Near midday I was sure the bright northern California sun would melt everything in my backpack, right along with my shoulders and legs. My head was hot. My feet hurt and the oven-baked wind that blew against us each time a car didn’t stop blistered our legs and back-lashed our faces. In Florida it’s hot, but it’s a humid heat. The highway pavement bounced the sun’s rays off the tarmac right into our down turned eyes so our hats were practically useless as we trudged along till we heard the next car approaching.
I was a virgin hitchhiker. I, at fifteen, of course knew what hitching was, but hadn’t ever been allowed to do it before. I could do so now because my parents were hitching with me and my sister, who was twelve. I walked along next to my dad. In the morning when it had been cooler and the rides had come often we’d chatted along in a happy state.We didn’t talk much now. We walked in silence, letting the whipping car-wind beat us into silence. The sound of our footsteps, a bird here and there and the sporadic sounds of my mum and sister’s voices behind us were our only accompaniment.
Miserable though I was, I was also happy. I’d been away from my family, on the other side of the world for four months. Being with them again, just the four of us soothed my soul in a way I hadn’t known possible. One tends, at such a tender age, to take things like family for granted. Being separated from them for so long had shown me the true wonders of being loved and cared for unconditionally. I now respected this part of my life on the same terms. My parents both loved me and cared for me even if I hadn’t been too close to them for the last couple of years. We, my entire family, lived at a boarding school where my parents are teachers and my sister and I are students. Needless to say my sister and I stay in dorms and don’t actually live, in the traditional sense, with our parents.
So here I am, hot, tired, aching and dying for a ride. My father and I shuffle from one foot to another as we continue on toward our goal of Crescent City, California. Not the Crescent City in Florida where we live and where, amazingly, I really don‘t want to be right now. I don’t often get my family, much less my dad, to myself so I am happy in my misery. I’m getting something I’ve missed for four months, the presence of my family in my breathing space.
Another car passes and my parents stop to discuss whether or not we should split up. People just don’t seem interested in picking up four strangers, even if two of them are children. Maybe if we split up into pairs we could make better time. For once they both agree on something. We go on together. It isn’t as safe for mum and just one of us girls as it is with us all together. We bow our heads and continue on until another car approaches. We turn, stick out our thumbs and… it goes right on by. Now we bow our entire bodies to the inevitable and once again trudge on. Another mile, another dry windy slap against the backs of our legs, our faces, but my dad is right beside me and I can hear my mother and sister talking behind us. I am comforted.