One day these wandering urges overtake me and I decided to get out of this place. It hasn't even been a particularly bad day: just me driving to buy some pants and generally waste another day of freedom. For some reason, I'm still compelled to go through with every idea that I have, no matter how crazy. So.

It starts because I am driving a car to the mall with several hundred dollars in my pocket and my girlfriend by my side and can't stand that things are still awkwardly quiet. While I've been turning this plan over and over in my mind for days, the whole scheme just seems so impossible that I know if I don't make an attempt at it now, I'll never manage to do it again. I turn the car around and start driving like fury toward the Mass Pike.

"What are you doing?" asks Alison, who is confident enough about my lack of follow-through that she is convinced nothing can happen. She is blonde and mine and sitting next to me; she has been for some months now.

I hesitate here. I know what I want to do, I know what I want to say, but I'm not sure that I can explain it. I just blurt it out. "I don't know. Let's leave." We've talked about this, talked about moving away together on cold nights, feeling confined by parents and responsibilities and all the other shit forced down our throats on a daily basis.

"Leave? Leave where?"

"Well, right now we're heading to Boston. But it doesn't matter. You always said that you wanted to get out of here, right? Now we're doing it."

"Zach..." Pause. "You know we can't really." Already she's looking at me like I'm a lunatic.

"Why not? You're miserable living in two houses with irrational parents and I'm sick of living in one house where nobody ever stops fighting. What's holding us here?"


"Like what?" I bang the dashboard for emphasis.

"High school. Families. College. Friends. Financial support."

"Fuck 'em. Who cares? Let's just go." I have read Catcher In The Rye one too many times, and it is becoming increasingly apparent. "We don't have to stay anywhere. Let's just do this. You know. Shake things up." The prospect of having to go back, even in the distant future, kills the mystique for me. I don't bring that up.

"I'll tell you what. Why don't we just drive for awhile until we're more rational?"

I hunker down on the wheel, knowing full well that rationality means going back to all the obligations that I've managed to get twenty miles away from when there's still a thousand miles of open road ahead of me.

So we drive toward Boston quietly. I know that this is what she wants, inside. One night when it all got to be too much we stood in her driveway and she asked me to take here away with tears in her eyes. "Anywhere. I don't care where." You can't tell me that it wasn't true.

Crossing 495 we're only a couple dozen miles from our goal. Alison breaks the small talk.

"Zach, this is too much. We need to go home." She thinks I'm still feeling attached to my house. Shit, I guess I am; two hours can't change that much.

"Didn't you say -- Alison, listen. Didn't you say you wanted to leave?"

"Well, yeah. But not forever, not seriously." I stay quiet. "My parents would go nuts."

"You think mine won't?" I'm speaking in the future and she's still in the conditional. It will be impossible to convince her, by all rights. "Look, let's just keep going. Scare 'em a little bit. They don't deserve it after the crap you go through?"

This rings home, a little. She's quiet again, but it's a quiet of bitter acquiescence, a point that she can't bring herself to concede.

We finally do get to Boston, and surprisingly have a grand old time wandering about Cambridge and Beacon Hill. I fill the car with gas in a sudden rainstorm and buy a "travel blanket" for $17.99 outside Medford.

"Here." I give it to Alison.

"What?" She unfolds it. "Oh, no. We're sleeping in the car?"

"No, no. It's just for if you want to catch a quick nap while we drive."

"More driving? Where are we going now?" She's teetering on the borderline of being upset.

"Well, we're not leaving just yet. I figure that after this clears up we can grab some food at a hip coffeehouse somewhere and then spend the night in Hartford."

She doesn't say anything.

"It'll be fun. You look hungry. Come on."

We end up at the House of Blues, with a jazz band playing in the back.

"Zach?" I haven't heard her voice in nearly a half hour. It sounds good even though she's obviously upset. "Why are we doing this?" She's hesitant to use "we." I can tell.

"Because I'm tired of wasting my time. Because I think you are, too. When was the last time you had a good day? We don't need school. God knows we're not learning anything. It just makes you unhappy."

"Well, it does make me unhappy, but I still don't want to run away. I feel like a child." She looks down, a little embarrassed.

"So don't think of it as running away. Think of it as a vacation. We're just getting away from it all for awhile." The waiter comes by with the check and I pay it. "Come on. Let's get some rest."

I spend the evening in Hartford writing, which is what I did the last time (after) I came back from Hartford, trying to grab at threads that described the way the city felt. Alison is briefly in the spirit of things and engages me in a lively debate about how incomprehensible it is to be sitting in the Ramada on a Tuesday night fifty miles from home.

"It's crazy!"

"It's not that crazy."

"No, Zach, it's perfectly reasonable for us to be running away to medium-income hotels and missing school and worrying people to death! Can't I call my mom?"

"I can't stop you. Then again, if you don't call, your odds are better of convincing the police that I kidnapped you and forced you to engage in this macabre tour of New England."

