Tag Archives: Travel

Just waiting

Too busy. Zeke is taking driver’s ed. Her friends are in and out of the house all day, sacked out on the couch or on mats in her bedroom at night. I drive an average of 60 miles a day, I realize. In less than five years I have put 100,000 miles on my car. And those miles are costing me. I get about 22 miles to the gallon with city driving. A drive out to the canyon and back is about 20 miles. So at $4.24 a gallon at the cheap stations, using the lowest quality unleaded, my trip to the canyon to walk the dogs costs close enough to $4 to make it untenable. I have begun cutting back. “I’ll go to the canyon,” I think, seeking solitude and sacred ground. And then I don’t go, but put leashes on the dogs and walk them out my door to the city walkway, which is a disappointing compromise for all of us.

Yesterday, when I drove Zeke across town to meet a friend of hers on his work break, I reminded her that the trip was costing three dollars in gas. I’m so used to just getting in my car to pick up her friends and bring them home, or to drop them off, or to take them to the mall or a matinee, that this new stinginess sits on me awkwardly. But I have no choice. And really it’s a necessary shift in attitude. Despite my environmentally conscious tendencies, my recycling, refusal to buy over-packaged products, and attempt to buy a compact car with decent gas mileage (why is it that the promised MPG is never the actual MPG? No, don’t answer that question. I know!), I have tended to be willing to drive Zeke where she’s wanted to go — and her retinue of friends, too, whose parents wouldn’t or couldn’t take the time or the gas to do so.

But things are changing. I can’t afford it. And the carbon footprint my indiscriminate driving of the past has left hovering over me troubles me. I am more willing to tell Zeke no, when she asks for a ride for her friends now. Luckily, more and more of them are driving, so she asks less and less often!

A harder cutback is the need to tell my father I can’t come see him every two weeks as I used to. For four years after Mum died, I made the trek over the mountains every couple of weeks. In the winter, it was sometimes less often, depending on pass conditions. But in the summer, it was often every weekend. Last winter, the poor weather and frequent pass closures made winter travel less appealing. I begged off more often than not, and now, with gas prices soaring, I find myself hesitating. Even Fourth of July has lost its appeal. I don’t really want to go, though it has been a tradition for 13 years. I tried to tempt my father and sister to come over here instead, as they almost never come to visit (it’s been two or three years since Ruth May has come over this direction, and my father makes it maybe once a year), but they declined. I suppose I will go, but I’d rather stay home, and work on my little garden, and try to resurrect my retrospective, which simmers in the back of my head, flashing quick images at me at unexpected moments.

Retrospective 10: 1972 — Fromage in Ireland

My father flew overhead in a plane to Ireland, and Ruth May looked up at the plane passing and drove her tricycle into the paddling pool and broke her arm. Was that the year my friend was hit by a car and taken away in an ambulance one day? I don’t remember her name, only that she lived in a cheaper apartment complex than we did, across the road, one with broken lights in the stairwells and the smell of urine permeating the dark walkways. We always walked home from school together, till a car hit her as she was crossing the road, and she was taken away in the ambulance. The EMTs bribed her with chocolate and after a while she went willingly, but I will not forget her tears, nor the smell of burning rubber in the air, which brings back — every time — the lonely wail of the siren and my own sense of complicity in her accident.

Ruth May, howling in the empty paddling pool, looks up to the sky. The plane is gone, carrying my father. My mother picks her up, and off we go to the hospital. Ruth May comes back from some mysterious room with a cast, and she is smiling.

We spend nights in the living rooms of friends who live in a commune. Do I imagine it? The smell of incense; the sound of a guitar playing; laughter and clinking glasses. My mother is touched by firelight, and her long hair glows golden in the shadows. She is far away, although I could touch her if I tried.

And then we are going to Ireland. We are still in school when we leave. No. We have just gone back after the summer, and my father has been gone for weeks, and suddenly Mum says, “It’s time. We’re going to Ireland.” Dad is back, and we pack up the van, and he drives the Volvo. We take the ferry, and he fills the little head with bottles of alcohol, and we have to stay quiet when we go through customs.

Before we left, my teacher gave me a book about a flower. It was called Marguerite, and it was in French, and everyone in my class signed it. I kept it for years, till my mother gave it away in a frenzy, the way she did sometimes. We were each given a new stuffed toy, too, and Ruth May got the biggest one, and Leah the next biggest, and Rachel the next biggest. And I got the smallest one. I loved that little bear, even after the dogs tore it apart years later, and my mother had to sew it together again, make a mouth and eyes for it, and a dress to cover its shredded belly.

Ireland was damp and gloomy after the sunshine of Switzerland. We lived in a temporary apartment, a townhouse in Dublin, and I remember a square outside the front door, a patch of grass, and metal railings. We could have walked to school, but we didn’t. On the first day, the teacher asked me to translate something in French. I remember fromage. Cheese. I could barely read, and everyone laughed, because they thought I couldn’t speak French. It wasn’t that. I was eight, and didn’t read well, and then I remembered that people thought I was slow in Switzerland, and that Mum spent hours helping me learn to read, and I remember that I was the odd one, the hyper one, the one who didn’t track conversations sometimes, because I was living in my own world where words didn’t matter — a place of sensation and yearning.

Years later I learned that Mum wanted to leave Switzerland because they track people vocationally there, and she was sure I would never get to follow an academic path. Not with my reading difficulties. Not with my inability to sit still in a classroom.

Still, in Switzerland I didn’t know I was stupid. It wasn’t till I got to Ireland that I figured it out.