A few weeks ago I was on the fence about an upcoming road trip with my beau. I was afraid it would be a repeat of the miserable experience I’d had in my twenties driving cross-country with a boyfriend. The amazing community of xoJane commenters soothed my fears by convincing me that a) it’s a different relationship and b) I am older and wiser.
And guess what? YOU WERE RIGHT!
But, although the trip was an overall success, there were some close calls--borderline moments of tension that could have exploded but softly dissipated instead with a laugh, self-depreciating quip, or a handful of Twizzlers. Fifteen years ago, I probably would have attacked first i.e. “What do you mean you missed the exit?” or freaked at the first sign of trouble.
Everyone told me, “You will have at least one major fight.”
Guess what? WE DIDN’T!
Easily, we could have exploded and here’s why: it was only our first day of travel when inexplicably, the speakers started going berserk: static, then high-pitched radar-like screeching followed by a series of expletives from each of our mouths. These were the kind of high-pitched, zigzagging sounds they used to torture people in "Zero Dark Thirty."
“Oh my God, what if we have to drive with this sound the whole way?”
We opened the windows to let the thunder of the air drown out the torture soundtrack, but that didn't help much. Then we banged on the side of the car. Nothing. Finally we pulled off the nearest exit and fiddled with the controls.
In my mind I was thinking, “What are we going to do? We can’t go all this way like that. What if he wants to go through the next seven states like that?? What if we can’t repair it? What if we can’t afford the repair? What if, what if…”
In the past, I would have made my feelings known immediately. “We cannot travel like this!” and “I can't take it!” This time around I felt those feelings and thought those thoughts, but let them sit awhile before giving voice to them. It gave my boyfriend the time to go through his own panic process, try to figure it out, and seek out help on his own terms, without me pressing and exacerbating the situation.
So while my anxiety-laden soundtrack played on repeat in my mind, my present-day self calmly walked to the ladies room at the Flying J Travel Plaza and let her man do his thing. It was his car, afterall, and I knew he was freaking out. He didn’t need me freaking out, too.
When I returned, he was on the phone with his dad trying to figure out what to do. I said a silent Hail Mary and a slugged 20oz of Diet Coke.
We could have turned on each other. We didn’t.
It was nearing 9 p.m., so we decided it was best to stop for the night anyway. I did my part by finding us the least crappy room at the Pocahantas, IL Econolodge. I changed rooms three times. This annoyed him at first, but once we ended up in a smoke-free, King-sized bed in the newer part of the hotel he was grateful. (A good example of him letting me do my thing.)
We would get a good night’s sleep and hope for the best in the morning. Maybe the noise would stop. If not, we had a plan to Yelp a Honda service department.
In the morning neither of us needed to say what was on both our minds: Was it fixable? How much would it cost? Would we be stuck in the middle of nowhere paying for more hotel nights, shuttling all his worldly possessions out of the car so they could work on it? What if it couldn’t be fixed and we had to drive 35 hours with a screaming banshee emitting from our speakers?
We went out to the car and miraculously, the screeching was gone. Thank God, we thought. It must of just been a fluke! Whew.
We drove along in screech-less bliss until 2p.m. when after a quick lunch at a gas station Subway, I opened the car door--it was back. “Whzcheee! Whzcheee! Whrrrrl Whzchee!” Only this time: the radio was off and the car wasn't even turned on. Cue the creepy Twilight Zone music.
We pulled into “Fred Fletcher’s” car dealership and then immediately felt betrayed by our own vehicle. Of course now that we were trying to get the noise fixed the car was as quiet as could be, no matter how we banged, cajoled, or pleaded with the speakers.
The service workers looked at us like we were cray cray. One even suggested aliens. Another mentioned a nearby Native American burial ground. Someone said something vague about “a wire.” Useless!
But we drove away happy that all was quiet, with fingers crossed it would stay that way. Then boom, the mind-numbing sound was back, followed by a loud “POP!” We figured the speakers blew.
This meant, with 30 plus hours to go, our carefully chosen audible.com books, podcasts, and travel tunes would go mostly unplayed (iPhone speakers are not the jam). With nearly two thousand miles ahead of us, we realized we would have to spend the entire time actually talking to each other.
And we did!
They say a road trip is a good litmus test of a relationship. But, in this case, it was litmus test of my past and present self. Yes, the two relationships are different, but I am also changed. Fifteen years ago, I wouldn’t have been so calm or trusting--of my partner, the universe, or, most of all, myself.