The Rite of Any State

Submitted into Contest #205 in response to: Make your protagonist go through a rite of passage.... view prompt


Coming of Age Creative Nonfiction

I swore, at the age of twenty-five, I would never return. Ever. Even in venerable years, when I overhear the name or the two-letter abbreviation, I thrust myself into conversation and proclaim, “[Insert any state] is the limp dick of the USA!”

That is, until, my husband sat me down at the table and said, ”You are not going to like what I’m about to say.”

[Insert any state] is responsible for most of life’s mishaps. Take, for example, my college boyfriend. In an attempt to salvage our dull relationship, he planned a surprise road trip. It felt more like a kidnapping. I had been meticulously crafting a break-up speech because I found, throughout the course of our dull relationship, he didn’t process things quickly. But he rolled up in a busted Firebird, rolled down the window and cooed, “Hey babe. Get in.” I patted my pockets for the break-up speech not yet perfected, came up empty, and reluctantly slid into the passenger seat.

He drove us through the desolate hell between [insert any state capitol] and [the next big city]. The place where Mother Nature quit; the place where land is pummeled and life finds no fight or will against the elements. The highway gave up, too, because there are no exits. Only miles and miles of dead earth the color of bile. My college boyfriend careened into that cesspool in the mid-August heat. Stopped. A pop came from underneath the Firebird's hood; the radiator death wheezed.

“Where’s the next exit?” I spoke evenly. He scratched his head, turned the radio dial up and down. Swiveled the volume dial. Tapped the dashboard. His head fell back into the seat.

“It’s dead.” His palm slapped his forehead.

“Where is the next exit?” I said slower, through clenched teeth.

“10 miles.”

That wasn't my only introduction to [insert any state]. Another happened when my former roommate invited me to visit her across the country. We ceased being roommates several years prior because I found the living environment to be unstable and chaotic, but I traveled anyway. When my roommate rolled into the airport with an elaborate orange and red dragon painted on her left cheek, yet no explanation why, I regretted the decision to visit.

“I am taking you to the capitol’s hottest bar!” she squealed. We pressed into a dark, throbbing club and caught strobe flashes of men sardined on a dance floor. That night, it rained confetti. I danced in carefree circles. Men pet my hair, called me 'pretty.' With arms extended, I spun and spun in dizzy glee until my sensitivity to motion sickness high-fived my alcohol consumption. I sought reprieve at the bar. Sergio, my roommate’s friend, came up behind me breathless, shirtless, sweaty.

Sergio threw his head back in laughter at my crimson blush and placed an ice cube from his drink into my fingertips. “You can rub it on me.”

My roommate appeared from behind, draping her arms around Sergio's neck. “It’s ok!” she slurred, “he’s not interested in you, sweetie.” Sergio shook his head and pointed to a man's naked, wet abs on the other side of me. I giggled. My body tingled. My hands covered my mouth. I lurched. And threw up, vomit dribbling between my fingers. Sergio called our cab and ensured it arrived to my roommate's place safely.

I awoke on the bathroom floor in a barf-caked tube top. My roommate was nudging me with her big toe. She'd been crying, and the dragon painting on her cheek had melted into a hellish fire, running down her neck and consuming her sheer, white chemise.

“He’s mine, bitch.”

I slid cheek and lips across bathroom tile to mumble, “Who?”

“Sergio. He’s mine.”

“Sergio?! I…I thought he was —. ” She kicked scissors my way and walked out. I stared at the white porcelain column trying to piece together the night. When I peeled off the tile, I noticed fluffs of hair around the toilet's base. Running my hands over my curls, I discovered they ended abruptly. I cried, packed, and booked a flight home that evening. I also made a vow to never, ever return to [insert state].

That is, until, my husband, Drew, sat me down at the table with hands folded, “You are not going to like what I’m about to say. My job is relocating. It will happen quickly.”

Three days later, we landed in [insert state]. Drew drove a rental sedan from one beige subdivision to the next beige subdivision; I sat in the passenger seat dropping silent, hostile tears. During a break in house hunting, I stared out the window of a roadside restaurant and dropped silent, hostile tears into salsa. Drew set his fork down, “Your attitude is ruining this vacation.”

“Vacation? You call this a vacation?” I spat. On the ride back to the hotel I opened the to-go box in my lap. Inspected the leftovers. Studied Drew’s profile in the driver’s seat. Imagined chucking tacos at him, pictured the mayonnaise, coleslaw and chunks of shrimp sliding down his neck. I threw nothing. Instead, I stared out the window, refused to speak, and curled up for the night in the hotel room armchair.

