I Was 18 When We Went to America
Here is that summer: three of us
in a beat-up silver car with a dent in the side
that makes the door stick. James behind the wheel
every day because we are not trusted to drive, Ross
knee-deep in empty Mountain Dew bottles, me
lounging in the back with nine pillows filched from
unmemorable motels. We drift from place to place in a way
only teenagers an ocean away from their parents really can.
Our unconcern is bold and beautiful and always new.
From Boston through Maine to Acadia, over the border
to Canada. Ever the rain and endless successions
of Dunkin’ Donuts. We learn new things about each other.
The boys know I need coffee before I can be pleasant
in the mornings, I know that James thinks of us always
before himself. I know that Ross can drink six bottles of
Diet Mountain Dew in a row and then make us stop every
five minutes for the bathroom, only the repeat the chain of events
every day without learning anything at all.
We nearly get caught up in riots in Montréal, but that
doesn’t really matter. We speak French when we check into a motel
on the freeway that night without even thinking about it.
Niagara and Detroit and we find the Sun. I take a night bus to New York
and make a friend, a man who shares his food and lets me fall asleep
on him shivering in the air conditioning though we’d never met before.
America is teaching me about people, how two in the same space
can be all the good and all the bad without feeling the chasm.
New York City is rainy and Ross won’t let me buy a record player.
I wouldn’t let him buy a gun in Acadia so I consider the debt paid.
We wander south, to Texas via Washington. James obsesses
over the history. The buildings are all too big for me, too impersonal.
It feels like melting to walk the roads between them with the sun
hot and fearless upon us. I drink so many iced coffees the car
won’t lose the smell for days. We camp in National Parks for a while,
bust three tyres in quick succession with no jack, no spare,
and only a friendly park warden and luck on our side to keep us
from paying six hundred dollars for a tow. He says, “Aw, come on now,”
into his phone, “You were eighteen once.” His friend gets us
a matching spare and we gush over him for days. Every night
in Big Bend we are reminded that none of us can cook, but
the daytime scenery makes that not matter much
in the scheme of things. I wanted this to be more poetic.
I’m not good at documenting, I can’t make the words
shape the beauty of sunset over the desert. We nearly die
in Utah, lost in the middle of nowhere for hours. Ross complains
about not having a gun the entire time. For some reason
we find the whole thing rather funny. Getting back to cities
feels odd after so long in the emptiness. The sky seems so much
further away. San Diego is unexpectedly quiet - the empty
Texas skyline should have made any city buzz in comparison
but the heat deadened the thing like a blanket. LA is big
and greener than expected, and we don’t see a single famous
person. But we do get great food and a charming stay with Ross’
family and that seems better, really. I get on a plane there and
they continue onwards, northwards. I don’t talk about that trip much
unless I’m detailing the funny parts. Here’s the thing: the funny parts
make the better stories, but all my heart is in the quiet moments
on empty roads where the sky sits serenely above us, looking only
to where it kisses the horizon. People joke sometimes
about putting road-tripping in America on their bucket list.
I never convey how fervently I mean it when I say to them, “You must.”
There are entire lifetimes in the way the sun goes down
behind the valley in Zion and the stillness of the Bubble Ponds