There is a stretch of I-80 that runs through rural Pennsylvania that is so stunning that driving through it, no matter the season, makes you believe you have entered into a wonderland. Verdant hills wind to and fro as you meander through valleys and pass by and through small towns. If you are lucky, as I will be soon, the sky is the bluest of blues, falling somewhere between azure and cerulean, dotted with white puffy clouds as though strategically placed for visual perfection. This is the part of the road that I love most about the 7½ hour drive it takes to get to northwest Ohio. The scenery and the solitude of my car and This American Life on my Bluetooth replete with David Sedaris singing about baloney in the voice of Billie Holiday. (And if you have not listened to this particular episode, you are missing out on the singularly greatest and, dare I say funniest, pieces ever created by man).
I’ll soon be on my way to my sisters wedding. She is twenty years younger than me and decided, against everything that I believe is necessary in this life, to get married. Ah, young love. I’m going to the rehearsal dinner and wedding with my college love who was with me the day she was born and when I carried her around town and brought her to campus and to bookstores and Finders Records. I think, no I know, that no one can even touch the love that I have for my sister barring Tim.
I’m not altogether clear on when exactly I met Tim; those hazy-filled college days sometimes elude me as I age. I feel like he has just always been around roaming through the many moments and years of my life. Considering I’ve known him since I was 17 or 18, his presence has been a mainstay in an otherwise frenetic existence. I do know that we met through a mutual friend, Georgie, a fellow Chicagoan and Blackhawk/Bears fan (we agree to disagree on the Cubs/White Sox issue). George invited me to join the Peace Coalition my freshman year of college, a campus organization of which I remained an active member the entirety of my college life; an organization that fed my idealistic soul and where I cultivated the political activism that has been at the heart of my previously quite ordinary and, now, unordinary academic life. (To be continued). Tim was dynamic and charming and funny and smart, all of the attributes that move my heart. He had crazy, afro-like curly black hair and deep, brown eyes and I think I fell in love with him the moment he opened his mouth and acknowledged my existence. Alas, he had a girlfriend at the time so I simply admired him from afar until, well, we decided that our mutual attraction had moved beyond something either one of us could control and entered into an on-off again three year affair that ended badly when I told him that I loved him as I was standing next to his brother Jeff’s green Suzuki Samari (someone who to this day is my dear friend) heading out for our cross-country month-long drive. His response to my heart-felt admission was, “I know.” Not exactly the response that you expect or desire after years of thinking that this person is “the one.”
At the Ohio border is where the drive gets tedious and less visually appealing and where, if you’re not careful, you can bet on being pulled over by one of the two million and twenty Ohio patrolmen that strategically and, notoriously, obscure themselves along the highway no matter what time of the week, month, or year. There are parts of the drive through Ohio that I relish. There’s a bridge outside of Youngstown that is beautiful and spans a serene, snake-like river. The sky always seems bright and the air clean and I will most certainly have traded This American Life for the Jam_On station on Sirius radio – Phil Lesh and Friends and Phish and Bobby will inevitably guide me home.
Over the past few decades, Tim and I have remained friends. Better than friends. We have exhaustively discussed the trajectory of our early relationship, cried together over respective loves lost through the years, and embraced our friendship with a force that usually only binds family. We are family. When we regroup in a few weeks, over rehearsal dinners and multiple beers, we’ll talk ad nauseam about the current state of politics, music, sports teams, and life. We’ll celebrate, of course, the milestone my sister has entered into, much as we did together years ago when she graduated high school and, then, college. And then, as we are wont to do, we’ll part ways and return to a relationship that consists mostly of commenting on Facebook statuses and text messaging and phone calls that are more and more infrequent due to our busy academic lives. And as always, we’ll reflect on our long, enduring relationship; a relationship that those who have known us all of these years want us to make permanent, but one that we know in our hearts is fine, nee perfect, just the way it is.
I’m looking forward to being in Ohio, being home, with old friends and family and being anywhere but here, as I do sometimes. I look forward to rejoicing with my little sister who is in love and well loved and has become a beautiful human in this world. I’ll wear the dress and get my hair and make-up done, because she insisted, and take family photographs that I’m hopeful will outlast any other wedding pictures that in my experience have not stood the test of time. And then, I’ll drive home, through the worst of the boring stretch that is Ohio and then, that beautiful stretch of I-80 and, then, I’ll wonder, as I always do, about the thing of it all.