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The Wind in the Mountains MAG
The night air is cool and crisp on my face. I’m leaning out the window, testing how far I can stick my head out before I am completely absorbed by the night. The wind feels refreshing against my skin as we speed along the darkened, winding roads leading home. Beside me in the driver’s seat my father slips in a CD and Bob Dylan’s scratchy voice fills the night, crooning, “It’s a hard raaaaaain’s a-gonna fall.” This is our ritual, me and my dad. Every Sunday night we drive wordlessly home, my head out the window and his hand on the wheel, left with the vague sadness of Bob Dylan and the feeling of a liberation that could last forever.
We drive in silence, as usual. We’re always lost in our separate worlds; it’s been that way for as long as I can remember. I’m thinking about how good it is to feel the wind, to be free under the clear stars, to soak up the endless night sky.
Then my father pulls the car to an unexpected stop. I turn to him questioningly, reluctant to peel away from the glorious wind but curious what’s going on. He doesn’t notice, keeping his eyes fixed on the unmoving road ahead.
“Dad?” I ask, pausing to let him reply, but he doesn’t. “I thought we were going home.”
He rubs his fingers across his beard like he’s thinking hard. It takes him an excruciatingly long time to say anything. He’s like that, my dad – eventually he’ll answer, but it takes him a minute to choose his words. Sometimes I think his brain works too fast for his mouth to catch up. Finally he replies. “What would you say to an impromptu road trip?”
It seems like an odd time to suggest it, but I’m game. I love a good road trip. “Sounds fun,” I say. “You mean for next weekend?”
Another long pause. “What about tonight?”
I’m worried now. “What exactly do you mean?”
He sighs almost imperceptibly, like I just don’t get it. “Why don’t we,” he says, speaking slowly like I won’t understand, “go on a road trip, right now? Just you and me. It’ll be a fun father-daughter adventure.”
“But what about Mom? And Joey? And I have school tomorrow.”
“Don’t worry about it. We’ll call Mom to explain – she’ll understand – and it won’t kill you to miss a day or two of school.” I can tell that he’s made up his mind and nothing I say will talk him out of it. I don’t understand his motives – spontaneity is not typically one of his strong suits, and for some reason I don’t believe that he just wants to have a “fun father-daughter adventure.” But maybe it’s because I’m still feeling high off the night air, or perhaps because part of me is longing for an adventure, so I give in.
“All right, fine,” I say, smiling despite myself. Without a word he turns the car around and Bob Dylan cries in the background as we roll into the night.
I don’t remember falling asleep, but I wake up at three a.m. disoriented. I blink a few times, and the yellow lines on the road ahead slide into focus. I’ve always loved those yellow lines. I love what they represent – freedom, the endlessness of the open road. My mind drifts for a moment, then I remember the strange circumstances. “Dad?” I ask tentatively.
“Oh, you’re awake,” he replies, rather chipper for three in the morning.
“Why exactly are we doing this?” I ask, rubbing my tired eyes.
“Why not?” he replies vaguely. Before I can press him further, he motions to a grocery bag in the back seat. “I bought caffeine!” he says excitedly. “I had to stop for gas a while ago. There’s a six-pack of Cokes in there,” I reach groggily and rummage around in the bag. I discover that the “six-pack of Cokes” has been reduced to two cans, which explains his unusually perky mood.
I pop open a can and swig back some soda. “So where are we headed?” I ask, having figured by now this isn’t just an aimless trip. Knowing my dad, he’s got somewhere in mind.
“That is something I shall not reveal.”
“Oh really?” I raise my eyebrows, then change the subject. “What did Mom say when you called her?”
“Well, you know Mom … she wasn’t thrilled. But I convinced her I would bring us both back alive,” he adds with a wink. We drive quietly for a while. I notice that the background music has changed from Bob Dylan to my dad’s eclectic Echo and the Bunnymen CD. He rolls down the windows and blasts the music, singing along in his ridiculous deep voice. I can’t help but laugh and join in.
