Hog Back Mountain: The summer day we (temporarily) ran away

Two Augusts ago, my boyfriend Colin and I had a nervous hum in the pits of our stomachs about college. Would we stay together through the long distance? Would we even stay friends? What would it be like?

We avoided asking these questions best we could. We watched The Lord of the Rings and Wilfred. We savored every moment without talking about our nerves. We drove in circles around our town, like a bug stuck inside a jar, until one day we escaped.

We woke up early (for two jobless teenagers in the summer): eight A.M. We filled up his car with gas and good CDs. We bought Sour Patch Kids, beef jerky, Pringles, and skittles. We took off.

West.

Spending hours in a car together was nothing new, but usually we stuck to backroads. That day, we hit the highway with a mission to get as far west as possible by 3 p.m., for no other reason than us wanting to.

We ran through two CDs twice before trying the radio and realizing that all of the stations were different. The further west we went, the less people crowded the road, the greener the trees became, the easier we could breathe. We had a vague goal to reach New York, though we weren’t going in the exact right direction.

I had to go home for some reason…my mom called me and reminded me that I had a family dinner or something that night. Well, we decided to keep going for awhile before turning around. We were approaching Vermont, if we turned right, so we turned right. We made it to a Vermont visitor center. We took a picture with a cardboard cow, breathed in the overcast sky, and hopped back in his little car to drive home.

It wasn’t New York, but it was still good, we decided. We joked and laughed and sang to the radio, hiding the irony that we had just driven to Vermont a week before Colin moved there.

We found a small hidden road that followed some power lines. It was gorgeous, the unpaved dirt road curving through the trees. I took a picture, bumpy and fuzzed.

You can see this picture on this site, as the cover photo behind the blog’s title. It’s also the featured image for this post, in which you can see the car’s dashboard.

Driving along that small dirt road over the border of Vermont was a pure, untouchable moment laced with romance and nostalgia of the summer we had just finished living…but then it got better.

I didn’t have my glasses on, and when the street sign came up I tried to read it so we could come back one day.

“Does…” I blinked, squinted. “Does that say ‘Ho Bag Mountain?’”

Colin burst out laughing.

“Hog Back Mountain!” he exclaimed.

We had just stifled our laughter when we passed a gorgeous sign surrounded by decorative stones and pretty flowers, proudly declaring “Hog Back Mountain.” We lost it again.

We were about two hours from home when the rain began, and god, it was torrential. It was so bad that we actually had to pull over because he couldn’t see well enough to drive. The windshield wipers were all but useless. As we sat in the breakdown lane, waiting for it to pass, I got a weather alert on my phone of an extreme storm condition. I left the alert in my notifications for weeks after, and would look at it when I missed summer.

“Extreme storm condit…46 days ago.” The little notification was like a keepsake. It disappeared after ninety days.

We eventually got home, but not in time to my dinner. Of course, I had no excuse as to why I was late. We were driving, from Vermont. Why were we in Vermont? Literally no reason.

I began thinking of this story today and wondered if I’m already too old for these little rebellions. Have I changed so much in just two years that I wouldn’t do this again? Has driving into Boston traffic every day ruined my love for an empty highway and open windows?

The truth is, no. I would definitely do this trip again—in fact, Colin and I likely will do something like this very soon, maybe actually making it to New York this time. I think the difference, besides both of us having far less free time, is that back then we were both fighting hard to make memories with each other, out of fear that college would tear us apart.

We drove to Vermont with excitement tinged with fear, we staged our day-long runaway like a trial run. There were times all summer, but especially on that trip when we wanted to run away for good, to not turn back halfway through the day and go back  to the scripted life of approaching college, but instead to keep driving west until we hit the Pacific and start…something.

But we didn’t.

I don’t know if a repeat day long road trip would be better or worse. I think it would still be a lot of fun, but would it miss something without the underlying desire to keep going? Was our fear of losing each other and our desperate attempts to make memories what made that summer so memorable?

Did my desire to run spring purely from teenage hormones or would it still pull me on, make me misty-eyed when we turn back home?

Or, alternately, would a fearless adventure without the nervous twitches, without the stress of making it memorable or the desire to run away, actually be much better?

A few things haven’t changed, naturally. Of course, Colin and I still close, even closer. And we’re still trying to break free of our hometown’s web, trying to avoid being sucked down a drain of parental dependency and resume gaps. We still drive in circles around the backroads, we still watch epic sagas on his television, we still do projects together, we still reference Breaking Bad when cooking dinner and sing loudly to the two CDs we play on repeat in his same car.

And, we still both harbor a nervous excitement for whatever the future may hold. Perhaps though, since our Ho Bag Mountain days, we have a bit more confidence, a bit more stability.

Then again, perhaps not.

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A to F: Freedom

With the jacket, collared shirt, and heavy backpack, Mary was warm enough except for her bottom, which soaked in the cold dampness of the sidewalk. She had squished herself into a corner between two buildings and under an awning so most of the rain didn’t hit her, and was trying desperately to sleep but was scared. She missed the country’s spacious skies. The expensiveness of the city held up to its reputation but hopefully it was less dangerous than the reputation described, than the staticky televisions claimed, than the mothers whispered about while sewing pillowcases, their fingers smudged with newspaper print.

