The last thirty minutes of a six hour drive is always the longest. Every pothole looks familiar. You know how to drive these roads at night, in the rain, with headlights shining in your face, half asleep or half drunk. This is so close to home you can taste it. Your mind is already leaps and bounds ahead, and it’s like no time has passed at all.
You’ll pull in the drive and tumble out into the cold, and tell everyone all about school and the friends and the guy you just met, but he seems so nice…
And that’s when it hurts. It’s sudden, like a fist to the gut, like all the air’s been sucked out of the car and replaced with bleach. You can’t miss people constantly that would be crippling. So you don’t. You forget. You pretend that home is exactly like it was when you lived there every day… except it’s not.
The house that looks so familiar will be cold and empty and full of stale air, most of the innards that made it home, pictures, dirty clothes, things that indicate the presence of people are gone, packed into neat little boxes stacked in unused rooms, or brought with them halfway around the world. Most of the pets have been given away to friends and neighbors, who can care for them better while the family is abroad.
It’s so…so stupid that for a minute you let yourself think you were going HOME. Because you’re not, it’s not home anymore. Home is family. Home is the smell of Dad’s cooking, the cat petting himself on your shins, and everyone’s shoes spread out in a blast pattern from the back door. All those things have picked up and moved across the Atlantic. You’re really just driving to a particularly familiar storage closet that holds your winter clothing. You shouldn’t have let yourself get excited for that.
It’s hard to go home when you know nothing will be the same
This is the graveyard shift, the long hours after Dad’s finally too exhausted to drive in the wee hours of the morning until they stop for breakfast at ten. Everyone is asleep. My sister barely lasted thirty minutes awake before she knocked out, feet leaving foggy imprints on the windshield, tucked under a blanket stolen from the parents in the back. The Bobcat, or the Coyote or some other tiny country station is buzzing static as I drive further from Amarillo. The roads a grey swath under yellow headlights, and the only thing I’ve seen in miles is eighteen wheelers blinding me with their headlights as they go barreling north the other way on this tiny two lane highway.
Seven exits after the red light on the dash pings a strident warning, the yellow glow of a Love’s sign pops up beside the next overpass. I exit pulling in under those too bright white lights, and my sister makes a muted protest. The door comes open with a rush of cold. It’s a matter of minutes ever more tedious minutes to get the tank filling. It’s one of those that have to be depressed by hand, and 16 gallons seems ever so long, and the smell of gasoline is doing odd things in the cold that is burning her fingers.
Thankfully a run quick run indoors offers climate control. Finally the real reason for insanely large gas station cups is revealed. Coffee. Large, and more a vector by which to imbibe cream and sugar. It runs hot through her veins and the remainder of the night is spent in a pleasant buzz of caffeine and jittery fingers on the wheel tapping out to old country classics she hasn’t heard in years but hey—Thank God and Greyhound She’s Gone!
Coffee and country make for the best company on late night drives