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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
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.
"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
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
"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
"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