Something about road trips is so freeing.
Getting into the car in the early morning, trunk full of suitcases and pillows, the open road ahead of you and the entire day to drive, imbues me with this sense of absolute freedom. The morning I left for Jackson, Mississippi—returning to the state that had been my home for four years after a year away—felt just like that.
I got into the car around five-thirty am, snacks in my backpack, podcasts and music downloaded on my phone. I was ready. As I started off down the driveway, my road trip playlist crooning gentle tunes in the background, I felt all the stress and sleepless nights from the past few days slough from my shoulders. Work had been a lot lately, with few days off, and a vacation was in order, one that contained good memories and old friends.
My main reason for going back to Jackson was to attend a wedding of one of my friends from school, Zadie. I would be there for three days, not counting the day I drove down, and leave the day after the wedding. I had plans to meet up with people and stay up too late and eat good food; to laugh and reminisce and rekindle relationships and drink coffee from Cups, the local coffee shop everyone chose over Starbucks. I had clothes fit for summer thanks to the Mississippi heat, tank tops and short shorts and flowy kimonos, and I could not wait.
The first few hours of the drive were good. Fog had descended on Virginia, creeping tendrils around mountains covered in spring-fresh green. I watched as the low-hanging clouds slowly lifted the longer the day stretched on, dissipating completely by the time I crossed into Tennessee. From there, I drove past Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, thinking back on all the times I spent in those towns as a kid, and passed into the topmost corner of Georgia, skipping Atlanta in favor of heading straight to Alabama and Birmingham.
Alabama is a horrible place to drive through, unfortunately. There is nothing to look at for miles, just endless highway corridors of trees that all look the same, and every rest stop passed proclaimed itself as the only one for the next fifty miles or so. For lunch, I stopped at a sketchy Burger King (the only thing in the area) and got a Dr. Pepper that tasted too much like carbonation to be good. Unsatisfied, I continued driving through the state, finally cracking around hour eight and calling the friend I would be staying with, Christian, so I didn’t go stir-crazy from the lack of human interaction.
We talked for a couple hours, until I passed into Mississippi and stopped at a Subway for something else to eat—the Burger King really hadn’t filled me up at all. After that, I called my best friend, India, and talked to her for a bit until I was about twenty minutes from Jackson. By then, the temperatures had risen, leaving me with my AC on full blast and my feet pulled from socks and shoes to cool off.
Then finally, finally, after nearly eleven hours of driving, I was in Jackson again.
Everything was too familiar and yet too distant; I remembered these roads, the potholes that seemed the same, but so many things were different now. I swallowed hard and maneuvered down roads I knew by heart—Manship, Peachtree, Pinehurst, Arlington, Hazel, and, finally, Fairview. This was where Christian was staying, in a small gray-ish house surrounded by a white picket fence falling apart at the edges.
When I saw Christian, everything came crashing back down.
She hugged me, jumping up and down, and I reciprocated, feeling as if I was in shock. All of a sudden, the past few hours became real. I was in Jackson. I was back in Mississippi. Reality was a slap to the face as Christian took my hand and dragged me inside to introduce me to the others in the house. I knew a few already, and we hugged as I said, over and over, how good it was to be back.
Christian and I got my stuff out of the car then, and I took it back to her room while we talked about our favorite K-pop groups and how much things had changed yet stayed the same. Christian kept saying how much I’d grown up, but all I could think was she was just as beautiful, just as amazing, as I remembered. If not more so.
Later that evening, Christian, as a bridesmaid, had to go to Zadie’s bachelorette party, leaving me to my own devices for a few hours. I relaxed and ate the soup she got me for dinner, made coffee, took a short nap and a shower, then went on a walk while it was still light out.
Walking those streets after a year away was strange. I knew them, and yet I felt detached even as I walked down Euclid Avenue and saw Belhaven University again, the place that had been my school, my home, for four years.
