Mea Culpa / by LD

...Or, The One I Wish I Could Re-Do Because Teenage Ennui Made Me A Dreadful Companion

Maps found here.

I've had a couple of conversations recently with friends who used the resources of their twenties to drive cross-country. In both cases, it brought me back to a trip I took with my mom, sister, and grandparents back in the mid-nineties. We flew to Arkansas, my memories of it soaked in green and lit by fireflies. From there, we drove in my grandparents' van back to Oregon, opting to traverse the northern states with our end point fixed on the Pacific Northwest. 

The van was one of those deluxe numbers, more lavish RV than fifteen-passenger youth group rig. What it lacked in mobile hotel room amenities, it more than recovered with its overt obedience to minor luxuries. There was a TV and it beamed images of questionably grainy quality into our skulls from the VHS tapes we fed into its rectangular jaw. Every square inch of the interior was swaddled in padded upholstery and the windows (themselves nestled in padded sills) had frilled curtains that recalled the trimmings of a stately southern manor. There was a ladder mounted on the rear door leading to the roof, though I never had the stones to climb it. 

Across the United States we cruised, comfortably ensconced in beige velveteen, my sister and I occasionally pillaging the passenger cup holders for the hard candy stored therein. By all accounts, it was a magical road trip. Our points of interest upheld the venerable first fruits of what the U.S. has for any tourist: National parks, wildlife, geological wonders, geothermal oddities, and the very best of roadside American kitsch. 

It's unfortunate, then, that this particular intersection of leisure and exploration had to sketch itself atop the convoluted map of my adolescence. I'd yet to mount an introduction between my inner joie de vivre and my outer surliness--eventually the two would meet and graft a mostly-agreeable persona whose calling card is wit. Like I said, eventually. In those early days of adolescence, however, the joyous nature of my increasingly complex and inscrutable self was effectively held captive and bullied into submission by teenage ennui. What some pass for sarcasm in their later years was instead delivered with the insolent sneer of a malcontent. I'm tempted to extend my younger self a flimsy olive branch of mercy, though, because what other than simmering rage can one expect from a girl who just found out that periods happen every month for the rest of time

Even still, when I think back on that road trip, what slices through the haze of nostalgia are the very real--and very embarrassing--memories of what a rotten, little pill I was. Despite what from the outside looked to be complete disregard of the entire road trip enterprise, I brought along a camera to capture the memories. A budding photojournalist was I, armed to the gills with a couple rolls of Kodak 400 and a black, rectangular point and shoot. Each and every time that camera was turned on me, I rewarded the frame with a fresh and wholly inventive new way to appear utterly stupefied with boredom. 

Understand: I spent the better part of that trip in an Olympian race--me vs. myself--whose ultimate reward was to accurately express the abject horror inflicted upon me by sights such as Mt. Rushmore, the Badlands, and Old Faithful. To say that my expression bore a distinct frown is putting it lightly; that my forehead collapsed upon my eye sockets, in turn melting my jawline into a nebulous cloud of contempt is putting it accurately. In other words: were Pollyanna within the blast radius of my nuclear attitude, the only Glad Game she'd be playing is the one where she'd be glad when the radiation poisoning finally put her out of her misery. 

Nobody died. I was just thirteen. 

A rare moment of acquiescence to Give Peace a Chance. Notice also that Jody appears to be giving The Bird a chance. 

While wandering through South Dakota's one and only Corn Palace, a tawdry monument of kitsch that squared off with the rivaling Enchanted World Doll Museum across the street, my only goal was to sear the memories we were creating with my molten commentary. Perhaps that hokey agricultural chateau left more of an impression on me than I on it, though--it's exactly the sort of local-yokel haunt that'd send me into breathless correspondence with my Instagram nowadays. 

If anything, I was insanely privileged. Privileged to be able to enact the elaborate ruse of teenage dissidence from the beige lap of those velveteen seats. Lucky to shuttle across the Heartland with traveling companions whose memories are somewhat softer than the sharpness of my tongue. Grateful to have seen such a generous swath of America (on someone else's dime, no less). But at the time, if prizes and endorsements were given for withering glares, I'd have a gold medal and my phlegmatic visage on a Wheaties box. Not to put too fine a point on it, but there are a few moments of that trip I'd like to do again, and do better this time. 

In the meantime, I submit my mea culpa in the form of photographic proof that I once wore tube socks and men's bowling shirts. I'll consider the debt settled.