Mary was in her brother’s overalls, something she hoped would protect her from any other runaway-turned-homeless person. She dropped her head to her knees.

When she picked up her head some time later, to stop raindrops from dripping down behind her collar, there was a man standing in front of her in a suit too big for him, drenched with rain. He was black, which didn’t scare Mary like it would her mother. She had only met a handful of black people in her life. He knelt and extended his hand, like she was a dog and he was letting her sniff him out first.

“I was wondering if you were alright, Ma’am,” the man said. “Are you alright?”

Mary nodded, captivated by his eyes. He was a handsome man, even in the lumpy suit and slightly overgrown hair.

“May I join you?”

Mary shifted a bit, and he sat down beside her. He had to have been about twenty, Mary figured. Mary herself was sixteen. What her mother would think of her now! Homeless in New York, sharing a dry patch of sidewalk with an older, black man.

“So, what’s your name, Ma’am?”

“Mary McLane,” she said, trying to stifle her accent. “What’s your name?”

“My name’s Bobby,” the man said. “But people call me Treble, because I like music so much. And so they can say, ‘Here comes Treble!’ Sounds like ‘trouble,’ get it?”

Mary smiled. She took her backpack off and began rummaging. “Do you play harmonica?”

“I play a little harmonica. My mom’s family had money when I was young. I learned piano, trombone, a little violin, bagpipes—”

Mary pulled out a harmonica and offered it to Treble. “It’s my brother James’. He didn’t notice I took it.”

“Hey, check it out!”

Treble played a little tune, which made the rain seem softer and the city seem brighter.

“So this concert isn’t free, Mary,” Treble said between beats. Mary’s heart leapt. She didn’t have much money. “You’ll have to tell me what a pretty, western, white girl like you is doing huddling on the street in Manhattan.”

“I ran away.”

“Whoa!” Treble said. He gave her back the harmonica. “Usually it takes more convincing than that. You ran away, huh? Why’d you do that?”

“To see sky scrapers and the ocean,” Mary said. “I found one. Not the other, yet.”

She patted the cold steel of the building they were leaning against. It was both bigger and smaller than she’d imagined it would be.

“So you wanted freedom, then? Me too.” Treble shifted a little so he could look Mary in the eyes. “I left my girl while her belly was swelling. I didn’t want to be doing that. I didn’t want my life stuck to the girl and the mistake. So now I’m here. You know what, Mary? I believe that every choice we make is for either love, or freedom. But you can’t have both.”

“I didn’t have a boyfriend.”

“Who said anything about a boyfriend? You loved your family, didn’t you? Your home, your brother? Listen, Mary, you like Janis Joplin?”

Mary shrugged. They didn’t have a radio, or a player. Treble looked straight ahead, eyes closed, and for awhile it seemed like he was just going to go to sleep.

Then, in a sweet, soft voice, he said, “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.”

Mary sighed, held back her tears, and asked Treble if he had a coin she could flip.

“Heads I go home,” she said as he found a nickel in his pocket. “Tails I stay here.”

“Me too,” Treble said, finding a second coin. They flicked the coins in the air, and they landed side by side on the ground. One was heads, and one was tails.

Opening up conversation

Today I wanted to open up a conversation with you guys about a recent comment on my post from Wednesday, “I would prefer not to.”

The commenter goes by “A Layman” but was “M.E.B” at time of commenting, and their blog can be found here. Their comment:

 

It is a good concept that you bring up. My first question to you, which can only be answered subjectively, “What does it mean to live.” For me, I rebel because there is too much in this society. I rebel against the instant gratification. The instant creativity. Have a blog, everyone is a writer. There is nothing wrong with this, but having everything at our fingertips kills creativity, rather than enhancing it.
Creativity is a struggle. A struggle within and a struggle without.I don’t find working in an office, which I did after spending years getting a degree, enjoyable at all. I actually regret going to college at all. It was a complete waste of my time. In my opinion, I could have spent that time living life. Living it the way I would live life. Free. Another subjective word, of which it would take far more than a blog page to define what freedom means to me. In a few words, freedom is to be free of the society. Free of commercialization. Free of the hell that has formed around me by rich tycoons who control the colleges, the institutions and the government. Free, simply to be me. Not some droid with thoughts implanted into my mind to perform the duties of the society. I am not a member of a society. I am member of humanity.

 

This inspiring comment really made me think. I agreed with it, deep in my heart. I think a lot of us have the gut instinct to rebel and run away from all our responsibilities…but the realist in me was holding back. Freedom, in its nature, is a scary thing. It’s risky to be free, easier to go along with the system put in place by society. I can never quite decide which is better, for me or for others: to play by the rules, or to change the rules so the game is fairer.

I’d like to hear your opinions on this, since mine are far from being concrete. Without judgment, share your ideas. As a community we can have a great Friday discussion on freedom, creativity, safety, and society.