A Fairy Tale ... of Sorts
A failed “anywhere but here” road trip brings new discoveries
I’ve come to terms with having a complete mental breakdown roughly three times a semester. It’s practically a ritual now, where everything suddenly piles up and engulfs me, dragging me to the bottom of a lake of self-pity.
To the general annoyance of my friends and neighbors, I find myself holed up in my room, eating tubs of raw cookie dough and watching reruns of television shows, attempting to convince myself that by not doing anything, I am, in fact, helping myself. It’s all very healthy.
When my most recent wave of melancholy swept over me, I proceeded according to plan. The junk food emerged, and I watched everyone around me roll their eyes at each other as I let out yet another whine. I was shocked, though, when even this didn’t actually cheer me up.
This pathetic display eventually made it back to my poor mother, who, after an attempt at sympathy, kicked my butt out the door à la Calvin and Hobbes, insisting that I not come back until I did something — anything — with my life.
In an irrational move, I shoved my exceptionally agreeable boyfriend in the car and started driving. “To where? Nowhere. Everywhere. It doesn’t matter. We’re just driving. Shut up and find a radio station!”
We drove in awkward silence until we spotted a cheery town sign. Sure, place I’ve never heard of … I’d love to visit you!
The town turned out to be smaller than my car, and just as decrepit. I didn’t see any people, but there were a lot of empty houses with broken windows and piles of chairs next to the road. We drove on.
For a hopeful few minutes, we thought we were conveniently on track to visit the Natural Bridge. We followed the directions, which ended in a straight shot up Route 66. We drove past cement dinosaur statues, a zoo advertising a wild manner of safari critters in the safety of the Blue Ridge, even “Foamhenge.” I kept expecting to see signs for the World’s Biggest Ball of String.
Our excitement grew as the miles ticked down on the luridly colored ads for Natural Bridge and we learned admission also included a tour of the local wax museum. When we eventually found the entrance, it was closed. After a brief but frantic attempt to see the bridge over the side of the road, we conceded defeat.
Yet never fear, the spirit of adventure was in us now. We headed out, determined that this trip was not — I repeat, was not — going to be a complete waste of time.
With no other ideas, we decided to do what we do best: eat and figure the rest out later. We passed by a number of promising roadside eateries, but we repeatedly missed them, mostly as a result of my poor driving. Finally, one place stood out — mostly because I actually managed to turn off in time.
I was expecting something totally mediocre. Nothing unusual or fun, just someplace where tired truckers and stressed parents with screaming babies could go to break up long trips.
We pulled into the parking lot, which was delicately lit with fairy lights. Getting out of the car, we were greeted by a precious, meowing kitty, falling over itself as it desperately called for attention. Entering the restaurant was like stepping right into the plot of Hansel and Gretel — sans the part with the crazy old woman.
We gorged ourselves on an endless feast of German food. They kept bringing us more rolls — without asking. Could it be heaven? A gent sporting suspenders and knee-high socks serenaded us with accordion music, which I complacently listened to, my cheeks bulging with bread. The wait staff was delightfully friendly, the epitome of southern charm. We got dessert, too — cake, despite being full.
Getting into the car to drive back to Charlottesville was a breath of fresh air. I was revived, happy, laughing and, more than anything else, full. I was ready to take on my pile of work, realizing that, in fact, my life was not as dreadful as it seemed.
And with that, I’m back. Thanks, Mom. You were right.
Emily Churchill writes biweekly Wednesdays. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.