The Drive Home

I sit at the longest red light in the universe. A song comes on and transports me to another time, and I go willingly. So long ago.

Carefree summers spent on naked feet, wind-whipped hair, red tipped shoulders. Tattered jeans, whose strings we bat away like horses flicking their tails at flies. Pockets full of magic—rocks that are sure to glitter when busted open, iridescent shells, a leaf shaped like a heart that is surely smashed beyond recognition, a locust skin that will have fared no better, a piece of anything handed to me by that special boy. Nights spent under the stars and the one garage light, laughing, dancing, being wild.

Innocence and ignorance mingle to form the perfect canvas for the best paintings. Pictures of youth, full of hope and passion, arrogance. Dreams are attainable, and parents are overgrown children who say no because it’s the easiest and shortest word. Boys don’t lie, and a quick kiss is enough to know who you want to marry. The worst thing that happens is an encounter with a wasp, and the best thing that happens simply can’t be decided.

Food is everywhere, so there’s no need to go home. Apples, still hard but delicious. Blackberries, plums, peaches. Sweet things that make sticky mouths and arms, and later, upset tummies. But tummies can be made almost as strong as feet.  Only hearts remain soft. They break and mend a hundred times before the summer ends.

The light turns green, and I crawl forward. Everyone in town is at this intersection. A new song comes on, and I recall a different part of my life.

My car is a million years old, but it gets me to college every day. I’ve had two hours of sleep, typical for me on weeknights. I’m in my dance clothes. I’ll wear them all day, and since everyone in college dresses funny, no one will even notice. Every kind of dancer will be in that room. The ones who have trained forever, who carry pointe shoes with the ends frayed off. The ones who played football but somehow learned to dance. The new ones who can’t dance and end up humiliating themselves. And me. I’m not sure where I fit. I’m at the front of the class now, though, not hiding at the back the way I did on the first day.

I do a quadruple turn, and the teacher happens to be standing right there looking at me. I have a fit of excitement, and he laughs at me, encourages me. I’m young enough to still be full of dreams and old enough to do something about it. I believe I will succeed. I know I will. I dance hard until class lets out and then head to my second class. I daydream through it. It’s academic. Then it’s time for composition, which I skip to go to a dance class I’m not enrolled in. The teacher doesn’t mind. He welcomes me onto the stage.

I get to dance with the trained people now. They give me a role based on my size and innocence. I thrive on it. I don’t need sleep or food. Only theatre.

Another red light. I’ll never get home at this rate. The dog needs to be let out. My son needs to be woken up. Laundry needs to be hung up, and my book needs to be finished. The song that made me feel like dancing trails off, and a new one comes on. I reach up and touch my Mikey necklace. I fight back the tears.

He was feisty from the start. My Mikey. He’d wrestle with me, bite me, chase me. He’d snuggle and give me kisses.

It’s too sad. I can’t afford to cry right now, so I switch the song myself. Ah, that’s better. This one makes me think of my book. It’s on track with what I need to do today. I listen to it four times before I make it home.

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~ by Rachel McMahon on September 9, 2011.

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