Over Memorial Day weekend we went camping up north. We loaded up the new-to-us vintage steel coleman cooler we got off craigslist and spread out the blue tie-dyed sheet we made last summer across the backseat for the dogs. Then we headed four hours north to Burney Falls.
The truck doesn’t have a lot things. It doesn’t have air conditioning or a reservoir for windshield wiper fluid so when the bugs get bad you have to pull over and squeegee their guts off. The radio gets about 3 talk stations once you get outside of town if you’re lucky and only the left side speaker works. So we play the question game a lot. The kind of game you play when you’re getting to know someone, except we know most of the answers by now. “What’s your favorite kind of cheese?” type of thing. Other times we sit in silence, lost in thought, staring out the window, him with his eyes on the road in front of him.
“What’s one thing you’d change about yourself?” Trey asked me, glancing over from the driver’s seat.
“Hmm”…”Maybe the scar on my arm” I responded
“Well, you could make up a cool story about it” he said “How about….a riot broke out at a fast food drive-thru after they ran out of some combo meal and you got stabbed trying to break up a fight.”
I laughed, “I think that’s how River Phoenix’s character dies at the end of Stand By Me”.
We made it to Burney Falls and hiked down to the bottom, sitting on the rocks and looking up at the water gushing down into the large ravine in front of us. Then we drove into Lassen National Park and found a spot along the river to camp on. We made fish tacos and sat on stumps close to the fire talking about life and if we’ll ever live on Mars. I poked at the hot coals on the wood, sending sparks high into the air. Keeper dug a trench and sat in it. Jack monitored her.
After the fire had died down we watched a movie, like we do every night, in the bed of the truck. It was about this girl (played by Brie Larson) who works at a foster home for troubled teenagers. It won the SXSW film festival last year and is a new favorite of mine. The main characters reminded me of Trey and I. After it ended I laid awake looking at the stars outside the back window for a while. Maybe I’ll write about it in depth one day, my story. In some ways it feels like enough time has passed, but in other ways it feels like scar tissue – healed over and tough, but still sensitive if hit just right. It’s funny how your twenties can still feel a lot like your teens sometimes if you let them. Trey tells me I should write about the experiences I had growing up because they are so different from who I am now, and maybe people could relate. The abbreviated version is I was what you could call a “troubled youth”, getting kicked out of public and private schools and shuffled around alternative places until they found a place for me. My grandma was my was saving grace. I lived with her a lot and she believed in me. To outsiders I was that angry, rebellious girl that didn’t want to cooperate. Inside it was a different story. I am the youngest of 2, though it was meant to be 4. One brother, a foster kid, his real mom came back for him, another brother died in childhood. The brother I grew up with dropped out of high school and moved away before I ever really got to know him as an adult. He wanted to forget things too. Meeting Trey’s family was a bit of an enigma, like seeing one of those wild animals you grew up reading about in books and watching on TV. You knew they existed somewhere out there, you just hadn’t seen them yet. Maybe sometimes you doubted their existence, if something so great could really be out there. And then by some extraordinary circumstance you find them and get to experience them up close. And now you know they really do exist in the world.
In the morning we drove home with the windows down because our clothes smelled like campfire, then stopped and got food from a drive-thru. I ran my fingers over my scar smiling, thinking about Trey’s stabbing story. Keeper howled loudly into the drive-thru window and made all kinds of friends. It’s how we roll.
This weekend was what I needed in a lot of ways. It’s easy to look ahead and be in the moment when you’re on the road going 80 mph into the unknown. But sometimes you have to look back, even if reluctantly, to remember where you came from. I used to be obsessed with Jack Kerouac and the idea of escapism. Over time it’s turned into something more, a sophisticated freedom of sorts. No matter how old you get, how your life changes for better or worse, what mistakes you make, there will always be the option to go. Somewhere, anywhere. A road ahead. And that’s comforting to me.