The month before, we slept our way across the country in a little blue tent. Campground life resumed around us, unchanged, at the edge of every city: children running circles in the dirt, turning white shoelaces gray; children swapping ghost stories over the fire before disappearing into RVs.
I could feel their quiet concentration from inside the thin walls, watched as lone flashlights lit the path to the toilets, little beams of bravery punching holes through the dark. Those kids could think of nothing but ghosts, their own imagined warnings come true.
We lay awake in the tent. More than once we suspected we’d woken the neighbors, our nakedness situated in the space between hearing noises in the dark and making them. The tent inspired a mature kind of paranoia. Were we laughing too loud? Rustling the sleeping bag too much? Maybe it was us who kept the kids from sleeping, their ghost sounds our sounds, neither entirely invented nor real. I can think of no way of knowing, except by dissecting each imagination that survived the night.
And now, this waiting in line at the drugstore on Saddle Creek Road. And now, this expression, anxious and red, as I ignore the other people, their bagged chips and nicotine patches, their wine boxes and powdered donuts. These purchases add up to routine, prove interchangeable and plain. In the same way, the strangers will calculate us through what we’ve come to buy, uninvited, joining us in our wondering.
You ask what I find “so embarrassing” about that. You don’t remind me that you’ve envisioned this for us, a shared future, though one we both thought distant. It’s like I’ve disappointed you in a specific, pointed way. I say “nothing,” exaggerating the exhale, stiff.
And now this: proving our innocence. The neighbor pulls his camper into the driveway across the street, his family spilling back into their house, arms full of suitcases, dirty clothes. We’ve all come home to a place where negative temperatures will overwhelm the coming season, unanticipated, met with indignation. The winter promises to be cold.
ERICA TRABOLD is a writer of family and memory. Her essays have appeared in Seneca Review, The Collagist, and others. She writes and teaches in Oregon, where she is pursuing an MFA in nonfiction. (@ericatrabold)