And I wondered why I have trip anxiety.

When I was 11 years old and my younger brother was 9, my parents purchased a new Oldsmobile, and in the heat of summertime, we set off from New York to California. Given my three other siblings were much older than me, they were spared the ordeal of being trapped in a car for five days with my mom and dad.

The purpose of the trip was supposedly to see my sister Jane in San Francisco.

My father had a quick temper and my mother was terrified of everything. And where they viewed the excursion as the trip of a lifetime, my younger brother and I didn’t see it that way. There was absolutely nothing for us to do but sit in the back seat buckled into the corset-like seatbelts, the Olds being among the first cars to carry those.

I don’t remember much about the excursion until we began driving through never-ending Texas. In the blasting heat, and with the windows wide open, in flew a Texas-sized grasshopper, and of course, it had to land in my mother’s hair.

With her arms flailing and her hands slapping at her coiffed-head, she screamed for my father as if she were being murdered, “San! San! Oh my God, SAN!” Startled, my father—with his eyes now not-focused on the road—shouted back in anger, asking my mother WTH was going on! And there my 11-year-old-self sat in the back seat, wondering how the car would drive itself and how I could escape.

Thankfully, the grasshopper sensed that he was about to die a brutal death and flew past my mother’s nose and out the window.

Ten hours later, we stopped at a decrepit, unairconditioned motel. Into the tiny room went my father, his gun, and his whiskey bottle, us kids carrying the suitcases in behind him.

My brother and I unpacked our bathing suits and headed to the pool to cool off. There, we found dozens of dead frogs floating on top the water. But after the day we’d just endured, splashing them aside to make a path to swim didn’t seem like that big a deal.

The big deal came when it was time to go to sleep.


My parents took the bed by the window, and my brother and I took the one squeezed into the corner of the room. Since my mom was also petrified of being hot, we were awakened by her suffering groans all night long.

Unfortunately, that was the easy part.

The hard part came when, in the wee hours of the morning, footsteps started back and forth outside our room. My dad grabbed the gun from beneath the bed, and who knew what he was going to do with it. Eventually, knowing he had another long drive ahead of him, he just closed and locked the window.

Now, none of us could sleep for the stuffy Texas heat.

Several days later, we started up one of the sites on my parent’s AAA-Triptik. Pikes Peak had no guardrails, and as you’ve likely guessed, my mother was also afraid of heights. In between moaning, she kept asking my dad to slow down, and he kept hollering back that he was only going 5 miles an hour.  Eventually, my mother recognized that my dad had reached his limit. Instead of asking again that he slow down, she slid beneath the dashboard, and began murmuring a terrified chant, “E-dee, E-dee,” whatever that meant.

By this time, my brother and I had caught her fear and started going a little nuts ourselves.

I remember thinking, “Please God, please, just drive us off the mountain and get this over with already.” Apparently, my brother wasn’t so ready to give it up. To dispel the fear, he whispered a barely audible “E-dee, E-dee.” That’s all I needed. We went into hysterics, trying our hardest not to be overheard and have my mother’s hand come flying at us in the back seat.

Finally, we reached our destination.

Heading up the steep-ass San Francisco hill to my sister’s house, all we could see in front of us was the hood of the Olds. And there my mother went again, screeching in terror for my father to slow down because who knew what was at the top.

My sister opened her front door to her two younger pale-faced siblings, likely understanding the horror we’d just underwent. Her being 12 years older, she was a cross between a sister and a mother to me. The year was 1969, and trying to be cool, I greeted her with a peace sign. Looking back, I cringe at what a dumb kid I was.

Still, it was a happy time in San Francisco.

But before we knew it, we were on the road again, taking a different route back to the east coast. I remember going through Wyoming with its two-lane highway. The place was barren except for the mile-long-backed-up cars from the person at the head of the line driving under the speed limit.

My father wanted to be home. So, with semi-trucks eating up the road in the westbound lane, he decided to cut the mile-long chain of cars in our lane. Going from 20 to 90 in a flash, I watched the semi’s looming closer and closer.

“E-dee, E-dee,” keened my mother, bracing herself for the head-on-collision. Just as we were about to exit the planet, my dad slipped in front of the row of cars in our lane.

Days later, thank the good Lord almighty, we were almost home.

Familiar sights came into view. We passed the World Trade Center and then the gigantic globe that is the only thing left of the World’s Fair in NYC, which is when my poor body had finally had enough. My stomach hurt so much. I needed a bathroom badly, but my father wouldn’t stop in the city to let me relieve myself.

I don’t know how I knew I’d need it, but the only souvenir I’d purchased for myself was a worry stone. In the last hour of the journey, I rubbed that thing with my butt squeezed tight, trying to make sure nothing came out.

So, “the trip of a lifetime”?

I guess it all comes down to how you look at things.

For my parent­­­­­­­­s. The two of them born of Italian immigrant parents landing in New York City—my father coming from an incredibly abusive home, my mother moving from one place in the projects to the other – they felt they’d upgraded their lives. They moved from the city to Long Island. And were able to buy a new car and have the funds to travel across the country, so to them, that trip was the pinnacle of “living the dream.”

And for me. Since I’d “enjoyed” an upgraded childhood compared to theirs, not so much.

Like my mother, I am terrified of everything. Still, because of therapy, I’ve been able to untangle my childhood, something I’m sure my parents didn’t know was available to them. But even with a lifetime of analysis, it wasn’t until reading this essay to the women in my writer’s group that I realized my trip anxiety likely stems from the terror of our trip to California that my body remembers, but my mind didn’t.

Here’s to you ! if you also grew up in a house of torture and lived to express what has hopefully become a funny story to tell. Luckily, counseling has allowed me to do the traveling that I love, and to take in the beauty of mountains. Because of it, I only torture myself in the weeks before an upcoming trip. Hail Hawai’i!

The Photo: In the ocean with my three older siblings: Jane 13, Robert 11, Steve 8, and me, 1.