Thirteen years ago, during the summer between my junior and senior year of high school, my family took a road trip from our house in Washington to see some friends in Arizona. This would be my first trip to the southern state before I moved there over a decade later. I didn’t know this. I was sixteen. I did not know much.
Early on in the road trip, on I-84 on our way to Paige by way of Idaho and Utah, our SUV pulled into the Bonneville Dam parking lot. Maybe someone needed to use the bathroom. Or someone was really interested in looking at dams. Whatever the reason, I ended up outside staring at the Columbia River. The glassy water serpentined around stacks of hills and trees, each layer fading further away to infinity. The gorge felt endless, like an edge and entrance to all I knew. Washington, my home state, on one side, the mysterious frontier of Oregon on the other.
I stared out the whole time, however long my sister was in the bathroom or my dad was checking a tire or again, whatever turned us onto the exit. As I stared, I knew something.
This is where I want to live.
This is home.
Before I enrolled at Concordia University.
Before I met Matt.
Before I published a single word.
Before every birthday cake and past mistake that rolled by.
I knew almost nothing when I was sixteen, but my heart knew its place when it saw it. There’s a peace when you’re in the place you’re meant to be. Like reaching the highest arch in a stretch, your soul relaxes into your marrow, and all the tenseness you didn’t even know you were carrying with you rolls away and vanishes.
Today I was driving back from Hood River at dusk, and the sunset turned from beautiful into overwhelming. A golden haze glistened in the hills, reflected on the river’s scales. Where can I stop, I wondered, where can I breathe this in? Why doesn’t the freeway have a special designated SUPER AMAZING SKY turn-off?
A mile down I-84, I turned into the Bonneville Dam parking lot. An uncanny deja vu hit me as I looped into the parking lot. I was wholly unprepared to do any level of justice to the majesty of a perfect moment, but I tried. I let the solid, settled relief of being home sweep through me. I am here. I am so relieved.
The alchemy dissolved into night, and the neon and fluorescence of the encroaching city stole away the dark. On the radio, Jeff Buckley sang Hallelujah. And I joined him.