I awoke to Drew sitting on the air conditioning unit, “We’re going to take a different approach,” he said, patting my knee, "We'll return over Thanksgiving break to find a new home." I contorted limbs from 90 degree angles and pried myself from the armchair.

“What do you mean?”

“I switched our rental car to a Jeep Wrangler. Thought we could drive up north. Do some hiking instead of house hunting.”

I had been ‘up north’ before. On that disastrous road trip with my college boyfriend. He got the Firebird running, but it resulted in us arriving after the state park closed. An argument exploded between us in the parking lot. I hurled foul language and a soda.

But that was not the first time I had been ‘up north’. I visited that state park once in high school on a youth group trip. I might have discovered God in that park. I also discovered Josh Povesti, my first infatuation. Josh spearheaded the youth group hike in a rowdy foray. I hung timid to the rear, watching him. From nowhere, the sun fled and the skies unleashed a torrential downpour. I clung to a tree but Josh tore off his shirt and started spinning with arms extended, laughing and shouting, “Hallelujah, I’ve found God!” in the pelting rain.

I released my fingernails from the tree bark and gaped as Josh spun round and round, his tongue lapping at battering droplets. I didn’t really know Josh, so I mistook his flippancy for religious zealotry, and in an attempt to impress him, I began to spin and lick the rain, also, until I found myself twirling uncontrollably, arms extended, head back, hollering, “Hallelujah! Me too!

I’d like to say Josh Povesti noticed me, grabbed my shoulders, pushed me against the tree trunk as rain dropped from his lower lip, his chest heaving as he pressed against mine to kiss. That didn't happen. Instead, I tripped over a boulder. Dislocated my knee cap. Had to be carried off the trail by chaperones. They constructed a make-shift cardboard splint, secured it with duct-tape, and propped me next to the tour bus to wait.

As the youth group completed the hike, I sat next to an exhaust pipe in the rain. Once the skies cleared, a cruel sun reappeared to singe all moisture from the air. I closed my eyes and turned my face toward the light, creating a sensuous dance of orange and red behind my eyelids. The heat roughly caressed my body, poked into pores on my arms and legs (except the cardboard splinted leg. That one was slimy with sweat). The chirps of birds clinked like ice in beaded glasses. Each sip of air made my heart beat faster. I touched an iron bolt on the bench, as if being dared. There was danger in the heat; it vibrated. I extended my arms outwards, leaned my head back, and felt breeze and burn fight over my body. A tear fell. And in that moment, sometimes, I wonder if maybe I did happen upon God.

But we got interrupted. The youth group returned, too tired and soaked to inquire after my well-being. Chaperones loaded students onto the bus and waited for them to settle. Then they hoisted me in like a sofa being moved up a staircase. A voice from the back hollered, “She's dressed in cardboard!” and a titter spread throughout.

I hate [insert any state]. I really do.

That is why I didn’t trust Drew’s gesture to head back ‘up north’ in a Wrangler. But I acquiesced and sulked as we stepped outside the hotel lobby and peeled the top off the Jeep. I sulked the entire drive, too. When Drew and I arrived to an empty parking lot, my heart sank at the thought of flinging expletives and soda cans at my husband.

“Is the state park closed? Did you check?” I gritted evenly.

“It's not closed. I checked.” Drew handed over a water bottle. We entered the park and took a silent walk around the picnic area, no sound to be heard except for an occasional falcon cry and the crunch of our footsteps. Drew asked if I wanted to hike the main trail.

“Sure. I hiked that trail in high school. It rained.” I stopped the story there. Drew and I didn’t talk much on the hike. We'd pause, share a water and a nod, then continue. Decades later, I could still pinpoint the exact tree I clung to as Josh Povesti shed clothing and prayed to God in the rain. I ran my hand along its bark; did not tell Drew why. When we reemerged from the mouth of the trail, Drew planted his boot; I toppled forward.

Holding me with one hand and pointing with the other, Drew whispered, “Look!” Framed by late afternoon light, two big-horned animals stood on the main road. They grazed, pausing to survey the horizon. The ridges in their horns — their annual growth rings — gleamed in the low sun. So many years etched into those horns. So much history. The creatures did not startle when we approached. Rather, they turned their heads in unison to study us.

I stepped forward, “Have you ever seen anything like this before?” Drew shook his head. I took another step. Stepped forward again and, compelled to touch those regal horns, extended my hand. Drew’s arm snapped. Held me back. Because that’s the thing about Drew. He knows I would step all the way forward to rest my head on that divine beast’s brow only to be impaled by a horn and tossed around.

