The Tucson desert was in full bloom that spring of 1975. I had just turned thirteen and was in the backseat of the rental car with my two younger brothers. They smelled like dirty socks. We elbowed and pushed each other as the car rocked us with each switch in the road. We had been driving for over an hour. I was hot and hungry and I had to pee.

My father, not used to such a narrow, winding road, leaned with the car in anticipation of each turn. My mother braced her hands on the dashboard, pressing her right foot on an imaginary brake pedal. Up ahead was a yellow sign that read, Dangerous Dips and Curves Ahead.

“That’s great,” my father said looking at me through the rear-view mirror, “I want a picture of you in front of that sign.”  Before I could respond, he pulled the car to the side of the road, grabbed his beloved Nikon from my mother’s lap, and walked towards the posted warning.

I crossed my arms over my chest, feeling the small bumps underneath my new, scratchy bra. There was no way I was getting out of the car.

My father waited, focusing his new, wide-angle lens on the sign. My brothers got out, unzipped their flies and let loose dueling streams onto a flowering roadside cactus.

“Come. I’m ready,” my father said, beckoning me.

My mother was focused on the blooming desert. “I’d love to paint this,” she said from the passenger seat.

Make him stop, I wanted to shout at her. Instead, I got out of the car. “This is stupid,” I said, refusing to pose in front of the sign.

My brother, the one exactly thirteen months to the day younger, said, “Oh, I get it.” He laughed and, not wanting to be left out, my ten-year-old brother joined in.

“It’s funny,” my father said. “Trust me.” He guided me to his chosen spot in front of the sign. “Smile,” he said, snapping a rapid succession of photos.

Then we climbed back in the car, where my mother was still admiring the desert, and pulled onto the highway. I still had to pee. The next rest stop with a toilet was not for thirty miles, but I held it in.

I held it all in.

Laurie Ember’s essays and creative nonfiction have appeared in The Citron Review, Grand Piano Passion, Cheat River Review, Huffington Post, CulturalWeekly.com, and MariaShriver.com. She lives and writes in Los Angeles, CA, was raised on Long Island, NY, and spends as much time as she can in Fairfield, CT. Follow her on Twitter @l_ember and visit her website: laurieember.com

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