I think it was about 9 1/2 hours of total driving and I wasn’t alone. I had my three kids with me (ages 6, 4 and 2) and my in-laws.
To be honest, it wasn’t my idea. My in-laws wanted to go, to drive over the mighty Mississippi, a goal off their bucket list, although they never referred to it that way.
I’ve driven cross-country seven times so I’ve done this before. And actually crossing the Mississippi is one of my favorite parts of the trip. It’s strange, I suppose, but I love how the state line is in the middle of the bridge. The last time I crossed the Mississippi River I was with my father. He was helping me move from California to North Carolina. We were in a big rental truck, towing my car and it was not an easy trip. My apartment was empty, the truck was packed and as we had a quick lunch at In-N-Out Burger on Van Nuys Boulevard before hitting the road, I was queasy, uncertain if I was making the right decision. The further from town we got, the grumpier I became. And when we crossed the state line of California into Arizona, I knew I was making a terrible decision. I loved California so why in the world was I leaving it? And I also knew there was no way I could tell my father what I was feeling, no way I could suggest we stop, turn around, head back.
Eventually I napped and when I awoke, I consoled myself with thoughts of being on a road trip with my dad, seeing fun and interesting things, starting a new adventure. I waited for the Mississippi, waited for the sign in the middle of the bridge announcing a new state. Shouldn’t we be coming to it by now? Finally, I had to ask. And sure enough I’d missed it!
If I’d only mentioned to my father the bridge we’d cross, the sign I’d like to see, he would’ve woken me up, made sure I didn’t miss it. But I didn’t mention it. I was too busy being self-indulgent, wallowing in my unhappiness, which was all my own doing. I’d inconvenienced my father, needing his help getting back to the East Coast. And like a good Dad, he was helping me the best he could while staying out of range of my stormy mood, probably relieved when I napped so he could enjoy the ride.
So I was back to being grumpy, back to stewing on my rash decision to move to North Carolina. It wasn’t until we were about 20 miles outside of Wilmington, NC that I finally felt good about my move. It would be okay. I had made a good decision and I would be fine. Besides, I could always move again. I was getting pretty good at it.
And although it was a very tough first year there in the Old North State and I was the poorest I’d ever been, helped by my $2,000 truck rental that quickly escalated into a $20,000 credit card debt, it ended up being a good thing. I married the guy I’d moved there for, which brings me back to my crazy road trip with three small children and my in-laws.
Soon after leaving Birmingham, the landscape opened up. We’d left the town with buildings and billboards, with traffic and stoplights, and it was just the road ahead. Trees and tall grass followed alongside the stretch of asphalt in varying shades of gray and the blue sky above was indicative of a sunshine-filled day. I could feel my soul start to breathe. Oh, I’d missed this. It was a little different from my previous state-line crossing trips. The soundtrack had changed to Elmo Goes Potty and I Stink and such. There were more potty breaks, demands for snacks and drinks, questions about where we were. But still, I was on the road and free to think and dream and compose in my head.
There was a moment when I thought what if? What if I kept going? Where could I potentially end up if I didn’t turn around once I’d crossed the Mississippi? (This is actually the kind of thought that prompted the novel I’ve been working on, although it is nowhere near being ready.) And then the moment passed and the thought receded. It wasn’t an idea that formed because of a wish to escape my life, just an idea born from an adventurous spirit. I’m happy with my life, with my husband and my children. Wouldn’t want life to be any other way.
Turns out the bridge that crosses from Vicksburg, Mississippi to Louisiana is not the bridge I took every time I drove across the Mississippi. There was no sign in the middle of the bridge indicating we’d crossed state lines. I suppose that must’ve been in Arkansas? I probably took I-40, not I-20, but then again, maybe it was a different bridge with a different river altogether. I can’t promise my memory is accurate. But I wasn’t disappointed. This trip reminded me of something: the open road is my muse.
Maybe I should’ve been a truck driver.