North by Northeast

Onward from Texas, Captain Kiwi hails. After a brief detour in Austin, North calls forth with the naive hope of cooler temperatures and greener pastures.  The limits of Dallas spread out toward us like feeler vines, and as the sun set and the vines wrapped around and around us the city grew.  Before we knew it we were in the chokehold of metropolitan traffic and the heat of Texas spring. Spring, a laughable thought. There was nothing Springy about the tight grip the heat, cars, sweat and fatigue had on us as we passed through downtown.  On any other day we would be making camp, hoisting the poptop and rearranging bags below.  But the North, and the prospect of simply leaving this giant state was too much temptation. We met Jamie’s old friend, Susan, for dinner, a brief and pleasant respite from traveling. And then we drove on.

We drove on and Eliot cried. Night had already fallen. It was too much for his little body, the sitting, the heat, the monotony.  We pulled off and found an empty parking lot. What came next was the type of memory one hopes to hold tight for the future when anxiety and doubt settle in one’s heart. We poured out of the van and let the cooler air refresh us.  The open space and soft parking lot lights let us feel vulnerable and comfortable and alone. At first Jamie was just trying to make Eliot laugh, jumping up, kicking a water bottle across the asphalt, but then we were all in on it.  We were running in circles around each other, screaming at the tops of our lungs, kicking trash like soccer balls to each other. There was a shopping cart corral, empty. A little too empty. We ran to it and slid through the poles, climbed to the top and jumped off. All the while Eliot laughed until he was hoarse. He did his best to follow suit, ducking around signs and kicking his little feet.  At some point Jamie and I realized we weren’t just doing it to make him laugh anymore. It was just us, the three of us, and we were finally there, present together, alone but together and alive.  We crawled back into the car, tired but refreshed and drove on.

Oklahoma introduced itself to us with moonlit Indian casinos and billboards pleading for motorists to consider adopting a Choctaw child. We found a truckstop behind a gas station casino and pulled in at the end of a long row of diesel rigs, generators humming in the dusty lot. It had been a long day.

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