
and one day it was. the apartment was set up, i came home from work, i got into my pjs and climbed under my warmest blanket in the middle of the day, pulled taut to my chin, in clenched fists. i had a good cry, and then a cup of hot chocolate with extra mini marshmallows. and it was over. i was free from the burden, from the decision that had bound me. finally.
and i decided that i'd waited long enough. and that i had wasted enough of my life waiting. and i put a calendar on the wall, and circled a date. it was six months away. it was very near my birthday. it was the day that i would leave. for a trip home. that would last exactly one month. until new years' day. and that i'd have exactly that much time to decide if, what i felt in my heart was worth the sacrifices it would take to make it happen, it was worth it.
i'd planned it out meticulously. which is quite unlike me. i like to fly by the seat of my pants. but this trip needed to be thought about, really thought out, and i needed details to commit myself to the decision to take the trip, under its circumstances and conditions.
six months moved along. with one week left, i let him know that i'd be coming home.
i'd rented a storage space. anything i had of value, i stored away. and i left my tiny apartment that had seen so many firsts in my life. my darkest days, initially. and finally finding happiness in the end, again.
i put the things i couldn't live without in my car. and hit play on three days' worth of music i'd compiled into one long playlist, and started driving south.
sixteen hours later, i was home. everything was as it had always been, but everyone looked at me through different eyes. eyes that made me feel like a quitter. like i'd let them all down, only none of them voiced the sentiment. they just looked at me with those eyes.
and one night, my phone rang. and by the end of the night, things were again how they'd always been.
and now here we were. smoking endlessly chained cigarettes. together. driving to the grand canyon, to throw our old lives in, and leave with a new one. it was new years' day.
i had so many questions. i'd been thinking them up over many years, since the last time we'd played 20 questions together. when he was my seatbelt keeping me safe in the passenger side of his car, on our way to dark spaces to stare at the sky.
where we were headed at this hour, well, it was to be the best place we'd ever seen the sky. and i'd been before, as had he. but it was different being there together. it seemed so unfair that we'd have to wait through two more days of driving to get there. we were stuck in the eternal loop of driving through texas. which felt like it would never end. the sky was dark, the sun rose, the sun set again, still in miserable texas. i hate texas. its sole purpose is to keep you from getting where you're going.
but on just the other side sat new mexico. and i'd loved new mexico, in passing, the last time i'd driven west. the long trains slipping through the desolate desert in the night. lights moving along with the pace of the car, seemingly toward the same destination at the same speed, yet somehow, not. the scale of the space was so unbelievable to me - i realized that the trains always seemed to be so close, relative to the mountains, but that if i thought about it, the distance between them would have been miles on each side.
shadows of clouds moved along the ground, on top of the rocky landscape. the flats of texas slowly gave rise to the hills and small mountains that slowly gave rise to the shape of the mountains. crazy pillared mountains that look as though they are made of magic sand and run on together forever. the magic sand that lets you build stalagmites in water, and when pulled from the water become dry sand in your hand again. and the pillar mountains gave way to the canyon landscape so slowly that it wasn't realized.
then we were in arizona. the stars were moving about the sky, new constellations revealing themselves in the stark darkness. and then, many hours later, we were there.
staggering trees lined the two lane highway into the national park. as had been the case the first time, some elk had wandered into the road after dark, when twilight was darkening and stars were beginning to appear much brighter in the windshield. the car was in park. we were so antsy and excited at being nearly there. we were bouncing expectantly in our respective seats, bodies shaking with anticipation. and the gut wrenching realization that one mile on either side of the car lay the vastness of the grand canyons struck me so hard that i trembled.
carved out over millions of years, telling a story so beautiful. so awesome. in the most literal sense of the word.
we'd decided somewhere in texas to camp out under the sky. it was a cold desert night. much too cold to actually go through with the camping plan. no degree of closeness could warm enough in this weather. without seeing the beauty surrounding us, we sulked and decided on a hotel.
then i remembered.
the morning when everything changed... the morning after the night he called. still awake, still together talking. hours had passed. and for the first time in my life, i was anything but regretting what had been spoken aloud in the moment, from my heart to my mouth.
there had been a very sweet kiss. so slight. only hinting at something simmering beneath - i had held back. and i was okay with initiating it, because i'd waited long enough already. he kissed me back, briefly. and then we just laid there, staring into each others' faces in that moment. and i said it.
