Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Road Trip: Mt. Hood to Washougal

Everyone told me the drive between Bend and Portland was one of the prettiest they've done.

Everyone was right.


The mountains sat in the distance, silent giants watching over the golden valley below. I don't quite know when the valley turned to forest. If I had to guess, it would have been right around the time Hermoine saved Harry's life when we traded open space for forest so dark and dense it turned the road into a canyon with only a strip of blue sky showing ahead. The green hurt my eyes, the colors so deep and vibrant I wanted to use a filter to tone them down to the dusty browns and greens of my drought stricken home.

The twists and tangles of the road took us deeper up the mountain. I turned off Harry as Joseph fell asleep and drove in silence, the hum of the car lulling the memories from my brain.

Mt. Hood is one of my mountains. Growing up, it was Hood, St. Helens, Adams, and Rainier who stood guard over the stretches of road and river where I spent my childhood. While Adams and Rainier were content to sit silently, Hood and St. Helens made themselves known - one with an eruption, both with death.

When I was in elementary school, a tragedy ensnared my imagination, forever painting Mt. Hood with a slightly sinister shadow. A group of high school students, teachers, and a guide embarked on a climb. Of those who pushed to the summit, four survived: two who were found alive on top of a pile of six bodies in a snow cave they built to protect themselves from the sudden spring storm and two who made their way down the mountain, searching for help.

As I drove up the mountain on a warm summer day, I couldn't help but think of those students, their families, and the time that's passed. Thirty years since I pored over The Oregonian and the daily news from the top of the mountain. Thirty years.

It's shocking to realize those sixteen and seventeen year old students would now be older than the adults who led the expedition. It's more shocking still to realize that I'm older than all but one teacher and a decade older the guide was at the time.

I flipped on the radio, drowning dark thoughts that had no place in the magic that was Highway 26. We drove through small towns, past campgrounds, and, finally, Portland and civilization.

My cell phone died, the only charger in the back of the car. We crossed the river on remembered directions and finally pulled off in a parking where I let the phone charge and we stretched our legs, so close to our destination, we could almost walk.

Almost.

We drove through the back roads, getting lost only once before arriving at the vaguely familiar home of the Byrums. I had a momentary panic that the amazing visit we'd had two years before had been a fluke and we were about to embark on an awkward holiday weekend.

I was, of course, wrong.

They opened their door and it was as if twenty four months had been days. In a few short minutes, the kids were in their suits, swimming under the trees while the adults caught up on the changes of the last couple of years.


The sun sets late in Washington in the summer. Late enough that by the time the kids changed out of their suits and got ready to eat dinner, I realized they'd been swimming far past their bedtime. While we waited for Makenzy to get back from work, Don and I sent the kids to bed and opened a bottle of wine, turning our conversation to people we knew, people we remembered.


Every visit, it seems, comes with news. And every visit, I realize yet again how far away I am. Makenzy came home and we finished our conversations in the quiet starlight. I went to bed that night in a pretty nook of a room, excited for the adventures still to come.



Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Road Trip: Around to Bend

When I was in the fifth grade, my best friend was Lacey Thacker.

Time makes memories fuzzy, but some stand out with perfect clarity:

Rainy days in the dusty library attic dressing up in costumes stored by the high school drama class.

Choreographing dance routines to Whitney Houston with passionate pleas to teach the children and let them lead the way.

Playing Labyrinth and concentrating on the marble's path while telling secrets too important to remember.

Jelly shoes and slap bracelets, being jealous of her blond hair and practicing putting on sticky lip gloss, the memories jumble and twist and I'm left with nothing but a feeling of the highs and lows of tween girlfriends.

I'm not sure when we drifted apart...sixth grade? Seventh grade? By high school, I was happily ensconced in nerdom and she was the willowy cheerleader. Still, when you're in a class of thirty-five, you're never really not friends. Which was why I enthusiastically accepted her invitation to stop and stay the night at her family's home in Bend.

After all, what's twenty-three years between friends?

We crossed into Oregon and as if a curtain lifted, were instantly surrounded by water. Lakes, rivers, streams, we soaked up the liquid with our thirsty California eyes. We'd been on the road for hours, stopping when we could, paying our respects at the Memorial Statue Garden, and eating Red Vines.

Harry Potter took over and we discovered, to Joseph and my dismay, that Elizabeth hates audio books. We hit a compromise - an hour of Potter followed by an hour of music - and drove past lakes so wide and long they looked like massive rivers. We made a last stop, walking from the bathroom to the nearby river. We stood in the frigid waters and let it soak into our dusty skin.


