Sunday, May 31, 2009

Road Trip: Saint Louis–New Mexico

In the summer of 1993, my ties to St. Louis were growing thin, though they were also at their strongest then, too. I had left law school during the spring semester, had trained as a volunteer with the Sexual Assault Response Team, and had also landed a public relations internship in a boutique-style marketing firm. I was fortunate to work for and with incredibly generous people, and together we did amazing things in the city. During the day, I learned how to write press releases and good industry newsletters; I helped plan special events to boost awareness for local businesses, and to raise money for charity. (The year I was there, I got my first taste of NASCAR culture, when the racing association teamed up with Northwest Plaza for a flood relief fundraiser.) At night, I stayed on call at home in the event I was needed in one of the area emergency rooms to comfort survivors of assault. It was a busy, intense time. My former law school colleagues were, many of them, away for the summer. But some stayed in town. Among them, my friend-who-mistakenly-became-more-than-a-friend. He was working for a professor, helping with a research project in international law. At some point, despite being basically happy with our work situations, we both started burning out—also we were circling each other uneasily within the deteriorating psychic space of our relationship. Was this the time to take a road trip together? I'm not sure, but we did. I don't remember the details exactly, but for some reason I ended up with an unexpected three-day weekend, and in that moment I was gripped by an overwhelming desire to get out of town. My friend decided he needed to do the same, made whatever arrangements he needed to make, and we planned our spontaneous getaway. I believe it is a bit more than 1,000 miles between St. Louis and Albuquerque. A good sixteen hours or so, assuming a legal highway speed, which we may or may not have respected. We started driving on Friday afternoon after work; rather, I drove. We decided we'd barrel straight through, and we did. We drove all night. Drove across Missouri, down to Oklahoma and across that long, lonely, flat state, across the top handle of Texas, and finally, mid-morning of the next day, we rolled into the center of New Mexico. It would be inaccurate to say that the trip didn't break us further; it did. But we were also buzzed on adventure, mainlining the open road beneath the tires, and we stopped often for fuel, coffee, and so I could splash water on my face. We listened to music: the radio sometimes, but also mixed tapes. We were still making mixed tapes then—it seems so archaic now. We ended, exhausted, in Albuquerque. From there, for the next two days, we'd drive south through the desert, traversing reservation land near the Rio Grande; we'd head north on the Turquoise Trail to Santa Fe, drink frozen margaritas in perfect leisure on a restaurant terrace, and return to our no-frills motel under a sunset sky of electric O'Keefe colors. We talked a lot, navigated a tense physicality, and gave ourselves (and each other) the most we could muster in thirty-six hours. The drive back to St. Louis was longer, boring, the elastic of our daily lives snapping us back to routines that were starting to wear on us. We didn't talk much about what we'd seen, preferred to remember the beauty in silence. It had been that, anyway: a landscape of beauty we'd wandered for a short while; the last beautiful thing we'd share as a fading, almost-couple.

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