The Last Road Trip

Tara DaPra

I can no longer take spontaneous road trips to Mardi Gras, as I did in my twenties with the chefs from work, driving in shifts for twenty-four hours straight, Green Bay to Chicago to Memphis to the French Quarter, with its sex workers in their glowing lipstick, its revelers on Colonial Creole balconies, three months after my boyfriend, their friend, had killed himself, all of us running from our grief. I can’t take off weeks of work as I did two years later, when I drove from Minneapolis to Montana, with a new boyfriend and two slobbering dogs, camping at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, where we hiked through sloping, long-grassed hills at the mercy of wild horses galloping across the valley. And I can’t drive with only my dog for company, as I did after the breakup two summers later, to visit a friend in a decaying Missouri farmhouse, where, on an open stretch of road, I encountered a thunderstorm so wild that the hairs on the back of neck came alive, the dog scrambling to find safety in the front seat beside me.

Instead, I can take a road trip from Wisconsin around the southern shore of Lake Michigan and across the belly of the Lower Peninsula into Canada, to London, Ontario, a trip my husband and I have taken to visit his sister many times before. But this time, there will be no detours: no stopping to wander the chapel on the Notre Dame campus, no driving an hour off route to see Mount Pleasant, the college town where my parents once lived in married student housing, no stopping to sample Bell’s in the Kalamazoo brewery. Instead, to break up the journey and save ourselves from bouts of screaming, we time our departures to nap schedules and google McDonald’s Playland locations. This time, we have a seventeen-month-old toddler with us, and he is ours.

And I think about our first road trip together, six years prior, and how we drove to Clare, Michigan, in Clare County, just south of Roscommon County, to stay in Doherty’s Hotel; and how my then-boyfriend, on his first visit from Ireland, had marveled at Irish immigrants of another era attempting to re-create home, if only in name; and how I blasted The Darkness “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” and howled along with the screaming guitar, the glam-cock-rock, hitting repeat again and again; and how my self-conscious boyfriend smiled in spite of his discolored front tooth, the false one that had been metal for so many years after it was knocked out in a stupid childhood accident, the metal tooth only replaced by an acrylic one in his teenage years.

And on this first return from Canada, after walking through the beach grass where Lake Michigan melds into the Green Bay and washing the sand from our feet, the last stop before arriving at my father’s home, where he waited up to meet my new boyfriend, in the darkness of that first road trip’s final hour, Jim asked me who was the great love of my life. And, for the first time, I didn’t utter the name of the boyfriend who’d been dead seven years. Instead, I looked to him and said: “You.”

Tara DaPra is an assistant teaching professor of English and Writing Foundations at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay with an MFA in creative writing from the University of Minnesota. Her writing has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, The Washington Post, Inside Higher Ed, The Rake, Hippocampus, and Sheepshead Review. She met her husband in a Dublin pub and they are parents to two red-haired boys.