Saturday, April 25, 2015

VW Vans and Walmart Parking Lots: A Love Story

I’ve been having trouble sleeping lately. Not falling asleep, but staying that way. 35 weeks into pregnancy means I’m up at least twice each night to use the bathroom, and getting comfortable enough to drift back off is becoming impossible. So I find myself lying awake, thinking. Sometimes these nocturnal thoughts are simple musings on day-to-day tasks, the kinds of things all moms think about: did I pack Atticus’s homework folder for tomorrow? Will I have time for a quick load of laundry between work and speech therapy? Did I turn in the signed permission slip? But then those thoughts take on a more significant theme: when did I become such an…adult? Legally, it’s been a while. But I’ve felt relatively young until the past year or so. And now, not so much. So then I find myself comparing my current circumstances to those of, say, 10 years ago, 15. Was I that different then than I am today? In many ways, yes. But what has made the past decade slip away so suddenly? In large part, I think it’s been the constant presence of the person dearest to me, the person who makes the mundane more exciting and the exciting all the more fun. Sharing all the moments of my adult life with this one person makes it all feel like one shared experience, like nothing has changed in our lives, even though so much has. 

we were just BABIES!
Brian and I fell for each other in a flurry of chaos. He was about to move from Austin to Los Angeles at the time and, considering we had just met, it didn’t seem right for him to change those plans. We got to know each other over the phone, which in 2003 meant astronomic long-distance charges since “unlimited minutes” didn’t exist quite yet. I was finishing my senior year of college at UT and he was working long hours at a retail job at REI in Orange County. By the time he got off work in California time, I was ready for bed, but always willing to stay up late and get to know this man who, even at the time, I knew was going to be a significant part of my life. Eventually the miles between us felt too far, and Brian showed up at my doorstep barefoot and disheveled, with a single backpack and a giant burlap bag of rice (which served as his only source of nutrition for practically his entire time in LA. On payday he’d add tuna fish. It’s odd what we considered luxuries once). My roommate probably thought he was homeless, which, now that I think about it, he was. I told him he could stay with me until he found a place of his own. We’ve been living together ever since.

When he was on the West Coast, he sold his small but functional truck in order to buy a 1971 VW bus, which he had left behind in a rush to get back to Austin. It wasn’t ready to drive yet and I somehow thought that graduate school tuition in California made sense, so we both flew back a couple months later to visit college campuses and pick up the bus. What was supposed to be a five-day trip became ten. The bus, it seemed, had other plans for us and broke down twice along the lonely stretch of I-10 in West Texas. The first was the result of a busted fuel pump that took two days to repair. So we rented the cheapest hotel room within walking distance of the dusty El Paso service station where the bus was being repaired. We stayed up late drinking Tecate from the can and playing Gin Rummy. The other breakdown occurred after being pulled over in the middle of nowhere for no apparent reason. The officer approached us to let us know that the light over the rear license plate was out. Except that it wasn’t. After a quick question-and-answer session about drugs and guns (we were in a VW bus in conservative West Texas, after all) and a half-hearted apology for pulling us over for no real reason, the cop hopped in his car and sped away, leaving us at the bottom of a hill in a questionably-reliable vehicle. About halfway up, it was no longer questionable. Blueberry, as we came to name her, threw a rod and needed to be towed. Of course, it was nearly midnight and we spent a few hours stranded on the side of a quiet highway before eventually being towed to a Walmart parking lot in Fort Stockton, where we spent the cold November night in the back of the bus, eating cereal and listening to an old Willie Nelson cassette tape on loop. I’ll never forget how the sound warped during “Pancho and Lefty,” creating an odd distortion when Merle came in. We never figured out if this intermittent resonance was the result of the tape or the tape player; that was the only cassette we owned in 2003 and the bus was the only place we knew to play it. We eventually had to rent a U-Haul large enough to tow Blueberry home, where Brian got her working again, at least for a few months. Most of her life was spent collecting leaves in the backyard of our first house, where Atticus loved to store sticks and Legos in her tailpipe.