There’s a place where the road dives down close to the river, and if you follow it long enough, the mountains crowd in narrow and steep around you. There’s no white line; it disappears into the cliff rising to your right. There’s just the road — spotty and pot-holed in sections, with plenty of curves dipping in close to the mountain’s bosom before swinging out again to lean into the river.
This is a highway, and though it’s collectively known as the most dangerous road in America, it’s the one I grew up learning to drive on. I follow the sweeping curves and shoot in and out of the mountain-shadow like I’ve never left.
I’m going home.
The further upriver I drive, the more the mountains rise to either side, giant monoliths hairy with the infinite number of evergreens growing on their slopes. It’s a hot, sunny, summer day; the shadows play and stretch their fingers on the pavement beneath my tires when the heat isn’t making it swirl like the water in the river to my left.
And just when I think I could get tired of driving, I turn the corner into this spot among the endless nuances of earth, and the speed drops from 55 and the road widens into the first vestiges of my hometown.
I speed, excited, not tired anymore, and drink in the sights.
I can’t begin to count the things that have changed in my absence, and wandering around downtown on my second day home, I recognize no one. In some ways, the fact saddens me; in others, I only feel acceptance. Things change. It’s the way of life.
And yet, the drive home is the same as I remember it.
I spend the next two days visiting with friends — they are happy, working like dogs (aren’t we all?), and enjoying life in the meantime — and family. My mom and grandma talk almost non-stop, interrupting each other for my attention, to tell me all they know. And I revert to old habits, shouting over them for my word-in-edgewise, and we laugh, and we stay up too late, and we sit together at the breakfast table just like the days when I still lived there.
For two days, I lose myself in the mountains I used to call home.
Then the ache returns — I have a husband who I can’t wait to see, I have a life, and a job I miss. It’s time to leave, and for a moment, I don’t want to, I want to freeze this little space of time and relive the memories of my childhood. But old times aren’t strong enough to dim the wonderful ones since, and in the next moment, I’m getting into my car and starting down the road to the awesome life I had the privilege to choose.
He runs out of the house to meet me when I get home. He asks me how my trip was at the same time I ask him how his weekend was, and we talk over and around each other (never interrupting though), as we walk hand-in-hand back to the house.