Andrew and I are leaving for Las Vegas. Or San Diego. Or Sedona. Anywhere with a Justice of the Peace, in case the urge to marry strikes us. We’ll be gone for a while; combo wedding and honeymoon. This means you won’t get the big wedding you wanted (despite the fact it would be my wedding, but that’s beside the point)– and our family will undoubtedly never let this go. Please don’t call me. I’m safe, I know what I’m doing. I love you, I’ll talk to you soon.
The night I am visiting my parents from college, one week after graduation, I write this note. All I have to do is leave the letter on the kitchen table, throw my duffel in the backseat and meet Andrew at the commuter lot by sunrise.
I sit with the letter in my hands for at least an hour. Could I do this? Could I flip the finger to my responsibilities and just leave? If I stay, I can imagine the conversations.
“I want a small wedding.”
My mom would pause, “I don’t know. There’s Doreen’s family and your cousins…” Ah, yes. All of the people I didn’t want poking and prying into my personal affairs.
It would get worse. “What do you mean she doesn’t want us at her wedding? We’re family; these kinds of events are reasons to get together. When else am I going to see you?”
“But, honey, that’s not how it’s done. You should exchange rings. It’s very important. Oh, let me fix your dress…” I push the image of my mother fussing with my dress away as if she were really there. No one is asking what I want. So I am going to take it. But if I leave, would I ever be welcomed back?
I feel nauseous as I rearrange the note, propping it up against the fruit bowl. 2:30 AM. I am running out of time to make decisions. Heaven forbid if either one of my parents comes downstairs, I will have some serious explaining to do.
I stop thinking. I grab the duffel perched on the center island and pull the door behind me, listening for any creaky floorboards.
A 1969 Red Corvette is the only car in the lot. Holy shit, we’re actually doing this.
We got into Sedona a little after two this afternoon. You wouldn’t believe what happened! We were in traffic, with a white pickup in front of us. The passenger stuck his head out of the window and craned his neck really hard to get a good look at our car. He ducked back in for a sec then—WHAM—came back out with a shotgun! He fired on the car once (with surprisingly good aim at sixty miles an hour) but Andrew swerved the car out of the way before we got hit. We asked the concierge about it; he thinks the plates would go to ground—it’s probably stolen. Never a boring moment out here in the Wild West.
Sending all my love back home.
I clench the arm rest until my fingers ache. Andrew nearly spun out on the sand. He shakes his head, “What a nutjob.” He takes a side road, weaving through Mexican restaurants and the occasional Wal-mart. I keep my eyes on the mirror, searching for any white pick-up trucks.
“I’m hungry. Do you want anything?” He’s dealing with this well. It wouldn’t bother me so much if he realized I’m a few nachos short of an appetizer. I shake my head. He pulls into the next restaurant we see.
“I’m fine, by the way. Thanks.”
He arches an eyebrow at me. “I assumed, mainly because you didn’t get shot. Or did you? Maybe I have to give you a full-body exam.” He reaches over and starts tickling me.
“Stop it, that’s not funny.” But my body betrays me and I start laughing. Yet, I’m still mad.
It’s sunset by the time we reach the hotel. Our room embraces the red rock theme. The walls are doused in hot oranges and earthy reds. Oh, and lots of cacti. I throw my bag full of wrinkled, dirty laundry down on the mattress. Hard. Andrew is only a few steps behind me, his arms loaded with dinner, whistling some god awful song.
“Will you stop whistling, please?” I turn towards him; he hasn’t shaved in at least a week.
“Hey, you sang Katy Perry all the way through Oklahoma. Consider this revenge.”
I want to smile and push his face into the burrito he’s unwrapping at the same time. “What do you want to see while we’re here?”
“I’m game for eating cheap food and walking through the desert. I don’t need an itinerary.”
I flip through the complimentary ‘Things to Do’ book that’s in the nightstand. I think it’s replaced the bible. “What about a Pink Jeep Tour? It’ll take us through the canyons. Or we could do early morning meditation session?”
Andrew shakes his head. “How much money do we have? I don’t want to spend it on trashy tourist traps.”
It’s my turn to shoot him a confused look. “I thought that was the whole point of this. That we explore, do things we would never do otherwise.”
“We’re the same people, Moll. Just in a different place.”
After shacking up in Sedona for a few days, we hit the road for San Diego. It’s so green here, even when you’re on the highway. Part of the highway is titled Balboa Parkway. I asked Andrew if it was named after Rocky…he couldn’t stop laughing for about ten minutes. I’m still Molly Rollins; haven’t hyphenated my name just yet. Guess we haven’t found the perfect place yet. I miss you. I’ll write again soon.
“I don’t understand the panda appeal,” Andrew says as he looks at the plaque in front of the San Diego Zoo. “They just sit and eat bamboo all day.”
I laugh, “And they smell. But they’re dying out—makes them a hot commodity.” We walk through to my favorite exhibit: the polar bears. Small children crowd around the glass as they watch one bear twist and flip underwater. What a ham. I pull out my camera and let him pose for me.
I squeeze between the kids, until I’m inches from the glass. Then, just as suddenly, the children disperse. Probably went to see the pandas. I just stand and continue watching him. And for a moment, I forget that I left Andrew outside by the jaguars.
When I walk out the plastic cave, I see him lounging on a wooden bench, lapping up the sun like a cat. I smile and just watch. He’s the reason I’m here. I want to run my fingers down his neck and rub his shoulder.
He looks up and smiles wide. I feel even warmer…until I realize that I’m not the one he’s smiling at. A young woman with long brown hair and a white wife beater and jeans has gone over to make idle conversation. She’s tall and thin; she could substitute for bamboo quite nicely.
But the moment gets me thinking. We came out west to get married and explore. Yet, we were still unwed and mulling around a zoo. Was this what I really wanted?