Last week my husband Gabe and I set out on a road trip—a long one. Over 13 hours—not for the faint of heart, but as he reminded me, we are young at heart. I was dubious about that many hours in the car, but Gabe reminded me of romantic road trips in our youth. Yes, I thought, but that was before we finished each other’s sentences, before we had heard all of each other’s stories, before three children and three decades salted our hair.
However, I had forgotten how cathartic the open road can be, even with the threat of COVID-19 as an unwelcome third wheel. Only 15 minutes into the drive, after Gabe rolled his eyes at something I said, I played the game of “What five things would you change in a new wife?” His answers were somewhat surprising and also rather benign. The game gave me confidence that I wasn’t going to change a thing and that our marriage would endure.
Admittedly, heading to a Miami area beach when restaurants and life-as-we-know-it were starting to shut down could easily have made our vacation a bust. But the road had much to teach me, and our experiences along the way made it invigorating.
Our first stop was to spend the night with Gabe’s cousins. A simple picnic dinner beside the river reminded me of how cheaply true happiness can come—and how rich the moments with family are. I learned of the night-blooming cereus, a flowering cactus that blooms only once a year, for a single night. What miraculous secrets our earth holds, if only we pay attention. While at our cousins’ house, we scanned old photos and spoke of the love stories of Gabe’s ancestors—displayed in pictures taken from streets in Spain. Our hosts filled our cups in the way that only your family can—those who not only know your stories but were there when they happened.
When we reached Key Biscayne, we discovered our host’s wife was stuck in their home in New York—wary about traveling through airports with the hotbed of COVID-19 in their county. Communicating with her made me appreciate being with my own spouse. Gabe and Tom told stories from college, and we swapped stories of our five daughters. We fell into conversation with our old friend like no time had lapsed, and I was thankful for the bonds of friendship unbending to time or distance.
The temperature on the beach could not have been more perfect (80 degrees and breezy) and the 30 feet between those few of us there were one positive result of this pandemic. We left Tom wondering when he and his wife would be able to reunite. Had a store been open, I would’ve purchased a soccer ball for him, a “Wilson” for him to befriend.
We meandered back on a different route and met up with one of my dear high school friends in Naples. Restaurants were still open, and, having disinfected the patio table (nurse anesthetists are the best friends to have), we enjoyed delicious food and fellowship. Although I hadn’t seen her in 39 years, it was as if we were teens again. Sitting next to Kim, I was reminded of her warmth and keen intellect that I had envied in adolescence. In exchanging life stories, I learned she is a Gold Star mom, so I can add courage and resilience to her attributes. I hope it won’t be so long before I see her again, but how redeeming to realize that friendships are measured in rings around your heart and not pages on a calendar.
Besides fear over COVID-19, we had another silent partner for much of our journey: an 8 cubic foot, 100 pound box. My husband’s family is in Venezuela, where President Nicolás Maduro’s regime has caused both price gouging and shortages of staples. Every couple of months, Gabe packages together toilet paper, hygiene products, dry and canned comestibles, and a variety of other items, and ships them to a middle man in Miami who gets the box onto a boat. It takes weeks for the shipment to arrive to his family. Each time Gabe packs a box, I can sense his hopelessness in knowing that his gorgeous home of resources and opportunity is being destroyed by a ruthless dictator. I can feel Gabe’s despair in knowing he can do nothing to “fix” this situation, other than shipping boxes. Unlike the U.S., in Venezuela votes do not make a difference. Having witnessed that type of governmental corruption is surely the impetus behind Gabe’s fierce patriotism to the U.S. The trip to Miami was an opportunity to deliver the box in person and meet the middle man. We felt lighter—in terms of car suspension and psyches—once it was there.
Throughout our driving adventures we talked of everything and nothing. We argued over the correct use of schadenfreude in a sentence. We talked about Copernicus and writing. We worked crosswords and learned that “slake” is synonymous with “assuage” and recited the Greek gods in order to identify 36 down. We took count of the blooming trees—forsythia, cherry blossoms, Bartlett pears—and the burgeoning spring filled our hearts with hope.
The beauty of the open road lies in its ability to renew and educate us. I returned home certain that our world is full of people who fill boxes and people who open their homes to visitors. I was reminded once again that I share my life with someone who makes ordinary mile markers spectacular.
Kim reminded me of our senior English teacher leaning against her desk, arms folded, telling us, “Ladies, you have to come to terms with this material.” As true now as then. In our individual lives we have had to come to terms with new and difficult challenges. And we will come to terms with this strange new time. We will bore ourselves silly and wash our hands into oblivion. Our road trip concluded with a new reality, but I needed that 900+ road miles of perspective.