Just Where We Belong

Drive in

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash


I hesitated when I saw the invitation in my email because I am not a fan of scary movies. I tolerate them because they are one of Andrew’s favorite genres. When he watches Alien Death Camp Holiday or Haunted Mental Institution Massacre, I sit beside him on the couch and mutter comments.

“Did they go in the basement? Is that a hatchet?” I’ll say, my voice muffled by the blanket covering my face.

I clicked on the link in the email and signed up for two free passes for a screening of Strangers: Prey at Night. The summary I read said the film is a sequel to the first movie, Strangers. There were enough survivors for part two, this one to take place in an abandoned mobile home park, where the victims were threatened with murderous psychopaths instead of tornadoes.

I was sure Andrew would enjoy the movie, and I was willing to go along because the screening was to take place at our local drive in theater. I have fond memories of going to the drive in with my parents in the 1960s. There was a playground at the front, and I swung from monkey bars and climbed to the top of the rocket shaped slide to look up to the giant characters on the screen. When I was older, I went to the drive in on dates, but those times I stayed in the car.
We arrived early the night of the screening. I handed over my pass to the cashier in the little booth at the entrance and he told us, “Just follow the drive around to the back. It’s the last screen.”

“That one?” I asked, pointing to our left.

“There’ll be someone there to help you park,” he replied.

We swung around past the concession stand and drove to the last screen where Andrew spotted a young man dressed in fluorescent yellow, waving cars over into compact rows on the gravel lot. We settled in where he directed us.

After a trip to the concession stand for popcorn and a soft drink, we walked back in the dark to our parked car. I glanced over to the screen next to ours where a large group of people arranged themselves in chairs in front of the screen.

“What are those people doing over there?” I asked as I pointed to two men wearing suits, which seemed strange attire for an evening at the drive in.

“I don’t know,” Andrew replied, “but I think the movie is about to start.”

Andrew tuned in the car radio to the channel that would broadcast sound for our movie, and we watched the screen light up with previews for coming attractions. The first preview was a Claymation Cartoon.

“This is an odd preview for a horror movie,” I said. I swiveled around in the car seat and peered over at the lot next to ours. The screen there had a static display that said “Strangers.”

“I think we are at the wrong screen.”

Andrew turned to look behind us. “Oh well, at least we get to watch a free movie.”

I pulled up the drive in website on my phone as the next preview, an animated cartoon featuring a talking baby, started.

“The movies tonight are Death Wish, Black Panther, and…” I paused. “Peter Rabbit.”

Andrew does not appreciate children’s movies like I do. As a parent, I learned to be grateful for any entertainment that will encourage small children to sit still for an hour and a half. I looked around at the rows of cars that surrounded us. There were no lights marking the exit, and the only illumination came from the movie playing in front of us. A chorus of singing animals appeared on the screen. Andrew does not care for musicals either.

“Do you want to leave?” I asked.

“I don’t see how we can get out,” Andrew replied. After some discussion about the all-terrain capabilities of our Honda SUV, we decided to stay.

“At least it won’t last long,” Andrew said. This philosophy could apply equally to root canals, but I agreed and then complained about the size of the screen.

“Just pretend we are sitting on our couch at home, watching the movie on your phone, from across the room.”
The plot of the movie developed as we expected. There was action and romance between a female character named “Bea” and the handsome nephew of Farmer McGregor.

“I think this is based on true events,” I remarked, as a hedgehog wearing an apron ambled through the McGregor’s garden.

I flipped up my armrest and leaned over the center console so I could take Andrew’s hand and he grabbed the popcorn box just as it was about to spill onto the floorboards. What strange circumstances brought us here, to a place neither one imagined they would ever go, but both somehow certain that this is where they belong.


Peter Rabbit

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When We Are Small




Despite the crying during our last visit, we decided to take our grandson, Will, back to the Heard Museum to see the robotic dinosaur display. I suppose when you are shorter than three feet tall anything larger than a cat is intimidating, especially if it has sharp teeth and looks like it might eat you. “He’s had a whole year, surely he’s recovered by now,” I remarked to my fiancé, Andrew.

