It was hard not to think of the collection of events last Friday as a sign, or an omen, especially as they kept accumulating. Friday was to be a long day: I had to finish cleaning my old place, spend time with Katie and family, and then pick up Marc at 11:45 pm at the Austin airport and we were going to start driving. Our planned stop would’ve been around 3:30am, and that after a full day of working for both of us.
But as I was leaving Katie’s house to head to my old place, to get the day underway, an old man in a pick-up truck crashed into my car. He came from behind, turning into me, so he hit the back and scraped all along the passenger side until he sheared off my passenger mirror and severely crumpled the front passenger door and front fender. When he jumped out of the car, his first words were that he’d just been in a wreck a week or two earlier. (“Not my problem!” I yelled at him. “I am driving to NY tonight!” He shrugged in an old hippie way and said, “Boy, that’s tough.” I wanted him to be more upset about it.)
My thought was that I had to find a way to get the mirror replaced within just a couple of hours, which seemed unlikely — and I also had a LOT to get done, so the odds I could get it done immediately and get my work done were impossible. At the car repair place my insurance company sent me to, I was told the car wasn’t driveable for that long a distance, because the way the bumper was crumpled, if I were to hit a pothole the tire could be shredded.
Time for a very quick Plan B: Marc and I would drive the truck together and I’d just fly back to get the car when it was fixed in a couple of weeks. I got a rental car, and I’d just turn it in at the airport when I picked him up at 11:45, OK.
Plan C: His flight was coming from Boston and it couldn’t get out of Boston to get to NYC….so he changed flights and grabbed a plane to Dallas. OK, but I had this rental car to drop off at the Austin airport, so I took it to the airport and then took a cab back to my place, and then I’d just drive to Dallas and pick him up . . . in a 16′ Penske truck, and they don’t like big panel trucks at airports and DFW is a nightmare in the best of circumstances, but we’d figure it out. As I was driving toward Dallas, the sky was a constant electrical storm, frightening to me in a deep, deep way; I kept telling myself to think about it like the Northern Lights in an attempt to calm myself a little but that didn’t help. I kept feeling like I was about to lose my nerve for driving the giant truck filled with stuff, like it was taking all my focus and nerve and courage and everything else to keep pressing on the accelerator. And then, just as I was in Fort Worth, I noticed that his flight had been diverted to Oklahoma City. Was I going to have to keep driving on, now, to OKC? I was completely exhausted in every possible way. It was 1am-ish, and OKC was a good 3.5 hours away. Plan D?
I pulled the truck over and texted Marc that I knew his flight was diverted, and saw that he was about to land so I just parked and waited to hear from him. This is how dire he knew the situation was: he said, “Just get a hotel room somewhere it doesn’t matter how much it costs, don’t even worry about how much it costs.” (!!! You’d have to know him to appreciate that.) And I was so exhausted I didn’t even argue with him. I found a nearby nice hotel, parked the truck, and fell into bed at 1:45, not knowing how the rest would unfold. The airline offered him a hotel room for the night and a flight to Dallas the next day, leaving at 12:30, or a bus to Dallas. He and some other passengers organized an Uber. Finally I told him just to take the hotel room, and I’d leave at 6 and pick him up at his hotel. He finally got to his hotel room around 2:30 (families with kids were arranged first), and around 2:45-ish, I finally fell asleep and was woken up constantly by pounding rain and thunder and cracks of lightning.
At 6am, it was still pouring rain and crackling with lightning, and the weather radar showed that it was going to keep doing that until well after noon, but that the band of storms was basically hovering over the Dallas Fort Worth area. So I took a very hot shower, brushed my teeth, and ran to the truck. We had to be at the new house Monday morning, there was nothing else to do. It was Saturday morning and we had 1800 miles to drive (though by the time it was all done, I drove Austin to OKC [382mi], OKC to Knoxville TN [856mi], Knoxville to Newark airport [696 mi], Newark to Newburgh [72mi], and finally Newburgh to the house [66mi], for a total of 2,072 miles in 47 hours. I slept 3 hours in Fort Worth, 3 hours in Knoxville, and 3 hours in Newburgh).
So, Plan D: I would just drive on to OKC and hope for the very best. It was often raining so hard I couldn’t see the front end of my own truck. And lightning was flashing all around. My shoulders were up by my ears the whole time. I got gas before I left, and thought it would be an hour in the rain. The rain was so intense, and had been so intense, that there were giant lakes on the highway; in fact, coming in the other direction there was so much water standing on the highway near the Trinity River that police were escorting cars and trucks through, one at a time, backing up traffic for miles. I kept losing my nerve, over and over, and I realized constantly that I was holding my breath and squeezing my shoulders up by my ears but there was nothing to do but keep going. That’s all there was to do. And I know how to do that. I know how to keep going when it’s all there is to do. I know how to make it through, half a minute at a time.
