She came in the middle of the night.
It was always like that. It felt like we were either stealing or running away. She’d shake me awake. Nudging my shoulder. Taking off the heavy blankets. Easing my sleepy body up. Guiding my feet into shoes. Whispering to me, “We’re going home.” She’d grab the blanket then drape it around my shoulders, take my hand and lead the way out.
In the front seat of this brown Mercury I could just see over the dashboard and in the distance was the glow of the sun. The dashboard was the horizon. She pushed in an 8 track of Tony Orlando, switch it to Tie a Yellow Ribbon, and light a smoke. She’d hum along and to me this was when she was the sweetest. She’d tap the dashboard to the familiar beat.
On highway 17, there was stillness. The forest on either side was black. No silhouette of trees. No glowing eyes. It was dark. The car lights were big, round eyes lighting up just a few car lengths ahead. She’d stamp her foot on the floor and the lights would get brighter. The light couldn’t penetrate the darkness past the ditch. I kept my eyes tracking the yellow line. I didn’t want to know what was in that darkness.
“Isn’t Granma gonna miss her car?” I ask as I pull the blanket up under my chin and cross my arms. It’s taken a while for me to realize that we’re leaving my Granma’s place and all my cousins behind. Plans to ride our bikes and go to the corner store to buy candies were behind us trailing with the exhaust. That was my favorite thing about weekends. Cousins, candy, and bikes. Now, we’re heading back to home in the middle of the night.
“She won’t notice. We’ll be back tomorrow,” my mom blows out a stream of smoke from her nostrils. Her eyes are glazed. Her shoulders curve forward and she holds the steering wheel like a hug for stability. “Go back to sleep.”
These road trips make no sense to me. Yet, I feel special that she woke me up and left my brothers there. I’m not sure what to make of it. Maybe she felt a spark of life by sneaking away in a car that’s not hers, without a license. Maybe she felt more alive in the middle of the night hugging that steering wheel, blowing smoke, and humming. Maybe this was a freedom I have yet to understand.
I want to argue and whine and remind her that she doesn’t even have her license and that I can smell beer on her breath.
But I close my eyes instead.