Soon after Andrew and I started dating I warned him that, although we were past the risk of producing children, if he stuck around he would definitely be in danger of exposure to grandchildren. I have been preparing for grandmother status half my life. I picked out my grandma name, “Mimi”, right after my son and his girlfriend announced their engagement.

Andrew’s grandpa name is “Hoppy”, the unfortunate result of letting a toddler select the name. I warned Andrew, but he began by trying out grand-père. A French accent proved too difficult for an 18 month old who wasn’t born in France, so we were left with Hoppy and Mimi.

My own grandmother was old before I was born. We visited her on holidays, where I sat in her living room just long enough to absorb the smell of mothballs and mentholated back rub into my clothes. Her third or fourth husband, Mac, was my step-grandfather. He wore striped overalls and had a glass eye he popped out to frighten children. I am determined that we will be a different sort of grandparents.

That afternoon at the museum we began with a brisk walk through the lobby crowded with young parents and knee high children, and wove our way in a quick jog past the toys in the gift shop. As I pushed open the glass door that led outside, I held onto Will’s hand and explained that the dinosaurs on the outdoor trail were not alive, they were just robots. This was probably not as reassuring as I intended. It did strike me with some irony that we expect our young ones to believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, but then discourage their fear of evil robotic monsters.

We stopped at the first dinosaur on the trail. It appeared to be strolling out of the wooded area behind it, brandishing sharp claws and casually grinning at us with impressive rows of teeth in its gaping mouth. The dinosaur was covered in bright purple and blue vinyl, with a pattern that would look smashing on a pair of boots. A nearby sign announced that the design was chosen by children. Will stood just above waist high beside me and held on tightly to my hand.  “I’m just small,” he announced.

“Yes,” I agreed, “but you are also very brave.” Will squinted at the robotic animal and then looked back up at me, as though he were about to question my judgement.

“Was it this color last year?” I asked Andrew.

“I don’t think so, and I seem to remember it was carrying a Halloween pumpkin.”

“I’m getting bigger, but right now I’m small,” Will repeated as we stood there. The dinosaur roared and nodded his head up and down as though he were agreeing that Will was indeed, bite sized.

We trudged on to the next display, a Triceratops. It was the size of a small car, but I felt encouraged, as this specimen was a plant eater. This particular herbivore, however, roared just like the meat eaters. It also shook its giant horned head from side to side and moved its mouth as though chewing a tasty, boy shaped morsel. It occurred to me that the animators could have had at least one dinosaur that chirped, or maybe sang a little song.

We continued our stroll down the trail, stopping briefly to enjoy each exhibit, at least until the roaring started up. Will hiked along bravely. When Hoppy pointed out a huge, ancient oak tree, Will said “That’s a scary tree,” but he did manage to roar back at some of the dinosaurs.

When we approached the final dinosaur, a forty-six foot tall T-Rex, Will stopped and held up his arms.  “Carry me Mimi! I’m small!” I scooped him up and he watched over my shoulder as we marched past the overgrown lizard.

Will wrapped his arms about my neck and we followed along behind Hoppy down the trail and past the t-rex. From the moment your children are born, they are just looking for some way to prove you wrong, but to your grandchildren you are infallible. There are people who never experience this level of unconditional love, unless they own a dog.

Once we were safely past the dinosaurs Will spotted a play area of child sized wooden houses meant to resemble a pioneer village. Andrew and I settled in and watched him pour rocks into a metal bucket. I tried to snap Will’s picture, but freed from the pressing danger of robotic dinosaurs, he spent his play time rushing off to explore the little houses at the frontier town. Every shot I took was of his back, as he ran away from us.

I won’t always be able to pick him up, but he won’t always need to be carried. It is reassuring, however, to know there will always be someone who trails behind, watching over us, and ready with strong arms to lift us when we can’t go on. When we turn to them and plead, “Please carry me, for I am just small.”