And finally, we reached Bend.

I was worried I wouldn't recognize Lacey. After all, it's been over two decades since I've seen her. We found her home in a maze of gorgeous stone and wood houses. She texted that she was walking from the pool and that her house was open. As we unloaded, I saw her walk to me, the same loose-limbed walk I remember from our treks across the baseball fields for band class every day for three years. The same easy grace I remember from PE volleyball.

We hugged and the years disappeared.



We joined her and her friends and family around the pool, eating a late dinner, letting a drink loosen my joints tight from sitting in the car. We talked of people we knew, people we know. We talked of children - her oldest daughter is sixteen, nearly the same age she was when we last saw each other and so similar it made memories flood. We returned to their house, letting the kids play while we continued talking, our words tumbling over until it because so very obvious that an overnight visit just wasn't enough.

The next morning, we drove to downtown Bend to a restaurant where I ate Cardomon and sea salt French toast I dream of and made me remember the PNW reigns the west coast. We stood in the hot sun, talking until, finally, I realized we needed to leave but not without exacting promises of visits, of camping trips. Promises that hung in the air like hopes and wishes, but, perhaps, ones that might come true.



We left Lacey's beautiful family and pointed our car west. West to the Bryums and Fourth of July fun. West through the mountains. West away from a small city where we'd found warmth and welcome.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Road Trip: We Heart Weed

When we were in our early 20s, Melissa and I - along with our friend Katrina - made a couple of road trips to Washington to visit our parents. We left after we got off work in the early evening hours and drove straight through the night, stopping three or four times for gas, food, and bathroom breaks. We usually arrived in Cathlamet shortly after breakfast, exhausted, but not nearly as much as we'd be if we tried to attempt the same trip in our late 30s and early 40s. We were, after all, used to being out all night and wandering bleary eyed into work with only a shower and a strong cup of caffeine to get us through the day.

The joke was, of course, that I usually took a Dramamine and fell promptly asleep in the backseat for five or six hours making me the worst road trip partner of anyone we knew.

This time, though, the only ones taking Dramamine were the kids and I didn't have a friend to jump in the driver's seat when I started to get tired.


We left the Sacramento valley behind us and started north on I5.

I have a very deep love of Interstate 5. When I was growing up, it was the main thoroughfare between our house and my aunt's. It was what connected me to my family when I moved to California and, as they followed me down here, it became the vein connecting us still. Whether they lived in LA or San Diego, I always knew I just needed to jump on the 5 and it would deposit me into their lives.

The 5 is familiar to me, reassuring in its wide, high speed way. But this time we were going to veer off its path and take a new road through the mountains and dipping into the valley of the Cascades. And the divergence started in Weed.


The buildings and manicured walls gave way to fields of sunflowers pointing their golden heads to the sky. We drove through farmlands and empty spaces filled with more Harry Potter. We took bathroom breaks - too many - until, finally, lulled by the sunshine, Elizabeth fell asleep in the back, her head resting on her big girl booster while Joseph fought to keep his eyes open and his imagination at Hogwarts. "Pause it, Mama," he finally said sleepily. And so I did.

I turned off the book and turned on the music letting Adele and Ruth B. keep me company while farmland slowly turned to tree-covered hillsides. Mt. Shasta rose from the valley floor, impossibly far away and then, somehow, it wasn't. It towered to my right, its peak partially covered in snow as we twisted our way through the foothills to Weed.


We'd decided to make Weed our lunch stop. I wasn't sure what there was, but the map showed a sparsely populated route after it. Road construction and slow traffic meant it was going to be a late lunch and an even later arrival in Bend.

There are all sorts of amazing apps to help plan a road trip. Apps that make finding a spot to eat or to stretch your legs easy. Apps that promise vistas and delicious food, perfect spots to sleep, and the best place to find a haunted site. The problem, I discovered as the kids snored in the back seat, is that on a solo adult road trip, I couldn't actually access those apps unless we stopped.

Which meant we were going to have to rely on a little bit of luck.

We pulled into Weed and parked the car outside a souvenir shop. I woke up the kids and got out of the car cursing the hereditary bad hips and knees. I limped to the back of the car and, while I was stowing away my purse and grabbing my camera, chanced a look up. When in the shadow of a mountain, the views can't help being majestic.

