Driving Home

I hadn’t actually planned to do it, but it was in the back of my mind as a possibility.

I was eager to get back to the Midwest. There was snow! I got a good night’s sleep the night before, posted my students’ grades— and hit the road. It was possible, I thought, to drive the 1,200 miles straight through and spend an extra night with my family.

Two hours into the drive, I was revising the plan. There had been a lot of snow in the mountains and sheets of ice remained on the road. I passed semi-trailers posed in ungraceful positions along the side of the highway. I passed tracks that suddenly veered off into ditches. I drove slowly and calculated the time required to get home at the current speed. I’d definitely make it by New Year’s Eve, I figured.

But as I came out of the mountains the snow disappeared, the road cleared, and the sun came out, melting off the last of the residue.

On dry roads, the miles flipped by. I took a smaller road across the country. It had recently been resurfaced and the driving was easy. I had packed a lot of food, but I found I wasn’t hungry. I was prepared to stop if I got tired, but I found I wasn’t sleepy. I tried the radio for a while, but grew bored with the noise. Eventually, I just drove, a sort of meditation across the country. Lucy and Milo took turns snoring in the pick-up cab beside me.

Everything was fine until I got to Wichita.

Wichita was confusing and I needed to get onto a different highway. I was peering at the overhead signs littering the freeway, trying to figure out where I should exit. I was elated when I found the exit until I saw red and blue lights flashing behind me.

“Did I take the exit too fast?” I asked the officer, genuinely puzzled.

No, the speed had decreased to 40 miles an hour just before my exit. I never saw the sign and was going 52 miles an hour in what I thought was a 60-mile-an-hour zone.

Any thoughts I had entertained of stopping now vanished. There was nothing I could do about the ticket, but I could see to it that Kansas did not get another dime. Now I was (quite literally) driving with a vengeance across the frozen wheat fields, trying not to be angry at a hardworking police officer just doing his job on a cold winter night. Instead, I tried to figure out what lesson there was to be learned. I came up with nothing. I kept driving.

It wasn’t until almost dawn that I started to feel the weight of the hours. But stopping so far north seemed foolish so I kept driving, opening the windows to let cold air slap me awake, playing Christmas music on the radio until Milo stretched out his paw and shut the radio off.

I re-entered the snow just as the sun was rising. The evergreens were flocked against the pink sky, the landscape white. Fuzzy-headed but cheerful, I drove the final miles as the sun grew brighter.

I was coming home for Christmas. And, while I don’t think I will drive straight through again, the experience somehow prepared me for the season. I was ready for sunshine and snow after the long journey and the long dark night. I would be with family tonight. We would all be together, three candles would be burning, Christmas on its way.

Till next time,

—Carrie

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