I am most likely a road trip. I go on for too long, like a cheap pop song, in every direction. I’ve probably spent half my life between minivans and U-Haul trucks, just another piece of luggage. Consider me the Great American iteration: it’s a family in a car with the kids and the dog, eating PB and Js out of a cooler and picking the crumbs off of their laps. It’s missing the exit and taking a two-hour detour riddled with poison darts of passive-aggression. And then it’s stumbling into a roadside hotel, sleeping between sheets that smell like bleach, groaning over the break-your-back mattress until someone puts a mandatory “shut up” order into place. Forgetting where you are at any given time is a natural side effect.
Are we in Virginia? One of two Carolinas?
Is that still the Gulf of Mexico?
Consider us the Great American Experiment: I’m learning math out of a used textbook in the backseat while we drive to Texas for the burial of a Colombian cousin I’ve never met; then Kentucky and Tennessee blur together in an ongoing monotone, a note held out into infinity, and I’m reading Ayn Rand with my head against the window. My mother calls it car-schooling; we laugh at our irreverence. I can recommend the best rest-stops on the Eastern Seaboard, if you’d like—do stop for roadside peaches in Georgia, and don’t, in the name of all that’s holy, stop in Jersey. I’ve seen almost every state but never far-flung Alaska or Hawaii—and only because you can’t get there by car.
In my dreams I sometimes drive in montage with Iowa corn sprouting from red Oklahoma dirt and the distant roar of Atlantic waves tumbling inside my ears.
We tell time by when we went here or there—yes, that was Florida-to-Maine, so it must’ve been 2013. We don’t think it’s strange to have been everywhere and yet be from nowhere. I don’t consider it a perversion until I drop a “y’all” between my words and an eyebrow shoots up. And the sniggers: “Didn’t you grow up in Jersey?”
I don’t remember any of the houses we lived in before the third. And even then, there’s only a kitchen in my mind, with a Spanish-style backsplash and yellow paint on the far wall. If you ask me where I’m from I’ll tell you Florida—if someone asks you for the time, you don’t tell them how to build a clock. Does it really matter if I can walk in Boston from the North End to Newbury Street without a map?
Sometimes I wish I was a plane trip, from here to there—a discounted one-way ticket. I wouldn’t have to explain the state of things in alternate edits, “long answer” and “short answer.” But I’m a car on a highway, straddled between this place and that, with memories of Where I’ve Been in the rearview and wild imaginings of Where I’m Going just far enough ahead to pull me on, on, a string tied around my ribs, and I’m straining toward the ache of belonging.