Seven years ago, during that week in every September when summer turns to autumn, my husband and I rented a car to drive the long distance from Oregon to Massachusetts.
We drove because we craved the numbing constant of highway and sky through a windshield and because we needed the three thousand miles of slowly changing terrain to digest what we’d already been through that year and to prepare for what the next two months in Boston might bring. Anticipating the drive out, I felt a melancholy kind of excitement. We’d been stuck in hospitals and at home for the first part of the year and the prospect of being in motion, to be driving, to be in control, felt like playing hooky from the heaviness of our life.
Earlier that year my thirty-two-year-old husband undergone two brain surgeries in an attempt to remove a tumor the size of a golf ball behind his left eye, but the neurosurgeon couldn’t get it all out. All summer we’d waited to hear—as one doctor waited to hear from another doctor who was out of the country but upon his return would look at the images of the tumor bits that remained in Brian’s head—if he would be a good candidate for proton beam therapy at Massachusetts General Hospital. In late August the answer came back: yes.
Our rented minivan was packed with anything we might need and lots of things we didn’t but refused to leave behind: our dog and clothes and shoes and slippers and too many books and my journal and two plants and Christmas lights and a small Buddha and three crystals and the handmade quilt we always had on our bed and a small amount of very good marijuana because it was the only medicine that took care of my husband’s unbearable headaches. Leaving Portland, Brian drove north on Grand Avenue headed for I-84. My window was down, the smell of the season changing sharp in the early morning air. I snapped a Polaroid. When the image developed it was nothing special, a crooked still life of road and cars near the freeway entrance ramp. I was disappointed. The photograph didn’t capture what I’d hoped it would. Each day of the eight-day trip, as we woke up farther and farther east, I’d try again. The loud snap and hiss of the Polaroid making pictures but what I wanted to capture could not be caught.