ALL ROADS LEAD HOME
I remember the December day we drove away. I hunkered motionless on the front seat of the moving van, a crumpled road map strewn across my legs, three scattered on the floor, more stuffed in the side pocket of the van. I wanted to throw them all out the window. The large black and orange sign on the side panel blared its undeniable message -- one way.
My little sisters, Taylor and Kara, kneeled, peering out the windows. Kara’s nose flattened against the pane, her small breaths visible on the glass. I cranked down the window, each revolution leaving scratch marks in the winter frost.
Dad came to say good bye. He stood alone in the narrow driveway, a hooded jacket warming his body. I’ll never forget the look on his face, the way he bit his bottom lip to suck in the hurt. His hands fished deep in his fleece pockets looking for something, anything -- maybe the answers to keep us from going.
I don’t want to leave, Dad. I don't want to be the man of the family.
My stomach trembled and a shiver rattled me inside out. I wrapped my coat against my chest desperate to ward off the loss. Mom said it was because of him that we had to leave. I felt torn between love of Mom, Dad and self.
The dawning sun crested the ridge; the moving van inched down the leaf-covered drive. Mom gripped the wheel, her glare stone-fast. I watched him stand paralyzed on the asphalt drive, wounded by this crucifixion, the dissolution of his family.
I couldn’t bring myself to turn my head again to see him alone in the morning cold. Instead, I stared lost in anger and emotions too powerful for someone seventeen to understand. I glanced at my mom; her face fixed with revenge. I clamped my lips and swallowed the explosion of agony. I hated her. I hated this.
We drove for hours that early winter morning. Slumped in silence, I tried to work out the why of Mom's hatred. Behind us the warmth of California, ahead the brisk air of Idaho. I opened the window a smidgen and the scent of redwoods crept in.
My little sisters scribbled and colored stick people on scratch pads of recycled paper. I looked to see if I was on the page, a recycled son. Taylor held her picture high for me to see – one, two, three, four stick people. Not bad for a kid three months into kindergarten.
"Hey, Taylor where’s Dad?" I said.
Mom shot me an irritated look, her mouth twisted in a snarl. Taylor slid down into the bumper seat, fingers clenched, scribbling black gashes across the drawing. Without a word, I turned my upper body back and faced the asphalt snake. My hands, hidden in my coat pocket, fingered the calling card from Dad.
I’m just a phone call away, Dad's promise played in my mind.
The smell of morning coffee, a tinge of vanilla, lingered on his breath as he protected me in his muscular arms. We stood as one, father and son, in the driveway. He didn’t want to let go. Me neither.
"Not now Scott." Her hazel eyes focused on the road, her body language stiff. Slender hands gripped the steering wheel; a pale line circled her third finger. She jerked the overloaded truck into the oncoming lane, accelerating to pass the slow car blocking our journey, our exit from the past. The U-Haul hesitated at third gear.
Horrified, I saw the logging truck coming straight at us. Jamming the gas pedal to the floor, Mom turned the wheel with a sharp twist to the right and squeezed back into our lane as the tons of redwood logs whizzed by us; the bearded driver screamed obscenities and flagged a stiff salute.
"God Mom, just because you hate him doesn’t mean you have to kill us." My palms braced on the dashboard. "Pull over. I want out." Words cracked with testosterone fury. I felt a testicle constrict with each click of the odometer. Kara and Taylor cried and fidgeted in the crammed bumper seat as tears flooded the hollow of their cheekbones.
Mom swerved to the edge of the mountain road and slammed on the brakes. Crayons and notepads flew over the front seat careening off the back of my head.
"I’m not trying to kill you, Scott." Mom spoke, gruffly. "Hush up back there. Everything's all right." Mom turned to the wet-faced girls; baby blonde hair clung to Kara’s trembling lips. "Here’s a napkin. Wipe your nose."
Mom sat rigid with her elbow propped on the window ridge, biting her thumb, furious at the interruption.
I stared out the glass barrier separating me from the stale recycled air inside the borrowed truck and the frigid mountain air. "I want to go home."
"Me, too. Me, too," my sisters whimpered.
"I don’t…want no…potato." Taylor stuttered between snivels.
Impatient with the outburst, Mom reeled in her rented seat and said, "What potato?"
"Scotty said 'everyone’s a Potato Head in Idaho'."
"Scott!" Mom's eyes bulged and the word hissed from her tongue.
"I don’t like Idaho. I want daddy." Taylor curled into a ball, sucking on the corner of her blanket. “I want to go home.”
"We lost the place, remember." Mom flipped store-colored hair behind her ears.
Confusion etched my sister’s face like a folded black and white photograph.
"We didn’t have enough money for the rent…" anger reddened her face, "…and it was all his fault. What makes you think he loves you?" she sneered.
I fished for words.
"If he really cared he would have paid me more money, but no, with him it was all about his wants, his needs." Her voice vomited vengeance.
"I want to go home.” Taylor huddled deeper in the rear seat, twisting strands of hair around her finger.
"We don’t have a home anymore. Weren’t you listening?" Kara wrapped her arms around her stomach and held tight.
"Daddy...I want my Daddy." Taylor's cries escalated and the van rocked with angry bodies.
I squeezed my eyes and covered my ears with knotted hands. I saw Dad watching us load the moving van. His eyes scanned the one-way sign and his body shook.
No, this man loves me, loves us.
"Liar! You’re a liar, Mom." The words tumbled out like rushing water emptying over a cliff. "I saw the check, month after month, arrive in our mailbox. Dad sends us a lot of money." The words spewed faster than my brain. "You spent it on your needs, your wants! Skydiving, clothes, trips--"
A swift hand back palmed me against the side of the face. My head smashed against the passenger window. I felt my skin burn red with the humiliation and sting of the blow. The corner of the calling card dug into my leg.
"How dare you question me?" Her color a pale wisp of pink, her mouth quivered. "I gave you everything, my life. Don’t you understand? I'm alone, but no, he has her now - new house, new life." Dark streaks of mascara marred her tears. "And I have--"
"And you have us..."
"…Oh God, Scott. I’m sorry."
I traced my fingers over the hot swelling on my cheek. Morning whiskers scratched my palm. I reached out and cupped my hand over Mom’s. The teardrops eased.
We sat silent on the road of indecision. Mother and son.
Award-winning author, Cynthia Borris, NO MORE BOBS, resides in Northern CA. Frequent Chicken of the Soul contributor and former humor columnist for Valley Lifestyles Magazine, she is currently toe-deep in her next novel, TO SERVE DUCK. For speaking engagements and a BOB-fest of laughter, visit website and drop her a hello.