We drove down from Maine. Just hopped in the car and hit the interstate, spur of the moment. Headed south. It was mid-winter and the snow was falling down in sheets as we drove. The car stereo played 90s on 9, one of the perks of having XM radio, and we pretended it was 20 years ago, Melinda and me. We rocked out to Sugar Ray’s “Every Morning” as the mile markers blew past in a blur.
“Where are we even going?” I asked over the noise of the car and the song.
“All the way to Mexico,” she replied without looking over.
“But I don’t have my passport,” I said, like a kid who doesn’t want to eat his spinach.
“Neither do I,” said Melinda, laughing.
“So how are we going to make it into Mexico?” I asked, confused.
“We’re not,” she answered with a twinkle in her eye.
And the conversation was closed, like what usually happened with her. She was spontaneous and exciting, but when she didn’t want to continue a discussion it died a quick death, stinking like sulfur when it was done. The road stretched out behind us for miles while ahead was a mystery wrapped in 90s nostalgia and blank space. Melinda hummed as she drove further into it.
The landscape changed from white to gray as we kept heading south, and night fell like a curtain in the distance. We seemed to be getting closer to Mexico with every rotation of the car’s wheels, but what that really meant eluded me. Melinda’s white-knuckle grip on the steering wheel reminded me that she hadn’t been the same since Leah left, not as sure of herself as she used to be.
“You know it wasn’t your fault,” I told her while we drove through Tennessee in the early morning hours on the second day.
“That doesn’t make it any easier,” she said in a voice barely above a whisper.
“And it shouldn’t. She’s still gone, but you can’t go on blaming yourself,” I insisted.
In the background Shanice was singing “Smile” even though neither of us had that expression on our faces. Instead it was like we had just fought a war and were reluctant winners. The silence between us had the finality of a dirge and the weight of five years behind it. That night we slept in the same motel room but in separate beds as we had done before, but in the middle of the night I heard the sound of wracking sobs across the empty space. Instead of ignoring them to preserve her dignity I got up and crawled under her covers. We fashioned ourselves into a seamless spoon with no words, and I awoke alone in her bed.
Then it was back on the road with no discussion of the night before. That was her way. It had become our way, and I found some solace in the familiarity of it all. And I noticed there was something different about the mood in the car, that it was somehow lighter than it had been the previous two days. While Young MC rapped about busting a move I tried to place my finger on it, but it still didn’t hit me until I saw the next road sign.
“Hold up. We’re going north again,” I told my mercurial driver, astonished at our trajectory.
“I know,” she replied, eyes firmly fixed on the road.
“But we’ll never get to Mexico,” I almost said, but it hit me before I opened my mouth. The trip had never been about Mexico at all. Maybe it just took a change of scenery for her to really open up in a way she never would have if we had stayed in Maine.
All the way to Mexico indeed, I thought, as Depeche Mode told me to “Enjoy the Silence.” And I did.