While digging through the volumes of binders in my closet this morning, I came across an old writing assignment from college. I was supposed to listen to a random conversation and then add a story to it. I picked a conversation with a friend and wrote something that has stuck with me all these years.
I've always felt like it had the best story potential, but I could never get it right on paper. Seeing it made me happy, so I decided to share it. It has a beauty to it that I find difficult to explain. The truth isn't camouflaged very well, so I hope that if he ever sees this, he isn't too mad.
We’re at Denny's. Michael stares into his cup of coffee and strands of his curly hair fall into his eyes. He pushes it back in a slow, non-thinking gesture. He left five months before, in January, on a cross-country trip to Oregon. He packed a small U-Haul with his few possessions and started a new life.
He shows me postcards and pictures from the road. He has a jar with the melted water of the first snow he ever touched and pictures of the view out of the window of his new apartment. With a red-faced grin, he pushes a picture toward me. It is a photo of him leaning against a wall at the Alamo in a cowboy hat.
"Where did you get the hat?" I ask.
"I bought it at a rest stop in Texas."
We laugh. He looks back down at his coffee and stirs it with his spoon.
"Do anything else in Texas?"
"I threw a rock into Mexico."
I can imagine him in the sweaty Texas air. It is not quite dark and the sunset shades the desert in purple and dark blue. He pulls his truck with the U-Haul off the side of the desert highway. He picks up the cowboy hat off of the seat beside him and gets out of the truck. The ground is littered with rocks, so he kicks around some of the dirt, searching for the perfect rock, the rock that has his name interwoven into its deep grooves. Cars rush by on the highway with their lights on. The sons and daughters of the drivers press their faces to the glass. They watch the city boy in the ripped jeans and faded music school tee shirt. He crouches down and the cowboy hate sits awkwardly on his head. When he finds a rock, he holds it in his hand, studying it in case he ever decides he wants it back, and then chucks it as far over the border as he can. He watches it land, and when he decides that it is safely on the other side, he returns to his car, puts the hat back beside him on the seat and drives on.