The road trip is my idea. The alternative is to sell the car. Paying professionals to move it from San Francisco to Chicago is out of the question. That would probably cost more than the car is worth. Besides, she is enthusiastic over the idea of a road trip. I try to read her face, to understand if her enthusiasm is more for the opportunity to visit national parks and monuments or if it is more for the opportunity to spend five more days with me before the inevitable.
To be honest, the ‘inevitable’ is likely entirely in my head. I planted it there the day she got the letter from the dean of admissions. Of course I was happy for her but but the happiness was tinged with apprehension for it meant we had to reevaluate where we stood. Strangely enough we never spoke about it in the three months since, maybe fearing the outcome.
We split responsibilities like we always do when we vacation together. I take responsibility for planning the entire trip. Meticulous as I am I create a spreadsheet of places to visit. My plan involves 6 days of travel and 5 nights of camping. Camping? I decide we should carry a tent and camp all the nights. Yes. It’ll be fun. Trust me. The hardest part is probably to convince her she won’t be awake all night because of bugs or lights or sounds.
She takes responsibility for packing food. Sandwiches for the first day. Fruits, snacks and energy bars for the rest. Lots of water. I reluctantly let her be in charge of music. It is after all her farewell.
The trunk of the car is entirely her stuff. Clothes. Shoes. Books. I stare at a stuffed koala for a long time before I shut the trunk. Does my overstuffed purse bother you? she had asked when she saw me shaking my head as she tried to find something, maybe an eyeliner, in her obviously overstuffed purse. Not at all. You can have a stuffed koala in there for all I care. And she did just that the next weekend.
The drive the first day is pleasant. After a few hours on the freeway she tells me to take the next exit. As I take the exit she changes the song on her mp3 player to my favorite song at the moment. She tells me to pull over into a deserted parking lot. We listen to the song with her hands in mine, my lips on hers. I love her spontaneity.
At night we pitch our tent and sit next to it watching stars in the sky, with only the sounds of crickets in our ears. This is so romantic, she tells me. We try to form patterns of stars in the sky. Pure randomness. Some people make a living by divining meaning in the stars. I shake my head. There is meaning if you know what you want to find, she says, The same star that looks like a snowflake tonight will look like a thorn other nights.
At Yellowstone national park a bison in the middle of the road stops traffic. I find it humorous. She is so irritated she even forsakes her vegan vows. For once I advocate eating the meat of that dumb beast.
The geysers are breathtaking. Old faithful is one that erupts at predictable intervals. This is why nature is a woman, I say, Every step has a calendar. You are just jealous she performs every single time, she says.
At mount Rushmore she poses for a picture. Perfect. You have a head as big as theirs, I joke. Keep talking, wise guy, she says, and yours will be as cold as theirs.
Most of the drive east of there is through flat, deserted lands. We pass through a national park aptly named badlands. When you are gone who will want to rush me to the emergency room every time I sneeze? I ask her. Hey, the only reason I would want to rush you anywhere would be to save myself from whatever you have, she says. Self preservation.
By the time we reach Chicago we are tired. Well, here we are, I say, we made it and your car made it.
I might be better off selling it considering the abuse it took, she says. She pauses then says, If I owned it just for the road trip it would totally be worth it. I smile and nod in agreement.
Are you ok with the distance between us? I ask, finally broaching the topic.
Yes, she says. I think I had enough of you for the last five days. I don’t want to see you to till my winter break. You?
It’s never enough, I say, I am a glutton for punishment, remember?
Forever? she holds her pinky out.
Forever, I lock my pinky in hers.