When a man and woman make the decision to take a cross-country, multi-month trip with their family of six, a certain level of “coziness” is to be expected. When a majority of those months and miles are spent traveling and living in an old tour bus named Willie, certain sacrifices of comfort and privacy have to be made.
My friend Shawn Smucker and his wife, Maile, embarked on just such an adventure last spring, and their new book, How To Use a Runaway Truck Ramp, is a great story of embracing adventure, facing fears, conquering doubts, and defying expectations. Below is a brief excerpt from the book, dealing specifically with marital intimacy in tight quarters:
The woman who still feels like a girl sometimes tires of digging through the bottom of the bus for the kids’ shoes or wondering if the next Laundromat will have a change machine. The man who still feels like a boy is weary of emptying the waste tank and worrying about getting the bus stuck. The third month of a four-month trip is the 21st mile of a marathon.
The woman looks for a movie for the kids while the man makes popcorn. She bends over and sweeps Legos out of the way, then opens the small drawer under the couch. The man pinches her butt. She laughs and looks over her shoulder.
“What movie are you picking, Mom?” one of the four kids shouts.
They have been in very close quarters for over ninety days. Moments of intimacy for the parents are few and far between. The man gives the woman a signal.
Meet me in the back in two minutes.
They walk back the long bus hall, closing the two doors. They are giddy, like high schoolers trying to find a place to park late at night. Unfortunately, the bedroom door has a gaping hole in the bottom where a large vent used to be, so the man blocks it with an oversized plastic storage container. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
She moves the dirty clothes on to the floor, and he jumps into bed. More Legos greet him, like tiny sea urchins. They sigh and pull back the sheets and pick out the Legos and doll clothes and Matchbox cars.
When the bed is clear, they lay down. He smiles. She smiles. He kisses her. Then, they hear the tiniest of voices from the other side of the storage bin blocking the door. He looks over his shoulder, and a small head peaks up through the narrow space.
“Guysh, what are you doing?” It is their four-year old. She has long blond hair and blue eyes, and her s’s come out like sh’s (think Sid from Ice Age). She wants a drink. The man shakes his head in disbelief.
“How do you even fit through there?” he asks, walking toward the door.
“Are you guysh naked in there?” she asks them.
He tries not to laugh. She keeps asking questions.
“Did you lock the door sho that no one would shee you when you’re naked?” she asks again.
“I wish,” he says, leaning down and pushing her head gently back through the vent. “Now, go ask your brother for a drink. And don’t come back in here until the door is open. Understand?”
He goes back to the bed and lies down beside the woman. And suddenly the woman and man are boy and girl again. They look at each other – she giggles, and he laughs. They hold hands and stare at the ceiling. She suddenly remembers, in the time it takes a lightning bug to flash on and off, that this is the greatest adventure of their life together. He recalls the first time they held hands in that move theatre in Camp Hill, PA. He remembers how he hadn’t wanted to be anywhere but there.
They hear the voices of their children in the front of the bus: how’d it happen so fast? How could those two people holding hands fifteen years before be in any way connected to these very different but same people, holding hands in Yellowstone while their four children argue over popcorn rights in the front of the bus?
Outside, a few miles away, herds of bison and elk wander through Haydn Valley. A bear swims through icy Yellowstone River, her cub following desperately behind. Downstream, water crashes through the gorge, wearing away another layer of time.
But in the big blue bus, for just a moment, time has stopped.
(This piece first appeared at Tamara Out Loud)