I like to skip the next few days of the trip. They are, for the most part, lacking in excitement or adventure. Unless, of course, you count being stranded in North Dakota for three hours because someone forgot their passport back in SD. Thoughts of murder and suicide were running extremely high during that period. Lucas and I took a few moments to talk but the heat and the presence of two irritating eighth grade girls made me snappy—thus, he was offended, and I was suddenly in hate with everything. To make matters worse, I had no outlet. Nothing to calm myself. I think I went into the middle of this endless field of yellow grass and stood on a little rock for several minutes, staring into the lack that is North Dakota.
At one of the rest stops, Lucas and I stood boldly by this giant painted wooden sign that read something about Lewis and Clark, plus something about mountain men, Native Americans, and cows. We read the entire thing aloud as fast as our tongues could manage—and in British accents. A crowd of our friends gathered. After that event we took a short walk, talking in quiet voices about the rising tension. About the shadow in Nate’s eyes. The dimming of Garret’s brilliance, which made his smiles seem subdued and his laughter very far away (the next morning I made myself a liar and told him I was tired of being angry with him, but only because I couldn’t explain why I was so angry.) People grew suspicious of our behavior, so as we walked slowly towards the group—skipping the cracks in the sidewalks—we gripped hands momentarily, like a silent signal that told a thousand stories of worry and encouragement.
We slept in North Dakota for the first time. We usually don’t spend nights there, but there’s no sense of adventure in driving through Dakota highways at night. There's nothing worse than driving through hot nothing than hot and dark nothing. So we set up camp by the Heart River, and spent a good hour talking to a man with six children and a lazy eye who had come from Sturgis. He rambled about windshields like televisions and front yards and the tragedies of Crazy Horse Monument and Mount Rushmore and of course—the government. The first morning in North Dakota I was awakened by the sunrise, before everyone else, and took pictures of sleeping faces in the rising light. I captured the painted sky over that slow little river and my heart was brimming with something unspeakable—which might be why I went and lied to Garret even though he was eating a banana and I was hoping for something a little more serious.
The night before we drove up to Canada, we stopped at a place called Liberty Lake. It was the kind of campsite that requires you to drive five miles an hour, and it’s three miles into the little patch of grass you paid for. There were multi-racial kids playing frisbee on the big lawn, sitting on the picnic benches, staring at all of us dirty missionaries as we set up camp and got out the guitars. There were dragonflies everywhere, invading sleeping bags and ears and getting caught at the peaks of our tents. I spent a lot of time alone on my bed, still trying to write something for Lucas. We had a birthday party for the younger Garrett, he turned sixteen, and I was forced to kiss him on the cheek.
And late in the afternoon, nearing evening, I lay down on the dried up dirt, among a pile of Lucas, Kevin, Zoe and Alison. We were a lump of blankets and flesh layered with lake residue and Dakota dust. Laughing out loud, making our great lump shake and dislodge elbows and chins, carefully arranged among thighs and collarbones. Lucas and Kevin were both half-sprawled on my back, their jaws poking into my spine. The girls were jumbled upon each other somewhere near my shoulder, their legs tangled with Kevin’s. I could smell the dirt near my face, feel the rough blades of dead grass on my arms as I was pressed into the earth. I could have stayed there forever, falling asleep mid-giggle with some cherished friends weighing me down, taking away the feeling of the world on my shoulders.
That night we gathered in the lawn under the stars and sang. People had gone off in their little private groups again, two-people clusters sitting under trees and hidden in the dark. But it was late. They all came in at the tones coming from Lucas, slumped on the ground with his guitar. I could feel something pressing at me from all sides, something taunting me, grabbing at my hands and feet, trying to make me run. But I still had several hours before Canada. So I just tilted my head back, gazing wantonly at the soul-drowning midnight above me, the watercolor clouds and the pinpoints of exquisite radiance, with my voice banging at the doors of the heavenly painting above me.
See, I’d like to skip those days. I want to skip the insatiable smiles of exhausted anticipation, and the moments with Lucas where our voices barely reach our lips in attempts to hide the truth only we see, and I want to skip being unbelievably happy and semi-conscious, and I want to skip how I forgot all my troubles in those few sunny days. Because the week after those days seemed to erase the sunny high I was on. The coming week is so much emptier, so much fuller, a compelling conflict of hearts and minds. The coming week explains voices and words, pain and solitude, water, and fear, and the meaning of certain rocks. But those deep dark moments don’t mean anything if the preceding light goes unmentioned.