by Danielle Henderson
illustration by Nancy Bach
I left in a snowstorm.
Whiteout conditions: Skating carefully through the smooth white flakes, slowly shedding the small towns and smaller worlds. Unable to see 10 feet past the hood of the car, the persistent vision of my future guided me along. I’d been wanting to leave Alaska for some time, and was driven to early, non-summer flight by the overwhelming price of lemons, an inability to see my favorite live musicians, and love. My love, who flew to Alaska to accompany me on the journey, who looked at me with light eyes and said, “I don’t know how to drive stick.”
This is not the time to learn.
Fifteen hours a day of driving. Snowy peaks, “open” signs on closed gas stations, national parks housing elk, bison and the chupacabra. Welcome to Canada. White-knuckle gripping the steering wheel when the “check engine” light comes on, envisioning the retrieval of our frozen bodies from the driver’s seat, only to find I am out of wiper fluid. My love uses an empty water jug to relieve himself rather than expose his parts to the frigid elements, and I am too tired to protest, too OCD to ignore.
Snow gives way to light rain and sunny days, hills shifting from dirty brown to rolling green. Twisting roads that hug the canyons glide gently into highways. The cars around me seem angry, rushed. I have forgotten how to navigate this river of steel, and anxiety moves deep into my bones. But still, I cannot stop smiling at the sight of towns I used to inhabit and the sun hanging in the sky with alarming consistency. I smile on the street and am greeted with hard glances and suspicion. And so I miss the comforting familiarity of small life in a large state, unsure of my ability to be a citizen of the Lower 48.
San Francisco, and he leaves me, flying home to Rhode Island for his job. A friend bakes me scones for the road and I head east by way of the southwest. Tucson, Santa Fe, Tulsa. St. Louis offers death defying fun in the City Museum, a parking ticket, and scotch with Amy. Early morning, I set sail for a one-day journey to my destination.
For the first time, my grandmother’s New York hug does not compare to the arms waiting for me in Rhode Island. I spend enough time with my family to remember why I must live a minimum of 400 miles away from them in my adult life.
And then I head for home.
The air becomes crisp and salty on I-95, a soft welcome from the beaches and waves. I miss my exit and, lost, frustrated, call him on my cell phone. As he guides me into town, I see a pair of headlights edge up closely behind me.
“I’m right behind you, dork.”
We pull over and hug. Driving quickly to his house, I relax into happiness. As I walk up the stairs, I place my keys on the table.