Grief (3/?) Arby’s

I was 18 when I had my first major heartbreak. He was Canadian born & bred, two years older than me but not much taller. We met on a writing website, and it unfolded with storybook cuteness, until something as simple as a hacked Facebook caused us to blow apart.

He wanted to end things via phone, but I wouldn’t have it. I resolved to drive to Peterborough, Ontario, from where I was living near Chicago — a journey of nine hours, and nearly 600 miles.

I thought I was so adult in my planning. I calculated gas use so I could repay my parents with internship money. I learned how to change oil, manage flat tires, and jump a battery. I printed off the travel directions, and studied them nightly. I viewed it all as my great adult pilgrimage, a coming-of-age. It was a search for closure, a boon, anything, and at the time it was the most important thing of my life.

And so at 6 PM on a day in May, I got off the commuter train from the city, and drove all night across Indiana, Michigan, through Ontario until I reached Peterborough around 3 in the morning.

The climax of that journey read almost exactly like a movie script. I was left alone and crying in a Tim Horton’s parking lot with my SUV, its Michigan plates, half a world away from home. His last words to me were “good luck” rather than “goodbye”, and after a minute or so watching him walk away, I felt my heart seal over, put the key in the ignition, and began to drive, drive, drive.

When I crossed back into the States, I tried to fill up gas at Port Huron. My parents’ Discover card (given to me for emergencies) was declined. I had no cash. I drove on to Flint, hoping feebly that each new gas station would accept the card. I was the emotional equivalent of a plate of jello, red-eyed and still crying.

I parked in downtown Flint, unsure of what to do. The street was mostly deserted. I had a feeling this wasn’t a great place to hang around in a vehicle swiftly running out of gas. It was getting dark. I had no idea what to do.

I remember the exact moment when I realized my only option was to call my parents. This added a feeling of crushing failure on top of already having my heart broken. Around 8 PM, at the last gas station, I finally made the call home. The sun was setting. It was my mom who answered.

Sobbing, I told her the whole story — what Evan had said, how I had been dutifully planning this journey of the heart, and how I had ended up here after the card was declined, embittered that the final leg of this trip was failing.

She was not angry. I was not in trouble. She wanted to make sure that I was okay, that I was somewhere safe. She told me how to drive the car to minimize gas use, and gave me an exit number to go to. She was going to come get me, she said, and the simple truth that she did so to this day makes this so difficult to write.

I am from Grand Rapids, and Flint is about an hour and a half away. She got up and drove across the state to collect me without any hesitation or question.

We met in an Arby’s parking lot. I had never been so relieved and terrified to see her blue SUV. We ordered food, and brought the tray to the dining room. We sat, and talked. I told her all about Evan, the trip, what had happened. She told me about the boys in her life — specifically, a long-distance one who had also broken her heart. Who she had also driven to see.

After we ate, she got me gas in the SUV I was driving, and then she led the way back home to Grand Rapids.

I don’t remember where that Arby’s is, or what exit it was at off of 96 or 65, but that 11PM conversation with my mom is one of my favorite memories. Being able to count on her when I needed it most, and having her fellowship and advice in the face of what (to me, in my youth) was insurmountable tragedy was a treasure that I miss literally every moment of every day.

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