I know him as ”John”. He knows me as Dr. Archer. He is 60. I haven’t seen him in about 6 years and the time has worn him poorly. He sits, slouched, unshaven, plas­tic san­dals and nails uncut. He can’t reach them. He has a her­nia, needs a colonoscopy for bleed­ing from his bot­tom. Mostly though he says he doesn’t know if its worth it because he doesn’t want to live. I ask if he wants to die. No. And he doesn’t want to live. He isn’t liv­ing. Every­day is the same monot­ony for him and his wife and the cat. They live at the Hol­i­day Motel.

I reel back to 1971 when my fam­ily took the trip to Cal­i­for­nia and the dream of the west was born in me. We trav­eled in the Ford sta­tion wagon from Cor­pus Christi to San Fran­cisco. My brother and I sat fac­ing each other in the back of the wagon, the jump seats the sta­tion wag­ons had back then. He was 11. I was 7. My sis­ters, ten years older and a year a part from each other in the mid­dle seat. My brother sang ”I don’t want a pickle, I just want to ride my motor­sickle” end­lessly. He sang more when I begged him to stop. He and I watched to the black blotches of rub­ber lob­bing off behind the car in Ari­zona, asphalt grid­dle, won­der­ing what those black things were…and then the tire blew. Basi­cally melted off the steel belted radials.

Every night we pulled in to a travel lodge of some sort, mostly like the Hol­i­day Motel. Had to have a pool so that my mom could pour our pent adren­a­line into the absorb­ing, dilut­ing water. Oth­er­wise it would be chaos. Plus it was a mil­lion tire-melting degrees. These hotels were clean, full of fam­i­lies on vaca­tions. The rooms were crisp sheets, fake wood pan­eled, and a work­ing ice machine. My sis­ter taught me to swim on that trip and, like all my sib­lings, I took to the water well after the ini­tial ter­ror of hav­ing my head under water.

We made our way along the Cal­i­for­nia coast. My brother drank in the waves. He became a surfer on that trip even though he did not touch a board. There is a pic­ture of him and me look­ing at the rip tide going out at sun­set at Surf­side, CA near Hunt­ing­ton Beach. I remem­ber it. We were out there alone, see­ing the sun fall in to west­ern water for the first time and he looked at me and said: I am com­ing back. I will live here. And he did.

We made it to San Fran­cisco and China Town. We dis­cov­ered Chi­nese plums, which my brother and I ate lit­eral quart bags of. They were incred­i­bly sour and yummy. We each got lit­tle wooden boxes with secret pan­els to slide to reveal a wooden lever to open the box. Had that until I lost it in col­lege. I was afraid my mom really was going to trade me in for a nice Chi­nese boy like she had been say­ing for years. I was able to tell her I was afraid of that and she told me she never would do that and that she loved me more than any­thing. I felt bet­ter again right away. It was a great, crazy, clas­sic Amer­i­can road trip.

I looked up and John was tear­ing up. We had sat in silence for a minute or so. Com­ing to see me was a really big deal for him that day. Just get­ting out of there, away from the microwave and the pop tarts and the sin­gle burner and the ridicu­lous maid ser­vice that keeps the room filthy. He said it felt good just to move a lit­tle. I made sure to sched­ule all his tests one at a time, and made sure he had more appoint­ments. I teared up too. I put my hand on his arm and told him I was glad he came back for a visit and I looked for­ward to see­ing him next week.

Bend, OR, 2010. Nikon D700, nat­ural light

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3 Responses to Vacation

  1. Maggie Berg says:

    We took those trips too, in a Ford sta­tion wagon as well from SC to Louisiana. We ate cheese nibs crack­ers with peanut but­ter and drank grape sodas. I would sit with my cousin in the back-back of the Ford (as we called it), get­ting so car sick. And yes those motels — those pools, the thrill div­ing in that cold water, swim­ming around til dark and the mos­qui­toes & horse flies chewed us to pieces. The bath­rooms had the lit­tle soaps and paper over the toi­let seat say­ing “san­i­tized for your pro­tec­tion.” I won­dered then what “san­i­tized” meant. And I won­der now — if they can san­i­tize my life with those words and a lit­tle strip of paper?

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