The first postcard arrived within days of my suggesting that The Gaydi Project document her road trip. I bought a map of the United States to hang on my daughter's bedroom wall and planned to line my mother's route with the postcards as they arrived. I thought it would be fun for my kid to see where her grandmother and my godmother were headed. Also, it was my way of keeping tabs. And learning my states. And riding shotgun in absentia. Dear Ruby, I'm in Washington D.C. with Mary Jane. We took Perrito to the White House but couldn't find Bo (Sasha and Malia's dog). I love you madly. Yer Tutu My thrill at the notion of a meandering road trip with a best friend was matched ounce for ounce by my daughter's apathy, an indifference that should have been predictable. Running to the mailbox was exciting, sure. But listening to me read the postcards was no competition for that shiny object right over there! After four years as a mother, I'm still reconciling the fact that parenting is almost always the vision of reality colliding with the reality of reality. Reading the first, second and third postcards out loud to an empty room, it occurred to me that perhaps this is why my mother didn't invite me along for any part of her journey.
This trip was at least two years in the making. It took almost that long for my godmother to sell her house in Pittsburgh, a length of time that, one could argue, adds some legitimacy to Sienna Miller's 2006 assessment of the city. No sooner was the offer accepted than my mother bought a plane ticket and headed east, losing her fancy prescription sunglasses somewhere between boarding and deplaning the red-eye. Not being one to wallow in setbacks, she bought a hat and carried on. (Fifty bucks says her shades are on her desk at home.)
She helped tie up the loose ends in Shittsburgh, and then Mary Jane, my mother and her yarmulke-wearing Chihuahua piled into the car and pointed it toward Seattle in a squiggly, we-don't-have-any-place-to-be kind of way. The goal was Route 66 via Graceland.Dear Ruby, Here is a delicious recipe from Elvis' Kitchen. It's for peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Only make it in an emergency. I love you! TutuThough these two adventurers are not fugitives—as far as I know—I could only envision Thelma & Louise. I saw red lipstick, twisting cigarette smoke and billowing scarves. I saw Brad Pitt with his hair dryer stuffed into the waistband-holster of his jeans and a car soaring off a red-rock cliff. I saw sexy. I saw dangerous.
“No!” my mother hooted when I mentioned my visions on the phone during one of my check-ins. “We're Lucy and Ethel and Little Ricky!” This was hardly reassuring. Just what the interstate needs, two Vitameatavegamin Girls behind the wheel. Sexy: No. Dangerous: Terrifically.
“Well, are you having fun?” I asked.
“Oh, Aaryn—we're having a blast!”
MJ and The Gaydi Project—I think I've coined a band name—visited friends in Chicago, cut through St. Louis, attended a hoedown in Tulsa thrown in their honor and survived Amarillo.Dear Ruby, I'm getting closer to you everyday… & I'm coming via this old road. Right now I'm in the state of Texas. Pray for me (or ask your parents for bail money). Love, TutuThey stopped in Santa Fe and scooted through bustling Prescott before detouring to San Diego, where they'd committed to a babysitting gig. The entire trip had been problem-free until they exited College Avenue on their way to my place. My mother was driving when they were rear-ended and couldn't say definitively whether she'd slowed down or stopped. Neither of them was hurt, thank God, because I needed a night out like Dick Cheney needs someone to cut his mic. The silly man who hit them took off, but Thelma and Louise—er, Lucy and Ethel—tailed him until he gave himself up. You might be intimidated, too.
At first glance, these two 60-something women are totally different: MJ is reserved and L.L. Bean-y, while my mother is flamboyant and Eileen Fisher-ish. MJ is an extraordinary chef. My mother excels at preparing beige food. MJ smokes cigarettes. My mother smokes MJ. None of this really matters, though, because they're both touched by a little bit of The Crazy and appreciate cocktail hour. At breakfast.
During college, the two of them spent a summer in San Francisco with six other women. There, they frequented bars using fake IDs and my mother picked up on men using a fake accent, which dissipated in direct proportion to the amount of alcohol consumed. I don't know, but if I had to guess, based on their personalities, I'd say Mary Jane pretended she didn't speak English at all.
Though they eventually did it on different coasts, each woman raised a family, ended a marriage, created a successful career and maintained a friendship that has never failed to pick up where it left off the last time they said goodbye. It truly is something to spend time with them together.
Now my unintentional heroes are making their way up the 101, the rear bumper hanging a little lower than when they set out. At last contact, they were someplace along the Oregon Coast, a tad too close to sheer drop-offs for my taste. MJ is jobless and homeless, but my mother has an appetite and an empty daybed. I think the relationship is going to last. If they don't fly off that cliff.