Across the U.S. in a 1986 Toyota minivan. From the sultry, flat plains of southern Alabama to the crisp, evergreen-covered mountains of the Pacific Northwest. It took nearly four (long) days to drive it. Mississippi and Arkansas looked like home pretty much, but by the time I reached Oklahoma on the second day, I knew I ‘wasn’t in Kansas anymore’. Hadn’t felt the outside air for hours as I made my way through Oklahoma, pulled up to a drive thru for food, rolled down the window and wow…it was cold (relatively speaking). And if the alignment had been good on the van, I’m pretty sure I could have driven the entire panhandle of Oklahoma without steering. Just point the wheels forward and press the gas. In Colorado I saw green grass and wildflowers next to patches of old, winter snow as I climbed to Aspen. The first to fall and the last to melt. Up through Wyoming. I don’t really remember much about Wyoming. And not a lot about Montana either. I’d never seen so much nothing in my life, but the space felt like the whole world had opened up. But as I got to western Montana the mountains happened. I’d never seen mountains. The Smoky Mountains of Tennessee were more like large hills. And then I was in Idaho and finally at my mom’s.
My mom and my brother had moved to Idaho when I was 10 years old. I stayed with my mom’s family in Alabama. They’d been my legal guardians since I was 4 years old. I have pictures of my family hugging me when I was a toddler. I remember my great-grandpa giving me a hug and telling me he loved me one night as we were leaving dinner at Shoney’s when I was in high school, and I cried in the car. One of the most memorable moments of my life. It hadn’t happened before that night, and it never happened again. Once my mom came to visit from Idaho the summer after my 9th grade year. She tried to hug me, and I’m not sure if I hugged her back. All I knew was that it felt strange, and later she told me it broke her heart that I became stone-still and rigid when she tried to hold me. But she had hugged me and nobody else had ever hugged me that way. Like I was the most important thing and she didn’t want to let me go.
So when I was old enough (and brave enough), I drove across the country to her in Idaho, because I knew she had more hugs for me. What an amazing thing to be at my mom’s house. The return address on all those letters for so many years. After a bit, she asked if I wanted to go see my brother. He was living with friends only a couple of blocks over. I had missed him so much. My little, blonde-haired brother that I never got to grow up with, that I had visited with on some holidays and cried so much when he left, that I hadn’t seen for seven years. He knew I was supposed to get to town that day, and when I drove up to the curb of his house, he came bounding out…6 feet tall and 18 years old…the little boy I had last seen when I was in 9th grade. He grabbed hold of me and wrapped me in his long, gangly arms like our lives hadn’t been complete until that moment. And I melted and cried and softened and started hugging.
–The pic is of me visiting my mom and brother in southeast Georgia before they moved to Idaho. What is painfully obvious to me is that although it looks like I’m reaching to hold my mom’s hand, I can tell from what I know of myself that I was trying not to let her fingers touch my side.