Part 3 is here.
After visiting the caverns, we were to drive south to Fredericksburg, Texas, to stay with my old roommate, Zoe. As the navigator, I looked for routes to avoid backtracking more than twenty miles. I selected a tiny grey road to which we missed the turn and had to reverse down the highway fifty feet. It was then that I learned that little grey roads are actually one lane dirt roads which cast dust over the car like a shroud. We all coughed and struggled to put up the windows while the Subaru bounced and dipped down the road, like a joyful Labrador chasing a moth.
We barely made it to Zoe’s before nightfall and we spent the final miles driving through Texas Hill Country while Zoe coached us on the phone through a maze of back country roads, each of us squinting against the twilight to read the road signs. For the next few days, I would relinquish my role as the navigator while Zoe shared her hometown with us. We swam in the Guadalupe River, watched the sunset from the top of another geological point of interest, simply called Enchanted Rock, visited a two thirds scale model of Stone Henge and the heads from Easter Island, and bought Disney Princess Pez dispensers from a candy shop on Main Street. At the same candy shop, I bought a dashboard Hula Dancer for Antonio. Kate named her Joanie.
Zoe joined us for the next six states as we made our way east along the Gulf Coast. Kate, Zoe and I all had family members scattered around Louisiana and Florida, so the four of us were spared the pleasure of pitching a tent in the humidity or the rain. Our first stop was in New Orleans, which was still freshly covered in blue FEMA tarps, and where the street signs were still bent in half around the sign posts. This combined with the complex maze of one way streets made finding our way incredibly difficult. After copious amounts of swearing and moments of road rage, we found the house where Zoe’s oldest brother was staying. Zoe’s brother was making the best of the recent hurricane and was busy buying flood-damaged houses to fix up and flip. We slept on the floor in one of his projects which had avoided the worst of the storm surge and broken levies. We spent the next day wandering around the French Quarter, searching for jazz and hiding from the rain.
I took pictures with black and white film and when I finally developed it three years later, the expired film caused all the prints to come out grainy except for one. In it, Kate, Figgins and Zoe sit across from me and my camera. We are waiting for beignets at the Café du Monde and Zoe smiles at me, aviator sunglasses perched on the top of her head, her amber freckles pulled tight across her nose and high round cheek bones. Kate pulls a face, her lips puckered and her brow furrowed. Figgins is smiling too, which is rare. She usually ducks out of photos or at the very least obscures her face with a proudly displayed middle finger. In this picture, however, Figgins holds her cheek in her right hand and her left hand hangs limp and relaxed in front of her chin. She seems happy.
For Figgins, the trip was her first step toward becoming liberated. In boarding school, she was one of the few hybrid students who resided in the dorms, but whose parents lived just outside the city in Monument. On a good day, her relationship with her mother was strained and her father had moved out of Colorado and to Arizona by the time she graduated. In the fall, Figgins planned to attend Smith, a women’s college which she imagined would suit her intellect and newfound sexuality. On the road, she was a wanderer, drifting from place to place where everyone but the people in the car was a stranger to her. The days we didn’t spend camping we were hosted by my friends and family, or Kate’s, so every person she met was new to her. Figgins’ world was in the West, but she was willing change that. She had a suitcase full of books and a dry bag that she had bought for a kayaking trip to keep her clothes from getting wet. In it, she said she carried everything she needed.
The next few days would net us a speeding ticket in Tallahassee, and a quick dip in the Gulf of Mexico. In Florida, there would be more swimming, this time in crystal clear blue springs which had a current so strong we had to drag each other upstream to get back to our car. We would also veg out, watch “Hellboy” and the entire “Blade Trilogy” while eating stale marshmallows and the trail mix that had melted into a solid mass while we were swimming.
After Florida, I convinced Kate to depart the interstate in favor of the slower drive up Route 1 which runs parallel to I-95 from Miami to Boston. The time on the highway moved us through small marsh towns surrounded by trees heavy-hung with silky-grey Spanish moss. I preferred the time on the quieter road, but Kate sat in the driver’s seat gritting her teeth while we slowly drove along behind a green pick-up, whose bed was loaded with fishing gear. At the first chance, we got back on the interstate.
Note: Figgins uses they/them pronouns now, but chose to keep their previous pronouns in this piece to honor and acknowledge who they were then.