For the most part, the trip was a success. Turning my birthday weekend into a road trip to look at colleges had been a collaborative effort involving me wanting to look at a university in California and my mom and her best friend being very willing to drive me there. So we jumped into our van -- named the Big Ol' Van (B.O.V.) by my dad and The Monstrosity by my sisters and myself -- and drove there. It was me, my friend Ariel, and our mothers. Denver to San Diego.
I don't remember the trip out, and the time in Cali was fine, I suppose. It seemed to be like all my other trips to the state, which have actually been quite a few, since we have family there. I remember sitting up front with Nili, telling her about a boy from school, so that she would be able to stay awake while driving in the middle of the night. The highway between Vegas and southern California is very dark and creepy at night, so part of me didn't quite understand why she needed help staying awake. I suppose other people's minds turn off in the dark.
But it isn't the trip there that I truly remember, nor my visits to the universities, though parts of them are still branded in my mind. No, the one thing I really remember is a rest stop on top of the Continental Divide, somewhere in the mountains.
We'd been driving for a very long time. It was mid-October, so of course it was snowing outside. I'm pretty sure temperatures were way below normal, because the van just couldn't stay warm. The heat was blasting so much that Ariel and I had to turn up the TV so we could hear our movies. Our van was awesome for one reason: the back seats could fold down into a bed. Ariel and I spent almost the entire road home reclining and watching movies or sleeping.
By the time we got close to the rest stop, I had to pee like crazy. I mean, not one of those, "Oh crap, I think I need to pee" moments. It was one of those, "Mom? Pull over. Pull over, please" moments. Luckily for me, the blue rest stop sign shone out from the darkness a mere thirty seconds after this realization, and in a minute we were parked and Ariel and I, in our pajama pants and slippers, were tumbling out of the doors and heading for the steps to the building.
The cold air and snowflakes hit my face like a snowball formed around a small brick. You know that feeling of getting into a pool that isn't heated and you feel like all your warmest parts are being assaulted in the crudest manner? It hurt like that. I blinked and stuck my hand out to touch the van, just for a moment of solidarity. And then I remembered I had to pee. Ariel was already halfway up the steps, and she turned and hustled me on.
"What are you doing? I thought you had to pee, too?"
"Shut up," I said. "My head hurts." I'd reached the top of the stone steps and was only a few paces from the door, and suddenly my vision decided to go dancing in the dark. Blinded, I reached out for something, anything, and my fingertips scraped the stonework on either side of the door. My vision cleared and I shook my head, trying to clear it as well.
Inside, heat was being blown out of vents in every corner of the room. Everything was made of stone, rough and gray, and looked perfect for climbing. Ariel was gone, into the bathroom I supposed, and I glanced around, trying to find that little sign with the lady in the dress. It was on the opposite side of the room, across from the vending machines. I walked over to it, but didn't get very far.
The bathrooms were separated by a long wall, I'm sure most people would be familiar with it, and you had to go around the wall either to the right or the left to go into the correct bathrooms. In my particular case, I needed to go right. Instead, I went straight. I intended to go right, of course, but en route my eyesight blurred and everything in the room became very wobbly, which was strange because usually, and please correct me if I'm wrong, but usually, rock doesn't wobble. At least, it doesn't shimmy like that rock was doing. And it doesn't turn colors and fade into black.
When I opened my eyes again, my cheek felt like a scrape under lemon juice. My fingers were clamped around the edge of the wall, and just to the left of my face was that little sign. The woman on it seemed to be looking at me with an eyebrow raised, an amazing feat since she had no facial features. Ariel appeared from inside the bathroom.
"What's wrong? Your cheek is red!" I glared at her, I believe.
"My vision keeps going wooo-woooo," I said, moving my hands back and forth in a pulsing motion. Ariel laughed.
"You mean you're fainting?"
"I...I have to pee so bad," I said. My head felt better so I sort of curled myself around the corner and made a beeline for the closest stall. Ariel laughed at my response and followed me inside. The floor was made up of a bunch of little tiles, and they all looked very pretty individually. When I looked at them, though, they melted together and there was nothing I could do about it. I shut the stall door after me, locked it, and fell in a heap on the floor, hitting my head on the door on the way down just for fun.
"Michelle?" I heard Ariel say. "Are you ok?" I took a deep breath, glad I was awake and ecstatic that I hadn't ended up with any part of me in the toilet.
"I fell," I said, and started to giggle. I stopped because it hurt, but Ariel started laughing and she couldn't stop. "Stop laughing!" She didn't. I don't think she could. I stared at my knees and at the floor, trying to figure out how to get up on the toilet without blacking out again. I decided that I would just have to try it.
My business finished, I sort of fell out of the bathroom stall and haphazardly washed my hands. Leaning forward, I got a glimpse of myself in the mirror and started laughing a little. I was so pale I actually matched my white T-shirt. My dark hair made the effect even more dramatic, making me look like a dark-eyed Snow White. Ariel was still laughing. I made it out of the bathroom, and was even leading the way, until we got to the front door and my brain decided to take a little break just as I reached out for the handle. I missed. Ariel giggled.
Somehow we made it back to the car in the dark, with Ariel sort of leading me down the steps. It took me blacking out three times for her to finally realize that maybe she should have a hand on my arm, just in case. Luckily nothing adventurous happened, and we made it to the van safely. When inside, our moms asked why we had taken so long.
"Michelle kept fainting in the toilets," Ariel said, and then dissolved into laughter that didn't stop at all until we were out of the parking lot and back on the highway.