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Always the Last Place You Look

I spent a good part of the morning on Christmas Eve searching our apartment for a book. The missing book was a collection of fairy tales that I received for Christmas in 1968, when I was eight years old. The book was a present from my parents, and I first saw it while it was still wrapped in a Treasure City shopping bag and lying on the floorboard of our Oldsmobile. I remember teasing it carefully from the brown paper sack while I kept an eye out to make sure my mother, in her place in the front passenger seat, didn’t spot me. After I flipped the book over and traced the outline of Little Red Riding Hood and the wolf on the back cover, I stuffed it back under the car seat. On Christmas morning I pretended that it had been placed there by a generous elf, but I knew the truth. I convinced myself that my parents were in direct communication with Santa, and were merely helping him out by picking up a few things on their own.

Now, half a century later, I couldn’t find it. It sounds odd to consider the loss of a fifty year old book unusual, especially from someone who regularly misplaces her wallet, but this book had followed me from childhood. My fiancé Andrew and I searched every book case and every stack of books in our 1200 square foot apartment. “Where could it have got to?” I asked as I bent over to look under the couch.

“Did you put it up here with the children’s books?” Andrew pulled out and glanced behind Richard Scarry’s “Best Word Book EVER” before sliding it back on the shelf in our dining room. I walked back to our bedroom, to look once more at the small bookcase there. I hoped that the book had somehow found its way back to the last place where I had seen it. It seems we are often falling into this, some version of “Have you seen my…” The older I get, the more things seem to go missing. I am either growing more forgetful or my possessions have decided to free themselves before the inevitable estate sale.

“No, it’s gone, I don’t think we’ll find it.” I continued to drift from room to room, including the bathrooms, in case I had tucked the book away amongst the collection of toilet paper I had stashed under the sink. Andrew followed along behind me, a terry cloth sweatband stretched across his forehead as though he were about to go for a jog. He is good like that, he often puts aside whatever he is working on to help me look for my phone, my purse, that book I was reading. He has adjusted very well to the responsibility of looking after another person’s possessions, while I drag along, resenting the imposition of caring for anything that can’t look after itself. I’m often setting down my phone next to a sink full of water, or leaving a plastic cup too close to the hot stove top.

I pictured the worn green and white cardboard cover of the misplaced collection, patched with clear tape. As I described the book to Andrew, he mentioned that I could probably buy a replacement on eBay. “But it won’t be the same!” I protested as I recalled the black and white illustrations that I colored in with crayons. I prepared to gather myself into a ball of self-pity, moaning something about lost childhood treasures, when Andrew asked where I had last seen the book.

“I think I put it with my photo albums,” I answered from under the bed. A moment passed and then Andrew called out.

“Here it is!” He found the book tucked away in a cardboard box in our spare closet. He handed it to me, and I flipped through the pages. Just as I remembered, every story began with “Once Upon a Time”, and generally each had a happy ending, but in between there was danger, often in the form of wolves or a wicked sorceress. Most had a handsome prince, trying to win the love of a beautiful princess. Sometimes the hero wandered lost in a dark forest, in need of enchantment to discover the magic castle. I put the fairy tale book back on the shelf and thought that this is what love really is, just two people, helping each other find things.










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A Certain Understanding

Only a complete troll would abandon a loved one who had cancer or who needed one of your kidneys, but it takes a strong commitment to pass the Kleenex to the woman who just sneezed on you. Show me someone who can patiently listen to you complain about an ingrown toenail, and I’ll show you someone who loves you.

I’m not a good patient. I hate to waste a day off just to lie in bed and pop an aspirin every four hours. I have a hard time remembering to take the full dose of antibiotics, so I have a medicine cabinet full of orphaned pills rattling around in their little amber bottles.

Recently I gave in and scheduled the dental implant surgery I’ve been putting off for twenty years. My periodontist, a sincere young man who looks like he just stepped off the set of a family sitcom, described the first procedure, a bone graft, in horrific detail.

“Aha!” I thought, “This will be the perfect romantic date!” I volunteered my fiance, Andrew, to accompany me to the dental college for the surgery. They gave me two little blue Halcion  before knocking me out. The last thing I remember is wilting across Andrew’s shoulder while we sat on the plastic chairs in the waiting room.

