The Alaskan drive from Anchorage to Homer is 221 miles. The trip takes 4 1/2 - 5 hours, depending on summer road construction or winter weather conditions. We don't often make this drive, but we've made it twice this month. The week before the July 4th weekend, my husband and I hired a babysitter for 13 hours, drove to Homer, dismantled my show at the Bunnell Street Arts Center (Brian gave us a C+ for our rushed packing job), said hello to a dear friend, checked out another friend's paintings at the Pratt Museum, then drove back to Anchorage. Somewhere in there we had lunch. And ice cream. And a couple of conversations that weren't interrupted with the song of, "Hey Mom, I'm hun-gry..."
Brian didn't have to come with me; he took a day off work. So instrumental in the show's installation, I'd like to think he joined me for the take down so he could feel that full circle, experience that immense high and crashing collapse that punctuates the end of barreling momentum.
But really, he was along because of the drive.
The worst car accident I ever experienced happened near Centralia, Washington, after driving about this distance -- around 225 miles -- from Vancouver, British Columbia towards Reno, Nevada. I was 19, almost 20, and didn't realize how distance driving exhausts me, no matter how much bad coffee, no matter how full the bladder, no matter how loud the speakers blare the Psychedelic Furs.
I fall asleep.
In 1991, I rolled a Bronco II 4 times across I-5 and landed upright in oncoming traffic. The man who I would someday marry had taken me to the place where we would someday live and I nearly killed him on the way home.
This is the history, this punctuation mark, within our relationship.
And in the 24 years since the Accident, as I've read more about concussions and the PTSD associated with even mild brain trauma, I now understand why I cried almost everyday for a year afterward, why the sound of a siren would send me into hysterics, why I still hesitate at the door when I'm just running up to the store for milk. Why every scenario plays itself out, for every drive. And I wonder, too, if this is why I sometimes have a hard time remembering the stir of numbers and names and conversations and information in my brain. Why I have to write everything down. I don't know any of this for sure because I've been the person I am now longer than the person I was before the Accident, but it seems worth contemplating. At some point this spring, we calculated, I'd been married for half my life. Brian's half-way point is coming soon. We are shaped by one another.
This is what I do know and always remember: the way we describe our relationship is "lucky." Lucky to have found each other so young. Lucky be compatible. Just ... lucky.
Brian is the most patient person I know. The visible scars from that accident are all his: a split along his right elbow and a round depression on his forearm from when his arm flew out the window. He was the one left shoeless, who had to hire a taxi to drive to a far-off wrecking yard to salvage the last of our things from the vehicle he'd later describe as "round." He phoned my dad from the hospital. He slept in a plastic chair next to my bed. He wrapped our exploded belongings in cardboard after storing them behind a bush at the hospital for the night. He found a travel agent who not only booked our flights home, but picked us up at the hospital in her black El Camino to drive us to the bus that would haul us north to the Seattle airport. The Bronco II that I wrecked was, of course, his.
It could have been so, so much worse. I never forget that last part.
At 20, Brian was already the definition of capable. A fixer. Driven in a way that inspires, intimidates and awes me, even after 22 years of marriage and despite the invisible scars that partially define this person he's married to. He is still stitching me together, correcting my math, shoring my memories, weathering my emotions.
We shared the driving this time (there have been road trips when he's been saddled with it all). I insisted he keep talking when it was my turn to drive -- Keep me awake. Keep the music coming. I did make him pump gas, pretending I wanted to take a picture of him with the archaic set up at Cooper Landing, when really I was flustered and paralyzed by the outdated signage, the hard metal edges, the slow click of numbers.
He laughed at me, swung the metal lever, and said, "Don't you remember these pumps? Don't you remember how we'd just run in and pay for 5 buck's-worth? How that was enough gas to get us anywhere?"
Yes. Yes I do.
It is a history worth remembering.