I Fell in Love With a Stranger on a 34-Day Road Trip

I open my diary for the first time in over two years. It’s made of blank, black card stock on the outside, old words and dried flowers on the inside. It smells like gasoline. I pour over each page, typing out the now foreign entries, trying to make sense of what happened during those 34 days. It was ill-advised at best, hitting the road with someone I barely knew, in a car that barely ran, with a destination and timeline barely mapped out. It was the romantic in me (who I thought I had successfully killed in my last relationship) that said, Go. It was the rational, safety-first voice of my mother that said, What the fuck are you doing? My inner George Sand won.

I met Dominic outside of a hotel sometime in 2013. He was wearing yellow pants that to this day he denies ever owning. During his twice-yearly trips to California, we’d meet at the same tourist trap restaurant on a rickety wooden pier over the Pacific. I’d order onion rings, he’d order fish and chips. I liked the tangled mess of safety pins in his left ear and the way he’d rub the top of his shaved head when he was thinking. I liked his stern face and carved out frown but I liked it better when it twisted into a grin. He always smelled of cedarwood and seaweed.

We didn’t keep in touch save for these funny, ritualistic meetings until the day he called to say he was moving from London to Los Angeles. He needed a place to stay, so he stayed with me. A month later we packed our bags and took on a vagrant existence of cheap motels and truck stops. It was late summer in 2015. I had just dyed my blonde hair black and was feeling a little bit reckless. Why not hop into a 1984 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz with a near stranger for 10,066 miles to nowhere in particular?

If you want to get to know someone quickly, sit for 14 hours a day in the passenger seat of his or her car.

Over hills and state lines we drove, endlessly, continuously. At mile 341 he told me about the time he was arrested in Cuba. At mile 687 I told him about the time I boarded a train and moved to my cousin’s house at 14. The time I broke six bones in Mexico? That was at mile 997. Our stories unfolded like a deck of cards; that perfect hand I usually held tight to my chest dropping ace after ace. The time-released doses of self-disclosure I deemed comfortable territory were all wasted by the time we reached New Orleans. I feared I would soon have nothing left to tell.

Once I ran out of my usual tales, I had no choice but to look back at my files — the dusty ones I kept at the back of the rack, hidden in the shadows. The stories I didn’t tell. At mile 1,255 I started, shakily, to say those things aloud. I let them come back to life on empty, winding roads. They took root in the meadows of Kentucky and bloomed in the forests of West Virginia. In the bright sunlight I feared them less. I washed them clean in the summer storms. I wouldn’t look in his eyes when I told them — nor would he look into mine when he told his.

For the first time, I was unafraid to go off script.

Kent, Sydney, Bukit Timah, Zurich, Paris, London. San Diego, Santa Clarita, Natick, London, New York, Los Angeles. Our past lives were spread across states and continents, woven together by threads made of frayed shoelaces and crumpled boarding passes. All the things we had run from and all the things we had run toward: death, loss, love. These themes reverberated between us, bouncing off the crimson felt and leather of our car.

Time moved slowly when our only sense of its passing was the landscape fading in and out of view. Our relationship, however, passed by quicker, the markers blurred as we flew by. At mile 1,971 he saw me cry. Mile 2,032: our first fight. He told me he loved me at mile 3,948.4. Those defining moments, the moments where you feel that shift, they’re written in cursive by my own hand, marked simply by what new mile we had just hit.

Mile 7,324

This is peace. We lay on my old woven blanket in the tall wheat grass and wildflowers of Montana. Crickets chirp and swarm somewhere hidden amongst the gold and green. The wind whips and ebbs, cows graze somewhere over the hills. A glass of sweet red, the sun passing in and out of puffed white clouds. We have escaped the madness. The only thing that feels constant lays by my side and I am grateful for him.

I sit here now in our living room, two years later. We have books on shelves and shampoo in regular-sized bottles. We have solid ground beneath our feet and somehow have acquired four cats that all pile on top of our bed when 11 p.m. rolls around. The Eldorado sits in the drive beside my ‘85 Jimmy. Our wedding is set for this February.

There is a paper fortuneteller taped into the last page of my diary. I made it as we shifted to park and turned off the engine on August 4th, 2015. I open the edges of the schoolyard game I folded out of a Subway wrapper and read what varying futures I had allotted him.

Mile 10,066

Pick a color (red, yellow, blue, green), pick a number (one, two, three, four), pick a letter (M, X, Y, C), which will it be?

You will find $10 on the ground next week
Tomorrow you will trip on a stick
You will live to 99
You will move to the mountains
You will move to the beach
You will develop an allergy to gluten
You will plant a tree and live to see it grow
You will love me forever

Photos by Dominic Haydn Rawle and Maddison Rothery

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