Finally, 2.5 hours after I left Fort Worth, the rain stopped and the sky was blue. I felt like I’d aged 10 years within that last 24 hours. An hour later I pulled into the parking lot where Marc was staying and he practically raced toward me and threw his arms around me. He just kept hugging me and telling me how sorry he was about how it all had gone, but not to worry, he would drive. That actually worried me a LOT, because he doesn’t have the experience I have doing this kind of thing. I’ve moved so many times and driven these trucks so many times, and moved across the country, and he just hasn’t had that kind of life. Plus, he has a hard time multitasking and driving is multitasking, for him. So I drove us another tank of gas, and then he took over, and he was absolutely wonderful, it turned out. He drove most of the day on Saturday, the longest drive of our trip.
We never stopped to eat, only to fill up the truck with gas. We had food in the truck (Marc brought his wonderful sandwiches he makes when we go on vacation), and since we’d planned to have my car to hold a bunch of stuff, a lot of it was crammed into the cab with us. We were crowded, exhausted, stressed out, and under the gun — but we had such a good time together. Our taste in music couldn’t be more different, so listening to music was tough (and the truck was noisy), but we tried. And much of the drive was through beautiful country. Truck traffic was heavy across Arkansas, of course, but driving across the south was beautiful, with gorgeous weather.
I haven’t been in the south in a VERY long time and I had forgotten/was dumbstruck by the extent to which it’s a hardcore Christian and gun culture. Vans from churches everywhere, billboards everywhere (“Spare the rod and destroy your children!”), crosses everywhere, billboards about guns (“GUNRUNNERS” with giant pictures of AK47s), such a bizarre world. Living in Austin and NYC, I had forgotten what that world is like, what a backwards and horrible reality it is. I know people who are Christians and they aren’t that kind of Christian.
Marc has the most amazing mind for music — he can sing one song while another is playing (I can’t do that!) and he can just summon a lyric from the middle of a song. My mind for music is organized contextually, usually associated with a specific memory or emotion, but he can pull up anything anytime for any reason. So as we approached Nashville, he asked me to play Nashville Cats by The Lovin’ Spoonful — which he then sang, and he did the most hilarious southern accent (“Mountain Dew-ew!”) it had me rolling around in my seat.
Whenever we saw a highway sign for a city or place that had a song, he would ask me to find it so we could listen. “Honey, get ’24 Hours from Tulsa’ by Gene Pitney!” I really had such a good time on the trip with him.
The scariest part of the drive (other than the first day) was the NJ part. Marc had parked his car in long-term parking at the Newark airport, and we had to get there and drop him off so he could get his car and follow the truck to the house. They don’t like trucks anywhere near airports, so when we pulled up outside the long-term parking area, a security guard came running over and hurried us out — which meant suddenly Marc was out of the truck and suddenly I just had to leave the airport. If you’ve driven around Newark airport, you might have a sense of this. Cloverleafs. Lots of highways and turnpikes feeding in/out. Toll booths (and me with no EZPass of course) funneling lanes in and then fanning out dramatically, and me needing to be in a lane far away from the sole cash lane, in a big truck. And then the trip to Newburgh took me up 17 (if you are from here you know what that means, the horror)…..right past where Will and I lived together so that was a hard punch square in my heart.
But as I crossed the NJ/NY border, in the deep blue dark, Google Maps said, “Welcome to New York” and I broke down crying. It had done the same thing as we crossed the Mississippi River into Tennessee, but at no other state crossings. I don’t know why it did some and not others, but that “Welcome to New York” sure made me cry. Back home.
When I got to the hotel in Newburgh Marc hadn’t arrived yet so I went in to check us into the hotel, and when I came out, Marc was running toward me with agony all over his face. He was almost crying. He threw his arms around me and said he’d been so terrified, he kept expecting to see the truck mangled on the side of the road. He just kept hugging me and patting me.
So we were scheduled to meet the guys who’d unload the truck at 8:30, and I’d been dreading that so much. My own childhood scars always make me fear being told I’m wrong, bad, too much, and I expected the movers to say something like that about the amount of stuff in the truck. Plus, we were meeting the people we bought the house from, and both Marc and I have such severe social anxiety that we were dreading that. But of course it all went perfectly and smoothly, and while it took 3+ hours to load the truck, the three young men unloaded it all into the basement in 45 minutes. No one said a word about it being too much. OF COURSE.
And then the best news, the previous owners are moving out on Friday, so we can drive up Friday after Marc finishes work and start the process of bringing everything up from the basement.
I named our home Heaventree. My favorite passage in English is from Ulysses: “the heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit.” That describes the night sky, of course, but on its own it seems to describe our new home in the forest and mountains.
I am so glad that trip is behind us. It was so so hard. It required all my mental, emotional, and physical strength. It was more fun doing it with Marc than I imagined it would be. I still have to fly back to Austin and make the trip again, by myself this time, but that’s in a couple of weeks. For now, no driving.