I’m Almost Home
National Highway 44, or NH44. I wish it wasn’t a straight drive home. Meandering roads, bylanes instead. A u-turn somewhere. Because my journey home has never been that simple. Never predictable; the horizon never visible. Certainly never ramrod straight.
I switch off the air conditioning and roll down my window pane, wincing as the wind strike my face. It changes its mind, carries my hair with it instead. I’m blinded for a second. Like when I was a child and I’d wince if I spilled juice. My mother would flare up. She’d flatten her palm, almost raise her hand face-high, but then control herself because she was better than that. I of course was not; it was juice one day, milk the next, my guts the third – that I couldn’t cope, I didn’t understand. Took twice as long to do everything. I am an apple that fell miles from the tree. Mother had enough on her plate, but when I gave up, burst open like a wildflower thirsting for light – she had had to seek help. When I’d grow up and turn out to be nothing much, she needed to be able to tell people that she did all she could. That she spent all the money she couldn’t spare on getting professional help, and all the time she didn’t have on trying to love me. So shortly after my outburst she bundled me up in the backseat and drove down to a psychiatric clinic with blindingly white walls. We sat in the waiting room, two brown specks of dust against the pristine white, blown in by the unyielding wind. Soon to be dusted back out. We kept blowing in and out once a week for two long years. We made progress. But it wasn’t the kind of progress that you make on NH 44. It was the kind you make on a ring road where you distance yourself, see the light, but then gradually circle back to where it all began.
Now years later, on my way back home, there is no driving around in circles. No choices, no concessions. Only the promise that it’s going to be a fleeting low before I drive back out again. It gets windy on the highway at night, and the palm trees are all bent left, to different degrees. The stronger ones hold out longer and are just a little inclined. One’s almost prostrate, but hanging in there. I reckon my palm tree avatar would be bent not left, but backwards from years of avoiding blows that never landed, and piercing looks that would certainly have electrocuted me had I not slithered under the imaginary limbo bar. Each time I come home I bend a little further, then spend months straightening back up.
I park in my usual spot. She isn’t at the door and I unclench my fists, exhale. Didn’t realise I was holding my breath. I walk towards the entrance and see her through the window. She’s bent over a book. Or maybe I did that to her. Bent her irretrievably forward by compelling her to watch over me for years, bring me up to speed, make something of me. Perhaps we started off straight, but bent over like the stalk of a dandelion through the years – me backward and she forward.
Her hand hovers over the page like she’s about to turn it. I stand stock still; time freezes; my heart races. But the page doesn’t turn, just like the blow never lands. Her hand remains excruciatingly close. I tear my eyes away and my head tilts backward. My arms lie frozen by my side and my hair flails about in the wind like my arms long to. I want to let go. I close my eyes and parts of me fly away through my hair, like the feathery bristles of a dandelion. Miles away to my lab, to the beach, to the many men that have come and gone – to everywhere that I’ve ever tried to run away. But I always find my way back. I’m rooted like hair to my scalp.
I open my eyes and look at her again. She never turned that page. Her hand lies limp and creases the page. Her breath is calm and even. Her head lolls backward at an impossible angle. A streak of spit begins to dribble down the side of her mouth. She’s going to make a mess. I consider bending forward this once, to clean her up.