I peel the shell off another hardboiled egg, gently squeeze out the yolk, and toss it into a mixing bowl of mayonnaise and dry ground mustard. My two-year-old daughter, her brown curls shooting off in every direction like a Tesla Coil, wields a whisk flecked with black pepper, obliterating the newly-added yolk with the force of an impending police brutality charge. "I helping!" she yells.
"Sorry I got angry," I say to my wife.
She sets the spatula down, relieved. "I'm sorry, too--"
"--Then why am I always the first to apologize when we get angry?" I look down into the deviled egg mixture. "Sorry, I just got angry again."
And that's how entirely too many dialog trees branch out between me and my wife. I say something, she says something, and then I say something mean. In theory, there's plenty of time before I'm required to inject the next piece of dialog, but I'm reactionary. I don't like watching windows of opportunity pass me by. It's like I'm in a real life game of Mass Effect, staring at a wheel of conversational options. I know that the option on the lower right hand side of the conversation wheel is a bad way to handle this. But I also know that the lower right option tends to get results. And if not results, it gets a reaction. So when it comes to the dodge-parry-thrust of any given conversation, like I said, I'm reactionary, and I feed off others' reactions.
If you've never read past the first page of Moby-Dick, then you've still seen Herman Melville's narrator ("Call me Ishmael") get aggro: "...Especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off--then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can."
I can't get to the sea when I'm angry anymore. My Navy days are long gone. I live well inland of the ocean now, nestled on a valley floor between the Siskiyou Mountains and the Cascade Range in southern Oregon. I’ve established the usual roots for a man in his early- to mid-30's. I have the aforementioned wife and child. I have a mortgage. I have a newly-acquired and underpaying job that I'm overqualified for but won't let go of because the American job market still sucks. Stop me if you've heard this one before.
No, I can't get to the sea anymore. But I can get close: I can get to the coast. I inform my wife, typically with only 24 to 48 hours' notice, that this upcoming weekend will be spent at my parents' house in Coos Bay. I've usually been thinking for a couple weeks about the idea of saddling up the family and heading out of town again, but like I said, I tend to give my domestic engineer of a wife only a day or so to mentally prepare for two fun-filled days and three thrilling nights at my Mom and Dad's.
Such short notice makes her think I'm spontaneous. I'm not spontaneous. I'm just a poor planner. My lack of planning and generally shoddy foresight can, admittedly, resemble the romantic notion of spontaneity, but that's not what's usually happening. I simply need to remove myself from a landlocked location, i.e., my place of residence, and get on the road in a situation where I can talk out issues with my wife and have a legitimate excuse as to why I don't have to look at her while we're talking: because I'm driving. I have this whole area of responsibility to attend to in front of me, beyond the windshield. Plus, sitting side by side, it gives me the perspective that, instead of being face to face with my wife, locking horns, we're both looking in the same direction, shoulder to shoulder, tackling issues together.
That’s the idea, but we haven’t left yet.
"Did you pack her some snack foods?" my wife asks.
"If I didn't get diapers, then why would I get wipes?" That should do it, I think. Deflective, but a response that would probably see on the lower right hand side of that Mass Effect dialog wheel; the bad guy’s lower right hand side.
My wife heads to our daughter's room. I've only managed to pack for myself, and I've probably forgotten one pair of socks and, not surprisingly, packed the wrong shirt. My wife feels that the novelty of my Three Wolf Moon shirt wore off long ago. I beg to differ.
"But you're wearing it to Coos Bay," she says. "It's not even ironic to wear a Three Wolf Moon shirt in Coos Bay. They’ll just see it and think, 'Hey, that's a nice shirt.'"
I sit in the car for 20 minutes while my wife gets our daughter's clothes, snacks, diapers, and wipes rustled up. They both come out to the car where I've been flipping through liner notes to albums I haven't listened to since our last road trip. Did I really buy Panic at the Disco's second album? Was that necessary? I need to do my homework more often when it comes to album purchases.
My daughter has pink oversized sunglasses in one hand and her stuffed flying pig in the other. "I helping!" she yells. Her mom hauls the luggage into the trunk.
“You’re the best helper,” I tell my daughter. See? Upper right dialog wheel option. That’s the good guy answer. My daughter always gets the good guy answer from Dad. Stuff’s easy.
I drive us north by northwest. We come to the head of Highway 42, the link between the I-5 corridor and Highway 101 on the coast. Highway 42 is a river-bottom piece of road stretching from the small town of Green to the small town of Coos Bay. My wife knows it fondly as the road that makes her carsick when we drive to my parents’ house. Alternatively, and with no less venom, she knows it as the road that makes her carsick when we drive home from my parent’s house. In addition to the over-the-river-and-through-the-woods curves, we hit a 30-minute delay on our last drive on Highway 42 because part of a hill came down in a landslide during heavy rain and buried half the road. The road crew was busy for weeks hauling away the dirt, dump truck by dump truck.
My daughter, who inherited my curly hair but my wife’s motion sickness, also makes this leg of the journey a pure joy. You haven’t lived until you’ve cleaned thrown-up Goldfish crackers and warm milk from the buckles of your child’s German-engineered Recaro car seat. When it comes to handling car rides, I obviously failed to pass down my grandfather’s long-haul trucker genes.
“Did you pack any of the new outfits my Mom bought for her?” I ask.
“No, they’re 3T and our daughter wears 2T.”
“I have no idea what you just said.” Bam. Lower right.
“They’re still too big. She’ll be able to wear them by summer.”
“So did you just bring a bunch of mismatched outfits then?” Bam. Lower right again.
At that moment, my still-mildly-carsick child gets a hold of her stuffed flying pig. The pig has white angel wings, sleepy bedroom eyes, and, when you squeeze the button in its hand, sings Jeffrey Osborne’s “On the Wings of Love.” The pig is louder than the album I’m playing. I turn the stereo down. The car is filled with the pig’s (Jeffrey Osborne’s) enormous ballad:
“On the wings of love, up and above the clouds, the only way to fly, is on the wings of love, on the wings of love.”
And, for whatever reason, I shut up, look at my wife, and actually think about what I'm going to say next.