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It's a long drive from Maine to Chicago. Over 20 hours, in fact. So imagine your desolation 4 hours into the adventure with a broken Walkman and your mother's Van Morrison tape on replay into infinity. And because the rest of your family is apparently cold-blooded, the heat must be turned off, though it's the middle of November and ice is hanging off the carburetor.

Girl, Trapped

Jesse Chanin, 12/14/2001

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So you're sitting there, more than mildly disgruntled, wearing a sweatshirt, jacket, hat, mittens, wool socks, slippers, a scarf, and flannel-lined pants with a giant fleece blanket draped across you, trying futilely to distinguish the end of one Van Morrison song and the beginning of another.

Mother: So, honey, let's talk about trust.

You automatically turn toward the door. Trees are speeding by at 65 miles per hour, locks down, no means of escape. "Don't panic," you tell yourself. "Don't panic." But your options look dismal and all there is to do now is hopelessly delay for 16 hours. Sixteen hours.

Kid: (sullen) Uh, I guess.

When did you slip up? Was it the skipped classes? The plummeting biology grades? The stealthy 2 a.m. kidnapping of the family car to trespass on a beach, smoke clove cigarettes, and push friends into the frigid water, just to exercise some semblance of freedom? What could it be?

Mother: Specifically, I'd like to discuss (voice becoming monster-like) mother-daughter trust.

Emergency! Think quickly. You've got a few precious seconds of freedom left. If you say you don't want to talk about it, she'll no doubt ask. And if you just make some sort of unconversational grunt, that could quite possibly leave you open to a counterattack of --

Kid: Can you turn off the goddamn Van Morrison!

(music cuts out abruptly)

Ok, better. So, you're screwed either way. The confines of a car prison have yet again been your undoing. Time to fall back upon a teenage cliché and hope, at the very least, you can make it to Chicago, however bruised and mangled.

Kid: Uh, I don't want to talk about it.
Mother: Why on Earth wouldn't you want to talk about trust? I think it's a very important issue, crucial to our relationship.
Kid: I don't want to talk about why I don't want to talk about it either.
Mother: (laughs) Well surely you can't go through life without ever mentioning trust.
Kid: (interrupts) Later. We can talk later.
Mother: (very coldly) Fine.

Disaster averted, or at least postponed, but at what cost? The mood in the car has become oppressive, and a sense of righteousness prevents any sort of apology. That, and the fact that any type of reconciliation would lead merely to the dreaded question being reiterated once again -- still trapped in the car, still held in a forced intimacy that could only lead to more deceit. Hackles raised, you protect yourself, but can foresee the future.

In Chicago, you know how the relatives will react.

Mother: So, she says she doesn't want to discuss trust.
Aunt: Oh dear, you know what that means, don't you?
Uncle: It means she's completely and utterly untrustworthy! Devoid of trust, if you will. If you lent her $5 she'd probably never pay you back and then insist the transaction never even took place!
Aunt: It's the only explanation. I'm sorry, dear.

But they won't understand. It's a difficult situation and you want to be totally honest, ideally, but are you willing to sacrifice freedom and independence? You envision some happy retrospective reunion, when you're 30 or so, laughing about the present, at your actions, at your hidden truths, at your adolescent sulking. One failed car conversation on one uneventful trip won't render a relationship hopeless and failed -- but of course it doesn't help anything either.

Throughout the Turkey Dinner, patronizing adult/child talk and hours of mind-numbing televised football, you know the horror that awaits you: Never far from your consciousness is the upcoming, unavoidable 20-hour drive home. This time, however, with the Van Morrison tape conspicuously missing.

This is Jesse Chanin, locked in her room, for The Savvy Traveler.

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