By Kaely Horton
“There are places where we might want to be a little more discreet,” my girlfriend says. We are discussing our upcoming trip across the country.
My stomach sinks as I think about the questions we might face in the coming days. Is it okay for us to hold hands in rural Montana? Can we safely tell the cashier at the Idaho gas station that we are, as my girlfriend playfully puts it, “going steady”?
It will be all too easy for us to hide as we travel across the country, tent camping in RV parks and browsing through postcards in Main Street gift shops. We have any number of alibis to choose from. We can pass as sisters, as college roommates. As the other meaning of girlfriends, the one that makes us invisible even when we don’t want to be.
I haven’t had to think about hiding in New Hampshire. But New Hampshire is not my home. I have spent the past two years of grad school longing for sagebrush and altitude, straining to see the horizon past the deciduous hallways of turnpikes. Now, I am returning to my side of the country, and I am not returning alone. Starting point: Dover, New Hampshire. Endpoint: Yachats, Oregon, where my parents live. For her, it is an adventure, a chance to experience new landscapes. For me, it is an exercise in coming home.
But it is also an exercise in thinking about how and when to be discreet, in remembering that the landscapes I find most homelike are not always welcoming. It is painful, this remembering. It brings back the gulf between my teenage years in Utah—in which I spent seven years staunchly and pointlessly trying not to be gay—and my current life in which dating a woman has finally, recently, come to feel normal.
The car threads through tree-lined corridors for the first several days of driving. I follow highway signs that say West and take deeper breaths in the rare moments when we break out of the trees. We camp in Minnesota next to a restored tallgrass prairie and I know, as I look out toward the place where spring green meets sky, that we have made it to the borderland. Two days later comes Montana. This is country I know. Brown mountain-wrinkles, roads that snake above the narrow flash of rapids, white-painted cattle guards, the blurred sea-shimmer of the horizon with the road stretching ahead.
“Wow,” my girlfriend says. She grips her camera, staring out the window. “Wow!”
Relief seeps through me. I haven’t let myself admit how much I wanted her to have this reaction. This landscape is home to me, even when I’m not sure how I fit into it, and I want her to feel connected to it too. I want us to have the option of building lives here—as girlfriends, as partners, as ourselves. I reach out and take her hand as we move west.
Kaely Horton is a second-year MFA candidate at the University of New Hampshire. Her work has appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, RipRap Literary Journal, Gravel Magazine, and Stonecoast Review.