The I-80 West runs what seems an everlasting route to my childhood home. It’s an unfurled thread set out between me and this place—tied to my heart on one end and a house on the other. It’s two long, slack guitar strings that quiver over the desert, that slowly tune themselves into mousetrap coils that climb and pitch and sway over Donner Summit, and eventually descend into the melody of the central valley: fields, foothills, dots of live oak.
At home, I imagine the preparations for our return carry on a bit of their own tune, and there is a hustle and bustle done by my parents (who are now grandparents), my mother in a striped apron, my dad running out to Costco “one last time,” a welcome banner hung for the children, the beds fresh and turned down for the grandkids.
On the road there is a different sort of scurry. It’s the first time in six years that all five of my parents’ children will be coming home at the same time, the first time we will spend a holiday together in longer than that, and the first time we return with an extra seven grandbabies—cousins who know each other but have never played together all at once. The oldest few remember what it was like (that cacophony of so much family around, the persistence of food), but they were little back then, and they are excited, and the drive seems too long to bear.
It’s too long for me too. There is too much snow on the road when we begin, and though the sky is brilliant and clear, the road is dangerous and our progress is slow. I am eating chocolate covered pretzels and Clementines with such distraction, absently, gazing out the window and seeing everything, and nothing. I’m nervous. My stomach is in knots at the prospect of the reunion—will it be ok? Will we get along? Can bygones—as they say—actually be bygones?
Six hours into the trip, I’m texting with my siblings:
“Stuck in traffic on the grapevine.” (Coming up from L.A.)
“Bumper to bumper for hours!” (Driving south from the Pacific Northwest)
My texts back are like this:
“All clear on the roads outside Tahoe, but inside the car…puking.” (Because while my son’s two Butterfingers and can of Pringles from the gas station seemed like a fun meal...)
Eventually, we dissolve from our puking and whimpers and whining into a semblance of homeostasis because we have relented into the beating that is a 12-hour road trip, and we play dead to make it stop. The children stare into space, vacant; the baby’s pleas are less impassioned. This heavy silence is broken only by the need for dirty bathrooms found in dirty gas stations that seem to be invisible on the horizon, and then sudden—a prick of light in a deepening purple sky.
We are so close at this point. My anxiety replaced by the need to get there, to see the green exit sign illuminated by headlights, to click through the dozen or so stoplights that barricade us from our destination and make the unbearable last few minutes even more so.
And then just when I think I can’t take it anymore, the pressure explodes the balloon of emotion that was ever tightening inside my chest and—pop—I’m home. And I’m unbuckling my seat belt and taking my time while the kids run in screaming. And there are crowds and hugs and leftovers from dinner doled out and road conditions described and motions for bed, but the room is golden, and no one wants to sleep.
When I am finally lying down that night I am exhausted, and my limbs are heavy and sink into the mattress, into oblivion. My consciousness starts to follow but first I think this thought, over and over: that was so normal, that was so normal, thatwassonormal…
Like, strangely normal. And so familiar that, even though it was a brand new moment, seemed to have been lived almost a million times before: the entire family crowded around the white fireplace, the chatter bouncing off the tile like a well-versed call and response, the laughter in waves and crescendos, the remembered gestures of teasing, of loving, of coming home.
I don’t want to be trite or cute, for I believe this with my entire being: that trip was like life. Sometimes hard (sometimes funny) sometimes difficult (sometimes ridiculous) sometimes perfect (sometimes perfectly crappy). It was a trip that was more than an interstate, more than a few sparring siblings, more than us—but all about us. It was a journey longer than a 12-hour road trip with a genesis that began years prior, when tragedies struck and fights happened, and our decision to not be together unwittingly instigated God’s decision for our fated reunion—on his timeline, but certain.
Do you think that’s what heaven will be like?
It’s just that in this case heaven was a house in California, shaded by redwoods and burdened by squirrels, but the players were all the same.
Brooke Benton, a wife to Aaron and mother to four lives in Utah. She's a published writer and accomplished reader. She a baker, a snowboarder, a mountain biker and a runner, but any sort of fun is taken seriously. You can read her blog at brookebenton.blogspot.com.
I am C. Jane Kendrick and Brooke is one of my favorite people I've ever met. Now you know why. You can contact me personally at cjanemail @ gmail.com or leave comments on my facebook page and if you are on twitter you can find my tweets here. But no pressure.