Our theme for the month of June is “Top Ten.”
I remember climbing onto our parents’ roof Christmas Eve Day to smoke a cigar and watch the trees. We could do that again, after the pandemic. Not to re-create a moment—just knowing we could. The being able to. We’ll see each other again for Christmas, I’m sure.
The day I left, I could have sat in your back yard for an hour with beer and the spring wind and your roommates. We could have talked about other long drives, ones we’ve done together, like our twelve-hour sprint back from Mt. Shasta just in time for Mother’s Day, reeking of mountain sweat and damp wool. I could have said goodbye.
No one knew, back then, which states were going to close their borders. When they were. The Bay Area was enforcing their shelter-in-place laws with misdemeanors, and Florida had just instituted freeway checkpoints.
“I think it’s in everybody’s interest that we deal with the spread that we have here now, try to blunt it, flatten the curve,” said Florida’s governor, “but we don’t allow importing new infections.”
My driver’s license, insurance, voter registration, and business license tied me to the then-epicenter. I had Washington plates. Only two pieces of copypaper in my glovebox justified my trip as essential travel—just a printed email of March’s internet bill and my messy signature at the bottom of a homemade lease to broker passage across the country, state by state by state. I had to leave. I had to get to Jacksonville before I couldn’t.
The nights before I would leave for college, the last nights of our sunburnt summers and board game winters, we would stay up all night watching movies and playing Super Smash Brothers. We’d hold vigil until mom or dad woke up around four or five and drove me to the airport.
I’m not so good being the one in the driver’s seat. I could have driven to your house in Seattle. We could have sat on the grass doing nothing in particular beyond acknowledging that this matters—this moment before I leave, before I get married, before I start a new life three thousand miles away and you start yours in consulting and sixty-hour weeks. An hour and a half. That’s it. I spent four hours volunteering at St. Luke’s instead, unboxing cables and diagraming a livestream system as my last acts before fleeing lockdowns that never ultimately happened.
Who knew when we’d see each other again, with the pandemic rolling in and the economy flipping belly-up, with graduation and wedding and career plans scattering in the air like confetti. Who knew anything beyond that first night on the road, just across the Idaho border and bedded down in the back of my car, when I cried into my sleeping bag and knew I should have turned around.
We’ll see each other at Christmas, I’m sure.
Instead of a two-month journey, I covered three thousand miles in five days. Fifteen tanks of gas. I was supposed to detour up Mt. Whitney and down Death Valley, supposed to vagabond through New Mexico and experience Taos like a local, supposed to pitstop in gyms and coffeeshops all the way from Seattle to Jacksonville. Instead, I sanitized my hands. I listened to podcasts. I slept in my car. I pissed on the side of the road and ate granola, plastic cups of warm peaches, granola, and a bag of Tim’s Cascade jalapeño chips.
I remember the drives we spent cramped in the Sentra and the hand-me-down Maxima and finally the Honda Element, the first car I bought myself. I paid cash to a man in Oregon and drove home with three hundred dollars left to my name. “It looks like a toaster,” you said, which was true.
I remember stuffing three backpacks in the trunk and two more in the cartop carrier, then squeezing five people into the banged up, two-wheel-drive Sentra bound for a mountaintop by way of snowy logging roads. I remember four of us in the Maxima headed into the Cascades, you and I in the Element bound for Black Tusk. I remember hike after hike from high school to marriage.
In the photos I took on the summits, the cast ranges from ex-girlfriends to family friends to two strangers I met while hiking in Scotland, but you appear most. We’ve done Rainier twice, plus the other Washington volcanoes, plus a dozen or so smaller peaks—some piddly dayhikes, but a few others like that week in Eagle Cap—and the photos don’t include the lake hikes and the mountains we missed: Mt. Shasta, Wedge Mountain, and that first attempt at Mt. Angeles when we lost the trail in the snow and had to pitch a tent sideways before the storm rolled in. We’ve camped, skied, climbed, shouted, fought, cried, partied, lifted, wrote, studied. When we will share a city again?
Whose family will Joanna and I visit for Christmas? Thanksgiving? I want dates on the calendar, anchors against the winds and currents. I want to know that in the moments I wake from my responsibilities, you and I can play a board game as if it were the only thing in the world, tease Auntie about our exaggerated drinking habits, and argue about power and business ethics. The being able to.
But we don’t know where we’ll spend our vacations. Where we’ll live. You don’t know where your job will take you. And who knows what will happen in the second wave of the pandemic. Who knows anything, beyond that I love you.
When we skied Whistler last winter—some of the only days we managed amid your workload and all my flights to Florida—we rolled into Whistler Village around midnight, parked the toaster at the dark edge of a parking lot, and slept illegally. After powder and sweat and a broken ski pole, we spent the second night at a trailhead. After a mild concussion and more sweat and more snow in the same damp clothes, we spent the third night at a highway pullout south of Squamish. We smelled awful. Felt awful.
“Even when I get money, I hope we still do things like this,” you said.
Even when. I hope we still come back from Canada exhausted and battered, the car loaded with dirty gear and wet clothes. I hope the stench billows out the window when I hand over our passports and the border guard waves us on, back into the winds and currents of our lives.
NPR called Josh “a modern-day Jack Kerouac” after he wrote about his 7,000-mile, no-money hitchhiking journey through the United States. Since hitchhiking, he’s found homes in the Pacific Northwest, the Episcopal Church, and the post calvin. He builds websites as the director of Branded Look LLC. Josh’s writing has appeared in places such as The Emerson Review, Front Porch Review, and Perspectives.