As we sailed highways upon return, the sun shifted into down gear. An emboldened moon rose to fight it. Sunset clouds littered the horizon like patches of fire. I rested my head and watched the expansive landscape whirl through the whip in my hair. A tear ran down my cheek. Then another. I thought about my vow to never, ever return to [insert state]. Thought about what it meant to actually live in it. Over the days following Drew's news, I screamed, called him selfish, brought up ancient injuries, even threatened, "I'm staying. So are the kids." I did cruel things, too. Things I won’t mention here.

Hair lashed at my face from the force of wind no matter what I did to control it, so I raised my hands and allowed the wide open wind to push them. I thought about what this job relocation meant for my husband, how good he was to me, how good he was to our family. Closing my eyes, I grabbed Drew's hand. He intertwined his fingers with mine. We said nothing. I looked over at Drew’s profile and almost whispered, “Thank you, [insert state I hate].”

I didn’t. The state doesn’t deserve it. Not yet.

Instead, I said, “Ok. We move here.”

Drew glanced sideways and tucked hair behind my ears, "What does that mean for you?" I looked out my window for a long while, watched the sun settle into reds, purples and deep, deep blues. I reached out to try and touch it, then looked back at Drew.

“I resign.”

Drew and I pulled under gas station lights swarmed with insects. Drew manned the pump. I stepped inside. A wiry woman stood behind the counter.

“Where you been?” I looked over both my shoulders. "You," she pointed, "you got wild hair. Where you been?" I smoothed my curls and explained our open Jeep ride from the state park up north.

“You tourists?” I went to nod, stopped.

“No. I guess we’re not. We are moving here. Soon.”

She eyed me sidewise, "What's your name?"

I answered. Asked for hers.


“No kidding. My mom’s name. You from here, Renee?”

She nodded, brows furrowed. “Gotta be tough moving during a pandemic," she noted. I nodded. “What do you miss most from this madness?” she asked. I blinked. It was November of 2020. The pandemic had been raging for months. I missed many things, but never thought of what brought the biggest loss.

The answer was easy.

“Concerts. I miss concerts, Renee. I miss when the lights and music pause in suspense for a beat drop, or a chorus swell, or even the simplest little lyric.” Interpreting her stare as engrossed attention, I continued.

“Take Coldplay’s song, The Scientist. Years ago, I saw Coldplay in concert. A violent pop-up storm interrupted the show. Drew and I managed to sneak closer to the stage in the chaos of people running for cover.” I paused because Renee hadn’t moved.

“Oh! Right, 'Who’s Drew?' My husband. Once skies cleared, the concert continued. At the first chord of The Scientist, I grabbed Drew by the wrist and pulled him in. I held his hand and belted, 'Nobody said it was easy, but no one ever said it would be this hard.'"

Renee still hadn’t moved.

“You must not know the lyrics." I sang her the chorus. "Then, Renee, the entire arena went silent. Paused. Sounds ceased, lights stilled, and every hand raised to the sky in silent anticipation for that simple little lyric, the one that tells the story of grief.

'Oh take me back to the start.'

Lights erupted and the place went crazy! I extended my arms and began spinning and spinning. Sometimes, when I remember this moment, it’s rain pouring down my face as I throw my head back in reverie. Sometimes it’s tears running like a centrifuge across my cheeks. I’d like to think it was both, but no matter what happened, I often wonder if I discovered God in that moment.”

Renee grunted. “I know nothin' bout concerts. What will you miss most about home?”

I thought for a moment, smiled. “My classroom.”

"You teach?" Renee handed over my bag. “Hmph, well, you ain’t gonna find God in this state, and our teachers get paid shit.”

In the parking lot, I nodded at Drew’s raised eyebrow and climbed into the Jeep, “Yup, I’m ready." He rolled onto the entrance ramp and as the wind kicked in, I thought about what Renee said about God and teaching.

[Insert any state] still might be a limp dick.

July 08, 2023 02:16

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Amanda Lieser
07:38 Aug 19, 2023

Hi Sean, This was an incredibly clever take on the prompt. As a gal who has never left Colorado, I loved the way this story felt so plug and play. It kept the universal experiences epic while allowing us to personalize it bit by not. I hope this character gets to triumph in the end. Nice work!!


Éan Bird
22:55 Sep 14, 2023

I'm so happy to see my "attempt" produced the desired effect! It felt a bit like a risk (maybe too risky, as the judges did choose it...😉). Your comment gives me encouragement! Thank you!


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Mary Bendickson
21:54 Jul 08, 2023

Oh, yeah You're the one that had to move suddenly during the pandemic and never got to say goodbye to her class. More good writing.


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