'come with me. right now. i have to leave now, i want to take you with me. but it has to be RIGHT NOW. will you come with me?'
he wanted to know where i was going, and how long i'd be gone. i told him i was going to the grand canyon by car. and that i didn't know when i'd be back, or if that was even the final destination. he had so many questions, i just wanted him to come unconditionally, but he had a life before i rolled into town and into his life again, so i was trying to wait for his answer patiently.
he said, 'we'll get some sleep. and pack and leave first thing in the morning.'
'really?' i said with so much shock and wonder that my voice wobbled and my eyes teared up. i had been waiting my entire life for this one solitary moment to define it, and i was here. i was in it.
i couldn't sleep, but let him. i decided that he could drive the first leg while i rested in the car, and i watched him sleep. i just wanted to be there immediately, and knew that i had three days' driving ahead of me. i was incredibly antsy and excited. and awake.
and here we were. three days later. so close to the campsite, waiting on nature to run its course. waiting for the elk to realize that we were, in fact, waiting for them to move.
and after about 20 minutes of the car in park and the engine turned off, they moved. just as they had fifteen years earlier. i started the car, pulled slowly away, deeper into the canyons that teased us from the other side of the trees.
we pulled into the hotel parking lot, got a room, and tried to sleep. because it was night, we had yet to see anything. we made a pact to wake up before the sun, and make our way to the rim with coffee, to see the sunrise over the most beautiful place in the contiguous states.
and we did. cracked out from three days pent up in a car, and sleep deprived after a fitful attempt at rest, excited for what the morning would bring. we made our coffees and shared a wool blanket, shuffling along together, slowly, huddled, sipping carefully, so as not to spill. tightly bound together by the plaid blanket, arms laced at each others' hips.
we were not the only people there before sunrise, with the same dream. we walked the paths until we found a spot no one else had found. we were there, finally. squinting our eyes in the darkness, adjusting to the silent darkness. there was no guardrail, there was just the end of the earth. and the abyss.
we stepped carefully, closer to the edge. within three feet of the edge, stomachs dropping from under us at the thought of falling in. and inched backwards.
and stood waiting. like solemn children, waiting.
the sky turned from navy to true blue, from cerulean to turquoise so quickly. the sun peeked up from a place so far away that the space between us and the sun looked like an oil painting. like a backdrop for a film, painted to scale on a set. my eyes were streaming tears. it was the most beautiful thing i had ever seen. and he just held onto me from my side, not wanting to affect my experience, but wanting to share it with me. squeezing. comfort. appreciating it deeply, personally.
i threw the things from my life into the canyon: disappointment, fear, regret, sadness. we slowly backed away from the edge once the sun was free from the horizon, and in the sky.
i didn't know what he was thinking at that moment. i was mostly sure that he was happy he'd dropped everything to come on my crazy adventure with me. i was entirely sure that he was glad he was there.
we stayed for three days in the canyons. we continued west, to san francisco - my favorite city - and up the coast, staying with an old friend in oregon, before making it to washington state, to seattle.
then the long, sad trip back to our lives as they were, before i'd interrupted them with my impromptu road trip. carving our way diagonally. down, down, through idaho. wyoming. down through tornado alley during its off season. eventually down through arkansas, alabama, the panhandle.
a few hours later, i pulled into the driveway where i'd picked him up eleven short days before. we'd gone so far, in so little time, all things considered. he grabbed his knapsack from the back seat, slung it haphazardly over his shoulder, and his compass from the dash. he said goodbye in an understated, tired way, and looked back to wave from his front door. he unlatched his door, stepped in slowly, and closed the door behind him.
i backed out of his driveway slowly, sadly.
driving home, i kept forgetting that he wasn't in the passenger seat next to me. i'd start to say something, after my thoughts carried me away. open my mouth and sigh inward, then out instead of starting a sentence that would never be said aloud. i stared at the empty car seat next to me. i preferred him sitting in it. i preferred him.
i drove home, to my mother's kitchen, for a hot meal, and to sleep and recover.