We’d left Seattle in the morning, having loaded most of what Suzie had into the big white Volvo not quite worthy of the name Bessie. The start of our whirlwind cross-country trip, transporting her back East after a year of food prep in Seattle, was on a sunny day in August, auspicious with its bright skies, but quickly overbearing in the heat once we distanced ourselves from the West Coast. Such heat came on strong, and left the oversized Volvo gasping for overheated breath. Do you know what you are supposed to do when a car overheats? Turn on the heater. Yeah, I know. Me in a Volvo, in the high heat of summer in Montana, with the fucking heater on. It was 85 degrees outside, and 90 degrees inside the car. I was not having it, and but for Suzie I would have ditched the whole idea and high-tailed it to the nearest airport. But Suzie has a way of making even the unbearable a worth-having adventure. After a few hairy pauses to let Bessie cool off, we glided into a beautiful afternoon.
Fields of sunflowers lifted their faces to their namesake. Golden and resplendent in the light, it felt a little like Oz, and my wonder at the world, in of all places Montana, raised my sweaty spirits. I was racing back to see a boy I barely remember, and at the time barely knew, but we’d had a very enjoyable first date, and at my age I was ever on the verge of being crazy in love, and wanted nothing more than to believe that this was The One. I didn’t tell Suzie that was the reason for my hastily avoiding every stop or proposed diner-pie moment. I was in no mood for the dinosaurs of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, and if I have the slightest regret in my life it may be in not stopping along the way.
We ducked behind high outcroppings of rocks that hid us in shadow, but there were no trees to shade our way. It was so different from the East Coast, and I was fascinated and entranced. We had driven most of the day, and most of it through Montana. Vast, unyielding, relentless Montana. The name still conjures endless vistas of clay-colored rock, and unmitigated sunshine. As it neared sunset, we started to feel a little peckish for dinner and a place to lay our heads for the night.
A silly pop song – the song of that summer – played on the radio, and neither of us had a boy to call our own. Not yet. My heart hoped, of course, like it always did, and who knew what rumbles of yearning ran through Suzie’s hidden emotions, but we were happy enough just being together on the road, in that enormous Volvo, and suddenly panicking that we might not find a hotel even this far removed from the great National Parks below us. Eventually we did, just as the light left the sky. A sad and sterile Motel 6 or Super 8, whose worst affront was not the small pack of fruit flies near the bathroom sink but the sheer dullness of such massive mediocrity poised unspectacularly in the midst of our sprawling country. This was why people killed themselves, I thought briefly, before giggling at the drama of it all.
We slept well that night. The sleep of summer is often misunderstood to pale in comparison to the warm slumber of winter, but I’ve always known that summer sleep is the deepest sleep, especially after a day at the beach, or the pool, or an overheated car. The next morning we were speeding east, leaving Seattle in our memories, hurtling toward a few more summer memories-in-the-making. Like the season itself, our cross-country trek was over much too quickly. Like college. Or my relationship with that sweet boy. Or those endless fields of sunflowers that now only occasionally tease and taunt me with their whorls of seeds to come.