This weekend, I drove for miles, most of it through central Illinois. Maybe because I was driving Gorilla Girl and Monkey Man who were snoozing on and off, and maybe because I was listening to favorite old songs on my ipod, or maybe just because the sky was huge, I was reminded of many drives I’d taken on these middle-of-the-country interstates. It was a memory soup, with random and seemingly disconnected memories surfacing. The road was the pot, and each memory a morsel for savoring.
Morsels of Memory in No Particular Order
- Spring break, March 1988. Driving with my college roommate in her sky blue Chevy Chevette (a skateboard with doors, as my dad called it), from Grinnell, IA to Cheyenne, WY, then back to Chicago, IL. We made the return trip from Cheyenne to Chicago with an enormous tumbleweed in the hatch of the hatchback. I chased the elusive weed down on the side of a road in WY somewhere and for several years, through many moves, it hung above my head as I slept. That was my only “spring break” trip of college, and it was memorable because we danced on the side of the road, smoked way too many cigarettes, and somehow didn’t set the tumbleweed on fire.
- Road tripping with yet another college roommate to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival summer of 1988, or was it ’89? I think we got lost along the way. The drive was not particularly memorable, except for the getting lost part, but the Fest, now that was a memory. Most memorable, aside from the awesome music, was being eaten alive by mosquitoes. For some reason, we did not have a tent, and we slept outdoors, in sleeping bags, but our faces and much of the rest of our bodies were exposed to those voracious Michigan skeeters. Who knows how much blood we lost!
- Chaperoning my former track team, about ten teenage girls, to the State track meet in Charleston, IL. On the trip downstate, we listened to women only on the CD player. I remember vividly listening to F*** and Run by Liz Phair – probably inappropriate at the time, but it made for revealing van conversation with a bunch of teenage girls.
- Driving home, again, Spring Break of 1988, after just arriving back in Grinnell. My dad called to say my mom was in the hospital, diagnosed with cancer, just days after I had been there. I made the trip back to Chicago, alone this time, with my thoughts and worries.
- On the return trip of our one and only trip to The West, I drove while Ed snoozed. The ten or twelve hours in the driver’s seat seemed easy as we zoomed through South Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin before entering Illinois. During those hours, I recalled our hiking trip in the Bighorn Mountains. It was June, so we were the ONLY people camping at the state run camp ground. We set up our tent and headed out for a hike. The cloud rolled in, thunder pealed, and we were merrily following the trail markers for the cross-country ski routes. At some point, we lost the markers, and were wandering for hours in circles. We avoided many piles of bear scat, fresh looking stuff. The rain fell steadily, lightening struck, and yet we wandered. It was hours, we were drenched to the bone, shaking with cold, and I was sure we were going to be eaten by a bear. However, Ed’s sense of direction and his perseverance got us back to the campsite. It was a long cold night, but we were inside our bear-free tent. As I drove through South Dakota, I thought about this journey. Later, it seemed that it was a symbol of our struggle – we had lost a pregnancy the fall before this trip and were embarking on a more intentioned journey to parenthood. Making our way to parenthood was fraught with dangers and uncertainty, just like our hike. Ed’s diligence and sense of direction got us home in those mountains and maybe it got us through to sunshine on the other side of uncertainty and loss.
My drive on Friday with Monkey Man and Gorilla Girl was not fraught with danger or worry (unless listening to Gorilla Girl whine about how hot she was, then how cold she was, then how hungry she was can be classified as danger to one’s sanity), was not filled with the innocence of college days, or the exuberance of coaching teenagers. The time I spent driving, however, reminded me of these journeys. Driving through the middle of the country, tucked away in our cars, we seem disconnected from the very places that define and form us. Yet, somehow in each of the journeys that I remembered on my weekend drive, I used that isolated space chew on memories of who I was then and how that is part of me, still. Leaving one place, arriving at another, I recalled the moments of quiet, of laughter, of song, of wonder at the vastness of it all. On the other end, as I exited the vehicle, I was still me, but perhaps some new morsels have been added to the simmering pot.
I don’t think we wandered for HOURs. But it was certainly an hour.
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