Going Home

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It's been ten years since I've been home, but the familiar bump, bump, bump of the weather worn roads of Washington County ease my nerves. Unaware that I was tense, I feel the muscles in my neck relax and loosen my white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel. I'd finally made it home. My back is aching and my eyes are heavy with sleep from the two days of almost constant driving from Virginia. As much as I am looking forward to a real meal and my childhood bed, there is one place I have to go first.

I crack the window and turn the radio up in an attempt to keep myself awake on the mist slicked roads. I know I'm close to the coast because even though it is early evening and the sun still hovers on the horizon, a hazy sea fog rolls lazily through the troughs of each hill. I check the outdoor temperature reading on my dashboard. Thirty-four degrees Fahrenheit. Chilly for my Virginia standards but average for a late October evening in Maine. I slow my speed a little, remembering how treacherous Maine roads can be when there's moisture in the air and the temperature drops. I take the sharp corners with more caution than usual, reminiscing of an old friend who lost his life on these corners in this same type of weather. I see the stop sign at the end of the road and ease on my breaks. I feel the tires slip a little and then my traction control kicks in, bringing me to a complete stop before the sign. I breathe a sigh of relief, thankful I talked my husband into letting me take his car for the very reason that it had traction control. I turn left. I watch the miles tick by on my odometer. Five, ten, fifteen miles farther from my house and closer to my home. The familiar houses, old rundown stores, barns, and fields glide by my windows. They bring back pleasant memories, but they'll have to wait until tomorrow. Today, I have a different place in mind. One not connected to such happy memories.

I drive by the first entrance to the road that would take me home. Instead, I turn the other direction, down past my old elementary school. I cross the old bridge, the one my friends and I hung out under on the sweltering summer days. I take another left. The road narrows noticeably, and then I hear the familiar sound of tires switching from pavement to dirt. This is it. The dirt road ends and I pull off to the side as much as possible. Not that it matters. By the looks of the overgrown road, not many people come down here anymore.

I turn off my car and climb out, wrapping my jacket tightly around me. The cold air hits me like a ton of bricks, instantly jolting my senses to life. I close my eyes, stand still, and listen. Everything is silent. A slight breeze pricks up the hairs on the back of my neck and rustles the changing leaves on the trees. I hear a few of the leaves trickle down through the branches. I inhale slowly, taking in the aroma of the crisp autumn air, the musty leaves, and the sweet grass. I love this place. I open my eyes to continue my trek. This is not my final destination.

I find the old path exactly where it should be, tucked between two ancient, towering maples. It is just a beaten path, created by people continuously rushing through the growth, using it as a shortcut. It appears as if it hasn't had much use lately, but it hasn't grown over completely either. The branches of the trees form an archway and the leaves dribble down like a light rain. Tall grass and wild blackberry bushes grow along the sides, pricking my jacket if I sway too close. I meander my way down the path, stepping over tree roots that try to trip me as I go. Even though the sun has sunk below the horizon, the bright stars and moon that accompany Maine autumns cast their light through the branches of the trees to guide me. The path is not long, and I know it well. Suddenly, just like in some movie, the path is behind me and I'm standing in a meadow. In the summer the grass could reach my waste, but the freezing nights of October have the grass bent over in a state of hibernation. I stride instinctively towards the far right corner of the field. I could find what I'm looking for with my eyes closed, but I keep them open to soak in the moon light covered field. It is so peaceful here but also a little eerie. I pull my jacket tighter still, trying to block out the crisp breeze that sends shivers up and down my spine.

And then, I am there. There is a small area within the field, maybe seven feet long, four feet wide, where the grass is shorter than the rest. Even after 10 years the grass that I relentlessly crushed down and pulled up has not completely grown back. A medium sized stone stands at the top of the area, its granite specks pale and shimmering in the nights glow. Three steps forward and I drop to my knees. The moisture in the ground instantly seeps through my jeans, but I do not care. The breeze tousles my hair, blowing it across my eyes. My fingers and face are numb with cold, but none of this matters. I've made it. Two weeks of convincing my husband to let me come alone. Two days of driving. Two days of recalling every little detail of my childhood. I'd made it home. A single tear of remembrance of the longing and the loneliness falls from my cheek. And then another. And another.

“Hi, Grammy,” I whisper. “I made it.” There's no answer. But then again I didn't really expect one from the gravestone.





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