I, for one, am going to Pasadena

I was always good at saying goodbye.

When I was young, my parents would often entertain, and when people would leave I’d say goodbye 2 or 3 times, then race their car to the top of the hill where I could say goodbye a few more times and wave frantically until their car disappeared.

Hundreds of goodbyes fit this same script and they all came crashing together at a single point like the Big Bang running backwards when I watched my parents and sisters running up that same hill, chasing my wife and I as we pulled away in our U-Haul.

When they faded from the rearview mirror, I turned to Anna and asked, “Should I turn around? I think we should turn around.  Just one more goodbye.  We could stay for dinner.  I’m not sure we should be moving.”

“I, for one, am going to Pasadena.”  She said with all of the confidence in the world.

This was easier for her.  She had had lived in a few different states and survived far more life changes than I had.  I, on the other hand, was still living within ten miles of the hospital I had been born in.

We were moving to California for seminary – I was getting a Master’s degree in theology.  And while that may not seem like the most rebellious of decisions, fewer things could have shaken my family more.  I had been raised Lutheran – LCMS Lutheran to be precise, and for Lutherans that distinction matters.  I remember at my Confirmation one of my dad’s college friends clapping me on the shoulder and saying with all sincerity, “You’re doing the right thing.  You see, there will be 2 kinds of people in heaven.  LCMS Lutherans and a few Presbyterians who weren’t paying close enough attention in church.”

But I wasn’t going to a Lutheran seminary like 14 men in the last three generations of my family had done, and my family was struggling to understand my decision.  My parents had come to accept my decision in the way that anti-war activists might accept their son’s decision to join the Marines: hoping first for a rejection letter, then praying desperately for a safe return.

Our plan for this drive was to stop first in Roseburg, Oregon to spend the day and the night with Anna’s parents, but after dinner Anna and I started getting antsy.  The excitement of it all was finally setting in and we decided to hit the road.  We figured that when the adrenaline faded we would just find a hotel.

The drive started off like every road trip montage you’ve ever seen.  It was a warm summer evening, the windows were down, music was blaring and we sang along until our throats hurt.  But as we approached Grants Pass in Southern Oregon, everything changed.  The sun had set, clouds were moving in and it was beginning to rain.  Reality came flooding back and I found myself once again wanting to turn around.

As we began to descend the far side of the mountain pass, the warning lights on the dashboard of the truck lit up like a Christmas tree.  I tried to pull over, but the brake pedal was frozen in place.  I kicked it as hard as I could but it was like kicking a cement block.  I hunted wildly for the emergency brake but it wasn’t in any one of the usual places.  We were picking up speed quickly and I had no idea what to do.

I knew I had time for one lifeline, so I called my dad.  He had driven a delivery truck for a summer back in 1974 -- surely he would know what to do.

My mom picked up the phone, clearly distracted, “CSI’s on honey.  Can I call you back at the commercial?”

“We’re on the south side of Grant’s Pass and the breaks on the truck are out! Put Dad on the phone!”

I could hear her talking as she handed him the phone, “It’s Cody, I think he’s lost in Grant’s Pass.”

“How did he get lost in Grant’s Pass?  There’s only one road.”

I could hear Horatio from CSI in the background, “Maybe dead men do tell tales.” I imagined he was dramatically removing his sunglasses. 

Dad finally picked up.  “How are you lost in Grant’s Pass?”

“I’m not lost, the breaks are out!  We’re passing cars in the shoulder lane to avoid hitting anybody and I have no idea what to do!”

He was entirely calm.  “First, I need you to downshift.” So I did. “Then you’re going to reach under the left side of your seat and find the e-brake…” There it was! “… and you’re going to pump it like you would pump the brakes if you were skidding on ice.” It worked.

“Good,” he said, “Now you’re going to shift to neutral and kill the engine.  When you start it back up, your breaks will hopefully work again.” When the engine came back to life, the dashboard lights had extinguished, the brakes returned, and we safely pulled to the side of the road. 

We sat in silence for a painfully long time.  After I was done shitting myself, I turned to Anna.  “That’s it, we’re turning around.  It’s an omen.  I’m supposed to be Lutheran.”

She smiled, tears running down her cheeks, “I, for one, am going to Pasadena,” she said.  “And you’re coming with me.”

I knew in that moment that I needed her more than I had ever needed anybody.   After years of fierce independence, God was teaching me what it meant to depend on somebody else.

We pulled away from the curb and continued South, thinking the worst was behind us.  But we had already made a series of novice mistakes.  Not the least of which was that we had not brought a lock for the back of the truck, so parking the truck in a cheap hotel to catch up on sleep had just become to great of a risk.  We had begun the adventure on Saturday morning at 8 a.m. by loading the truck and now here we were 24 hours later, physically exhausted, emotionally exhausted, and sleep deprived, but still driving.  The trip from Roseburg to Pasadena, according to Google, should have been 11 hours, but we didn’t enter L.A. County until 1 o’clock the next day: 17 hours later.

We were starving and delirious.  When we finally saw our exit my eyes welled up with tears of gratitude.  And as we saw our new apartment, everything slowed down, there it was, we had made it.  We were safe.

And then crunch.

I hit a parked Escalade.  A shiny black one that somebody was clearly proud of.  Fortunately I suppose, I only hit the rearview mirror, but it had ripped clean off.  The owner was nowhere to be found so we left a note and started looking for parking.  With our long truck and the car being towed behind it, the nearest parking we could find was 2 and a ½ blocks away.  2 and ½ city blocks, that is.  And so we began unloading, carrying every box and every piece of furniture those 2 ½ blocks in the Californian sun.

6 hours later, the job was done.  We hadn’t eaten in over 12 hours, and we couldn’t find any restaurants so we wandered the isles of Target.  The best we could find that could be prepared without any cooking equipment was microwave macaroni and cheese.   After a futile search for a shower curtain Anna decided to take a shower, while I searched for towels.

All I could find was one kitchen hand towel.  When the shower shut off, I handed her the towel, apologizing. 

“Hop in, I’ll find the towels she said.”  Have you ever taken a shower without a shower curtain?  It’s impossible.  You have to arrange yourself like you are the curtain and wash your feet without bending over. 

When I killed the water, Anna opened the door and handed me the same kitchen towel, soaking wet.  I dried off as well as I could and joined Anna on the floor for a romantic microwaved mac and cheese dinner, buck naked on the floor.  We had no silverware, so I used scissors to cut a fork out of a plastic cup.  It wilted under the heat and weight of the macaroni.

“We buried the mattress,” she said.  I looked over.  Sure enough.  Behind layers and layers of boxes our mattress leaned against the wall, far out of reach.

It was at that moment that I realized, even more so than at the bottom of Grant’s Pass, how much I needed this woman.  We pushed the macaroni aside and laid down next to each other.  Naked as the day we came into the world, and sharing one very wet hand towel as a blanket. 

“I love you,” I murmured, as I closed my eyes, hoping tomorrow would be a better day.

Ding-ding-dingalinga-ding-ding-ding.  My phone rang.  Local number.  I answered, “Hello?”

“Hi, this is John.  I found your note on my car.”