It had been a tumultuous year leading up to the road trip. Looking back now it was entertaining at the very least I learned a lot about myself and how I fit or didn’t fit in the world.
To say I was not a stellar student in high school or any school before that would not be an understatement. The fact that I passed all my classes and made it to graduation is a miracle in itself. I was never at risk of becoming pregnant or getting hooked on drugs. My vice has always been trying to fit into a world that always felt as if it was rejecting me. It feels that it has always been that way from the beginning.
I lived with my parental grandparents for the last two years of high school. I was technically living with my dad but by living with him that really meant I saw him on weekends and holidays. Once I graduated I moved to the only college that accepted me and to be fair that I earnestly applied to in the area where my mom lived. I guess I had hoped that by being in close proximity that our relationship would mend. It did not work.
When I got to Florida I lived with my mom for a couple of weeks during the honeymoon phase of arrival. Once the newness of my being there wore off it was back to screaming, arguing and general discontent. It was a crowded space with younger siblings and short tempers. I was seen as a threat to the fabric of their lives, or so it seemed.
Within a few months of the arrival of my parental grandparents, the idea of moving in with them was nixed. They said they needed a break for good behavior for time served with me. I moved in with my maternal grandparents which came with its own set of complications none which had to do with food. My maternal grandmother was quite the cook and a smother. She loved you until it hurt. She doted on me and tried to take care of me. It took some getting used to the grandparent that showered love and food and the other who gave me freedom and money to fend for my food and such. The difference between their styles was striking.
About six months into living with them and some odd jobs I got into a huge fight with my grandfather and he asked, well demanded I leave his house. I called an old friend from NJ and her parents came and got me. They took me in for a couple of months before I found myself living with my blockbuster co-worker that was a retired stripper. The pregnancy being her disability. She wasn’t too sure of the paternity of the baby but had high hopes it was of the love of her life. It could easily be of her previous boss that drugged her and raped her. She said she wasn’t sure but was hopeful. I lived on her couch and got to meet some curious characters.
Eventually I ended up back at my maternal grandparents house. I had short transitional stint at my moms but our last fight had her throwing my clothes on the lawn. The cause of said fight? I threw her cigarettes and blunts on the roof of the carport. I called her dad to get me but before he got there she warned me not to tell him the cause of the fight. It was an awkward drive back to his place.
A few weeks later I decided I needed to move, a change so I reached out to my dad and I headed out toward Virginia with what I could fit in my 1985 Toyota tercel and hoped the car made it out of Florida, all 300 or so exits of it. It did. Somewhere between Georgia and North Carolina I stopped for fuel, rest and food. Back in the days before cell phones I made a collect calls from any payphone I found to get help.
During a supply run from the motel I went into a convenience store. It had rows of things ranging from food, dyi products and condoms. I roamed through the food aisles until I got the necessities, Cheetos, orange soda and water. The dinner of champions. As I stood in the long line i looked around and noticed the people around me. There was a person from every walk of life. At the time I couldn’t really tell them apart. Suddenly in all the silence there was a loud crash of glass. A woman holding her baby had dropped a bottle of beer on the floor. The guy standing in front of me who was holding a huge watermelon turned to me, asked me to hold it and went to help the lady. The baby was crying and the lady was yelling with the store clerk about not having to pay for it. The watermelon guy was trying to diffuse the situation. Most of the other customers gave up waiting and left with their five finger special items.
The store clerk gave up his argument with the lady. You can’t argue with crazy. It was proving detrimental to business. He turned his attention back to the few of us still in line and the line slowly moved along. The watermelon guy returned, thanked me for holding his fruit and proceeded to take it back. As I got toward my car the watermelon dude came toward me and asked how I was. I was startled and a little scared. I did not respond right away. He repeated his question to which I answered fine. “That was quite a scene in there, wasn’t it?”, he said. “It worked itself out I guess.”, I replied. A small pause before he spoke again. “So where are you headed?, he asked. “North.”, I said. “Well, umm how long are you in town for?, he asked. “Passing through really. I should be where I need to be by night tomorrow if the traffic gods smile upon me.”,I replied. He laughed, smiled and asked if I believed in god. “Not in the traditional sense these days.”, I replied. “Well if you are free tonight maybe we can grab a bite.”, he asked. “Which hotel are you staying in”, he added. I was uncertain of whether to tell him the truth so I opted for a half lie. I told him I was staying the hotel right next to the one I was actually staying in. He gifted me the watermelon and wrote down his number just in case I was free.
All the while driving back to my hotel I worried he might follow me. I looked nervously through the rear view mirror to check if I saw his car. I was pretty sure I did not see him behind me but I could not be certain. I was so nervous that I ended up checking out and renting a few exits north of the hotel I was staying. In my paranoia I thought I saw his car pulling in to my parking lot as I was leaving. I sped up just in case.
I am not sure what about him set off alarms to me but whatever it was I listened and acted upon them. By the next evening I had arrived at my dad’s house and was questioned about the watermelon. “where did you get the watermelon, mija?”, my dad asked. I explained about the convenience store incident and gave vague details about the dude who gifted it to me. My dad gave me a side look and asked,”What exactly did you do to get the watermelon?” “Nothing. You weirdo. What the fuck?!”, I said with an eye roll as I walked away.