I never want to go back to Scipio, Utah. Scipio, population 290 according to the 2000 Census, can be described (in my mind) as a town you simply pass by. Scipio used to be one of those places I passed through a lot during my lifetime.
Most of my childhood summers began with my grandparents driving from Nevada to pick me and my sister up in Colorado and take us back to spend the summer with them. Those summers were some of the best years of my life – young – the world at my fingertips – carefree – no responsibility – no bills – no loans – no debt – and I felt loved. Spending time with my grandparents on their secluded reservation, we were in a different world. My grandpa was always preparing my sister, cousin and me for the future. He would make us practice times tables, quiz us on the morning newspaper articles, and research various topics before we were allowed to go out and play. He looked out for us, as protector and educator of what the world would present us with later in life. Most of all, I remember feeling safe. Looking back, I can only think of the good things that awaited us at the end of that 16 hour drive.
But, you have to get there first.
Scipio – we’d drive through again my senior year in high school on our way to see my grandpa in the ICU unit of Washoe Medical Center in Reno, Nevada. My mom and I would pass through Scipio on a 16 hour drive just to get there. It was snowing and the first and only time we’d ever driven the entire way without stopping. The entire trip, a blur.
Even as a child I don’t remember the drive. I don’t remember getting carsick or throwing up on my grandma’s pillow. I only ever remember the destination. I remember how often we’d watch Grease and sing songs like “But, oh, those summer nights!” Every Sunday after church we’d go swimming in the lake, get hot dogs at the only gas station nearby, and watch the small waves come up to kiss the sand. My favorite time was watching the sun set over the lake, the hues behind the mountain and when there was no wind blowing, it was perfect, the lake so clear you could see straight to the bottom.
If only I could have seen back then, maybe somehow I could have known the bottom would fall out. As we packed for the trip to see grandpa in the hospital, I remember my mother telling me to tell my teachers in the morning that I was leaving before the end of the semester and that my grandpa probably wouldn’t make it, that I did not know when I’d be coming back. I remember then, I did not believe her, I thought she just wanted me to say that to them. Who would have thought she’d be right.
I’ve been a nerd from the beginning. I confess it. But, I blame it on those summers where I learned how to swim or ride my bike. My family in Nevada made sure to keep us cultured between watching Rodeos and musicals or plays, of course only after we’d read about it, learned the musical score, and had most of the songs memorized so we could put it on in our own backyard lawn if we’d wanted too. And later in the eulogy I’d give at my grandpa’s funeral, I’d say that he showed me the world – took us to Yellowstone, Disneyland, and the Battle of Little Bighorn monument. Each was a trip of discovery, a trip of learning not just about the world but how we fit into it. I learned how I fit into it.
After grandpa passed away, for a long time I’d forgotten how I fit into “being here.” I think a lot of us in the family had. Grandpa was comforting, he was country, and a cowboy who taught us how to be tough. “Ok babyperson, what do you do when you get lost?”, he’d ask me after forcing us all to read a newspaper article on what to do when you get lost in the wilderness. I, unlike my sister and cousin, did not read it entirely would respond, “Um, you pull over somewhere’s and ask directions!” He’d laugh and make me read it again. Like I said, he was always trying to teach us and prepare us for the future.
Even when he was on a respirator with no brain function he somehow still managed to teach me something about life. I learned the coping skills of grief I’d come back to later in life when I needed them. Like the night we came home from the hospital late and I stayed up doing my math homework. That was the first time grandma made me coffee and who would have known that was the beginning of my addiction to coffee as a source of comfort and concentration. I learned I can sleep anywhere if I have to – couches, chairs, hospital waiting rooms. Watching his chest slowly rise and fall with the timing of the machine, I learned one of life’s hardest lessons about grief, loss, regret, love, all of it, and maybe more. I didn’t cry at all until we all got our chances to say goodbye before they were going to take him off of the machines. My mother took me and my sister in with her and we spoke to him saying all we wanted to say. Then my mom told us to hug him. So I did. I bent down to rest my chest against his, felt the warmth of his body, and closed my eyes. Then, I felt his arms around me. I didn’t know my mom was going to do that, grab his arms and wrap them around me like a blanket of forgiveness, understanding, and love. It was then that I cried, an uncontrollable wave of all I’d been holding inside me at the fear of losing him.
He died four days before Christmas 2003.
The summer of 2004 after I graduated high school, my sister and I decided it’d be fun to take a roadtrip to visit our grandma and family in Nevada. We wanted to surprise them so we didn’t tell anyone we were coming. Of course our mom knew and she didn’t want us driving the entire way in one sit-in so she got us a hotel room – exactly half-way, in Scipio. Before, I’d only passed through, now it was creepy. A small town with one gas station and one hotel. When we’d gotten there it was early, but we had to stay there anyway so as not to worry our mom. There were no restaurants open so the hotel clerk suggested going across the street to the gas station to buy a burrito or something to heat up in the microwave. It was creepy. I said that already but I wanted to stay it again to emphasize its true creepiness. I felt like we were in a horror movie right before the town goes crazy at sunset and we get eaten by zombies. So we went back to the hotel decided to sleep with the TV on and leave as soon as the sun rose the next morning.
In later years, my mom and I would drive through Scipio again for the first of many times driving me to and from Stanford, always stopping in Nevada to visit our family and my grandpa (her dad’s) grave. I still miss him, some days more than others and there are times I wish I could see him or call him up on the phone and ask for advice. Just last night I dreamed he was here, that I was in his old house and when I went to open the front door – he was there. He was as young as he was when I was a child. There were no words, just an embrace. I hugged him and then said “Grandpa, they said you left us, they told me you died.” He just smiled and I woke up, happy. Things and people come into your life when you need them, even in dreams and memories.
To this day I get the creeps from Scipio. Maybe it’s the name, maybe it’s the place, but maybe it’s the memories associated with it or even that I don’t like being half-way. Half-way there doesn’t offer me any comfort, I’d rather be at the beginning not seeing the end in sight or near the end, knowing I’m just about to make it on whatever journey I am on. But, life doesn’t always turn out the way you plan it. Some things change because they need to, some things change for no apparent reason, and some things we need to change, but may need help changing.
My grandpa was always preparing me for the future and to this day, sometimes I feel like he’s still testing me by the universe putting me into situations where it asks “Ok, what do you do when you’re lost?” Last night he reminded me that deep down, I know the answer. I don’t always need to be worried about where I’m at or how far away I am from where I want to be. If we get too caught up in the destination we miss all of the good and interesting things that come in-between. Sometimes it’s okay just to be passing through, eventually we always get to where we should be and for now, perhaps the in-between is exactly where we need to be. And if I ever feel lost, I can always pull over and ask for direction.