We walked down the main street, my hip slowly loosening until I stopped resembling a range rider after a four week cattle drive. We were hungry. The snacks we'd packed hadn't been a substitute for a real meal and right in front of us was a kitschy cafe promising meatloaf sandwiches and breakfast served all day.


We walked into the tiny restaurant, nearly getting run down by the waitress with plates lined down her arms. I pulled Elizabeth back and she said, "I've got nine of them at home. I know how to dodge a kid." I grinned and decided it was absolutely the spot for lunch.

It was simple food, but the cucumbers were crisp, the tomatoes were sweet, and the sweet potato fries perfect. We watched the regulars chat with the waitresses from our seats at the counter. We took a moment to look at the pictures the kids had taken on my cell, to enter an address into the map, and for me to sip my soda and let the caffeine restart my brain.


We wandered out by way of the gift shops. I said no to the tie-dyed shirts proclaiming its wearer's love of Weed and herded the kids back to the car. We were about to start on a stretch of unknown road that would lead us into Oregon.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Road Trip: Driving into the Night

The sun was low in the sky as I passed Gilroy. Elizabeth sat in the back seat watching a movie while Joseph and I listened to Harry Potter. Buildings flew past as I shifted into cruise control. One thought flashed repeatedly through my mind.

This isn't a good idea.

I'd been up since just before six and spent almost ten hours at work before loading the car and kids and heading north. Hundreds of miles stretched out before us and hours of driving.

There used to be a VW commercial that on the road of life there are passengers and there are drivers. The ad was aimed at the drivers, showing twisted roads and a sleek car hugging the curves. To me, it confirmed what I always knew.

I'm a passenger.

Traffic stresses me out, windy roads make my shoulders hunch, cliffs make my knuckles white. I'd much prefer to be sitting to the right of the driver, looking out the window than staring at the white and yellow lines.

Which is why 120 miles into a 1,900 mile solo road trip with the kids made the orange "Caution: Bad Decision" light blink in my head.

But I'm a stubborn sort, so I just kept driving north, telling myself I only need to reach the Bay Area and that a road trip would look better after a good night's sleep.

We were staying with a friend - though one I'd never met - for our first night. Amy had offered fresh sheets, clean towels, and a chance to meet in real life. We pulled into her driveway late, both of our kids awake far past their bedtimes and energized to an almost manic level. We weren't much different. Our words tumbled over each other as we tried to stuff years of online friendship into minutes before we all needed to go to bed; it was a work night for her and I wanted to be on the road early.

The morning was rushed: press of hugs, promises of proper time together, hurriedly packed snacks, waves goodbye.

In the light of day with a new road in front of us, the doubts of the night before were a memory and the knowledge that I'd be spending that night in Oregon with a friend I hadn't seen since high school graduation spurred us on.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Compass Points North

The gingers and I are embarking on a road trip this weekend. Leaving after work, the plan is to point the car north and continue on until we knock on the front door of our friends, the Byrums.

There will be stops along the way, overnight visits with blogging friends and high school classmates, people I've never met and those I haven't seen in 23 years. There's a scary sort of exhilaration at play, a sense of jumping out into the unknown, gingers in tow, and landing someplace that still feels like home.

The bloggy friends I'll meet know me. We are creatures of the writing world, sharing the same deep hopes, the same fervent dreams, expressing ourselves in words and witty bits.

The high school friends I'll see knew me. They knew the painfully awkward and shy girl I was. They knew the teenage facade of indifference. They knew the girl who formed the woman I am.

I plan on taking the kids to my hometown, population 538. I sent out a message on Facebook, that brilliant site that has provided a tether to my past. I should be able to see a few of the people I went to school with, a half dozen at least, I hope.

It's amazing that I've not seen them. We've kind of slacked off on the whole reunion thing. I never heard if there was a ten year and the twenty year wasn't really possible for me to attend. I see them all on social media, follow their families on trips, cheer when their children graduation, smile as they find love, and ache as they lose those they care for.

I was always a bit outside during high school. With the hindsight of an adult two decades past, I think maybe that's just how everyone feels during those years. Six months after I left home, I returned. For the first time, my phone rang and a boy was on the other side inviting me to join those classmates who had wandered home at a party to catch up with how things had been going in the great wide world.

My parents being who they were said no and me being who I was, respected their wishes. After all, I was in their home and the obedience of childhood was still strong.