I gradually floated back to earth to find myself on the couch in our living room while Andrew stood in the kitchen and steeped a tea bag to place on my gums. Over the next few days my diet consisted of chalky pain pills, blended soups, and an antibiotic the size of a small grape. For dessert I swirled a mouthwash that tasted like something that would  be used to exterminate wasps. I spent most of my time reclined in a chair in front of the television, with an ice pack of frozen peas pressed to my jaw.

By the end of the third day Andrew had clocked two or three miles jogging back and forth from the kitchen as he changed out my ice pack. Meanwhile I grew to hate the sound of the blender. It hurt to talk, so I resorted to growling at Andrew every time I heard the telltale crinkle that meant he was trying to sneak a handful of hard, delicious, crunchy chips. I began to fantasize about mashed potatoes, the one thing I thought I could manage to swallow with very little chewing.

“Look here!” I pointed to my phone screen, where I had pulled up the menu of a diner near our home. Andrew is a good sport, and instead of arguing whether or not I was ready for solid food, he picked up the car keys and got my jacket for me.

We were walking into the restaurant when I remembered the fading green and purple bruise on the side of my face. The hostess was an older woman with hair dyed margarine yellow. She was wearing jeans and sensible orthopedic shoes. She looked like the sort of sturdy, reliable woman you’d want on your side if you needed to escape a lover who’d turned out to have a short temper.

“Table for two?” she asked as she picked up a couple of menus from the stack by the door.

Andrew was busy glancing at his phone, leaving me to cover my cheek with my hand and pretend to scratch my ear as I mumbled “Uh huh.”

The woman who took our order could have been cast specifically for the role of tired, middle aged waitress. She had frizzy greying hair pulled back in a loose pony tail with a pencil skewered through it. I carefully sat at the booth with my bruised face toward the wall. Andrew ordered the all-day breakfast special with scrambled eggs and buttermilk biscuits, while I requested a side order of mashed potatoes and gravy. I imagined how wonderful the potatoes would taste. Hopefully they would have a generous amount of artery clogging butter, and be drowned in cream gravy so thick it resembled pudding.

When our food arrived I was dismayed to see that the potatoes came, not with the delicious smooth cream gravy in my food dreams, but instead the bowl was awash with a slimy coating of watery, lumpy brown gravy.

“How are your taters?” Andrew asked as he forked up a mouthful of his scrambled eggs. The eggs were runny, which he hates, but he kept eating them without complaint.

I stirred the ugly motor oil colored gravy into my potatoes as I answered, “They’re okay.” I didn’t mention that brown gravy should only be served with potatoes north of the Mason Dixon line.

When we got back to our apartment I took a pain pill and rinsed the taste of the brown gravy from my mouth with the antiseptic, wasp killing mouthwash. My jaw hurt from chewing the potatoes, so I tried my best to send a silent, telepathic “I love you” to Andrew. I reached over to where he was stretched out on the couch beside me, and gave his shoulder a little pat. He sighed, and without saying anything, got up to shuffle into the kitchen. He came back with my bag of frozen peas, which I gratefully accepted, certain that he understood.

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Join Hands, Give Thanks

Home Baking.jpg

I lived through two decades before I discovered that there were people in the world who made dressing with stale bread cubes instead of fresh cornbread. My oldest sister’s second husband, the nice one, was from somewhere up North, New York I think. He had dark, pomaded hair swept up and back and he smiled and spoke with an accent I had only ever heard on television. He made a bread stuffing with oysters. I forgave him because it was delicious, each mouthful a feast of earthy black pepper mixed with the salty ocean taste of oysters. I was home from college, and my mother volunteered me to drive the two of us up to Malakoff, Texas, where my sister and her new husband had retired to life by the lake. In those days before GPS, I got lost following my sister’s handwritten directions because I didn’t know that “LBJ” was also Interstate 635. We arrived late, but to a feast laid out on their Formica topped kitchen island and still warm. I wish I had asked him for the recipe for that oyster dressing.