By five a.m. we’re on a highway I know well, running through the Virginia mountains into the southern parts of the state and then down into North Carolina. We come this way every winter to visit my dad’s parents. My mother puts up with it, but my dad loves those visits. He was born and raised here, and I think he misses it more than he wants to admit.
It’s still dark, but slowly the sun starts to peek over the horizon. Dad pulls over into one of those lookout parking lots, right to the edge so we can see over the side of the mountain. He cuts the motor so all we can hear are crickets. Slowly the sky turns from gray to soft hues of blue, pink, and gold. We watch as the sun rises, illuminating the mountains and valley in a shroud of gold. Mist settles around the mountains and the fog rolls in majestically.
We sit and stare at the breathtaking landscape for ten, fifteen minutes, maybe half an hour. Finally Dad turns to me. “Are you ready for a Moon Pie and an RC?” he asks.
I smile. “I was beginning to think you’d never ask.”
Sharing a Moon Pie and an RC Cola is another of our rituals. My father insists that a Moon Pie – two graham cookies sandwiching a layer of marshmallow crème all covered in chocolate – is the ultimate definition of heaven. I think secretly he doesn’t enjoy the way they taste anymore, but they remind him of his childhood. He tells stories of being squished in the back of a station wagon on a bumpy Alabama road with four siblings, occasionally allowed the privilege of sitting in Granddaddy’s lap and steering once Grandma fell asleep. I see the excitement in his eyes when he bites into a Moon Pie, the same excitement the world held for him when he was a boy growing up in the small-town South.
We’ve been driving all night and all morning, and I’m about to suggest a break when Dad takes a highway exit. We turn off under a faded brown sign that reads “Mt. Thomas” with an arrow pointing toward what I can only assume to be Mt. Thomas. After a few more minutes of driving we pull into a small lot. It doesn’t appear to be a parking lot for anything, but Dad pulls into a spot and turns off the engine. He gets out and motions for me to do the same. I’m thinking that there can’t possibly be anywhere to go from this abandoned parking lot in the middle of nowhere, but as we walk across the lot I spot a thin dirt path leading into the woods, so obscured that it’d be easy to miss.
Sure enough, Dad heads for the path and disappears into the woods. As I follow him I see that it’s a hiking trail. We walk in silence, save the occasional squeak of my shoes. We’re still wearing our clothing from the previous day – Dad hadn’t thought that far ahead. Not having guessed that I would be hiking, I’m wearing Chucks. While I clumsily squeak along, Dad is yards ahead of me. His feet move quickly, like he’s hiked this trail many times before.
Finally he stops a few feet ahead of me, where
the trail has opened onto an open expanse of rock. Turning, I see that it overlooks miles and miles of mountains and farmland far below. The sky is a breathtaking blue, and the wind whips my hair around my ears into my face. Dad slowly eases himself onto a rock. He hasn’t spoken in over an hour, and he wears his lost-in-the-moment face. I sit next to him, hugging my knees, and we stare together at the valley below.
This must be the reason for our trip. This place holds some meaning for him. I can feel it in his silence, in the way he seems at home here. But why here, why now of all times? And why would he bring me? We are so similar, but there is much to each of us that is untouchable, inaccessible to the other. We live in our own separate worlds – we always have and always will. It doesn’t seem right that he would bring me into his.
Eventually I take my eyes from the view to look at my father. He looks very young all of a sudden, but so, so old. I see the years of memories locked inside him, the thoughts and ideas that make up who he is. I see a tear slide
down his cheek, and finally I understand. This is my father, uncensored and more vulnerable than ever. He wants me to see the real him, the him he’s kept from me for so many years. He finally wants me to understand.
He looks at me, as if reading my thoughts. His gray-blue eyes stare into my identical ones, and I see him searching for his words. “Cat,” he says. “I want you to know that I will always, always love you. I promise.” And in that moment, as the wind whistles softly through the mountains, it’s all that matters. F