The Trip Away

August 6, 2010
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The sun was at its highest point
when we set out on our trip
with Wilhelm's photography equipment,
one flashlight with a half-used battery,
and my notebook full of AP notes.

In many ways, I was not ready.
Wilhelm—German exchange college student, 25, blue-eyed, prominent features, light brown hair—scared me.
He was so worldly, sophisticated, well-traveled, while I had never been more than two footsteps outside of Eagle Creek, Oregon's boundaries.
Wilhelm said I needed to take that first baby step,
away from home
and the mediocre playlist of teenage lives:
getting high,
and never really getting anywhere.

He said he wanted to take me somewhere
and asked me to trust him when he turned on Interstate 5 to a seaside city called Newport.
Lady Gaga, Bad Romance, played on our local KW 98.7 radio station, fitting in with that moment like a missing puzzle piece.
We were driving away from home, the place I knew passing by in dizzying streaks of color.
I clutched my AP notebook closer to me.

Newport was 100 or so miles away and we took our time,
stopping at almost nonexistent gas stations
one of which we kissed in an isolated woman's restroom.
The manager barely paid us any attention
when we stumbled out 10 minutes later, quite disheveled and breathless;
he just held his hand for the five Debbie cakes, one granola bar, one bottle of water, and a 2 liter Coke.

Wilhelm took pictures whenever we stopped--at the Eagle Creek welcome sign, the rest area where he drank the Coke in one sitting, the side of the road where wildflowers grew--and I was torn between studying for AP and watching him.

When we arrived at the beach,
a chill had set in,
something neither Wilhelm nor I had been aware of in our air-conditioned car.
I woke from a light sleep to the roar of ocean waves against cliff sides, and I wanted to go to the beach first, let the water run over my body at its own will, pick up my first shells, but Wilhelm drove us up a steep back road to the overlook
and pushed me against brown metal bars.
My toes extended over the edge, where below, waves crashed against the shore, dark rock faces looked up at me, water frothed white.
Wilhelm put his jaw, prickly stubble, on my bare shoulders and whispered, "I dare you to move."

We went to the beach later,
pulling out the flashlight and holding it between us,
his fingers covering mine,
we collected seashells that we felt before we saw.
And when we finally decided that it was useless picking up broken and half shells,
we traced the silver shadows of footsteps carelessly left behind by their owners in the sand—
he and I jumping from one to the other and laughing when the trail ended in the sea.

When we tired, we sat down in an I-Max theater, lush darkness surrounding us.
Our only screen was the moon and the stars.
Looking up at the sky, Wilhelm and I tried to find Orion, Hercules, and Pegasus, and we put them in plots and twists of our own devising, an Interactive movie.
We sat down on plush red seats, the white, white, white sand which sneaked in between our feet and sandals and infiltrated our hair like dandruff as we lay down side by side.
Popcorn was the Debbie Cakes from the plastic gas station bag and when we ran short of food, we tasted the salt in the air and butter on each other.
Bird calls,
the rush of ocean,
the shifting of sand and grass came from hidden speakers.
I didn't dare move.
I didn't even dare to breathe.

When time really seemed to be ours for the keeping,
I let my AP notes float away, ghostly white pigeons,
becoming so small that they no longer mattered.
Wilhelm put his camera away sometime when silent pictures could not capture the feeling of being in that moment.

We let the natural high of that place
trick us into believing that we had truly escaped to somewhere only we know,
and the threat of Eagle Creek, OR,
the siren call of home and duty,
ceased to exist.

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