The scenery hadn’t changed for what felt like hours; just thick trees, green and full in the height of summer, and occasionally tiny houses nestled among the trees. The car was kicking up an impressive cloud of dust behind us, and it seemed like there were more rusty pick up trucks than people. We were definitely right in the middle of nowhere, and also definitely lost. Not that my dad would admit it. The air conditioning was turned to a setting I could only assume was called “tundra,” making a jacket necessary in the car despite the ninety-degree North Carolina heat outside. I scowled as I pulled it tighter around me, staring out the window, trying to ignore my parents’ arguing.
“Why don’t you just stop somewhere and ask for directions?” my mom said for the third time. Not that I was counting.
“Where am I going to stop?” my dad asked, in that petulant, condescending voice he got when things weren’t going his way. “Huh? There’s nothing out here. Who am I going to ask, those cows over there?”
“Maybe they could help,” my mom said, clearly trying to lighten the mood, though my dad was having none of it.
“We’ll get there. I’ve driven before; I don’t need you telling me how to do it.”
“We’re lost, aren’t we?” I piped up from the back, knowing I was likely fueling the fire, but too tired of sitting in the car to care.
“We’re not lost, we just don’t know where we are,” my dad replied.
“Because there’s such a difference there.”
I leaned my head against the window. My eyes crossed and the trees became a green blur.
Suddenly, my dad spoke again. “Birch Road. That’s it, isn’t it?” He turned to my mom expectantly. “That’s where your brother lives, right?” He didn’t wait for an answer before turning onto the road.
I couldn’t help thinking that I’d had quite enough of family members for one day, but when my uncle and aunt greeted us with such joy and their dogs jumped excitedly on our legs, I found my annoyance dissolving like moisture in the hot sun. And when my uncle took a picture in honor of our reunion, the tired lines on our faces didn’t even show, and our smiles looked completely genuine.
“Why do mosquitos exist?” I grumbled, swatting the tenth one this afternoon away from my arm. I was feeling sweaty and gross and sticky in the muggy heat.
My dad didn’t answer, probably too hot and tired himself to respond to my mumbled complaints. His shirt was sticking to his back, and there was a sheen of sweat on the nape of his neck.
My mom was already by the car, waiting for us. She hadn’t joined us on this trail, claiming fatigue, though I thought she was afraid of seeing a snake. The hot sun glinted off of the red metal almost blindingly as we approached, and even behind my sunglasses, I squinted.
“Did you see any more gators?” she asked.
“A few,” I answered, thinking of the green-gray reptiles sluggishly swimming along in the murky waters beside the trail, or sunning themselves not three feet away from where we’d been walking, black eyes watching us with disinterest. I loved alligators, and coming from Pennsylvania, it was exciting to see so many up close, but by now I was tired and just wanted to go home. Or to the hotel. Wherever had air conditioning and a bed with fluffy pillows.
As we turned back onto the interstate, I spared one last glance at the colorful ‘Welcome to the Everglades!’ sign that we’d first passed so many hours ago. That morning, when we’d all been clean and fresh and still willing to spend a whole day in each other’s company slogging along the humid trails, we’d posed for a picture in front of it.
The picture was eventually framed and put on a shelf in our living room. I would look at it and grin, almost forgetting about how sweaty and exhausted we became by the end of that day. Almost.
Something at that diner we’d stopped at on a whim had not agreed with my mother. It was a tiny place, charming, nestled in a tiny town that was dwarfed by the peaks all around it. We hadn’t eaten all day, and the bison burger I’d had (that was its name, though I wasn’t a hundred percent sure whether it was actual bison or just really good beef) was delicious. Or maybe I was just famished. Either way, it had been delicious.
We kept having to stop at every single rest area along the mountain road. Most of the toilets at this altitude were just holes in the ground where you went in, held your breath, and hoped for the best, so I couldn’t help but chortle a bit at my mother’s predicament. To be fair to myself, my dad found it humorous too.
My mom really, really didn’t.
At about our eighth stop, there was a short uphill trail to get to an overlook spot that my dad decided to climb. “You coming, or are you just going to hang out in the restroom?” he asked my mom.
“I’m not going anywhere with you two. I’m not feeling well and you’re making fun of me,” she snapped, sitting on a bench near the building that housed the toilets and a tiny shop.
“Suit yourself,” my dad said, and not wanting to stay with my obviously-cross mother, I dutifully power-walked after him.
The view from the top of the trail was admittedly quite beautiful, looking over a green valley surrounded on all sides by the soaring peaks of the Rocky Mountains. A yellow-bellied marmot sat on a rock just beyond the railing, blinking at us.
My dad, never one to waste a photo opportunity, had a stranger take a picture of us there. When we showed it to people and they questioned why there was a marmot instead of my mom in the picture, my dad and I just told them we couldn’t remember.
My dad hated airports. Absolutely despised them. We drove almost everywhere for that reason. Family road trips were a staple of our summers, because no matter how grumpy my dad got driving for twelve hours, airports always made him ten times more murderous. We were en route to Hawaii, which one absolutely could not drive to, it being smack dab in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and all.
We’d just gotten off the first plane, and were waiting in the terminal to catch our connecting flight to Oahu. My dad sat there, glaring at the wall, a few seats away from where my mom and I were sitting, because we didn’t want to be associated with him just then, especially after he’d yelled at us for offering him juice.
“What do you think it’ll be like?” I asked my mom, referring to Hawaii. Most of what I’d seen about Hawaii came from Lilo and Stitch.
“Beautiful, I’m sure,” my mom said, wistfully. “Warm, definitely.”
“I hope so. I packed like every sundress I own.” I glanced over at my dad, who bore a remarkable resemblance to the pouting toddler in the next row. “What if we just left him here and picked him up on the way back?”
She tried to look scolding, but couldn’t quite manage it. “He’ll be fine once we get there. He just doesn’t like the travel day, but who does?”
“I hope so,” I said, closing my eyes and seeing palm trees and luaus and sandy beaches with turquoise water behind my eyelids.
Hawaii did turn out to be beautiful. And warm. My mom was correct about that. I bought several more sundresses and bombarded my friends with virtual pictures to make them jealous.
My dad ended up having fun, too.
I snapped a picture of him the day before we left as he was sitting by one of the pools at our hotel, sipping some fruity drink I couldn’t recall the name of.
“What was that?” he asked.
I smiled smugly, admiring the picture as best I could with the sun glaring on my phone’s screen. The day was so bright it almost hurt to look at, but I didn’t want to look away. “Oh, just something for tomorrow, so no matter how miserable you get, you can’t deny that you had a good time for most of it.”