Crossing into America

by Alissa

We left Canada Friday night. That morning my parents left for a well-earned vacation. That afternoon, staggeringly tired, we finished cleaning the house, carried along by the company and help of some amazing friends. We peeled our napping child off the empty floor, said a confused and tearful goodbye to the house, and returned our keys.

Octavia sobbed. I probably would have cried if I hadn’t been so exhausted. Then I cried because she was crying. Ace tried to talk us into dreaming about our new house in Australia, and we settled for getting across town for a nice last dinner with some of our favourite Waterloo friends. We spotted the moon three or four times over behind an encroaching cloud bank and felt a little better because the moon seemed to be going with us. In the strange rush of leaving, Ontario went dark.

Just before 2:00 AM, we crossed the Ambassador Bridge between Windsor and Detroit. Ace explained our trajectory to the border agent, who kept puzzling over where Montana fit into the trip, and wished us good luck in Australia. Weaving through the reflector sticks, Ace asked me if I had money for the toll. We had half a gallon of American change in the car. I had a pocketful of loonies in my wallet. In my head, I told him yes, but apparently I was too tired to speak or rummage for money. Out of his wallet, he pulled a handful of coins and a $2 bill he’d found in the safe.

It was out the window before I could stop him. Two minutes into Michigan, I jolted awake on the choppy pavement and asked him in a panic if he had really used the $2 bill. It was special. I was saving it. It was a prize from the Fourth of July Regatta at Bitterroot Lake, the event and the day and the family that, after 11 years living abroad, make me still love being American. We build boats, play patriotic music on slide whistles, and tie the boats end to end and watch their tour behind the rowboat. Everyone wins their own category, and Grandma Honey awards the $2 prizes. It is a sweet scene of belonging and gratitude and spontaneous sculptural inspiration. Carrying a $2 bill with me is a way of carrying that warmth with me out into the far and sometimes lonely corners of the world.

A little farther down the road, the clouds cleared and it occurred to me that there really wasn’t a more fitting way to spend the $2 than on getting back into America for our epic journey West.