In a daze, I visit dad, who is doing well post-surgery. I tell him the entire story.
"What do you think? Should I really drive to El Paso?"
My dad looks me straight in the eyes and says, "Hell yes!"
I drive home at top speed and throw some clothes into a bag. I find my road map and look up El Paso. It’s nearly 1500 miles from Salt Lake City. A 23 hour drive! What am I thinking? Don’t think, just go I encourage myself.
I arrange for a neighbor to look after my dog and within an hour I am climbing into my truck. I speed down the freeway with my stereo playing Marah's album, the volume cranked as loud as it will go. The gray highway stretches in front of me, a ribbon of asphalt beckoning me toward my future.
At around two in the morning, after eight hours of non-stop driving, I roll wearily into Albuquerque, New Mexico. My heavy eyelids are threatening to close, my brain is a ball of mush and I’ve listened to every album I own.
I pull into the parking lot of a motel and consider checking into the dingy establishment. Serge is already in El Paso. I had told him I’d call when I arrived. I quickly nix the idea of wasting money on a dirty room when I can just sleep in the back of my truck.
I close my eyes and fantasize about the next morning. Butterflies wing rabidly around my stomach as I anticipate seeing Serge for the first time since the night we met. Will I still think he’s beautiful? Will he think I am? Will that feeling of pure magic still be there or was it the alcohol? I am so tired I drop off to sleep within minutes.
A high, piercing train whistle startles me awake as the locomotive roars past the nearly vacant motel parking lot. Steely, gray dawn is creeping across Albuquerque's endless sky.
I yawn, stretch as much as my truck will allow, rub my tired eyes and check the clock on my truck stereo. The digital green numbers glow spectrally in the early light: 5:30. I yawn again, rub my neck and climb creakily into the drivers seat.
Ten minutes later I am exiting the interstate onto the southbound freeway that will lead me through Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. As I drive through the dawn warm wind blows through my open window turning my hair into a nest of knots. I smile as I contemplate the name of the tiny town and its interesting application to my current circumstance.
At 8:30 I am in El Paso. I turn into the first coffee shop I see and take my overnight case inside. I utilize the restroom to brush my teeth and hair, swipe on deodorant, apply a little make-up then sit down to make the text:
Good morning. I am in El Paso.
My phone rings almost immediately.
“You made it! You’re really here?”
“Hi. Yes. I’m really here!”
“Holy shit.” In a voice riddled with disbelief, Serge gives me directions to his hotel.
Within minutes I am circling the tall, white building in search of a parking space. I get out of my car and amble shyly toward the entrance.
The hotel is built around a courtyard overflowing with greenery. I walk up to the glass entrance, cup my hands around my eyes and peer through the hallway into the lush landscape.
Watery sunlight filters down through sweeping trees, gently illuminating a scattering of flowers nestled at their base. I take in the peaceful setting, breathing deeply in an effort to calm my nearly epileptic body. When I feel like my body will obey my mind, I try the door. It's locked.
I stand there uncertainly, peering to the right and left, down the dark corridor leading to the hotel rooms. Movement in the courtyard catches my eye. A man is striding toward me. I begin waving my arms so he’ll let me in, then I realize it’s him.
He is walking toward me but doesn't see me. When he nears the glass door that will lead him from the courtyard into the hallway that separates us, he looks up. And sees me.
He freezes, eyes locked on mine. We’re staring at each other through the glass. I see my whole life in that one look. My past flashes through my mind and I think this is what it feels like to die. My heartbeat is palpable, my knees feel weak. A faraway corner of my mind marvels that the old saying "weak in the knees" is actually credible.
Although his texts and emails were charming, the memory of our night had begun to fade like an old photograph, leaving me unsure if I remembered our connection correctly. But now, gazing at him through the glass, it all comes bubbling back like lava, burning me with its fevered heat.
Serge puts up a hand in hello and I do the same. After a few more seconds of staring at each other through the glass he opens the door and ushers me into the building.
“I can’t believe you’re here.” He says in that deep, gravelly voice of his.
“Me neither.” My voice is shaking and my legs feel as if they’re going to betray me at any moment.
“Want to drive to Austin?” He asks.
“Yes.” I say simply.
To be continued...