I wonder, sometimes, what would have happened if I'd have gone to that party. Would I have reconnected as an adult? Would I have exchanged numbers and addresses, perhaps building a stronger relationship with my past? Would those stronger relationships have pulled me back when, two years later, I found myself adrift with no anchor?

When I left home, I left my life. It wasn't intentional, it was just how things were then. We didn't have social media or even the internet to keep up with people. There were no cell phones, no way to keep touch with people who moved or left or changed addresses.

I was talking to my co-worker Val the other day. She grew up here, raised her children here. When we go out to lunch, she sees people she knows - teachers, classmates, family. I told her how amazing that must feel to be so connected. She said she didn't know any different because she never thought to leave and can't look back at a moment and wonder what if.

Maybe that's what I'm doing when I visit home. Maybe I look back and wonder..what if?

It's not that I don't love my life and the people in it or the relationships I've built, but...

Who would I be? Who would I have married? It's not a small what if; it's a life changing fixed point in time. I was faced with a divide in the road and the path I chose sent me so far from where I came that every bit of me has changed because of it.

And it's a long drive back.

We're going to meander with a vague idea of how far each day should take us. I'm excited. I'm nervous. I'm anxious to get started with our grand adventure.



Friday, May 13, 2016

Angels Have Wings



"Heads up. The kids aren't doing so well with the idea of Gran's house being sold."

"Did they say why?"

"I didn't ask."

I sighed internally and made a mental note to delve deeper. It's how our method of co-parenting works. He gives me a heads up. I take the kids on a long drive and ask questions, praying I'll know how to handle the answers.

-----

"Daddy said you're not happy with selling Gran's house."

"I'm not," Elizabeth said, her jaw firm in her displeasure.

"It's a lot of changes, honey." I glanced in the rear view mirror at Joseph. He stared out the window at the passing houses, his expression closed. "Is there a reason it makes you unhappy?"

"It's Gran's house," Elizabeth said as if I'd asked what that yellow orb in the sky was. "Where is she supposed to go?"

"Does she still visit you?"

"All the time."

"Do you chat?"

"All the time."

I searched my mind for answers, ideas in how to help a little girl coping with the loss of her beloved great-grandmother. I stalled for time. "What about you, Joe?"

I stole another look. He shrugged, still staring out the window. "I'll miss her if we leave."

"You visit too?"

That got his attention. He turned to meet my eyes in the mirror in surprise. "Of course."

Silly me, thinking something as mundane as death would keep Gran from her babies. "Don't worry," I said with more authority than I felt. "We'll figure it out."

I looked at the two of them over my shoulder as I pulled into our driveway and gave an encouraging smile.

-----

I'm not certain what happens after we die. Sometimes I'm jealous of those with such spiritual surety, envying the confidence with which they say they will see their loved one again. I don't think, though, that it's the end and I have enough of the dreamer in me to believe in fairies and magic and spirits.

I don't doubt that my children communicate with their Gran, that she is still as present for them now as she was when she lived. I think, sometimes, as we grow up we begin to view the world as consisting of only those things we can see, feel, and touch and forget the flexibility we had as children.

But I still wasn't sure how to help them because, internally, I too wondered if Gran was tied to her home. When I reached out to Angela and Cam for advice, Angela said something that clicked, "Angels have wings. They can go anywhere."

It was one of those forehead slapping moments. An answer so simple it had eluded me.

-----

"You know...Gran has wings."

"I don't see them," Elizabeth said, her head tilted.

"They're probably folded up," Joseph told her wisely, "Like in Percy Jackson."

"It means she can go anywhere." I told them.

Both kids grinned.

-----

"I had lunch with Gran at school today."

"Really? That's wonderful."

"Uh-huh. Analeia and Viddy weren't at school today and I was sitting next to my other friend and no one was in the other seat so Gran sat with me."

"Did she chat with you?"

"No," she plopped on the couch next to me. "She was quiet, but Gran is almost always quiet."

"That's just how she is, Elizabeth. She's that way with me too."

-----

The house is nearly empty, the debris of life slowly disappearing. Some to thrift stores, some to family, some to be trashed. I picture Gran on the couch, her hands shuffling photographs. I remember holding one by its worn edges. She was sitting in the sand, squinting at the sun. Next to her two young boys stood, bare chested. She was tiny, perfect in her Marilyn Monroe one piece. Her dark hair was held back from her unlined face with its shy smile.

Joseph is right. Gran is almost always quiet.

I'm glad she has wings and my babies haven't really lost her.