At four o’clock in the morning, we rouse ourselves and pack
the car with last-minute things—computers, lunches, cell phones, toiletries—before
heading south. Thinking about the eleven
or so hours this trip will take is daunting.
At sixty-five miles per hour, we watch the moon set and the sun rise as
one by one the kids drop off to sleep in the back seat. Nine hours in, we grow tired of the radio—the
stations are either too loud or too classical; serious voices of preachers occasionally cutting
through static. Everyone is
irritated. The landscape has become routine. I find myself thinking can’t we just be there already?
And then I’m reminded of the time over twenty years ago,
when I packed up my car and headed to school in Arizona, my twelve-year-old
brother my companion. I was thrilled to
get away from home, to begin a life for myself.
Occasionally, my brother would ask to stop. He wanted to see the Petrified Forest and the
Painted Desert. But I pressed on, eager
to get on with my new life, as if by stopping, my future would escape me
I moved in to my apartment, lugging my suitcases, my books,
my pencils and my dreams to the second floor.
I arranged my apartment and went from room to room, enjoying the view of
the pool and the mountains, relishing my independence, wondering where life
would take me.
A few days later, after I’d taken my brother to the airport,
there was a rapping upon my door. A
woman introduced herself—Beatrice or Betty or something like that. But my boyfriend—and future
husband—immediately nicknamed her Hildy.
The name stuck.
Hildy was short and fat.
She had a poodle perm: a mass of tight brown curls that must’ve
increased the circumference of her head by eight inches. She had thick lips and a dark mole and she
wore transition glasses that prevented me from ever fully seeing her eyes. That first day, she told me that the Queen of
Sheba had stayed in our apartment complex.
That we were drinking her bathwater.
Hildy, her husband Herman and their son lived in the
apartment below mine. Herman was a thin,
pasty man with a high voice. He wore
white tee shirts and plaid pants no matter the weather. Their son, a man of thirty, left the
apartment only to go to work. In size
and shape, he resembled his mother. In
coloring and voice, his father.
Evenings, they would squabble, their arguments starting out quiet
and slow. I would catch a wisp here,
like a thin stream of mesquite floating upon the air. But eventually, as the evening wore on and
the resentments continued to burn, the argument grew louder, one voice low and
gruff, the others high and thin. The
argument would crescendo until the son’s voice erupted into screams.
I avoided Hildy. She
became suspicious of me. She began to
watch my comings and goings from behind the shade of her sliding glass
door. She called security and reported that
I was disturbing her. She often came to
my apartment to complain about my behavior.
Within three weeks, I’d had enough.
My new apartment wasn’t near the pool. It didn’t have a terrific view of the
mountains. But it was tucked far in the
back of the complex. Hildy would never
find me. I would no longer hear the
arguments of her family.
My new neighbor was a bachelor. In the evenings, I could hear his television;
his dishwasher; the flirtatious telephone messages his girlfriend would leave
on his answering machine. I enjoyed
eavesdropping on his quiet, comfortable life.
And when my husband and I graduated, I left him all the
plants from my apartment. Because, of
course, we were eager to get on with the next stage of our lives.
I never did see the Painted Desert or the Petrified Forest. I never saw Hildy again.
And as we make our way into the tenth hour of our drive, I
wonder how much of my life have I rushed through in order to get there; wherever there may be. I wonder, too, about Hildy’s situation: Was
she caring for her son? Or had the son
taken his parents into his home? Perhaps
it was a combination; each of them bound together in an angry web of love and
resentment and anxiety. Back then, I
didn’t care. Perhaps I should have.
My husband tells me we’re moving in a year; back to the
place we both call home; the place I’ve left too many times to get somewhere
else. And I’m happy: This is what we’ve
wanted for the past eight years. I want
to rush it. Hurry the process
along. I want to get away from
unfriendly neighbors and long commutes and this rush-about life we’ve been
living. But it’s not as simple as simply
We’re nearing the end of our drive. The kids wake up and begin to chatter
excitedly, peering out the window are we
here? And so I wonder one year
hence: Of all the places we’ve lived, which place will be home to our children? Which
place will tug at their hearts? Which
place will they long to return to?
But I cannot say.
their journey, not mine.
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Labels: Community, Family, Traveling