When I arrived at Del’s house, I saw the lights were on and at the door, I saw two old suitcases. It wasn’t until then that I realized I had nothing but what I was wearing and the money in the manila envelope.
He stepped out and looked at me.
“Get what you need?” he asked.
“I just got the money,” I said.
“Wasn’t there something important to you, something you had to have?” he asked. “Pictures, dolls, anything you wanted to take with you?”
I thought for a moment and shook my head.
“No,” I said.
And finally, I had a reason to cry.
Following the Sun
Fortunately, Shawn and Patty Girl were so exhausted and groggy, they didn’t realize we were putting them into the rear of the SUV along with some of their things. We set up pillows and blankets for them and finally started out. Once we left the city streets and got onto highway I-90 toward Buffalo, I remarked how asleep the world looked this late at night. My excitement had kept the adrenaline flowing, but now that we were gassed up, packed, and on our way, my body began to soften.
Del said very little besides dictating the directions. The route west was something he had long ago committed to memory. I remember someone in history class in my public school asking our teacher why it was that people always seemed to head west to start new lives, explore, and make discoveries. He thought for a moment, nodding and smiling at the question, which was apparently a good question to him, something that gave him a chance to leave the prescribed curriculum for a moment, to be philosophical and original.
“I don’t know exactly,” he replied, “but if you think about it, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Maybe we all just follow the sun. Maybe we all believe it knows where it’s going,” he added with an impish smile. It was one of those rare moments when something was said or done in a classroom that stuck with me.
Do we really know whe
re we’re going? I wondered.
As we drove into the night, the darkness, interrupted now with only oncoming or passing vehicles, grew thicker. I know it was just my imagination, but it seemed as if the SUV was battling harder to move forward. I felt like we were inside a balloon, pressing harder and harder against the unexpectedly thick walls, stretching them and waiting to finally pop out and be free.
“How are you doing?” Del asked.
“Okay,” I said in a voice smaller than I wanted it to sound.
I wanted him to be assured of my confidence and my determination. I wanted to fill him with courage and resolve, to believe that we could overcome whatever obstacles awaited us and solve any problem simply because we were young and free and bold. We could shut the door on our pasts firmly and finally. We could forget everything and live only in the present.
I remembered another thing from a classroom discussion, this one in science class. My teacher was telling us that one thing that distinguished man from the lower forms of life was his ability to draw upon memory and to foresee. And I remember thinking, but what if your memories were full of pain and what if you saw only danger and trouble in the future? What was the benefit of that? I almost asked him, but I anticipated some scientific, textbook answer that wouldn’t really address my thoughts, so I didn’t. I simply left class thinking the stupid ant or worm was better off. At least, better off than I was.
“We can’t drive all night, although it’s probably better. Less chance of being tracked and spotted,” Del said. “I’ll take over when you feel you’re too tired, okay?”
“Yes, fine. I can drive a little more,” I assured him.
He turned the radio on but kept it very low so as not to disturb Shawn and Patty Girl. In the rearview mirror, I saw how they were sleeping in a sweet embrace, safely surrounded by their childhood dreams. I envied them.
Del didn’t look tired, but he was quiet.
“We’re doing the best thing,” I said. “You’re probably right in thinking the social services people would be at the house in the morning.”
“I know,” he said.
“Count the money,” I told him to help build his confidence. I pushed the manila envelope over, and he opened it and took out the bills.
“They’re all hundreds,” he commented. “There’s so many, they don’t look real.”
“They’re real, believe me,” I told him.
He started to count.