I’ve been driving for eleven hours and thirty-seven minutes and I’m considering going back because I think I forgot to pack socks. I have been considering this since I left my house. And I have almost turned around countless times. But I know that if I go back into my house, I will not go back out to my car and I will never make it back to that place.
I keep thinking about how any other time I’m on a road trip, the minutes seem to drag on like the universe has slowed down the speed of my life. Not today. Today it seems like every time I blink, I travel another thirty miles. It’s like the universe has decided to speed up my life. And the closer I get, the more my stomach twists around into tight knots, encapturing any and all of my confidence and positive thoughts I had about traveling back home.
I turn up the radio. I can feel the eyes of other drivers on me when they pass, but I’m not sure if it’s because of how slow I’m going or because of how loud my music is. I don’t turn my head to make eye contact with them. I have a valid reason to be driving this way. Truthfully, I would be like them, or worse, on any given day; road rage and the bad habit of being late are not my best qualities. But today is not just any given day.
It’s a good thing I didn’t tell Dad I am coming today because if I would have told him a time, I would have definitely been late. And it would just be another reason added to the list of things for my dad to yell at me about. Also on that list are leaving for six years, not telling him I’m engaged, coming home drunk after graduation, and putting my pop on the new coffee table without a coaster. No matter what he decides to start with, he will yell at me for each. I can just picture him when I get to the house.
I will not even be out of my car, and he will be waiting for me at the top of the steps. He will have his arms crossed and his chin up. Every part of him will radiate distaste and disappointment, from his scuffed up work boots to his spiked dark brown hair. His eyes and forehead will be scrunched up like he is trying really hard to concentrate, and his lips will be drawn in a straight line. He will watch as I get my bags out of the car and walk toward the house. He will not offer to help. He will not move; he will watch in that same stance, and when I finally get to the bottom of the stairs, he will start the yelling. While I walk into the house and to my bedroom, he will ask questions that he expects me to answer but, at the same time, do no good for me to answer. Then, he will compare me to my mom and say it is all her fault I turned out like this. He will not ask for my input. He will follow me to the kitchen where I will start washing dishes that have probably been in the sink for weeks, all the while still yelling at me for God-knows-what. I won’t be able to look at him in the eyes. But he won’t care what I’m doing, he will keep yelling. At this point, his eyebrows will start twitching like they always do, and then I really won’t be able to look at him because he will look like a cartoon character with his spiky hair, twitching eyebrows, and deepening red, scrunched up face. It would make me laugh. And that would not help the situation.
I am not ready to face him. I don’t want to face him. But I’m doing this for James. He wants me to have a good relationship with my father. He thinks everyone should have a good relationship with both of their parents. He thinks Dad and I can resolve our problems. However, he also still thinks that Santa exists.
My phone starts vibrating on the seat next to me. It’s James.
“Hey, Hun. How’s it going?”
“It’s going.” Terrible.
“Well, I’m proud of you. I know that this is hard for you but I know that you can do this, and you won’t regret it.” I would rather talk about anything else besides my dad and me. Even though James’ kind words do help ease some of my anxiety about going back, the analytical part of my mind tells me that he doesn’t truly know that I can do this because he can’t understand. And my anxiety is right back to where it was before his words eased it.
“Let’s talk about your day instead.” James doesn’t answer me right away. He wants and is trying to be encouraging and helpful, but it’s just not working. I know that I can count on him to be there if I need him, but he doesn’t truly understand what it’s like for me to have this bad relationship with my dad.
After a few moments when I can tell James is debating whether or not to argue, he reluctantly starts to tell me about his day, describing his walk to work, his meetings during the day, and what our dog is doing right now. It helps. I know James doesn’t think it helps, but it does. When I finally go to hang up, James tells me he loves me. He doesn’t know what else to say, but he says this in a way that I know he means so much more by it than just that he loves me. He means that he misses me already. He means to wish me good luck with my father. He means that he believes in me. He means that he will still love me, no matter what happens this weekend.
I toss my phone on the passenger seat. The next sign I pass is my exit. I can’t believe I’m here already. My stomach is back to its twisting and turning. I take a sip of coffee. Driving through town, I am surprised by how everything looks the same. All of the houses are still painted the same, the same purple flowers are planted along the sidewalk, the same old trees stand tall across the town, and the one traffic light is still stuck on red. I feel like I just went back in time to six years ago.
Too soon, I am turning into the long dirt driveway to my old home. The old, three-story farmhouse at the end of the drive gets bigger as I drive, and all I can think about is if it is too late to go back to get socks. When I reach the end of the driveway, I take my time putting the car in park and pulling the key out of the ignition. I look up at the house. The only thing I loved about living at this house was the big porch that wraps around the outside of the house. It is wooden and painted white, but it is stained brown in places from the dust and the weather. Some of the railings have chips of wood broken out; some of the bars on the railing are broken off entirely. One of the many things I hated about this house was the hideous royal blue roof, and it is still there. Most importantly, though, my dad is not standing at the top of the stairs. That’s good, but I know that it does not mean I have avoided the yelling. Instead, it simply means the yelling will be delayed.
“Oh, God,” I breathe. I muster up all the courage I can and get out of the car. My legs are stiff, and I take a second to stretch them and take in the fresh air. It’s really quiet. Only the sounds of birds chirping and the wind whistling fill the air. There are no cars beeping, sirens blaring, or music booming. It’s nice. Since living in the city, I’ve forgotten what the quiet sounds like.
I grab my bags from the back seat, shut the door, then turn back toward the house. It’s now or never. I force myself to walk to and then up the steps. I try to focus on making my breathing steady to calm myself down. Inhale. Exhale. For once in my life, I wish there were more stairs. I get to the door and am faced with a problem: do I knock? I go back and forth, then decide to. I softly knock three times, and there is no answer. I sigh before I knock three more times, but this time with more force.
“Coming.” I hear a muffled voice say from inside the house, then footsteps moving closer. I stand straighter and wait. The doorknob turns, and the door opens. The man standing in front of me has brown hair that is messy and has patches of grey in it. Instead of jeans and work boots, he is wearing sweatpants and slippers. I have never seen my dad with slippers on. But when I look at him in his eyes, I know it is him.
“Hi, Dad,” I manage to say. He doesn’t respond. “Sorry I didn’t call.” He just looks at me, his eyebrows drawn together. His lips press together into a thin line. He’s mad. I’m waiting for the yelling to start and brace myself. I can see it coming. Here it comes. Then, my dad reaches out and envelopes me in a hug.