I was not ready for the wave of emotion that slammed into me when I stepped foot on campus, but there it was, flowing down my cheeks as I walked past the fountain in between Preston and Fitzhugh, as I maneuvered through the Gillespie Commons, peeked through the windows of the Student Center, and even stepped foot into the library. It seemed, however, as if the library was the last straw—too many memories resided there, so I left almost as soon as I walked in, emerging from air conditioned indoors into the swampy heat of Mississippi’s climate.
Emotion still clogged my throat, but at least the tears had stopped as I walked back to Fairview and collapsed on the bed in Christian’s room. I laid there a few moments, just thinking. The urge to write consumed me, but I didn’t want to start crying again, so I watched YouTube videos until my friend Victoria texted me and asked if I wanted to come over and get some food.
Originally, I was going to wait for Christian, but I was unsure when she would get back, and I was hungry, so I shot her a text to meet me at Victoria’s apartment and walked over. The moment I got there, I was greeted by Victoria and Wilder, another of my friends, and the smell of baked cauliflower and bacon-sprinkled mac and cheese.
I got a plate and sat down to talk and laugh, just as I’d wanted to, while also meeting all of Victoria’s new pets—Johnny the cat, an as of yet unnamed iguana, Annabelle the chameleon, Livingston the ball python, Sir Tristan the ferret, and a couple of kittens who’d been jokingly named Gluttony and Gargoyle since Victoria wasn’t going to keep them. Wilder had already claimed Gluttony, unofficially renaming him Caesar.
Not long later, Christian appeared, dressed in a flowing pink romper and grinning as she greeted everyone. We talked and laughed and ate, and I felt my soul refilled by the time Christian and I headed back to the apartment to hang out a bit before bed.
I hadn’t slept well the past couple nights, getting maybe twelve hours of sleep in the last four days, so Christian ordered me to sleep in, and I didn’t even stir until my alarm went off at noon the next morning. Christian, again, had to leave, going to tea with Zadie and the rest of the bridal party, so I got dressed and went out to meet a friend for coffee. After that, I picked up Christian and another friend, Rebecca, and we went to this pie place called Buttermilk Sky. They served tiny pies as well as full-sized ones, so we all picked out an individual pie—key lime for me, a specialty flavor called I-50 for Rebecca, and peanut butter for Christian—and sat down to talk, after which we stopped by Starbucks for coffee and drinks.
Time passed by too fast.
Before I knew it, the clock was proclaiming the time as three-thirty, and we all had other places to be. Rebecca needed to go to work, and Christian had to go to Zadie’s rehearsal dinner since the wedding was tomorrow. I was once again left on my own, but I didn’t mind. After spending all day hanging out with friends, I was satisfied, so I spent a couple hours writing and watching Netflix, taking a nap before I once again stopped by Victoria’s to hang out. I didn’t stay as long this time, however, and soon I was heading back to the apartment to pick up Christian so we could run get Taco Bell for dinner—just like we used to.
I don’t remember falling asleep last night. The day had been long, so I was tired, but there’s no time in between me watching a Netflix baking show called Nailed It! with Christian and then waking up to the sound of my alarm this morning. I didn’t drink, so I must have just been really tired. Regardless, I got up this morning and got ready to meet yet another friend, Dillon, for coffee, after which I grabbed a quick lunch.
Now I’m at Cups once more, sipping on my coffee as I write this, waiting for three o’clock to roll around so I can go get ready for Zadie’s wedding. Christian left early this morning, telling me to take her kitten, Fëanor, to Victoria’s around ten-thirty. I was half asleep when she instructed me what to take and when, but somehow, I remembered, getting Fëanor dropped off before I headed to Deep South Pops to meet up with Dillon.
Tomorrow, I will drive back to Virginia. I will leave behind the friends I have here, the memories, the local coffee shops and hipster districts, and I will return to my job, to my daily life. It will be hard to go.
But I am so, so glad I came.