My mother made her dish the Southern way, with cornbread. She used white corn meal, soft as sand, with a bit of flour, scooped up and sprinkled in like snow. Baking soda and baking powder for leavening, for we all need incentive to rise. Buttermilk to mix, salt and bacon drippings for flavor, then all poured into her largest cast iron skillet, warmed on the stove so the crust will brown first. It came out like a pale yellow moon and filled the kitchen with the warm, sweet scent of corn. For the dressing she mixed in celery, onions, broth, and enough sage to repel evil spirits.

When I was young, we traveled to my grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving. Not over the river or through the woods, but past the lake and along Highway 380 the 15 miles or so to the town of Farmersville. My mother brought her cornbread dressing and a pie or two as her contribution to the meal. I held the warm pan of dressing on my lap where I sat in the slick vinyl backseat of our 1970 Oldsmobile, and tried not to drool on the foil covering the pan. My grandmother’s wood frame house had a tiny living room decorated with an autographed photograph of a famous televangelist, before the fall. She sent him money and prayed for healing by laying her hands on her Chroma color television while he preached. The children, including anyone under the age of 18, were banished to the back porch. We fought over metal folding chairs and balanced our plates of food on our knees while we fended off the horde of feral cats living in my grandmother’s yard. The cats were only slightly outnumbered by my cousins.

Some years we visited my father’s family, where my aunts made their dressing and gravy seasoned with the chunks of turkey heart, liver, and gizzard that came packaged and concealed inside a store bought turkey. The first time I cooked a turkey I didn’t realize there was this hidden prize inside. I found them after, steamed and tucked under the skin at the front of the turkey, where his neck would have been if it weren’t shoved up into the body cavity. The neck was roasted too, because I didn’t know there was a second, secret scrap part buried inside my turkey.

My first husband was from Missouri, and the bread stuffing his mother made was moist, but thick, and had to be scooped out in chunks. My father-in-law, an honest, hard-working mechanic and assistant Boy Scout leader, led the prayer each year, insisting that we all stand before the table and join hands. You haven’t really experienced Thanksgiving gratitude until you’ve had to convince a squirming toddler to stay still during a ten minute blessing, while the aroma of food wafts over you in a moist cloud of steam you can taste.

My mother stopped cooking a turkey for Thanksgiving after my parents divorced, when it was just the two of us left at home. She would roast a chicken instead, and make her cornbread dressing. I never saw her consult a cookbook, she cooked from memory mostly, measuring out ingredients to taste except when she was making a pie or cake. After she moved into a nursing home, I found a cookbook tucked away in a box she had stored in her laundry room. The book, All About Home Baking, had penciled notes in the margins and, tucked inside the front cover, scraps of lined paper with recipes written in her delicate, looping cursive. Brittle, yellowed pages from a 1963 calendar fluttered out like falling leaves when I turned the pages of the book.

I roast a turkey every year, even when there are just one or two guests and my vegetarian fiancé at the table. This year I’m cooking both turkey and a ham. I’ll make cranberry relish from fresh cranberries and oranges, and add so much sugar that it passes for jam. We’ll have pumpkin pie and a minced meat pie like my mother used to make, even though no one but me will eat it. It is a deliberate luxury on my part to have a whole pie to myself. My fiancé, Andrew, will mash potatoes so they come out just the way he likes them, a little bit creamy and with a few tiny lumps. When he leaves the kitchen I will sneak in more butter and salt to the dish.

I don’t cook my mother’s cornbread dressing, I’ve fallen from grace and into the boxed, instant variety, but at least it’s the cornbread version. I’ll make traditional green bean casserole with crispy fried onions on top and a spinach rice casserole from a recipe my aunt gave to me. I don’t put marshmallows on the yams, instead I’ll serve them with a pecan streusel topping like my ex-husband’s mother, my first mother-in-law, made.

The guests at the table, the cooks in the kitchen, and the fellowship changes, just as the feast stays the same. I touch my past as my hand stirs the pot, preps the bird, and kneads the bread. I bow my head in silent thanks and join hands with all, even those who are absent from the table. Join hands, bow heads and give thanks, give thanks for the love we are all about to receive.







