Google said the trip would take forty-two hours on toll roads. Two thousand eight hundred and twenty-five miles in forty-two hours. Just under two days. I figured I could do it in four.
I packed a couple changes of clothes, a sleeping bag, and a week’s worth of food: granola bars, bananas, water, and some iced tea. I had nine hundred dollars in my bank account.
The plan was to find rest stops along the way and sleep in the cab of my little 1995 F-150. I’d just sprawl out across the bench seat and rest easy, no problem.
My mother was the catalyst. She’d come to me a few days before I left, over breakfast.
“How are you?” she asked, like mothers do.
“Fine,” I said.
There wasn’t much to be said those days. Most of my friends had gone off to college or were finding themselves in bad situations. I’d been hiding myself away. Work, eat, sleep. Rinse and repeat. Avoiding reality.
“You’re looking thin. You’re tired.”
“I’m fine, really.” I didn’t look up from my plate, just moved the food around with a fork.
There was silence for a while, but I could feel her watching.
“I know it hurts. She was a good girl.”
I couldn’t believe she’d bring her up. This was my burden to carry. It was none of her business.
“We all experience heartbreak. But we have to move on. It’ll take time, darling, I know that, but just know you can talk to me.”
I looked up and glared. Held the fork tight and bit my tongue. Her eyes were piercing yet gentle.
“You don’t have to hole yourself up and go through this alone.”
She couldn’t understand. She’d never understand. It was insulting that she’d suggest she did. I pushed my plate forward, dropped my fork on it hard, and ran to my room. Locked the door and shut her out. I heard her calling for me but wanted none of it.
That night I began packing my things. I knew she hadn’t left me for good. I knew she’d welcome me if I went to her.
The map showed a direct route up past Harrisburg, across Cleveland and Chicago, then through the Midwest. Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Idaho. I’d be in Oregon in no time. I-84 would take me straight to Portland.
Seemed simple enough. I was upset, but being on the road immediately felt freeing. I knew I was heading toward her, and that made me happy. It was a light shining through the darkness.
I’d never planned to go far from home, never even considered it a possibility. My family hardly traveled. We never had much money, and my parents weren’t adventurous. We spent vacations in dumpy little places near Deep Creek Lake or Ocean City, always twenty or thirty minutes from the water.
“Three hours either way and you have everything you need.” That’s how my father described Maryland. “Why’d you want to go anywhere else? We got mountains in the west, the coast in the east, and we’re forty-five minutes from the city.”
It was all I’d ever known: Why’d you ever want to leave?
In those first hours on the road, I began to understand. There I was running across the US like a fool. A fool in love. For a woman who was gone.
I was exhilarated.