“Maybe this isn’t such a good idea,” he thought to himself, pulling into a gas station. Jeremy sat inside his ancient silver Sebring and considered turning around altogether. “How well did he really even know MiKayla?” he wondered. They had met at a Halloween party last year while he was visiting a friend in California and had hit it off surprisingly well but Jeremy had never been one to jump into things and now he was driving across the entire continental United States to meet up with a girl he had met once. He shook his head in disbelief every time he thought too hard about it. “Maybe I really should turn around,” he thought again as he passed another exit sign.
Amarillo was peaceful in the twilight and though his air conditioning had puttered out 250 miles ago, it was cool enough in October that he drove with his front windows down and enjoyed the wind on his face. He was able to take this spontaneous trip because his job had dissolved his position earlier in the month and had been commitment-free for two weeks now.
That meant that Marley had broken up with him almost 4 months ago. The thought hurt less than he expected. She had decided after eight years together, that she no longer felt what she once had and that it wasn’t fair to either of them to continue dragging the relationship out when they could be spending this time finding themselves and who they were truly meant to be with. But this was the problem to Jeremy: Marley had decided. He had had no say in the matter. He guessed that that’s how most breakups were. You couldn’t force someone to love you but the odds were that one participant did not want the breakup to be happening and that was just the way it was. He didn’t really blame Marley, he just couldn’t decide how he felt or who he was anymore. Jeremy flipped his headlights on as the sun faded in the distance, illuminating only cacti and an infinite stretch of road.
Mikayla was a surprise. She had sent him a message on Facebook after he had finally changed his relationship status to ‘single’ and after a few weeks of conversation, had invited him to meet her in the middle of Colorado. He had been moping for a few weeks at that point, his relationship ended and his career put on hold and thus had no current commitments. Clearly, given the state of upheaval that his life was in right now, he was doing something wrong, so he decided to do exactly the opposite of what he would normally do, and agreed to meet Mikayla at the Great Sand Dunes National Park.
And while this may have been an abnormal decision for Jeremy, it was not for Mikayla in the slightest. She was the type of person who worked only jobs that could be done remotely and hopped onto planes with four hours’ notice and stopped the car in the middle of nowhere to check out a thrift store or restaurant that had caught her eye. Jeremy knew this just from following her life on social media for the past year and was amazed and a little scared of this characteristic of hers.
His phone rang as if he had summoned Mikayla from his thoughts just then.
“Hey, man! Where ya at?” Mikayla asked. Jeremy put the phone on speaker and checked the GPS.
“It looks like I have about six more hours of driving so I think I’ll call it a night and find a place around here to stay. Can I meet you tomorrow?” Mikayla had already been in Colorado for a few weeks and had been staying at an Airbnb in Colorado Springs, about three hours from the national park, but had driven down to camp at the park for the weekend.
“Yeah, that works for me” she answered. She was a very go-with-the-flow kind of person and this change in schedule would’ve been something he dreaded bringing up to Marley, but he knew Mikayla wouldn’t mind either way. They arranged a meeting time for the next afternoon and he promised to hurry.
“Just enjoy the drive!” she replied. “I don’t have anywhere to be in a hurry and I have my mobile hotspot so I can just keep editing this cut until you get here.” So Jeremy pulled into the next motel with a vacant sign and dropped his backpack and suitcase on the bed before walking next door to the Big Texan Steak Ranch and Brewery for some dinner and beer.
The next night, Jeremy and Mikayla lay on their respective sleeping bags and mats, staring up at the stars, in a comfortable and total silence. He had arrived at the Dunes Visitor Center around six o’clock the next day, having woken up at his leisure and sat reading saved news articles on his phone at the continental breakfast of the Hampton Inn before leaving at noon. He was reveling in the freedom of not having any hard commitments or deadlines and surprisingly, really enjoying himself.
His corporate life alongside Marley had always been planned in excruciating detail with expected timelines for their long term plans and lots of calendars and phone alarms for everyday happenings and while he had gotten used to the structure, he knew that this had been a part of their downfall. The firm lines of their life allowed for no spontaneity and brewed resentment and eventually they found themselves only existing in the same house with a shared Google calendar and not much else. He had known too. Marley had just been the only one brave enough to admit it. Not that he didn’t miss her. But these two weeks on the road had allowed him to remember how gratifying it could be to make decisions based solely upon the goal of happiness.
Mikayla had met him at the Visitor Center and they had hiked to her campsite from there, arriving just as night began to fall. She teased him about having to set up his tent in the dark but lit three lanterns around the site and together they assembled the structure and fed the poles into the nylon before sitting down next to the campfire with aluminum pouches of peppers and zucchini and potatoes and a thermos of soup to share.
Jeremy had been nervous about what to expect from Mikayla initially. Was her invitation to join him actually an invitation for something else? Was he agreeing to something he was unsure of by accepting her invitation? Of course, he thought she was attractive. But he was drawn mostly to her personality and open-mindedness. Nothing was off the table for Mikayla. She would try anything, go anywhere, or consider anything once and he did not know how it was possible to live life this way but had decided that he wanted to learn from her.
But as they lay on the sand in the middle of nowhere, he didn’t feel any pressure from Mikayla, just contentment. He was not ready to even consider a life with anyone besides Marley, though he knew their life together was truly over, and he needed this time to catch his breath and learn how to be by himself and be happy with that and Mikayla seemed to understand that without any discussion being necessary.
“I can’t believe there are so many of them,” she said. He smiled to himself as he gazed up.
“Have you ever had one of those moments where you think to yourself ‘This is good and I am happy and I want to remember this moment specifically?” Like you want to file it under the label of ‘most important moments to remember’ in your head? I just want to remember how I feel right now forever.” Jeremy said.
“Yeah, definitely” Mikayla replied. “But sometimes I think that about the bad moments too so that I can appreciate days like today more. You don’t appreciate the good stuff as much if you don’t have all of life’s shit to compare it to.” Jeremy thought about that.
“Like on the way out here to Colorado my car battery kept dying. I thought it was just something dumb like I’d left the lights on or hadn’t shut the door all the way but it turns out there was corrosion from a bad installation and it had to be completely removed and cleaned out and replaced and it cost way more than I had budgeted for this month and pushed my trip back a few days but I remember thinking “In the long run, how much did this negatively affect me? Not that much.” Some awesome mechanic got it fixed up for me and I got to hang out in his garage and play tug-of-war with his dog and get more editing done and I would’ve been doing the same thing in my hotel room. Money is just money and I still enjoyed my time and it made me enjoy this moment even more because it took more work to get me here.”
“I didn’t know all that happened. Why didn’t you call me?” Jeremy said, propping himself up and turning to her.
“’ Cause it just wasn’t that big of a deal in the long run and I had it under control. ” Mikayla replied, shrugging. “I made it out here and now I get to stare up at these stars with no lights or noise.” Jeremy laid back down.
They were both quiet for a few minutes.
“I’m glad I met you, Mikayla.”
“Me too, Jeremy.” He could hear the sigh in her voice.
“It’s just that if you don’t make sure that you’re happy and that you like your life, who’s going to, ya know?”