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The Age of Irresponsibility



I think our snails are up to some hanky panky. The other day they were tangled up in a position that looked like an illustration from the Kama Sutra for invertebrates. My boyfriend, Andrew, and I bought these two freshwater snails to keep company with a beta we had. The fish passed away after eight months, but two years later the snails are still sliding over the glass walls of the aquarium. Their home is a five gallon tank, complete with decorative gravel, waving plastic plants, a ceramic log, and a tiny pagoda if they happen to feel the need to meditate. They don’t do much except vacuum up the algae from the tank. It is a little like having a Roomba for a pet. The aquarium offers them both a regular bright electric light, and with the flick of switch, a mellow bluish purple tinted glow. Nerite snails are supposed to be asexual, but maybe it’s the blue light that puts them in the mood. Or maybe, like us, they just feel the need for a hug now and then.

Andrew and I occasionally discuss adding a pet to our home, but the logistics of adding an animal to our two bedroom apartment overwhelms us. Who would empty the litter box? Who would arrive home in time to walk the dog? Half a life time of caring for others has left me selfish and lazy in this, my carefree empty nest years. There are evenings where I can barely muster up the will to feed myself, let alone another living creature. I’ll resort to eating raw foods straight from the packaging, standing over the sink in order to catch any crumbs.

When my sons were young we had the usual procession of cats and dogs in our household. My younger son, Andy, was gifted once with a dwarf hamster. The hamster fit in my palm, and he had light apricot colored fur. His eyes were bright red, a satanic hue that should have warned us. We named him Mr. Nibbles, a deceptively cute name for a demon possessed rodent. Mr. Nibbles lay in wait, curled up and partially hidden by the soft wood shavings in the bottom of his cage, until an unlucky victim placed their hand inside. Then he would spring into action, leaping up and nipping any fingers within reach. He got me once in the web of skin between my thumb and index finger. I screamed and yanked my hand out of the cage with Mr. Nibbles still latched on. A flick of my wrist sent the little devil flying across the room to thud on the wall, his tiny legs splayed out like a cartoon character. I scooped him up, unconscious and unable to bite, and deposited him back in his cage.

He recovered from this trauma, but several weeks later we noticed that he had somehow lost an eye. Andy shrugged and renamed him Captain Nibbles, the pirate hamster. The lost eye did not improve his disposition. He continued to attack anyone unfortunate enough to be assigned cleaning or feeding duties, until one morning I found him belly up in his cage. I poked him with a straw first, to make sure he wasn’t just pretending to be dead. We held a funeral, complete with an insincere eulogy. I conjured up tears by remembering the pain inflicted by his sharp little teeth.

Not to be outdone by the hamster, my older son requested a Leopard Gecko for a pet. The little lizard was a light cream color with black and brown spots. He required a heat lamp to keep his glass tank at the perfect temperature. Like the hamster, he was palm sized, but unlike the hamster, the gecko was shy, and he would hide in his artificial rock cave whenever any of us tried to get a look at him. While we humans drank water from the tap, the gecko enjoyed bottled water from a battery operated bubbling fountain. The hamster, when I was brave enough to stick my hand in and feed him, ate tiny pellets we could buy almost anywhere. The gecko dined on live crickets. The crickets had to be purchased weekly, and I called local pet stores like a drug addict looking for a score. “Do you have the crickets?” I whispered into my phone at work. “Are they fresh?” I asked while I held my hand over the receiver. Before they could be fed to the gecko they had to be dusted with a special, vitamin fortified powder. I was grateful we didn’t have to cook them. Every time we opened the cardboard box in order to dump crickets into the vitamin dust shaker, several of the crickets would break free to take their chances in the wilds of my teenage son’s room. Our home was filled each evening with the musical chirping of crickets. The bugs that made it into the terrarium were stalked and consumed by the gecko with a frightening efficiency, which led me to ask Robert “How big does this thing grow?”

The gecko passed away unnoticed. We were used to seeing him immobile and hiding under the rock ledge in his cage, and it wasn’t until the crickets began multiplying joyously that we thought to examine the lizard. He had mummified in the dry heat of the terrarium, his little body stiffened and his mouth open in a sort of surprised smile.

