” This piece is about when I made a road trip back where I lived most of my life. I account what it meant for me to move away, grow up, and live a different life. “
By Jared Probert
“Kirk and I went up this way once,” Lucas told me as we veered off the main trail, glancing around to make sure none of the park rangers were watching. Curiosity overcame caution in the summer of 2013 as I followed him off the beaten path onto something that could probably pass as a goat trail. Backpacks swayed with our steps, our breathing coming out in short bursts. “Up here is where he broke his glasses.”
“I wish I could’ve been there for that,” I say. “What is ol’ Kirk up to these days?”
“I haven’t talked to him in a while,” he says, “He’s not around.”
“Seen Ben?” I ask
He shakes his head. “No.”
As we went the side of the slope, I began to remember the day two years prior when I convinced my friends to take a Saturday all-day hike up through Smith Rock State Park in Oregon. There was Lucas and I, of course, as well as Kirk, our half-Ecuadorian and our very German Ben. We were all the small, nerdy type, similar builds, similar height. Ben was white with dark features, Kirk darker skinned with dark features, and Lucas blonde-haired and blue-eyed. We walked up and down nearly every inch of trail in that park. Once, we found a crevice in the rocks at the end of a trail. “We should come here for our birthday parties,” Ben had said optimistically, and the rest of us agreed. It would be a timeless tradition we dedicated to ourselves.
Unfortunately, within the next year, Ben and I both moved away: I moved to Montana, and the next year Ben moved to Washington. Lucas and Kirk eventually joined different high-school groups, Lucas to the popular kids and Kirk to the Christians. Back then, it didn’t really matter about sharing the same views. Our goals were different as well: Ben hoped to be a video game designer; Kirk wanted to be a missionary; Lucas wanted to live day by day: all I knew was that I loved reading. Our goals never really affected us, not in the first few years of high school, but after sophomore year, when we all moved away, our group changed. The clan fell apart, looking for something else to fill the gap.
My flashback ends on the trail with Lucas, and we both looked up to the rocky gap. “We climbed up through there,” Lucas told me.
There was enough space for us to climb up the middle, I supposed. I had been leading the way up the trail and started climbing. Using our backs and legs and the grip of our fingers, we slowly clambered up, step by step, taking time to find places in the rock where we could pull ourselves higher. We talked little on the way, refusing to huff and puff in front of each other, until I stopped. I couldn’t see any convenient way to approach it. “Here, let me go,” Lucas advised, “Kirk and I found the way last time.” As he showed me how they found a way through, he added, “This is where Kirk broke his glasses. A boulder came flying down and tore his spectacles to shreds. He made his way up here half blind.”
There was once a class field trip to Smith rocks, years ago. We knew we were the fastest travelers, gamer Ben, Christian Kirk, Lucas and I, but for whatever reason we were assigned to the slow group. With the unrelenting ambition of our youth, we passed people by on every turn that had extra space, keeping in our fast pack, a footrace up the trail against all of our peers. Eventually, we reached the people who thought they were the leaders, only to be challenged, and, of course, beaten. Our destination came closer and closer, and eventually we got to the top of the rock, waiting for the tiny slowpokes down below to make their way up to us. Rising up, it seemed easy to forget just how small we were, just as insignificant as those followers down there. We couldn’t see just how little we were from our own eyes, not unless we looked down at the rest of the group making way. We couldn’t see where we were going, where our lives would end up at; all we knew was that we had the instinct to climb to the top, if there even is a top.
In the crevice Lucas and I ventured through, the rock started to cut into our beaten hands, nearly drawing blood on the black stone. I could feel my legs start to cramp, sweat beading on my forehead. We both took a very brief break on a slab we could both sit on. A small gap of light came through. It was barely there, but there it was all the same. It was dark in that jagged space, dust particles settling as we talked about memories. It was like talking about the ocean or the moon or the top of the mountain inside a schoolhouse. None of it seemed real anymore, just out there somewhere, like our destination. With one last huff, we lifted ourselves up and headed straight for the top, only a glimmer of light to guide our way.
Before I left Oregon for good, I remember the four of us having a sort-of pizza party, complete with the four of us, skittle-pizza, and a few other friends that knew I would be leaving for Montana after that year. It was a nice place we were in, a place designed to make people feel as if they were in Old New York, complete with an antique-style setting and Black and White pictures of famous people I’m not old enough to remember. I remember Drake being there, Kyle, Sabrina, some other person I didn’t even know. It was the last day of school, the most agreeable day of the year.
The main four of us though, Ben, Kirk, Lucas and I, had known each other since middle school. Lucas and I become close friends, while Ben and Kirk did the same. High school is where we were mixed together, and one of us was seldom seen outside the library with the other three in tow. We all knew a day would come when we’d split up, and so this gathering was the last big hurrah before moving on. I didn’t know I would look back on this day, not while traveling to a new place, a new world, and think of myself being in darkness without being fully able to grasp it.
Looking back on it, eating skittle-pizza in a place I couldn’t name, it seems too unreal. Something dissolved, absent. Something too gone.
That day, Lucas and I took a final break at the top of the rock, breathing the free, sunlit air with the top of the crevice just below us. We passed time tossing rocks down the trail that swept past us, the ones used by what we considered to be the ‘regular folks’ with no sense of adventure. The sound of the falling rocks echoed throughout the park, and our break turned to the boredom of the conquerors with nothing left to conquer. Before we headed out, though, we looked down the side of the cliff we had climbed up, and looked down at all the tiny people, the multi-colored cars, the mighty river roaring far below us, all bathed in the light of the same sun.
It’s a great feeling, knowing we started way down there and ended way up here. It’s a moment I wish could last forever, like when the dog finally catches the car it has been chasing for hours and hours on end. I wish to hold it like a trophy, put it up above the fireplace, keep it from being so far away. But there’s another car to chase, one with my name on the license plate, and a different one for Lucas.
For most of the time I had visited, I stayed with Lucas and his family in their new home. It was a big yellow house at the end of a cul-de-sac, with just enough space for him, his parents, and his five other siblings of the time. I was never able to see Ben or Kirk, as they were both out of state, Ben with his family, Kirk on a Missionary trip. I remember saying goodbye and heading out the door to my car, just about to drive all the way back to Boulder, Montana from Redmond, Oregon. Like climbing to the top of the rock, it seemed we had both conquered the world, and now, it was time for me to succeed in some other new place. Before I got into my car, I remembered I had forgotten my pen, which wasn’t a big deal except that I tend to run low on writing supplies. So I turned around and opened the door again, and Lucas was there at the window. He handed me my pen. “Thanks,” I said, and again, “goodbye.” I left his house, got into my car, and prepared for my long drive from Oregon to Montana, not knowing that I would fall prey to a powerful nostalgia, falling deeper and deeper until it was too small to see.
Lucas watched me as I drove away. That was the last time I ever saw him.