the road trip of ’86 and eddie van halen

Many, many years ago, when I was 16, our family and another family (The Rileys) took a road trip in our RV from California to Ohio, making a half-circle around the country. The Rileys wanted to see their son in Cincinnati; Mr. Riley was going to a church convention in Indianapolis and wanted to visit several churches on the way; Mrs. Riley wanted her best friend, my adoptive mom, to come along; A-mom volunteered to do most of the driving; and I just wanted to see something different than my hometown. 

So off we went, six people in a 25-foot RV. I’ll spare you the details, but the high points were:

  • driving US 50 in Nevada, the “loneliest highway in America”
  • having part of the RV catch fire in Utah (we put out the fire)
  • riding the Pikes Peak cog railroad in Colorado
  • playing basketball and fighting with our foster kid, Bob, at a church in Indiana
  • visiting the Arch in St. Louis
  • getting a really bad sunburn at King’s Island waterpark in Ohio
  • competing in the “Bible Bowl” at the convention in Indy (basically a bible trivia contest)
  • being dissed by the cute Ohio girl who gave me the stiff arm (she liked Bob instead)
  • going to a Cincinnati Reds game
  • seeing the Neil Armstrong museum
  • camping at Yellowstone National Park

Four weeks and 6000 miles later, we all piled out of the RV. The aftermath included The Rileys headed for divorce within a year; Mrs. Riley eventually came to live with us; Bob and I hated each other, and he eventually moved out; and that I thoroughly enjoyed the trip but realized I was socially inept.

I told you that story so I could tell you this one:

Mr. Riley liked Pizza Hut, and we stopped at several along the way. One time there was a jukebox, and I saw something that would make everyone irritated. Soon, blasting through the speakers was Van Halen’s “Eruption”. Eddie Van Halen tapped and wailed and screamed through the Pizza Hut, and everyone was stunned. At the end A-mom asked “WHAT WAS THAT?” I just laughed.

cheerleader

All parents are cheerleaders for their kids to a certain extent, but my adoptive mom was the whole squad. As I got older it became embarrassing when she would tell people how smart I was, how good a singer or musician I was, or how skilled at baseball I was. Even when I was proven to not be the best in those endeavors, she would stubbornly hold on to the belief that I was better than anyone else. She would complain to the coach when I didn’t get enough playing time, and she would tell the choir director that I deserved a solo when I really didn’t. I was her precious genius with superpowers, and she mollycoddled me to the point of smothering.

Despite A-mom being a cheerleader for me to the rest of the world, she never seemed to encourage me very much at home. She never sat me down and said “you can make it through college, you’re smart enough.” I felt like my motivation to succeed came from myself, partly to escape poverty and partly to prove wrong the people who told me I wouldn’t amount to anything.

I wonder if she didn’t feel like she could help me anymore once we escaped the abuse in Treetown. Maybe she felt like I was grown up at that point, which was far from the truth. I wish I had someone to help me through the transition from high school to college, but the reality is I did it all by myself. I don’t think she wanted me to leave home, and I think she was quietly happy when my first attempt at freedom failed and I moved back home.

I don’t want to be unfair to her. We were poor, and we didn’t the financial opportunity to take advantage of special tutoring or coaching or music lessons. In addition, we were both recovering from years of abuse, and we were still in a raw emotional state, trying to figure out how to live a normal life. We needed therapy more than we needed music lessons, but we had the mistaken belief that Jesus would help us more than psychiatrists.