This was November, sometime between my birthday-which we had celebrated in an empty house, amid packed boxes—and Thanksgiving.Under my father’s influence, the past Christmas Eve, I had seen a reindeer’s red nose from my bedroom window; with the same power of persuasion, he had convinced me, at least, that our move from Maryland to North Carolina—a place so far off it might as well have been wholly imaginary—was a great adventure.
I remember being proud that I hadn’t fallen asleep. “I’ll let you know when we get there.” I had promised my mother I would help him stay awake, so hugged my pillow, to keep warm.
The truck’s heater wasn’t working, but according to my father, it would have only made us drowsy.
I heard my father’s heavy step into the trailer, heard him return, and the passenger door opened once more. Reaching under the blanket, he set in my hand the stuffed creature I slept with. The first time I told this story, without a moment’s forethought, was ten years later.
She had confided something about her own parents, and we were, after all, in the dark, in the back of her mother’s car.
I felt my rear end sag, my father’s knee rise to prop me up.
My feet, then my head, bumped against the wall of the trailer, and then the door was open, cool air reached under my blanket.My father could always be depended on to think of something interesting to do.On the edge of a field across from the entrance to the Natural Bridge, in Virginia (which we did not see, as there was an admission charge), we ate sandwiches my mother had packed, and played a game he invented using two sticks and a crabapple.When we arrive, she will hoist our son high against her chest and take him, murmuring his dreams, into the house.I will carry our long-legged daughter from our car to her room, where I will lay her gently on the bed we have made for her. Beyond the chilled glass to my left, green lights of the dashboard angle up toward the stars. My wife’s parents live five hundred miles away, what we have come to think of as a day’s drive. I tend to the thermostat, keeping the car warm enough for my sleeping family, but not so warm that my focus turns dull.Rule number one, he liked to say: Keep your options open.My mother arrived two days later, in my father’s pickup truck.We turned left, and then right, and then there were no more hotels, no more restaurants—nothing but a curving road.The farther we went down that road, the more I worried about what my mother would think.