It was 5:30AM when I tip-toed into August Pope’s bathroom. Taking a few deep breaths, I studied the boy in the mirror. You look too tired, I told him, and then I threw a few handfuls of cold water in his face. Much better.
The next stop on my road trip was supposed to be the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. It was where I meant to break in my very first tent. But I couldn’t get out of Asheville without a walk around the block. And since the Early Girl Eatery was about to start cooking up its first batch of biscuits and gravy, I thought: I may as well stick around for breakfast. And after breakfast, I was too full to jump in my car, so I meandered over to the Green Sage for a hot tea to settle my stomach. And something in the tea made me think of books, which led me to Malaprops, Asheville’s finest bookstore.
By the time I finally escaped the city, it was early afternoon. That’s when I realized I wouldn’t make it to Shenandoah before dusk. With a little research, I decided to set up camp half an hour northeast of Roanoke at a site called Peaks of Otter.
After I found the campsite, I stood outside my car for a solid five minutes in absolute wonder. A cool wind washed through the Blue Ridge Mountains with such a steady force that the low roar of its ebb and flow sounded like the ocean. As the night grew, so did that current. Lying against the earth, I listened to the rainfly on my tent whip tight like an open sail and then relax, only to fill up again moments later. A cacophony of dry leaves chattered around me while the arms and elbows of great trees stretched to grasp at each other.
I woke in the middle of the night to the sound of heavy footsteps. Human or animal? I wondered. All of a sudden, I realized that I needed to pee. I tried drifting back to sleep instead, but to no avail. When I couldn’t hold it anymore, I slowly unzipped my tent and peered into the infinite dark until I found the courage to jump out and mark my territory on the closest tree. I dove back into the tent as soon as I could.
When dawn broke, I rose with a smile. The earth was docile again. I had finally slept under the stars on my own.
I pulled into DC a few hours later. For the rest of the morning, I walked the National Mall, bouncing between memorials—MLK to FDR, Jefferson to Lincoln. It was at the Jefferson memorial where I stumbled upon this:
It made me think of people who treat The Constitution like a fixed, infallible source of moral clarity. Even our founding fathers knew that our understanding of the world would evolve, that time would continue to make us “more enlightened,” that we would discover “new truths.” It’s what underpinned MLK’s assertion that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Isn’t it right that we bend with it? We celebrate that slavery came to an end, that women can vote. Those are no-brainers to us now, but let us not forget that it wasn’t always the case.
At mid-afternoon, fatigue began setting in. I found a place in the Constitution Gardens and laid down on the grass.
Forty-five minutes later, I made my way back to the car. One of my closest friends hosted me that night. She and her boyfriend took me around DC’s historic neighborhoods and treated me to Moroccan food (Moroccan belly dancer included). It took being around friends to realize how tired my body was from the trip. After a leisurely walk through town, we headed back to their apartment for sleep.
In Mobile, Alabama, where I’ve spent most of my adult life, traffic isn’t much of an issue. I mean, it has its moments. But nothing could compare to what I was experiencing on the drive from DC to New York. It was pure pandemonium—horns wailed, expletives flew, cars wove recklessly around each other. I caught myself squeezing the wheel so tightly that my knuckles were white. I even had to mute Liz for a little while.
When I arrived at Brooklyn, I met another friend, Adam, at his apartment. Adam and I first crossed paths some seven years earlier in Mobile where he happened to walk in on one of my singer-songwriter events at Serda’s coffeeshop. We kept in touch over the years, and he was one of the first people to offer me a couch after I announced on Facebook that I’d be driving up the east coast.
We walked the Brooklyn Bridge and made our way to Chinatown for food. That’s when disaster struck. “Excuse me for a moment.” I hobbled awkwardly to the bathroom where there was a small, slow-moving line. My stomach groaned. When my turn finally came, I was out of luck. I tried everything—squatting with my feet on the seat, doing a few downward dogs, rocking on my stomach—nothing worked. After about ten minutes, I gave up.
“You okay?” asked Adam. “Nope,” I said. “Do we need to find a pharmacy?” “Yep,” I said. I took the painful walk around a few blocks where finally we found a Walgreens. “Wait. Everything here is printed in Chinese.” We were still in Chinatown. My stomach lurched and gargled. “Let’s keep moving,” I said, holding my stomach.
It took us another fifteen minutes to find a drugstore. Afterward, we made our way to one of Adam’s favorite bars. “Maybe a drink will help?” I said. It didn’t. A few minutes later, I was back in a bathroom. Except the door in this bathroom wouldn’t lock. So every time I thought someone was about to come in, I would stick my right foot out to press my toes against the door.
One acrobatic shit and a couple drinks later, I was back to my normal, happy self. Adam talked about his time working for Freedom to Marry. I talked about the closet space in which I had been living. Eventually, we sauntered back to the apartment and fell clumsily into bed. It was the first time I had shared a bed with another person in months. I drunkenly rambled for a while until I fell asleep, still in jeans and a long sleeve shirt, too tired and content to care.