Back in the late 90s, I was living with my then-lover JK. She was a hysterically witty woman from New Jersey who came down to Virginia in the early 90s to visit a childhood friend, fell in love with our mountains and decided to stay. We met through a mutual friend (her then-lover and my high school friend LC) and I began tutoring JK in Algebra and creative writing. We were both taking classes at the local community college. By the time JK and I became lovers, her mother in New Jersey had become seriously ill. It was time for a road trip to visit her.
By this time in my life, I was 25 and taking classes at Hollins College (now Hollins University). The only times I’d ever been out of Virginia were in my late teens when I lived in Burlington NC during my brief first marriage and during my early 20s when I partied with some friends in White Sulphur Springs WV. It was spring break of my first year at Hollins and I was thrilled to be going on this road trip.
Our route took us through Northern VA, into Maryland, a small corner of Pennsylvania and into New Jersey. I think I slept all through Virginia, but I remember JK waking me up when we went through Maryland. We didn’t stop there, just kept driving across the interstate. I remember us listening to the Indigo Girls, Melissa Etheridge and some 70s rock, and the sing alongs. We did a lot of laughing and tossed some witty banter back and forth. We also spent some quiet time. It was easy to be silent around her and not worry about awkwardness. By the time we reached PA, we did stop at a road-side Amish Farmers’ Market. We bought some homemade cheese, bread, and a gallon of fresh tea. We made a meal of it while we drove on to Livingston NJ.
I was pretty amazed at how calm and collected JK was. This would be the last time she would ever see her mother alive, but she never became overly emotional about it. When we arrived at her childhood home, JK’s mother was out of the hospital and relaxing at home. Mrs. K was a lovely woman, cheerful and inviting. She made me feel welcomed right away. It was nearing Easter and since we’d come up for a visit, the K-family decided to celebrate early. Easter meant a special kind of cake (I still don’t remember what it was called) and the only place to purchase this cake was from a small bakery in New York City. I would finally get to see the Big Apple!
We set off extremely early the next day for New York. The bakery was in Brooklyn, but JK wanted me to see ALL of NY City. We went to Manhattan, the Bronx, Long Island and finally to Brooklyn. It was an all day trip and she drove the entire time. No small feat for NY City. While there, we saw the Twin Towers, the Brooklyn Bridge, rode the ferry to Long Island and even saw a live taping of The Late Show with David Letterman. I was in the audience! I couldn’t believe it. When we finally arrived at the little bakery, we bought that cake, tons of bread, and some other desserts. By the time we arrived back at JK’s house, her mother had fallen ill again and was at the hospital.
JK’s mom passed away a day later. We attended her funeral. Mrs. K had left money to this posh Italian restaurant to feed everyone who attended the funeral. It was a lavish affair. No one cried during or after the funeral. We ate, laughed, sang, and danced in honor of Mrs. K. I had never experienced anything like that.
The drive back to VA was a quiet one. JK’s father had loaded us up with tons of food to take back home. We made a brief stop in PA again at the same Farmers’ Market and bought more cheese. We also stopped in MD briefly, but I don’t recall why now. Maybe just a pit stop. By the time we arrived back home in VA, we didn’t get to talk about the trip or her mother. Spring break was over for me and I had to go back to Roanoke VA. I stayed there during the week with a college friend and only came back home to the house I shared with JK on the weekends.
This was the most fun I’d ever had on a road trip, even if it ended in tragedy. Previous ones had always been short trips around VA, WV and NC. I would go on to a brief trip to Georgia once with my college friend for another spring break a couple years later. After that, the longest trip I would take would be with my then-husband from VA to OK. That one was not enjoyable at all. I still hope someday to make two more road trips – one to California and another to Maine.