Follow the Road

Of the vague set of memories I have, Christmas in Andorra stands out fairly strongly. I remember the cabin, I remember my bunk bed, and I remember that Santa somehow snuck in and placed my stocking right next to me in my bed and I didn’t wake up. He must have been standing just a foot away from me. Just a foot away!


When Dad mentioned he wanted to take a day-trip to Andorra to see the mountains, I was all too happy to oblige. Andorra is a tiny country between Spain and France known mostly for it’s tax-free shopping and skiing. Given the lack of snow right now, it’s not much of a tourist destination at the moment. But mountains are pretty no matter what time of year.


After perusing bus schedules and realizing they would be too inflexible for what we wanted to do, I decided to rent a car. Our intention was to start early and get on the road by 8 AM.


Of course that didn’t work out quite as planned. Things were forgotten. Metro tickets were accidentally thrown away. On top of that, Dad wasn’t feeling well. I have no idea what time we finally set out for the metro, but it wasn’t 8 AM. Then I got us on the wrong train. After I started laughing about it, Dad just looked at me and said “See I’m not the only one who’s having trouble!”


As we were checking in to get our car, I double-checked that it had automatic transmission. The woman assured me it was and then, smiling, said, “This is a funny little car.” The car was indeed funny, and very little, since it was a smart car. The agent helped me program the navigation, which spoke to me in a crisp British accent. We were finally ready and set off into the traffic of Barcelona.


I’ve only used GPS systems a handful of times, and every time has led me to trust them less and less. We were winding our way through the city when I was directed to turn right. I did, right into a one way with a bank of cars facing my direction, every driver honking furiously and flashing lights at me. My navigator calmly repeated “Turn right and follow the road.”


Also, the car wasn’t really that automatic. It lacked a clutch, but it didn’t shift properly on its own in the “automatic” setting. As I quickly tried to get myself back onto the right road, the screaming engine indicated I needed to forget any expectations of transitioning automatically and shift on my own. Just when I truly began to doubt we were going to make it out of Barcelona (alive or otherwise) we were finally on the open road.


We drove by rolling fields, towns with new condos and old church towers. We passed agricultural terraces formed centuries ago, and hills with castles positioned at the very top. Green fields, golden wheat, and blue mountains in the background made for a lovely drive, and Dad diligently snapped photos left and right.


After winding through turns and miles-long tunnels, we were finally into the Pyrenees. We stopped for a quick lunch and some window-shopping before heading further up into the mountains. Seeing as we were close, we decided to drive through the French countryside just to be able to say we visited two countries in one day.


It was a peaceful day. There was no radio, and we didn’t talk much. It was just the sound of rubber meeting pavement, and a few excited comments when one of us saw something picturesque. Later on, Dad napped while I wound my way through 90 degree switchbacks, enjoying the drive and wishing I were in something that hugged the curves just a little more.


I tend to paint a rosy picture when I write. I get focused on wrapping up a nice story so I gloss over the parts that are hard, or play up the parts that are good, or both. It was hard watching Dad struggle at times during the day, especially when he couldn’t find things. When we got halfway back to the Gothic Quarter, where we’re both staying, he realized he’d left his sunglasses in the car. The frustration etched in his face was difficult to watch, and I could see that he felt like he was inconveniencing me as we walked back.


When you’re struggling with losing memory, losing your belongings isn’t just an inconvenience. It becomes so much more personal. His anger and frustration would turn inward and it was hard to see that, and to know what to say to make him stop punishing himself.


But in the end, we were walking down Las Ramblas, a main thoroughfare on the west end of the Gothic Quarter, on the way to his apartment. We said our goodbyes and set our meeting time for the next day. I turned to go. He grabbed my arm and squeezed it, looked me in the eye, and said “Thank you,” before turning and walking away.

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