“I think we keep left here” I say, folding the corner of the interstate map. He turns the wheel with one hand while the other rests upon my knee. The windows are open- not too far- but far enough for a few strands of hair to break free of His knit hat. The sharp winter air sends energy through my lungs and even though we’re driving down the freeway, the whole world feels frozen in time.
It’s early in the morning- so early that the sunlight has yet to shine through the mountaintops. We drive in silence, neither one of us reaching to turn the music on. But the silence isn’t uncomfortable or eerie, it is peace floating over us like waves on the sea. The world around us slowly comes to life. The birds sing joyous tunes and an occasional car horn sounds in the distance.
My head leans against the frosty window as I take in all that surrounds me. Great green pine trees towering above us and snow capped peaks sparkling in the sun as it slowly rises. How exceptional it is to be a part of something so big. A doe and her fawn creep through the trees that line the road. An eagle soars proudly above the car. Perhaps I had forgotten after spending so much time in a bustling city, just how much happiness the simple pleasures of the earth can bring.
My focus drifts from the vastness of nature to the comforting smallness of our car. His thumb strokes gently over the seam of my pants. His brow is furrowed in focus as He drifts from the right lane to the left and then back again. I watch His silver rings reflecting the light, sending little beams through the car. His shoulders are relaxed and his elbow brushes mine. In this moment- all the fights and the crying and the insanity is worth it. In the little moments of intertwined silence, we are worth it.
We turn onto the exit ramp and the car slows to a stop at the little gas station. I get out of the car and stretch my arms up into the morning air with a yawn. “Are you sure you know where to get off? Should we be looking for a sign?” I ask him as he walks around the side of the car. He wraps his arms around my waist and laughs as he says “I’ll know it when I see it”. Part of me is convinced he has no clue where he’s going but I don’t voice my protestation and instead intertwine my fingers with his as we walk into the little gas station store.
The store smells of cigarettes and coffee. It is small and warm and has that rural woodsy feeling like visiting your family after not seeing them in awhile. He walks over to a small table and fills two cups of coffee from the big carafes. I walk into the bathroom which is a little messy but not unbearable. I stare at myself in the mirror. My hair is a mess and there are bags framing my eyes but I look more content than I have in a while. Perhaps it really is about the journey. I splash some cold water on my face and walk back into the store area. “Doughnut?” He asks as he offers out one of the coffee cups and a white paper bag. I happily pluck them both from his hands as we approach the counter, The man behind it looks tired and is wearing a flannel shirt and chunky brown work boots. “Three dollars please”. He drops a crumpled five dollar bill on the countertop. “Keep the change”, He says cheerily as we walk back out the glass doors.
I reach out to open the passenger door but His hand grips my arm, halting my movement. He moves both of his hands to my face and stares at me so intently I feel like I could crumble into a pile of dust. “You are the single best thing to happen to me”. I can smell the bitter coffee on his breath and the faint scent of deodorant. He leans down slightly and kisses the bridge of my nose and lightly walks back to the other side of the car. I stand unmoving, unable to shake the words from my mind. He, of course, is the best thing to happen to me. He has changed me in ways no other person has been able to. But he also has been the worst. I have never thought myself to be the person who drops everything for their partner. I would never leave everything behind for love. And yet, here I am, not at work, driving through the mountains with a person I have known for scarcely three months.
I duck my head under the roof and step into the car. And just like that we’re back on the highway, winding through forests and valleys. He gestures to the left side of the road. I turn to see what at first looks like a large boulder but upon further inspection is actually a black bear. It looks majestic and unphased by the busy road it treads near. We zoom past, leaving the bear and its surroundings in the distance as we make our way down the highway.
He turns on the radio to listen to NPR. “Sue me for wanting to stay informed” He would always say. The lightness in the way he plays with my hair or fidgets with the steering wheel are in stark contrast to the dark topics we listen to. War in the middle east, international conflict, racial tensions. All of it starts to become static noise. I can focus only on the cool breeze, the forest of trees, and his brown curls.
About an hour has passed when we finally pull off the highway and onto a dirt road. The snow has started to fall and the green of the pine trees start to gather more and more white. The car trudges up a little mountain road. Ascending higher and higher to the snow-capped peak. The air starts to get a little thinner and the snow starts to fall a little heavier. Just as it feel like we cannot climb any higher, He parks the car at the side of the road and jumps out. He throws on his big orange jacket and an array of layers; mittens, socks, a fleece vest. He walks to my side of the car looking like an arctic explorer on his way to spend weeks with the penguins. He jumps on the tire and reaches onto the roof of the car. Finally he hops back down and hands me a shiny red pair of skis. “You ready?”