Wednesday, Tim and I spent our first five waking hours driving, through twists and turns and mountain ranges, to Asheville, North Carolina. Just before we left, while I was packing a bag of toiletries in the bathroom, my hair still wet and the window letting in cool morning air, Tim came in and said “I love taking trips!” Or, really, he said, “I LOVE TAKING TRIPS!” because he said it with the same gusto one might have when announcing “I JUST WON THE LOTTERY!” It made me laugh. It made my heart swell. For the record, Tim and everybody: I LOVE TAKING TRIPS, too.
We packed our car with a small overnight bag, a few snacks we grabbed on our way out the door, our camera and a handwritten list of places to visit. Our laptops, and all the emailing and freelance working that goes with them, stayed behind. For people who are on their computers as much as we are, it felt strange to leave our laptops behind. For people who are on their computers as much as we are, it felt wonderful to leave our laptops behind.
By 2:30 p.m., eastern time, the two of us sat side by side in the middle of Tupelo Honey in downtown Asheville, ceiling fans above us and a packed screened-in eating area a few feet away. Tim said it felt like vacation. I said it basically was. Then our waiter, with his kind green eyes, olive skin and dreadlocks, came by and asked when we wanted our biscuits, “Before, during or after your meals?” and I didn’t know if we were in the mountains or the South or a hipster town, when it hit me that this place, this Asheville, was all three.
We ordered an open-faced sandwich that started with sourdough and ended with havarti cheese; in between were a fried green tomato, tangy lemon aioli, caramelized onions, roasted red peppers, mushrooms and spinach. On the side, crispy, seasoned sweet potato fries. As an extra side, brown butter Brussels sprouts. In our confusion over parking meters and search for spare change in the car, I’d left my iPhone in the seat, so as we sat there getting our fill of vegetables, Tim researched where we’d go next.
Downtown Asheville, on first impression, is busy and colorful and clean. In the three or four blocks we walked from the restaurant, we passed an all-natural soap store, several outdoor cafes, many restaurants, an organic clothing shop, a hippie clothing shop and a sign for an Indian street food vendor we never did find. We left the main area to drive through hilly, historic neighborhoods and almost visit the Biltmore, but we came back within an hour or so for dessert at the spot several of you recommended on Facebook: French Broad Chocolate Lounge. Be still my heart.
We had our friends Sue and Jordan to thank for the getaway. They were the reason we were in Asheville, the reason we’d woken up and pointed the car east and found ourselves eating flourless chocolate cake and a chocolate-dipped cookie near the North Carolina mountains. Yesterday was their tenth wedding anniversary. A decade ago, this past Wednesday, I was at their rehearsal dinner, along with their families and other friends. I remember Jordan’s mom crying when she said how much she loved Sue. I remember Sue’s dad telling us in the church, “The only rule is the bride gets whatever she wants!” I remember seeing Sue get ready on her wedding day and thinking no woman anywhere had ever looked as beautiful as she did, right then. Since their wedding, I’ve seen these two only a handful of times: at another wedding, for a quick breakfast, for a lunch and Sue was at our wedding two Octobers ago. But I’ve talked to them about so many things, from church to work to marriage, that seeing them a few days ago felt like such a good gift. Sue was the friend I’d asked, “How do you know you love someone?” after meeting Tim. She was one of three people who prayed for us at our wedding, in our prayer circle of family and friends.
We met them at Malaprop’s, the cutest little indie bookstore, though I’ll admit once we found them we weren’t paying much attention to the shelves. Then the four of us ate at The Blackbird, an upscale, modern restaurant where our table was essentially al fresco, set next to an open wall of windows that let the warm evening air inside. We talked about their ten years of marriage. We talked about our one-and-a-half. We talked about different seasons of work and income and living situations and of praying for answers when it feels they don’t come.
We stayed longer than we’d planned to, and when we stepped outside the restaurant, the sky opened up, first with trickles of rain and then a downpour. Working our way back to the cars, laughing at the water falling all around us, we went from damp to wet to dripping everywhere. Our steps quickened, and, at the corner by our parking garages, we rushed to hug and say goodbye.
By then the sky was dark, and the rains grew stronger. Tim and I approached the highway, heading to our hotel for the night, in Knoxville. Sheets of water hit our windshield, one after another, blinding us to the view ahead for a moment, then opening up, then blinding us again. We had to shout to talk. Traffic slowed. An ambulance rushed by. Tim held my hand, and, whenever I was afraid, I’d squeeze it, flinching and gasping at whatever was before us. Eventually he took it back, bracing the wheel with both hands, and both of us felt wide awake, despite what a long day it had been. Then, somewhere in the midst of the mountains, as we followed the taillights of a semi-truck, my heart beating fast, the thought hit me, out of nowhere, that I was not the one driving our car. I knew that, but it surprised me still. I closed my eyes, and the car kept moving, sailing forward, slowly, steadily along. I was not the one driving our car.
While we moved through scary scenes, there was nothing I could do but sit there, patiently, and trust.