An essay by guest Gero-Punk
I’m riding my (turquoise) Vespa through pastured valleys, over lonesome bridges – the ones paradoxically understood and unknown. On a single lane highway, mythical wind on my face, I Iean into tidy curves and clumsily just barely dodge peril along the wayside. Whoa! Straighten for uphill ascent at full tilt exhilaration! I reach the paved summit and proceed to careen into a free-wheeling downhill glide. I slow with my feet on the dusty gravel. There’s my friend. She’s waiting at the junction.
Roads draw us in and stretch out into mostly peculiar horizons. They are draped in spectacular blossoms of light. They are a challenge; a thrill. Other roads uproot us from our insular selves, plunging our minds into other passages. It is nothing short of miraculous that we allow our so-called ordinary lives to melt into other’s journeys. Together we bask in the strange warmth of unrelenting, godforsaken time.
I love travels with Melinda. She gently places her stories in precious vessels and generously frees them like sacred feathers – all visceral and lush. And bright. I curiously accelerate through murky thresholds and the Vespa cruises into new terrain. Squinting, I begin to imagine those outlines and figures in the distance. They become vivid roadside murals passing before my eyes. I remain still as time closes. I am pulled ahead without moving.
I conjure her words into my own colors and patterns. She leads me into her stories, and so I dream. Melinda is ten years old and near the National Mall where Dr. King spoke. It is 1963, three years before I was even here. She is with a friend and that friend’s mother in the outer reaches of Washington D.C. Her eyes witness kids her own age living in cardboard shacks. They have no shoes. Melinda’s heart sinks. She is changed and is perhaps no longer a child. I stand there, blinking, breathing with the scene. I see the children and her emotions rush with mine. Heart beating. The passage of time and history allows me to understand the simple irony of a civil rights leader talking about inequality, while just a few blocks away there live the most unequal. I lean into the turn.
We are in Seneca Falls, New York, where the first women’s rights convention was held in 1848. Melinda is on a solo journey as she seeks to learn about the women who did more than take a stand back then. She is preparing to write a play about nameless women who changed the world. The docents show her the grounds and narrate the events of that famous and infamous gathering. Melinda tells them more than they already know, about other women who were there. She teaches them about the ones imprisoned and tortured seventy years later for the same cause. Lucy Burns. Alice Paul. I know they are in awe of their keen visitor that day. She beams her story. I listen to loving silences as they fall between words. Faded history lessons and old photographs become real to me. I touch their faces.
Kickstand up, I turn into a curve and head back up to my road. The sun sets again.
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Jennifer M. Ortiz is a social observer and Progressive Era historian. She holds a Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies from Marylhurst University, and has worked as a writer for the past several years in the non-profit sector. Jennifer and her husband live in Portland, Oregon, with their three sons.