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The house was bare now. Little bits of trash still littered the rooms, small treasures left behind without thought. Bobby pins hiding in the cupboard under the bathroom sink. In the kitchen, where the refrigerator had once stood, only crumbs now. It was the same for the laundry room. Only the leftover patches of dirt, grime, and dead skin cells remained to show where the washing machine and dryer used to be. Only the residue of life remained in the house.
Everything else had been packed up into the large truck. An entire life packed away into boxes and crammed into the interior of the moving truck. All the important things were there. The boxes were labeled according to where they had come from and where they should go: Falicia’s Room, Living Room, Attic. But these boxes did not contain the life, only the things that represented the life. ‘Falicia’s Room’ was not coming with them, only those items which had filled her room and made it hers.
“Is that everything?”
“I think so.”
“Maybe we should take one last look through the house to make sure.”
The small family walked quickly through the empty, echoing house, glancing into rooms for items possibly forgotten. Dad in front, leading the way with his quiet determination, his eyes already seeing another house, another home. Mom last, eyes sweeping the rooms with a far warmer gaze, her mind fixed on how things used to be. Between them, the girl. As they walked through the house, it was not to envision the rooms as they had bee. A bed here, a desk there. Posters tacked up on that wall, books stacked neatly on a bookshelf in the far corner. It was not home anymore, but home was not in the boxes in the truck either. Only eerie remnants of their life remained to betray that anyone had lived here. In the small scraps of paper, pen caps, candy wrappers, crumbs, threads, buttons, needles, earrings and other various items that hid in the corners of rooms or in the cupboards, a small piece of each of them lingered.
The bare walls and floor mocked them. This isn’t home anymore. Where is home? Can a way of life be packed up into boxes and transported across state and county lines? Even if it cannot, the attempt must be made. Dad’s job pulls and tugs at them to get a move on. If only he hadn’t been transferred, perhaps they could have stayed longer, made more memories to fill the cold, empty structure with life and happiness. Dad is the first to leave house. The girl follows him hesitantly. Mom is the last to come out. She is hurting, both inside and out. Her body is not what it used to be, and the move is not good for her health. But they must go. Dad is determined.
Trailing their lives along behind them, they go. Miles disappear under the turning wheels. With each mile they travel farther from home, but each mile is one mile closer to another, different home. And this time, it’s like going back, like going home for real, because they are traveling to where they have been before. Arizona: land of deserts and monsoons and mountains and saguaro cactus.
The girl is impatient. The trip will not be made in a single day. Arizona. Her home. Her birthplace. These are strong attractive forces. Brothers and uncles and aunts, all scattered across that vast expanse of land that is Arizona. And at the heart, Phoenix.
The radio plays almost continuously during the drive. When the vehicle begins to leave the range of the radio stations that Dad is familiar with, he takes out his ipod or a CD, and the sound of those familiar songs break into the crackling white noise from the speakers. The songs are all farewells and goodbyes. They are greetings.
Landscapes roll by the windows of the truck. The girl stares out of the windows, watching it go by and pondering the curves of the road and the way it cuts across the land. She wonders who it was that first traveled this land, and how it looked then. She wonders how long it took, and if they too searched for home somewhere in the long miles stretching out to the horizon.
Mom is asleep in the passenger seat. Dad continues driving, and the monotony of the music, and the road, are getting to him. It lulls the passengers, distorts the passage of time until five minutes seems like an hour, and they’ve been on the road for days. And they can only wait for the next five minutes to pass, then next five miles to disappear behind them.
The end of the first day arrives. The family stays at a small motel near the highway. The back of the truck is a mess of boxes. It proves difficult to locate the things needed for an overnight stay. Finally, the toiletries and pajamas are found and distributed. Dad is sweaty and tired from driving all day.
“I need a shower. Make sure to lock the truck.”
He wearily makes his way to the motel room’s tiny bathroom. Inside are tiny bars of soap and tiny bottles shampoo and conditioner. There is barely enough for one person. The road seems to have shrunken each person, but it has not diminished the size of their bodies.
“Perhaps we should ask the front desk for more shampoo.”
The clerk at the desk is unhelpful. “No, I’m sorry, one set of toiletries per room. Company policy.”
The water is cold, and there is barely enough body wash to go around. The two girls take quick showers. Dinner consists of whatever can be found within a few miles of the motel. Greasy fast food burgers and a few ounces of syrupy soft drinks. They are surprisingly tasty. After eating, the family prepares for bed tiredly. Two share the bed, while the girl sleeps on the pull out couch.
Only Dad is able to fall asleep quickly. He is worn out from driving. Worn out from concentrating and watching the road slip endlessly beneath the tires. Worn out from letting his mind race far ahead to the city in the heart of the desert, where uncertainties and familiarities await them. The mother and daughter, however, find sleep elusive. The beds are strange and the room is strange. The noises are not the ones they are used to. Eventually, the mom falls asleep. Her illness takes it toll. The girl is left lying awake, by herself. The strangeness of the room intimidates her, and drives sleep away. She can hear the dripping of the faucet in the bathroom. Cars rush by on the highway outside. Mom and Dad sleep dreamlessly, their steady breathing a metronome by which to measure the passing time. Three-hundred-and-twenty-seven breaths later, the girl stops counting.
The next morning, there is little to pack up before the family is on the road again. Dad pays the bill for the hotel room, and they all pile back into the moving truck, aware that another long day of traveling lies before them. The same songs play on the radio, even though the stations are different, and the same road slips quickly under the tires. The same landscape rolls by. The same sun shines down on the same earth, the same clouds obscure the sun as they roll across the same clear blue sky.
And yet, it is not the same. They have moved past that which was left behind. Home is no longer behind them. Home is with them. Home is in the way dad scowls at the road as he drives, and mom’s quiet but kind face as she tries to make conversation or suggests road games to occupy them. Home is in the way the girl waits impatiently for the sign reading ‘Welcome to Arizona’. Home is family.