We slept in the back of the truck, at a rest stop on I-70 or I-55, somewhere in Missouri, I think.
(Is this safe? I asked, because I’d never slept in a truck at a rest stop before. And you laughed and said it was safer, not to mention cleaner, than any roadside dump motel. Plus, we had a dog, and most people, you said, were scared of dogs. And I decided you must be right, because you were tall and good-looking, and the truck was intimidating, with its scars from having survived a deer, and by that point we were both bone-tired, so none of it mattered much anyway.)
We had been late leaving Omaha, sweeping the old pine floors, taking one last walk to the Joslyn Castle in the cool, late spring air. My sister had already left for Wyoming, I think, the day before. (Some of this is hard to remember, even for me.) We stayed to clean and sweep and make sure we hadn’t forgotten anything (and also, I had to say goodbye).
It was late afternoon, almost evening (6? 7?) when I put Ella in the forest-green Saab (that you told me not to buy, because you said Saabs were persnickety), and you got in the truck (Henry’s truck, before he died, and now your truck, because Henry was dead), and we jettisoned, in tandem, off the prairie and toward the South, a land as foreign to you as any ever will be (though by now you’ve adjusted well enough).
We could stop by the Hermanhoff Winery, you joked, because this was a running joke from your first road trip to Memphis, years earlier, when you came for my sister’s wedding, and then you stayed the weekend and cleaned my kitchen and made dinner for me on Sunday afternoon while I was out playing tennis, and we opened the Hermanhoff wine (that you and John had bought on the drive down), and it was abysmal, and hilarious, and memorable. (The wine was abysmal, not the evening.)
We could have taken the blue highways, wandered through small towns and collected memorabilia, but we thought we needed to be efficient (I thought we needed to be efficient) because the movers were coming with all the furniture, and we needed to be at the house to meet them.
This is how things work, I said: there are schedules and responsibilities.
(This is not how things work, you said, and you were right: life held nothing but freedom and adventure at the time, I just didn’t know it.)
So we agreed to drive as far as we felt comfortable driving, with me in the lead and Rand McNally as our guide, because we didn’t have phones (or you didn’t have a phone, because you hate having a phone, still), though by that time I knew the route well enough that the map was just a comfort, a thing to look at from time to time and say, oh yes, that’s right, keep ahead.
We drove through torrents of bugs hitting our windshields, watched the sun setting beside us until everything went black, except for the parade of oncoming headlights.
We drove in the dark for a while.
And then you passed me on the highway (I remember this part), and you pulled into the rest stop, and I followed.
We had only one dog then, Ella, and she was my dog (though I think she loved you more, after you saved her from drowning, once), and she rode in the car with me until we stopped at that rest stop (where she was relieved to get a walk and a pee), and then we all got in the truck, together, Ella snuggled on top of us, and we slept for a few hours, until the sun came up, and we were just uncomfortable enough that driving seemed better than resting.
Ella rode the rest of the way with you, listening to the Grosse Point Blank soundtrack (your favorite, still) and enjoying the open window and room to roam around, because, if you ask a dog, a 4Runner is a better ride than a sedan.
We crossed rickety bridges (that may no longer be open), and railroad tracks, and finally over the old I-55 bridge from Arkansas into Tennessee.
And then we were in Memphis, where the privet had just finished blooming, and the crickets were starting to sing, and everything was green. And the movers were five days late (so we slept on the floor, with no lights), and my mother was healthy (she thought), and we were just going to stay for a couple of months, until you’d finished helping me pull out the overgrown ivy, and replace a few rotten window boards, and tidy-up the house I’d kept as a rental while I lived in Omaha, alone, and you lived in Wyoming.
And that was the beginning, twenty years ago.