My children were asleep in their beds, splayed in configurations wildly different from those into which they had originally been tucked.
My parents were asleep in my bed, side-by-side, as they have been every night for over four decades.
It was a little after three in the morning.
I was at my desk, writing.
I was looking forward to spending time with family, but dreading the absolute loss of privacy that had already begun. For the next weeks, I would rarely be alone—and hence, I would have very few opportunities to work.
I couldn’t help myself. I had to squeeze a little more solitude from these few last quiet moments at my desk.
My last moments alone in New York.
Dad awoke shortly after dawn, and made his way to the kitchen. He put on a teakettle for coffee and began to make bacon and pancakes.
He had asked me to supply the utensils and ingredients the night before, so I could sleep in.
I had been awake on the couch since Dad first flipped on the kitchen light.
With breakfast underway, I got up to wake and dress the kids. Mom was watching television in bed, so I kissed her good morning.
I had suggested that Dad double my usual quantity of pancake batter. He was already on the second full platter of pancakes when we sat down, with plenty more to go.
“I think TJ had me make so many pancakes just to keep me busy and out of the way,” he groused playfully from the kitchen.
“I’m just not that smart, Dad,” I said, cutting the kids’ stacks as they poured torrents of syrup. “But it sure did keep you out from underfoot.”
Dad retrieved the car as I washed the breakfast dishes and tended to some final packing. We loaded up and were soon underway.
I volunteered to drive the first leg—just to get us out of the city, I said.
With any luck, I would drive all day. It had been a while since I was behind the wheel.
We were on the turnpike when the kids requested our favorite road song.
Being in the navigator’s seat, Mom was in charge of distributing CDs. She pulled out the requested disk. I cued the song.
The kids were soon scream singing “Stacy’s Mom.”
“Excuse me, but what’s this song about?” my mother asked.
“Oh, they are singing what you think they are singing, Mom.”
“Oo-oo-kay,” she replied, extending her vowels in a querulous tone.
Hopefully, Mom would be napping when they requested “Filthy/Gorgeous.”
Mom was accustomed to the notion that her Yankee grandchildren were a little different that her other grandbabies.
For their part, the kids were prepared for the occasional clash of cultures when we returned to the Deep South.
Their mother had reminded them that south of the Mason-Dixon, it wasn’t kosher to take the Lord’s name in vain. I had already commended my oldest son that morning when an aggravation warranted a “Jeez” rather than a “Jesus Christ.”
The kids ewre beginning to refer to the family as “y’all,” though they did so by waving his fingers in the air as quotation marks.My daughter laughed at Southern accents—she giggled as she loudly sang “Own the Road Aga-yun”—but recognized a particular awesomeness to the landscape of endless pine trees, “Crackle Barrels” and “Wall Marks.”
We asked me to replay “Stacy’s Mom” over and again, with my middle son offering his parody rendition as “Stacy’s Dog.”
“Okay, that’s enough of ‘Stacy’s Mom,’” I finally said, putting down my foot as we crossed into Pennsylvania. “Find other things to do, okay?”
The boys reverted to collecting sightings of states on license plates. Mom pitched in to assist. Dad interviewed my daughter’s dolls, asking their favorite colors, favorite songs, favorite foods, and so on, as their five-year-old agent offered thoughtful answers.
The Fountains of Wayne played on.
And the bourbon sits inside me
Right now I’m a puppet in its sway
And it may just be the whiskey talking
But the whiskey says I miss you every day
So I taxi to an all-night party
Park me in the corner in an old chair
Sip my drink and stare out into space
And now you’re leaving New York
For no better place
The Garden State was in my rear view mirror, and beyond that, Manhattan. My life there was on hiatus as I drove South.
Watching the white lines zipping under my hood, I took stock of things back there.
Anna was flipping the on switch again.
Bridget and I had managed a trip together, spending several days on a beach.
Madeline had made a second trip to visit me.
Mitzi was surrendering herself to my domination.
Shelby was going to endure surgery without me.
The clock was winding down on my summer romance with Marcus.
My future was full of possibilities.
Now, I was driving headlong into my past.
I pushed the eject button.
I pushed the eject button. “Hey Mom, would you please pass that John Hiatt CD?”
I didn't say we wouldn't hurt anymore
That's how you learn, you just get burned
But we don't have to feel like dirt anymore
Though love's not earned; baby, it's our turn
We were always looking for true north
With our heads in the clouds, just a little off course
I left the motor running, now if you're feeling down and out
Come on, baby; drive south, with the one you love
Two days later, we were at my parents’ house.
That first night, I fried chicken, mashed potatoes, boiled corn and cut fresh tomatoes.
The kids chased Mom’s puppy, watched television, and went to bed early.
My father and grandmother did dishes as Mom went to bed with the puppy.
A few “good nights” and “I love yous” later, I was alone.
I poured a tall bourbon and walked down to the lake.
I pulled off my shirt and sat on the pier, dangling my feet in the water.
I sipped my bourbon, leaning back on bent elbows.
You forget how many stars there are down here, I thought.
After a while I stood and unzipped my shorts. I kicked them off to one side and stood naked in the moonlight.
I took another sip and put aside my glass.
My dive broke the black stillness.
Fountains of Wayne