You and the most youthful of your youthful companions are on a road trip, one that will eventually cover 3615 miles in a couple of weeks. Basic arithmetic will tell you that means a lot of hours in a car, covering a lot of road. A lot of nights at drive-up motels. A lot of meals at roadside diners. A lot of time in which to discuss a lot of things.
Your youthful companion has been with you for all but the first seven months of her life. You think you know her about as well as someone can know another person. Certainly she is not a mystery to you.
Or is she?
These are a few of the things that you can learn, over the course of 3615 miles in two weeks, about someone you thought you knew well:
She hates the word “curdled.”
Due to splaying of limbs, you do not want to attempt to share a bed, even a kingsize bed the size of a toddler’s football field, with her.
She is capable of consuming a frightening amount of sugar in a frighteningly short time, prompting feelings of tremendous guilt and anxiety in her older companion, who harbors the knowledge that her youthful companion’s older brother literally did not know the word “candy” until he was 2.5 years old.
Having seen Food Inc., she will scan all menus in an attempt to determine the provenance of their meat entrees.
Her knowledge of world geography far exceeds yours. Show her a blank map of Africa, and she will name each nation, and she will be right.
Not only does she wear a Hanes V-neck t-shirt each and every day, but she will describe said t-shirt as her “signature look,” a phrase you would not have guessed she knew.
Nothing, not even the promise of enough money within a few weeks to purchase the one-speed retro bike she covets, can convince her that babysitting is a worthwhile job.
“But what if it was just one perfectly behaved child?”
“What if it was just one perfectly behaved child who was already asleep?”
“What if it was just one perfectly behaved child who was already asleep and the house had satellite t.v. and tons of treats and they were paying you like ten dollars an hour?”
You will learn that she is stalwart and unflinching in her convictions.
You will learn that not only does she naturally possess what you have long called her “Death Stare,” but she has worked over the years to refine it, especially when walking the halls of her high school. You will learn that it is not just her who possesses the Death Stare, but her older brother and sister as well.
“When they were in high school they were known for it too. I’m just carrying on the family tradition.”
You will learn that she is a tougher customer than you originally thought, and you originally thought that she was, in fact, tough.
A pitcher is having a bad day, for example. A very bad day, so bad that you feel sorry for him and venture a sad remark on his behalf. The youthful companion’s response?
“He should get off his butt and throw strikes.”
Her hardass-ness is a bit unnerving, in fact. Does she take this hardline approach with, say, you? Does she look at your life and the way you lead it and think something along the lines of, “She should get off her butt and throw strikes”?
In light of the youthful companion’s uncompromising standards, you naturally begin to examine your own behavior. How is your driving, for example? Maybe you shouldn’t be going quite this fast. How is your language? Maybe you should try to rein in your cursing. How is your demeanor? Maybe you are not being pleasant and helpful to the best of your abilities.
You look over to your right at the youthful companion. She is wearing the enormous green sunglasses you bought her at Wall Drug. Behind them, the Death Stare, if it is present, is invisible. She looks calm.
Then again, she usually looks calm.What might she be thinking, right at this very moment? Might she be reviewing your behavior in her mind, calculating your many deficiencies? You imagine being back in high school, slinking down the side of a crowded hall, trying not to attract attention. Down the hall toward you comes a calm-faced girl with dark brown eyes. You pray she does not look in your direction, as she is the girl of the famous Death Stare.
This scene is a little too easy to imagine. You sneak another look over at her. In truth, she’s a little bit scary. You wouldn’t want to mess with her. Thank God she’s with you, and not agin you.
Or is she? Horror movie music starts to hum in your mind.
Another 1000 or so miles to go.