I think sometimes that the perceived difficulties posed by pet ownership are not the fault of these creatures, but they are perhaps caused by some flaw, some deficiency in my own character. Pets provide companionship and love, and in return ask only that we care for their needs. It’s hard to imagine a more carefree pet than a fish that you only have to feed once or twice a week, but I can’t seem to work up the initiative to replace the beta. Andrew is lucky that he is self-sufficient, he can fetch his own meals and he very rarely requires a walk.

The snails continue their cleaning duties in an aquarium they have to themselves. I think they’re entertaining and lovely with their striped and spotted shells. They find their own dinner, and I only need to drop in a feeding tablet every month or so. They are perfect pets for this point in my life. Evenings I pour myself a glass of wine and light a candle or two, put Marvin Gaye on the stereo, turn on the blue light in the aquarium, and sit back to ignore the show.


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The Road Unspoiled

I didn’t plan on leaving the house on Friday the 13th. Not because I’m superstitious, but because I had already removed my bra for the evening. I was lounging on the couch at home, watching television and dressed in a comfortable T-shirt and fuzzy pajama bottoms, when my boyfriend Andrew texted me.

“How about a little trip out of town this weekend?” He asked. “We can go to Tyler!”

I am always up for a spontaneous weekend adventure, even if it means I have to put on a bra. After I changed into appropriate traveling clothes I grabbed a bag and started packing. We expected to leave in less than an hour, so I grabbed socks, underwear, T-shirts, shorts, and more socks and stuffed them in a backpack. I checked the refrigerator for anything that might spoil during the two days that we would be gone, and added that rubbish to the large, economy sized black trash bag that held the week’s accumulation.

Andrew arrived and packed, then we carried everything out to the car. A cooler with drinks, our bags, some reading material, and a paper sack with snacks all went in the back seat. I placed the big trash bag outside my car, on the bike carrier, so that we could drop it off at the dumpster on our way out of the apartment complex.

After some discussion, we stopped for a quick dinner of burgers and fries to let traffic die down and then, drowsy with carbohydrates, we headed out on the dark highway. I was adjusting the radio when Andrew glanced into the rear view mirror.

“Hey! Something just flew off the back of the car!”

I turned around in my seat just as a stained, shredded paper napkin flew past the window in the jet stream of air off our SUV. The weeks’ worth of garbage that I placed on the bike carrier, and intended to drop off at the dumpster, was now spewing forth down the highway.

Andrew and I dutifully recycle. We buy organic food and products in recyclable packaging so as to minimize our carbon footprint. I try to remember to bring reusable shopping bags when I buy groceries. I am a member of the Sierra Club. But this, this was the exact opposite of leave no trace.

“What was in that bag?” Andrew asked as he watched our trash whip off the back of the car and stream off into the night.

“Well, we shred everything with our name on it.” I replied, thinking of possible criminal prosecution for littering.

“Why didn’t anyone honk at us or flash their lights!”

I thought this was a decent try at shirking responsibility, but I imagine the travelers behind us were too busy swerving. After all, they had to avoid the Styrofoam containers, eggshells, and coffee grinds rushing toward them. I resolved to start a composting bin as soon as we returned home.

“At least we recycle the glass containers and metal cans.” I said. I tried to remember if last week had been the week that I threw away the bra with the broken underwire and the underpants with stretched out elastic.  I pictured my bra slapping across someone’s windshield, my faded underwear a flag flying on their antenna.

We drove another three or four miles before there was an exit. I was grateful I didn’t spot one of those Adopt a Highway signs. I couldn’t bear the thought of a troop of girl scouts picking up our soggy produce off the side of the road.

When we finally pulled over I got out of the car and walked to the back. I found the trash bag hanging from the bike rack like a large, black, deflated balloon. All that remained were some damp papers and bits of plastic, the whole thing was about the size of a head of cabbage. I stashed it on the back floorboard and when we reached the hotel in Tyler I tossed it into the trashcan at the entrance. It made a satisfying “thunk” sound going in, despite its light weight. We unloaded the car and checked into our room, our journey complete and, at least for the last part, the road unspoiled.

  • You can listen to me reading this story here:
Make America Green

This is the bumper sticker on my car!

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