“I am so, so sorry,” Hans—my “semi-significant other” of nearly a year—enunciated as he navigated his trusty Hyundai around the beaten-up and rusted-out vehicles in the hotel’s parking lot. The tires crunched over broken glass and trash, and I was immediately suspicious of the few slightly-sleeker cars that did mange to have hubcaps. Fuzzy dice—pink, white, gray—danced and dangled from rearview mirrors, and, along with the aged cars themselves, evoked a sense of backwards nostalgia.
“Is that … a pimp mobile?” Hans asked, gesturing toward an ostentatious Cadillac.
“Well, don’t … point at it!” I sputtered, laughing awkwardly. “You’ll get shot.”
Hans squeaked out a few nervous giggles, eyes wide and teeth humorously gritted. “Again, I am so sorry.”
Just five days before our arrival in Memphis, Hans had mapped out our Spring Break road trip. The idea for a Southern authors excursion—one that included visits to the homes of William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor and Margaret Mitchell—had spewed from my lips only a few weeks prior. With just a few hundred dollars and three days’ worth of planning (mostly done by Hans, admittedly), we set out on the first leg of our journey—a 480-mile drive from our Indiana-based campus to the hotel parking lot we were now gingerly examining.
The hotel, which was constructed alongside the river, exhibited cracked walls and chipped sidewalks that were just as unappealing as the nearby grassland, an unbeauteously-named “Crump Park.” Our repugnance of the property grew worse when we entered our third-floor room.
The paint on our door was split, and the gray coating on the walkway outside our room was blistered with architectural sunburn. It peeled, curled, bubbled. Inside was no better. The knob to the bathroom door was askew, crippled with what I imagined to be a forced entry. Like all hotels, the room smelled faintly of Lysol and cigarettes. I reluctantly set my suitcase down on a greenish-carpet that, as I later learned from Hans, did indeed play host to six-legged vermin.
I strolled over to the window, where Hans was already standing. He pointed at our view, again laughing awkwardly. I shook my head with a mix of absurdity and fright.
It was as unsightly as the scantily clad, high-heeled woman who paraded the walkway outside. It was as cacophonous as the incessant barking from the dog kept in the room next door. It was possibly the most appalling building I had seen and—combined with the rest of our seemingly-threatening surroundings, I was unhinged.
My apprehensions, however, were unexpectedly dissolved.
Hans and I were getting ready for a night on Beale Street and—in the intimacy of our public and private selves—he looked at me. It was more than just a normal glance, an adoring stare. It was a look that froze me, numbed my legs and feet with emotion and fastened them to the floor. My back was stiff with anticipation—of what I’m still not sure—but I could still feel the blood radiating through my veins, pulsating heat and oxygen and love through my trembling hands. His eyes sparkled in the dim light; his lips curled into a soft smile, and I was humbled by the unspoken emotions. I looked down, afraid to accept responsibility for the feelings; embarrassed that I might cry.
Hans didn’t allow me to look away. He pinched my chin, cupped it between thumb and forefinger. “Look at me,” he said, the words barely above a whisper. I titled my head, raised my tearful eyes. I met his dark-brown ones, heeded their orange streaks and magnetic intensity. Silence.
Silence, then affirmations. Then a kiss. Slow and deliberate, pressing and amorous.
I realized then—on the edge of Memphis, in a dilapidated establishment that housed canines and cockroaches, thieves and thugs—that I had never felt so loved.
Come March, it will have been two years since we took our 2,000-mile, 11-state road trip. Since then, we’ve had innumerable enchanting experiences. We’ve been to weddings and barbeques, firework displays and Broadway shows. We’ve tested the waters of our relationship in oceans, puddles, rivers and lakes.
We’ve canoed for 14-straight miles, driven for thousands more. We’ve camped amid the trees and kissed beneath their crinoline of branches.
We’ve chased sunsets. Gone ice-skating. Kissed in the rain. We’ve gone out to dinner at Indian restaurants and Chinese buffets, ties-are-recommended eateries and fast-food establishments. We’ve driven to the tops of parking garages and watched as the sun casts its peaceful glow on buildings, streets, cars, people, us.
We’ve twisted our way to the tops of the Smoky Mountains, guided the car through the Georgia hills. We’ve hiked and photographed, pointed and watched and remarked and stared and wondered at how we, such finite humans, can partake in such beauty.
We’ve shared tire blow-outs and emotional break-downs, late-night rescue missions and misunderstood texts. We’ve argued, debated, laughed, cried, loved. We’ve unexpectedly pulled the other close and shared a pressing kiss. We’ve told each other “I love you” at symphonies and at picnics, in swimming pools and in living-room forts we build during spurts of spontaneity.
It’s been two years since that trip, nine months since we graduated college, two months since we’ve seen each other and three years since we’ve met. In our years together, I have realized that it is not always our surroundings that induce our romance. It is true that the exotic and unfamiliar can excite a whirlwind of emotions and passions, but I also find that the simplest of things—the most natural and recognizable objects and places—are a symbol of intimacy.
It can be a shared place of slumber,
or the remnants of a hastily-built fort in which we discussed marriage, kids, jobs, problems, money, work, Iowa, Indiana, here and there and everywhere between. A fort in which we crossed lines and emotions, held hands and exchanged electricity and chemicals and heartbeats as we talked about life—my life, his life, our lives. A fort in which we assured each other of feelings and loyalties, and in which I realized that it doesn’t take a foreign soil, an international flight, an expensive dinner, a fragrant bouquet or even a hotel or with “a view” to appreciate and relish in the relationship I have.
Info about the blogger:
Dawn Olsen is an Iowa-born ChapStick addict who adores books, cats and parallel sentences. As a half-hipster, you’ll find her wearing red pants and multiple necklaces. When she’s not daydreaming about vintage culture, she’s taking pictures of dilapidated buildings. Though an editor by trade, she occasionally posts book reviews for Lost in Fiction.
To read more about her, or to view more of her photographs, you can visit her blog, Candidly Clyde . She also welcomes interactions via Twitter and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/pages/dmarie-photography/242721219121588?sk=wall).