The last trip that Melissa and I took together was in June to Fredericksburg, TX for my sister's wedding. I written about this trip briefly before, here, here, and here. Our summer ritual was to pack up a rental car and just road trip together for a week or so at a time. We'd go try to hit as many park and monuments as we could. We had planned this trip out together as an opportunity to spend time together away from jobs and students, away from dogs and cats, and most importantly as a chance to connect before the stress of pregnancy took over our lives.
I found myself thinking about this trip this morning, as I lay in bed trying to decide what the point of everything is. There are moments in each morning where I have to find the motivation to get out of bed, to get the thoughts of wanting to disappear out of my mind. Usually this spell is broken by one or all of the dogs jumping in bed with me, gently and then not so gently nuzzling me to get up and feed them.
This morning took more, and so I found myself thinking about this trip across southern New Mexico and Texas. I was thinking about it because, despite my best efforts to make it more enjoyable, Melly as absolutely miserable. She did her best to put a good face on things, but I could tell. I think she would have preferred to be home in bed rather than getting dragged across the deserts of the southwest. The effort she put forth to make sure I was enjoying myself was enough to get me going today. If she could do it then, I can do it now.
Our trip took us through southern Arizona, through the Chricauhua's and across southern New Mexico and central Texas. Along the way we detoured to the Chiricahua Mountains, a trip that put us way behind schedule, but also has given me one of my most favorite memories of my wife. The timing threw off the whole trip, and maybe let to some of her later misery, but that detour is not something I don't thing either of us would change, ever.
We made it to our hotel in Las Cruces at about 10:30p that evening, well past the closing time for most restaurants. Our last two options were an Applebee's surrounded by a parking lot full of big rigs coming off I-10, and an aging McDonald's drive thru. We elected to hit the McDonald's, to get something quick to take back to our hotel room so we could watch The Americans.
Melissa had been dealing with wicked morning sickness. In addition she had developed an aversion to chicken and would not eat beef or pork on moral grounds (a stance that has since transferred to me). That left a "green salad", and a pitiful one at that. I elected to go with a two cheeseburgers meal, which was equally as depressing. We made it back to the hotel only to find out our rental car had a flat. I spent the next 20 minutes crawling around in the dark to change it. By the time we made it in to eat, The Americans was over and our food was cold (not sure it was ever actually warm). It was a terrible time, but despite all this, we were in it together, with each other, and that was all right.
The next morning we stopped in the hotel's dining area for our "free" continental breakfast. Nothing in this world is free., as we found out. You pay with money, or you pay with experience. We got up too late to get anything decent like eggs or waffles and had to instead settle for cereal and fruit. When Melly went to pour the milk on her Raisin Bran it came out in big clumps, chunk by chunk. The expiration date going back two weeks prior. To complete the picture the TV was tuned to Fox News, blaring the latest election scandal. Undaunted, she put a good face on things, grabbed a banana and resolved to make it a better day.
The plan for the day was to make it to White Sands National Monument, and then to back through Las Cruces to El Paso, and then up to Carlsbad Caverns, with the plan to stay in Carlsbad, NM that night. As we got underway it was clear she was not feeling it, at all. The cramps and morning sickness were taking a toll, as was the lack of food. We didn't make it quite to White Sands. My nerdy impulses took over and I forced us to go through the museum at White Sands Missile Base. By the end of our detour she said she needed food, so we turned around and headed back south.
Her hairdresser was from Cruces. When she found out where we were headed she insisted that we visit her favorite Mexican food place. By the time we got there the place was packed with locals, who all gave us the once over when we blew in from the road. Clearly short-staffed, someone told us to take a table in the corner. We waited for about 30 minutes and were just about to get up and leave when the waitress finally came around. She asked if we had ordered yet, heard our story, and then walked away without taking our order, saying instead that someone would over "shortly". About 10 minutes later the owner came over to see why we were taking up one of his tables without having any food. Doing our best to put the annoyance aside, we placed our orders and tried our best to enjoy our time. The food that came out was less than good, complete with a burrito that managed to both be hot and frozen at the same time. Still, we were in it together and that was all right.
After lunch we got back on 10 and headed east to El Paso, where we got off the freeway and headed north. On the outskirts of El Paso we marveled at one of the truly most unique, and seedy, things I have ever come across - a drive-in movie theatre converted to play adult movies. Once again, that old Holden Caulfield quote played in my head.
On up through southwest Texas and central New Mexico, through Guadalupe Mountains National Park and over to Carlsbad Caverns. We made it to the caves at about 4:00 in the afternoon, just in time to be the last people admitted to the park. Melly had a deep seeded fear about going the 700 feet underground to see the caverns, but she knew I desperately wanted to go and so she put that aside for me. We walked the full caverns, enjoying our time alone underground, Melissa doing her best to forget about her fears and discomfort, to live in the moment.
Back at the surface, we stopped at the snack bar so she could deal with the ravenous hunger brought on by our growing boy. Again, no good options, so she settled on another questionable green salad. A snack bar green salad at 5:00p in the afternoon, eaten at the table in a crowded snack bar, surrounded by screaming children and tourists.
Being close to dusk, we decided that we would try to salvage the day by staying to watch the famous bats leave the caves. We found our seats in the natural amphitheater at the entrance to the cavern and waited. We were surrounded by about a thousand people, children and parents and grandparents alike. We were instructed to turn off our phones and cameras, to be as quiet as possible so as not to disturb the bats as they woke up for the long night ahead. As we sat and waited, I looked over at Melly and said my thanks to the universe to be with her in that moment, and in all moments. I knew that this one was special, I didn't know that all of the minor disappointments the past few days would also be so special to me. In the end those minor moments turn out to be what life is all about.
We stayed for the bats, observing in wonder as 400,000 of them swirled over head, some coming so close to us you could hear their wing beats and here the echolocating squeaks. We stayed until the last of the bats had left and the first of the stars had come out. We stayed until we were the last of the thousand people left in the amphitheater, until it was just us and the stars overhead. We were in it together and that was all right.
As we got back in the car and drove on to Carlsbad, NM to find our hotel we discussed names for our son. For whatever reason I decided that Kraftwerk's Trans Europe Express was the right album for the moment, something that she made fun of until I finally changed it.
We made two decisions that night. First, that we would name our son Matthew James after some of the most important people in our lives. Second, that we would tell anyone that asked that we were going to name him Mordecai Warlock - just to watch their reactions.
We made it to Carlsbad well after 10:30p. This time our only options were the local Pizza Hut or the small town carnival that had set up in the vacant lot immediately next door to our hotel. As we sat in our room that night, eating doughy and undercooked pizza we listened to the bad country music and arguments between the carnies coming from next door. We were together, happy at last, and that was all right.