Road trips have a tendency to bring out issues that were often tucked away under the bed. Even in a car with 4 or 5 people, there are moments of silent reflection. Everyone has his or her eyes out the window watching the landscape zip by. The thoughts run through the day. They run through the past weeks and months and years. And, often, they run through the future. What will be and what might be.
My reflective drive started in Philadelphia. I was making the 2 hour journey to Washington, DC because my cats were probably hungry. I could have flown back, but I needed the drive to forget occurrences and actions. There’s a certain ease to forgetting the obvious, that road trips are meant to pull out the boxes from under the bed. The beats knew it and wrote about their journeys “on the road.” College students understand it, piling into cars and seeing where the road takes them. Easy enough to forget though, that is, until you hit a tollbooth.
Tollbooth 1: $4.00.
The drive through Delaware and upper Maryland can be monotonous. The problem with monotony is that it makes you stop and think. Sometimes the thoughts aren’t positive and you can be bogged down by all the negative memories you have. Especially in a car, alone. No one is in the passenger’s seat to keep you focused. The music in the background just keeps buzzing along, the engine humming about is an enveloping white noise that drowns out everything except the moments.
And, like an echo, the same images flashed over and over. Images running over each other and resetting to the beginning every mile. The words I said, the words I should have said. A letter, written in earnest. Tears that I knew were there, for both of us. Cruel words and irresponsible actions. Lists of names and faces, the people I’ve hurt, the people I’ve let down. The small table between us a vast desert, keeping us both apart. The sadness of the scenes, the failures of the moments. And the running, always running away and never looking back. I could hear long, high-pitched buzzing, like a movie’s interpretation of being shell-shocked, and it was slowing everything down. I watched the speedometer dip from 70 to 60 to 50 MPH. Cars moved silently by, at what seemed to be impossible speeds. I wasn’t running anymore, I was trapped in the moments. Moments of loss. Stumbling from one aimless end to another. Inexperience.
It was clear to me then that I knew where hell was. Not some ethereal, monstrous place at the end of the tunnel, just after walking towards the light. It was here. These memories. This slow drive. Though I’ve gone from Philadelphia to Washington countless times, the stretch of 60 miles through Delaware and Maryland didn’t seem to have an end. Reverend Pearson was right, wasn’t he? We wouldn’t be condemned for an eternity later— I was in it already.
Tollbooth 2: $3.00.
I like the Fort McHenry Tunnel. For a moment, you don’t exist. Maps can’t find you. Phones don’t work. It’s a state of limbo, blissful purgatory. Although a short tunnel, it’s hard to remember what it was like before you entered and you wonder what the world will look like when you exit.
There are always these stories that right before you die, the entirety of your life flashes in view, like a home movie, and the bad times are there right in front of you. But don’t forget the good times, they appear too. The happy moments. The ones that you wish could last forever. Half way through the movie, everything just fades away and slowly the movie stops and turns into a sort of highlight reel, showing the most important part of your life.
And for me, the most important person in my life. Wavy dark hair, at times covered the sides of her face. Her laugh made her glow. Voice was sweeter than sugar cane. The way her eyes gazed could make anyone melt. Her words and wit echoed long after she was gone. I saw her walking along a beach boardwalk. I saw her holding a child and humming a lullaby. I saw her growing old, her wavy dark hair turning a distinguished gray.
Just before I pulled out of the tunnel, it dawned on me that the same song had played over and over for the past 2 hours. I was taken into a moment of a moment:
She lit a fire
And now she’s in my every thought.
And for $7.00 in tolls, at an average speed of 68 MPH, I figured out what my journey was telling me.
It sounds like a Nicholas Sparks novel or a Nora Ephron movie. Maybe something Bollywood would concoct. Yet, I realized that despite my experiences and actions, the mistakes I’ve made and the good I’ve done, I never knew what it really meant to love someone so much that they became your world. Never realized it before, but I had actually been seeing it for a long time, through my sister and her husband, who everyday seem like they look at each other the same way as when they first met and working together to build a family. And my mother, who, even after these 24 years since my father passed, still says she’s been married for 31.
We’ve all heard this before, but the woman “in my every thought,” with her wavy dark hair and dulcet voice, I realized had always been the first person I thought of every morning and the last person when I went to bed. It wasn’t just any love, it was her’s. So maybe, as Sparks and Ephron have consistently written and visualized and Bollywood dancers have sung about, we’ll run into each other again and this time, I’ll be ready. For moments of joy. Walking tall and proud from one destination to the next. Experienced and ready.
But that’s what road trips are for, isn’t it? It’s a journey of purification, hours and hours of suffering and fighting for a beautiful end, the destination. When I parked my car and shut off the engine, I was ready to fight for my beautiful end.