Posted by jdg | Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Three years ago they spent their third anniversary in the car, an 18-month old girl unhappy in the back seat, a thousand miles of road in front of them. The wife got a migraine in one of those scrubby Utah valley towns without a single bar. A few years before that he’d done the same drive in the opposite direction, leaving his newly-anointed fiancĂ© in Ann Arbor to drive a packed car empty of everything that mattered to him, alone and hardly ready to start a new life in a new town out West. He took Highway 50 through Utah and Nevada, some of the longest stretch of empty road he’d ever seen. In western Utah he hit a jackrabbit the size of a small dog and in Nevada he saw a hand-painted sign on the side of the road that said Turn Around. Go Home. He almost did.

When they crossed into Colorado on their way home her migraine was gone, but he threw his back out carrying the portable crib into some noname hotel in Grand Junction. While she put the kid to sleep he wandered along the shoulder of the state road looking for a meal fit for an anniversary. As he walked past, neon signs went dark in pizza shops and stripmall Chinese dives he wouldn’t have patronized anyways. If the independent diner he did find were a musician listings its influences, it would have said Bob Evans, Perkins, and Waffle House. It had a five-page laminated menu from which he chose the boneless prime rib special (with au jus) and a ranch-dressed salad topped with shredded orange cheese and fried chicken strips. They ate it all on the hotel floor, drinking warm Hefeweizen they couldn't bear to leave in their San Francisco refrigerator. Joyeuses noces de froment, mon amour.

This year: six years married, thirteen together. They spent the morning in rental car agencies, the rest of the day heading east again, this time with two kids capable of killing that new car perfume in two hours. Oh, Canada, with your necessary conversions and highways named after hockey players. Didn’t your parents honeymoon in Niagara Falls? she asked.

Yes. Before it was ironic.

When they arrived in downtown Buffalo it had already suffered its daily evacuation. He needed milk for his baby and a meal for his wife, so he wandered into a distressed neighborhood and bought Vitamin D milk at a half-empty bodega with a WIC sign in the window and two beef on wecks from a dive bar. They ate in the dark on the hotel floor while the kids slept. She wanted to eat in the bathroom, but he forbade it, saying, You can't eat where you shit. It's not romantic.

* * * * *

Months ago she had gotten drunk at a charity auction and bid on a week at a cottage in the Adirondacks. She later admitted she didn't quite know where the Adirondacks were, though she knew for certain she liked the chairs. They fall in love with every new city, every town they see on this trip through upstate New York and Vermont. The impetuousness that brought them to the west coast and back still tempts them to try new lives. She starts crying in Middlebury, Vermont, as it hits her that one day she will see her kids off to college. One day they will be gone, he thinks. Someday again it will just be her and me.

Some men see women like these two see towns. They see possibilities in each. They wonder what ifs. But when he sees other women, he can only wonder how lucky he was to find this one when he did.