1. The first trip is when I am 7 years old, to the San Diego Zoo. We get up early in the morning, and during the whole ride, almost 3 hours long, my parents barely speak to each other. My dad tells me about the animals I'll see, sounding like he's reciting from a pamphlet: anacondas, lions, bonobos, cheetahs. "If I were a cheetah," I say, gazing out the window at skyscrapers in the distance, "I wouldn't need a car," and they both laugh. At the zoo, my parents seem to be getting along. When we’re at a fish tank, I notice my mom's hand brushing against my father's. For a long while, they just look at each other. Later, my mom takes a photo of me petting a leopard. "You're so brave," she says. Everything will be good now, I think. The drive home takes even longer. We stop at a gas station and buy some hot dogs. While we're in the parking lot, waiting for my mom to finish using the restroom, my dad points up at the night sky, black except for a few stars, barely visible. "Look," he says. I do. There's a flash of light, and for just a few seconds the sky is a bright pink, the color of strawberry milk. Neither of us mention it to my mom.
2. The second trip is when I am 10 years old. My parents are divorced, but I still spend time with each of them: most of the time I stay with my dad, but twice a month I spend the weekend with my mom. My dad loves traveling. He's visited all 50 states, and he has a photo album dedicated to his trips: riding a gondola through the Venice canals, standing at the base of Mount Fuji, posing next to some paintings in the Frida Kahlo Museum. There’s a cabinet in his room filled with souvenirs, and he's explained to me where he got each one. My mom prefers to stay home, but still, she announces we're going to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. I tell her we don't have to go that far -- Santa Monica is just an hour away -- but she insists. She books a room at a nearby inn; we're spending the weekend here. The traffic is bad, and of course I complain. She tells me, over and over, to be patient. At the Boardwalk, I learn I don't like roller coasters or rides that spin around or go too fast. I spend most of my time either looking through the stores, playing in the arcade, or collecting seashells. My mom meets a man at a bar, and they soon become inseparable. I watch from afar as they talk and laugh, so close together I expect them to kiss. The second afternoon there, against my mom's warnings, I wade deeper into the ocean, feeling the water around my legs and the cool air against my face. The waves crash against me, drenching me, and I want to stay like this forever. Something grips my ankle and pulls me down. I try to fight against it, but it won't let me go, and it's so strong I fear it'll crush my bones. My mom shouts my name -- Marise, Marise -- and my lungs are burning and filling up with water. Everything is blurry and getting darker and I feel like I'm being squeezed. And still I'm getting pulled down further and further -- I'm going to be dragged down to the very bottom of the ocean -- and-- I wake up on the shore, soaking wet. A lifeguard helps me up and leads me to my mom, waiting by the pier steps. When she sees me she bursts into tears.
3. The third trip is when I am 16 years old, to Yosemite. My mom died a few months earlier in a car crash. We went to her funeral. My dad spoke to her widower, the guy she met at the Boardwalk. I don't know what they said to each other. The drive is long. My dad sings along to the classic rock coming from the radio, then tells me about other national parks he's been to. "It's good to get away from the city and get in touch with nature. Breathe in that clean air," he says as we drive past a farm with cows grazing in the field. After a few minutes, he says, "We may have had some differences, but Shelby was a good woman. I'm glad she was your mother. You look just like her, you know." I say, "I know." We pass by lakes and foothills and small towns, stop a few times to get gas and food. This trip seems endless, though it is astounding, seeing such emptiness and stillness. I’m used to big cities. Once we're finally in Yosemite, we hike through the trails, both of us taking pictures of anything that catches our eye. It's beautiful here, and so, so quiet. A few hours in, my dad spots something: a deer, fused to a tree. It's still alive and moving its head around. Parts of its antlers are peeling off, revealing red underneath. My dad goes up to it and touches its cheek, then kisses it above its nose.
4. The fourth trip is when I am 21 years old, to Phoenix, Arizona. My dad has lung cancer and was given eight years to live. I try not to think about this. We drive through miles of desert and flat land. My dad asks question after question about college and dorm life, and before long it gets irritating. I put my earphones in and listen to thrash metal. We go to the Phoenix Art Museum. "We came here once, before you were born," my dad tells me while we're in a Mexican art exhibit. "Marise, have you ever thought about making art? Like, as a career?" I say no. I've never been artistically inclined, which both my parents were disappointed by. They met at art school. Neither of them became artists, but I’ve seen my mom’s paintings and ceramic sculptures, my dad’s drawings. There's a photography exhibit. One of the photos is of a couple, standing underneath a bridge, and I swear they're my parents, when they were younger. But when I back away, I see it's not them at all.
5. The fifth trip is when I am 33 years old, to the San Diego Zoo. Both my parents are dead, and I have a husband and a 6-year-old daughter, Brianna. She loves the zoo and gets excited about every new animal she sees. She pets a leopard just like I did, and I say to her, "You're so brave." What I really look forward to is going to that gas station again. We stop there on the way back and step out into the parking lot. "Look," I say, pointing up at the black sky. All three of us witness it: the flash of light, followed by the sky turning bright pink.
Luz Rosales is an emerging nonbinary Mexican-American fiction writer with work forthcoming in Okay Donkey Mag. They are a Los Angeles native and are currently pursuing a History degree at Mount Saint Mary's University. They can be found on Twitter @TERRORCORES.