I didn’t sleep well. I knew I wanted to leave the house at 4:00 a.m. and my mind waited at the edge of dreams. When the cellphone alarm went off at 3:45, I felt as though I’d just climbed into bed.
I dressed quickly and tiptoed down the carpeted stairs. I shoved the balled up nightclothes into a duffle bag and looked over at my mom as she flipped over on the couch.
“Are you sure you want to leave this early?” she asked, her voice full of sleep.
“I want to beat traffic. I don’t want to be driving all day like last time,” I said and ducked into the dark bathroom to brush my teeth.
I heard someone on the stairs, heavy and slow steps. My dad. Inexplicably I felt my throat tighten and said a silent prayer that I would not start crying.
I thought ahead to the route I’d take and planned when I’d stop to fill the gas tank and grab a tall coffee. Anything to avoid thoughts of my leaving them all here.
I hugged my dad. Thanked him for the presents he’d given me. Promised to drive slow.
My mom followed me outside. She stood quietly as I maneuvered the last two bags into the trunk. The stars winked from the night sky. I’d forgotten how many there are. I noticed Orion and Cassiopeia.
Finally, I took a shaky breath and gave her a big hug. She shoved $30 into my pocket.
“For gas or for food or in case of an emergency,” she said. I felt bad because I knew she needed the money more than I did. But I also knew there was no arguing with her.
“I love you mom.”
“Drive safe. Call me at 9 and let me know where you are,” she said.
She watched from the driveway as I got into the driver’s seat and gave a small nod when I pulled on the seat belt. The headlights shone on her, bundled in a white quilted coat and my brother’s ratty sneakers. I waved as I pulled away, and from the rearview mirror watched her finally turn towards the house after I pulled out of their main street.
I’m still not sure why I felt so sad when I left this morning. I haven’t felt a teary farewell in years, but today I cried til I sped onto the interstate. And then something else set in and I braced myself for the ride home.