Return to Familiarity


Alicia Ostarello

I’m not sure how well either of us slept last night, despite knowing we had a ten-hour drive, Las Vegas to San Francisco, to tackle come morning. A drive, I should mention, we planned on doing without using a map. For the first time in over two months, we won’t be dependent on following a route, fingers tracing the lines, and deciding whether we stay true to a course or diverge onto highways that tempt us. Today, we know exactly where to go: toward that lighthouse beacon  informally referred to as “home.” 


Megs and I are quiet. Well, first, we are us: loading the car, making sure the bulky equipment is just so, ordering coffee. Once settled in the lull of the freeway, we fall into silence. Our quiet moments have become comfortable in the past few months. Instead of waiting with bated breath to see if the silence means anything, we’re accustomed to lulls in conversation meaning nothing. But today the lack of words seems to symbolize something else: Is it the unspoken knowing that pretty soon, we’ll be out of each other’s sight for more than the length of a workout? Or the uncertainty of what actually comes next? All that is clear is silence exists, and we turn on Dan Savage’s podcast to fill the space.

At the California line we stop for one last time to film crossing state borders. Photos are taken as big-rigs flash by, honking at us because surely we’re a sight: girls in dresses, wavy hair frolicking in the wind, standing in the dirt with cameras. All in a day’s work for us. For them, we’re a moment’s entertainment.

Without even trying, we are on the right track. I can’t help but wonder what to do with my hands, my heart, my mind. There’s no need to plan for tomorrow or make phone calls to a hotel. There’s no need to triple-check GPS. A mosquito gnaws on me as I wonder about what’s to come. When did he hitch a ride with us? Was it Vegas? Had he been with us since the Grand Canyon or maybe Utah?

Every time we stop, the license plates surrounding us in parking lots read “California” in a script I’ve seen most every day of my life. The familiarity is unfamiliar and increasingly confusing my senses. At gas stations, no one asks us where we are going to or where we are coming from. According to our plates, our accents, and our style, we are home. Although what that actually means has yet to be determined.

After passing through the Livermore Valley’s pride of elegant windmills, familiar radio stations start to pull through. Here comes the mall I whiled away hours of my teenage years at, wondering if boys would pick me up. Here comes the coffee shop an ex and I surprised my mom at by walking in to tell her we had moved back to the Bay Area. Memories of boys are astoundingly clear in the moment, and though I shake my head and try to recall other things – there’s the creek Simone and I once walked through and were chased out of by chickens – I’m instead lost in remembrances of dating.

Will driving the country always be like this from now on? A history of me and Megs being the backbone of my nostalgia from Oregon to Maryland, Kentucky to Utah?

The familiarity is overwhelming, and I’m not sure I like it. Immediately, I hope something unfamiliar happens. I have to wait until after we unload the trunk and clink pints of beer together for my wish: it’s only when Megs has been gone for over an hour that the old unfamiliar feeling finds me again.

Alicia Ostarello is a writer living in California.

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