"It's hopeless," she says, and thumps back in her chair. I know it is. I can see that it's inevitable that I will give this up, go home, submit to punishment for the rest of my life, yes sir no sir terribly sorry sir. I've always felt like I had a bright future somewhere and I secretly know that I'll never be able to throw away everything I've worked for over some silly road trip. "Just two more years of suffering!" my brain tells me, "then college, grad school, and a career." Piece of cake. I certainly can't live off my dwindling savings in Hartford until the minibar runs out and I die an unquestionably pointless death.

"I tell you what," I speak up, "tomorrow we'll drive into New York City. I swear you'll love it and then we can decide. Okay?"

She hates it. I can already tell that I've taken a tiny rebellious spirit too far and can't reasonably push her any further.

We sleep in the same bed tonight. She falls asleep first and clutches my arm like a safety net in whatever dreams she's having.

New York is a traffic nightmare, even though we left Hartford good and early. We sit in the car in White Plains for upwards of an hour; eventually we give up, park, and ride the train into Manhattan.

It's romantic, and Alison cheers up a great deal on the ride across the city. We get off near Central Park and walk around the island.

"Admit it. This is fun."

"This is fun. I love the city. But how long do you really believe that you can keep this up?"

Forever. "Until we get sick of it, I guess." I change her 'you' to a 'we' again.

"I'm sick of it now." She looks genuinely unhappy despite herself. I'm at a loss.

We leave Manhattan, eventually, and Alison falls asleep in the car. I drive her to Baltimore by night, a lone set of headlights on a dark highway.

She wakes up and asks me where we are in a bit of a haze. "Maryland," I answer. She mumbles something and dozes back off, so I carry her into the hotel, put her down on the bed, and start reading a book. She is breathing shallowly on my left, and I tuck her under the covers.

Morning comes and I'm still reading.

"Zach, I've got to go back."

I look up from the book. She is leaning up on one arm against the headboard. "What, now?"

"Yes, now. You saw those emails." (We checked our mail accounts at the Times Square Information Center; they were full of messages from family and friends.) "My parents are minutes away from reporting me as dead."

They are, it's true. Nobody knows where we are; contacting friends is an obvious risk deemed too great to take.

"I want to go home." She gives every word full force.

I'm angry. I can't be angry. I forced her into this.

"Fine. Here." I pull out some money and toss it in her general direction. "Bus fare home. Enjoy."

"Zach!" She's angry. She's been angry at me for so long, though, that she doesn't seem to be able to deal with it anymore. She walks out of the hotel room. She looks back once. She walks away.

"The hell." I'm talking to myself now, a desperate crusader in his hotel room in Baltimore. All washed up and no place to go keeps running through my head.

"The hell," I say again, because it makes me feel better. I walk out to street level on the waterfront and pull out a map of Interstate 95.

Charleston. Miami. Roanoke. Well, fuck, I know a girl in Roanoke.

I am a banshee out of Hades as I soar down the golden coast and into Virginia. I am two hours from this destination, oh-so-logical now that I have passed the breaking point of reason. Time flies by and then I'm at a gas station realizing that I have no idea where she lives.

But I am resourceful and cajole the address from a bored operator at 411, then sit in a bookstore flipping through Jazz Age stories until 7:00 or so when I drive haphazardly across the city to her house.

Her mother answers the door and boy, I must be a sight in my stinking clothes at twilight calling on her daughter. She comes to the door and nearly faints. I invite myself in for coffee.

"Zach," Kayla says, a calm voice of reason as always, "you need to go home, for your girlfriend if nothing else." I've told her the whole story, sipping black coffee and shivering periodically.

"God! I know. I know. But I don't want to. It's so awful there. It's like this damn intellectual sinkhole that I can't get out of." I try to tone down the swearing, remembering that this is a religious family. Unheard of.

"I realize that, but look at you! You've been wearing the same set of clothing for the better part of a week. The police are probably looking for you. Your parents must be distraught and panicking. And Zach -- " A stop to collect her thoughts. This will be big. " -- you told me a few months ago that she loves you. She sent you letters five hundred miles every day when somebody who wasn't worth it would have left you, or something. You can't tell me there's nothing there worth going back to."

"Shit." I can't help it. I knew that. "I knew that. I think I just needed to hear someone else tell me." I stood up. "One more cup of coffee? It looks like I've got a long drive ahead of me."

So I make it home, sleeping in the backseat by the side of the road in Pennsylvania. Alison has told her parents, who have told my parents, who have told the Baltimore P.D., who are reportedly in a bit of a furor until word reaches them of my arrival back in Massachusetts. My parents ground me, plain and simple, and I take it quietly. I see Alison only from a distance for two weeks, but eventually manage to sneak in a phone call.


"Hi. It's me."


"Look. I blew it. I mean, I blew it big time. The whole thing was a stupid idea in the first place, but it's worse that I forced you to get involved. And I'm sorry. And I've learned. And I love you more than I ever have and I hope to god that you still love me and can forgive me for all the shit I've pulled."

She stays quiet for another minute, but it is a forgiving quiet. I suddenly feel a whole lot better and across the connection I can tell that she is almost certainly smiling until it hurts.