Family Landscapes, Friendship and Endurance
The caravan communicates only in blinkers as we mainlined up the five, the smooth black asphalt slipping beneath the tires and the beautiful desolation of my time in Los Angeles slipping away. California has not been this beautiful in as long as I remember; it is soothing. The hills are green as laughter. There is snow pack on the mountains, which seem prouder as they rise above the sumptuous folds of the lower peaks. And as we spill into the valley, it feels like a carpet rolling out to welcome its discoverers.
Dan takes the rear, shepherding the tired flock. He had driven the 378 miles already once to help me load boxes of memories and things I cannot leave behind. It was a four man job, but the two of us had braved the rain and stairs over four hours. The heavy things were lighter borrowing from his juggernaut friendship. We have known each other for 25 years almost. Always there, even when I float away. Through all the phases. Now my past, an always person, is securing this next transition into an uncertain future, being there with long hugs and reassurance because he knows I am scared. It is a lot further than the 378 miles can take us.
In the center, my father drives my car, which he has dutifully packed to the roof with things I will need for however long my itinerate state endures. He is 76 and comes full of jokes and can-do. He seems small to me standing next to Dan’s large frame. I ask too many times if he will be okay: “Are you okay to drive? You didn’t sleep enough.” “Do you have enough room?” “What are you going to listen to?” “Do you have snacks?”
I am in the front. My head doesn’t entirely clear the dashboard. The wheel pokes up from the bottom lip of my view. With the pedal to the floor, I can run her up to 78 miles an hour, but my heel cannot touch the ground and I almost wish I had worn heels. Apparently designers do not expect petite women to drive big trucks.
As we glide along, I sporadically burst into song. There is not a lot of reception through the expansive farmland, so it is only the nostalgia of my catalog and the view in front of me. The excitement of my social chrysalis and a lush springtime of old friends is just over these expanses. Often, my thoughts eddy and scatter. My heart aches and occasionally tears fall like a sun shower. They echo through the empty cab. I forget about podcasts and music. Always in the background, I wonder what he is doing. I sing over it. The rolling hills and broad pastures blanket me. The big clouds change shapes. I know my dad is there behind me, anticipating when I should change lanes so he can slip over and clear a space in the traffic. This is the only communication we can ferret from the trip. I see the tip of my car around the 16 loud, bouncing feet of truck. Each time I wonder what he is thinking. We have had so many trips together, sharing conversations and snacks.
Once we arrive at the storage unit, the cold quickly wrapping around us, I scold my dad about lifting boxes. This is expressly against doctor’s orders and common sense. Regurgitating valves, three strokes, two heart attacks and that huge, impish smile and litany of puns. “This one’s light! I’m just pushing the heavy ones. It’s not really lifting.” he protests like he is eight and I am mothering. “I know you,” I insist, “You just can’t help yourself, Wayne Loughrey.” He giggles and keeps fussing with boxes and furniture.
Holly had driven from Winters, an hour and a half from the storage unit, to help us unload. We had arrived barely before the office closed. The four hours of packing boxes into place took an hour to unload. Then the time had come. My father had to be rushed to the airport. I had to finish. It made sense when Holly offered to drive him on her way back home. No time for dinner. Both of them gone too quickly. We had no time. He hugged me and I tried not to make any sounds as the tears fell on his shoulder. “You are going to be happy… I love you.” Our lives are always slipping past one another. “It’s not far,” he assures me, “We’ll see each other again.” He drives away and Dan hugs me. On the other side, his wife and granddaughter will pick him up. I know this, but we are always selfish with our time. And I think of him sitting quietly in his chair a month ago, erupting happily to share aloud with me the poetry he had written over the years from a long-standing journal. He looks smaller now, too human for dads to be.