If you ever want to teach a young adult about the value of a dollar, send them on a 3 month roadtrip with very little money. At 21, I was just stupid enough to go ahead with a trip around the continental US with two friends right after a series of unfortunate circumstances left me very much broke. I couldn’t bear the thought of backing out after a year of planning, and luckily my friends had all the faith necessary to lead me to believe we’d be ok. Off we went, me sat in the back with a few crochet hooks and a few dozen spools of yarn, whipping out tams for dreadies as fast as my fingers allowed. Tams raked in big bucks in those days – I got anywhere between $30-60 for each one. By the time we left the parking lot of a Phish concert somewhere (Wisconsin?), I’d made just enough money to be on par with my amigas, who were also not rolling in it.
Every penny was precious, so we did not buy what we did not need. Facial cleanser was just outside our budget, so we’d been using soap. My girlfriends both had amazing skin, but about 6 weeks in, even they were feeling the stress of it all. We were in a campsite just outside Quantico (An old man outside a convenience store: What the hell are you girls doing in Quantico? hehe…As with many corners of the US we crossed on that trip, we did not fit in). I woke up before my companions as I always did, owing, I believe, to my mother’s refusal to ever let me sleep in as an adolescent. My friends, however, could sleep in those boiling hot tents until well past 10, and I couldn’t stand it. So I went for a stroll, into a part of the campsite that had been cordoned off. I could see right away that this part of the campsite had undergone years of neglect: campsites were worn and unused, weeds grew over firepits, it appeared the roads hadn’t been driven on for at least months, if not years. Interestingly, there were plastic ribbons tied round the branches of a number of trees, which were conspicuously growing in the way of clearly – if anciently – designated campsites.
Here’s what I was thinking: It’s the middle of summertime. This camp isn’t half-full in the campsites that are in excellent condition. I can’t see the point of cutting down all these trees, other than to increase the camping spaces that are already going unused. I knew I was probably doing something illegal, and I knew it wasn’t really a longterm solution, but I decided I wanted to thwart those efforts. I started pulling the ribbons off the trees.
Okay, trees, said I – probably even out loud, because by this point I was far, far from the maddening crowd, I know I’m not gaining you much time, but a few more beautiful days is a few more beautiful days after all. In my youthful greed, though, I sent out a humble request: My face hurts, trees. If you could see to getting us some facial cleanser somehow, some way, I’d be obliged. (Apparently during those few days in Virginia I’d already managed to adopt some Southernisms)
I had to wee, and I was prepared to do so in nature – the only warm bodies I’d seen for nearly an hour were deer and birds. But in the distance I saw an old, rundown bathroom. Mind you, I was a good 45 minutes’ walk from any campsites that had been in use for several seasons. I should have known the toilets would be closed off – and they were, with chains – but instinct just led me to go have a look. The sinks, though, were not closed off.
And here’s the kicker: atop the counter, all shiny and new, sat the mint-green plastic casing of a bar of Clinique facial cleanser. No. Impossible. But it was so shiny! It couldn’t be as old as all that. I looked around for any other sign of use, but the facilities were rundown and looked like they hadn’t been used in years, whereas the same facilities in our site (and those surrounding ours) were up and running and looked in great condition. I couldn’t believe my luck.
But then, if I’m being honest, I didn’t for one second think this was luck. I knew before I reached out and wrapped my fingers around that glossy plastic casing that when I slid out the tray, there would be a brand-new yellow bar of Clinique facial cleanser, and there it was. There wasn’t one other thing on the countertop – not a toothbrush, not a used q-tip, nothing. The sink itself was covered in the dust and grime of a sink unused for ages.
Well, a lot of years have passed…14 of them, in fact. I guess the thought has crossed my mind that somebody was illegally free camping somewhere and I simply stole their facial cleanser that day. It’s possible. But what I think much more often is, what ever happened to that crazy girl who talked to the trees? Because that was not the only magical thing that happened on that trip, and it wasn’t only me bringing the sureal into the there and then – we were all on a different plane in those days, and it wasn’t chemically induced…we were too broke!
Maybe it’s the freedom of open roads and empty pockets. Maybe it’s the foolishness and naivety of youth. But I find that it’s too rare that I get that sense of the impossible becoming possible these days. Of extraordinary and magical things happening all around me in spite of the terrible odds of reality stacked up against them.
The past few years have necessitated a break from the dreamy realm of What If and a plunge into the black and white of Or Else. But I think I speak for C as well when I say 2015 is looking decidedly dreamier from this vantage point.
So, this is my hope for 2015: let me not forget that we live in a place where birds fly and fish breath under water, where ants carry several times their weight and where elephants hold funerals for their fallen kin. We live in a time where we can see and speak with one another from many thousands of kilometers away, where we can learn as many languages as we have the time and patience to learn, where we can climb the highest mountains and jump from their peaks to soar in the clouds alongside those birds. This is a magical place and these are magical times, and while we all have to pause sometimes to dot our i’s and cross our t’s, let us remember that in spite of the great suffering that life brings, it is also so, so wonderful, and we are a part of it.