When Zach and I met, it was on the farthest edge of South Dakota. So, for about three years of our relationship, we spent a lot of time on the inside of a vehicle to see one another, or to get to the camp we met and worked at: a whole year of stolen time and for three solid months we saw each other every day. While none of our vehicles had air conditioning at the time, and it was ultimately miserable, I wouldn't have traded those trips through the midwest for anything.
We spent a lot of time in cars; hours and hours of audio books and mix tapes from his sister, windows rolled down to compensate for the lack of airconditioning.
South Dakota is flat: there is nothing romantic about it’s landscape: mile after mile of corn and soybeans and the smell of warm clover and cut alfalfa in the ditch. Love stories aren’t written on fields and cattle pastures; dreams aren’t built on sugar beets. But god did I love those road trips across the state, from east to west, plains to mountains. We became professionals: when to stop for a stretch and a bathroom break, when to get food, how to pack snacks and enough listening materials to maintain sanity, enough icepacks to avoid heatstroke in the badlands and gum for when the altitude changed and our ears began to pop. We knew every change of station to chase after the public radio shows we loved, and we would sing the morning edition music, cheer when Glen Washington’s voice popped out the tinny speakers.
I loved driving out alone with you on the highway, the roads barren, past peak tourist season and South Dakota so sparsely populated, it didn’t much matter the season anyway. The windows down, I couldn’t hear you well, but the way you held my hand, smiled out of the corner of your eye as we hit hour eight, and how soft, how terribly and wonderfully soft you would look lit by the orange of the sun setting behind us. And sunflowers. There were always sunflowers on the side of the road the closer to the mountains we got, and with world painted gold, I could hardly breathe for the molten beauty and finite nature of that moment: stuck in a car with the man I knew I would marry one day, hating the drive but not the time spent in proximity, in silence, in communion.
And when we got to the mountains, when the temperature dropped and suddenly, magically, we were in the foothills and the transition always passed us by, and we would be in the murky haze of clouds, the air sharp with pine and the nip of a winter not too long passed. It was home, we said. It was like coming home, from a long trip away. From a year apart to a summer together, we were home in those days, in that perfect instant.