By Andy Christian Castillo
At night, back roads along Nova Scotia’s southern coast are treacherously dark and terrifyingly narrow, especially when fog rolls in off the ocean.
Everything turns inky black.
That’s how it was around 12 a.m. one spring night in 2015, as I sleepily persevered behind the steering wheel toward Murphy’s Camping on the Ocean. Months before, my girlfriend, Brianna, and I had booked the camping destination online while planning a roadtrip through New England and northeastern Canada. We’d only seen vague pictures of pitched tents, ocean water, and campers; we didn’t know what to expect.
The headlights of my blue Hyundai cut through the night like butter, slicing around bends and carving down Route 7, a winding road that snakes around the 21,345-square-mile island. Occasionally, a car whizzed past.
Sleep pressed down on my emotions, seeping down to my toes. Brianna slept soundly in the passenger’s seat. She’d agreed to stay up and keep me awake, but hadn’t made it passed an hour. Her blonde hair splayed out on the seat. I’d been driving since Maine, going on 12 hours or so.
A dark haze overcame my vision, thoughts drifted into unconsciousness, my eyelids blinked shut.
Brianna and I had been dating for just a few months when big problems arose. We’d met first on Tinder, then in person at a sushi restaurant, connecting on a mutual interest in travel. Immediately, I’d found her beautiful; with soft curly hair, a gorgeous smile, deep intellect, and a powerful soul. In the weeks following, we’d escaped a few times to the Berkshires and Vermont for weekend ski trips, reveling in the throes of youth.
However, our surface-level attraction masked deep philosophical, physical and spiritual differences. For instance, church and the pursuit of God was important to me, not as much to her. I had boundless amounts of energy, she preferred quietness and solitude. My political leanings were centric, hers were more liberal.
Looking back, those early months were exploratory. We didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into. We were young, stupid, and searching for love where it didn’t, at first, exist. But then something changed: we inadvertently fell for each other. It happened over time, a slow sprouting of emotion, the seeds of which were planted during that trip through Canada.
“In this research article, it’s auditory, you can choose an American accent, a british accent, or an Australian accent,” Brianna’s voice breaks my concentration.
I take off my headphones and look up from my computer. Golden hair bathed in sunlight, a red plaid shirt and a blue necklace her grandma gave her, she’s as beautiful as the day I first saw her two years ago. We’re sitting in a quiet corner of the Montague Bookmill, her favorite study spot.
The shadow of a double hung window is pasted on the used book store’s worn wooden floor, also covering a well-used armchair beside us. An electric guitar wails soulfully over loud speakers, used book treasure hunters creep among shelves and a white-haired man peacefully reads at the register.
“Which one are you going to choose?” I ask.
She’s researching for an upcoming debate exploring the pros and cons of youth incarceration, a required class in UMass Amherst’s accelerated nursing program.
She laughs, blue eyes twinkling, and responds, “I’m going to read it.”
And then she smiles at me a genuine smile signifying genuine love. And I smile back.
My eyes flew open, suddenly wide awake. The Hyundai kicked up dirt in the left lane. I cranked the wheel hard back to the right.
An hour later, after opening up the window and turning up the radio, I crunched down a dirt road at a “Murphy’s Camping on the Ocean” billboard, shaking Brianna awake. She sleepily pulled out our site info.
At the campground, everything was pitch black. We crept past slumbering sites for a half hour, headlights dimmed, but couldn’t find our site in the darkness. I was stretched, Brianna, frustrated.
Eventually, we gave up, parked, pulled on jackets and tried to find sleep. When I shut off the car, the temperature dropped.
That night was cold and miserable, but in retrospect, it wasn’t a big deal.
Instead, and most vividly, I remember awakening at dawn to the sound of waves and the scent of salt water. I remember wandering through trees, looking out across a private bay at dozens of small islands as a fresh sun rose; the feeling of rough hewn wooden lobster traps under my fingertips, and a cool breeze on my face.
Today, sitting in sunshine, I most fondly remember Brianna wrapping her arms around me as water boiled over a camping stove. We were tough, deep, and could handle a lot more.
Somehow, in stumbling through the night, we’d crashed into each other, beginning a long process of discovery: we weren’t so different after all.