On a windy Sunday in April we drive your grandparent’s car to Iowa. I promise you they’ll never know, and you really don’t take much convincing. When we were little, playing together in the pond mud after kindergarten, you were always the one to convince me to steal two of the cookies cooling on the rack, or that we could certainly sneak into your father’s workshop and stare, fascinated and horrified, at the calendar with the naked women. Now I pass you a twenty dollar bill for gas and lean my head against the window.
The radio is long gone. We try listening to music from the tinny speakers on my phone, then try playing CDs off your laptop, but in the end we throw our gadgets into the back seat and let the silence sit with us. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you, but between us, silence doesn’t matter. I love our silence more than our conversations.
We stop at a tiny town called Clear Lake. It’s small, but nothing like our small town. It’s beautiful in a Norman Rockwell-nostalgia-filled way. Also bizarrely empty. But you slide into a parking spot (angled! yes!) and we get out, the wind whipping off the lake and blowing our hair into our faces. I admire the fancy houses strung along the shores, the clean cut grass of the playground, the wide streets and the gleaming storefronts. We walk down to the water’s edge, take a few pictures (Have you ever been to Iowa before? No. Me neither) and toss some stones into the water. Bright sunlight cuts through the wind and shines on the choppy surface off the water. I want to stay here forever, but the wind pushes us back behind the shelter of the recently cleaned restrooms. It occurs to me that I’m hungry, and I know you are, so we drive down main street looking for the Cafe sign. I know it has to be here. I can already see it in my mind, the waitress with lines around her eyes and a pink gingham apron, holding a coffee pot and beckoning us to our corner booth. The old couple smiling at one another and sharing french fries. The pancake specials on the wall. The curtains and the pies in the case next to the cash register.
But we don’t see it. We drive past a hardware store, a used clothing store, and a quilting shop. At the end of the street, we check the time and turn left, back towards the highway. We drive through dusty crop fields and past Christian billboards to the strip of fast food chains just before the highway. “Arby’s?” I ask, already pulling off into the parking lot. We eat roast beef sandwiches on thin bread and slurp sugary shakes through tiny straws. The TV above our heads drones the national news in staticky colors. I crumple up the soggy wrapping papers and slide it all off the tray into the trash. Back in the car, you tell me to get you home by four, so I push on the gas until we hit 90, and watch the windmills of Iowa disappear in the rearview.