By Ann Ivins
This is the road to the house where we lived. It is Father’s Day 2008, and my husband and daughter are already at his parents’ house for the celebration. I am driving, alone, for no reason I care to examine.
Scenic Loop Road is no longer as scenic or as looped as it was, widened and straightened as much as the terrain will permit. Still I could drive it by feel alone. This rural road was the lifeline of my not-so-rural life as a child and teen, a two-lane escape route from home life to schools and malls and friends. Our own tiny residential street was pure dirt and still is; our house was stacked rock on one floor, wood above, no central air, about a hundred years old and not unique in the neighborhood. Quaint. Or primitive, according to the whims of the plumbing and the weather.
A mile and a bit down: a dead man’s curve where the biggest local creek runs under the road. To the right, the rippled limestone wall carved out by the water is now a historical site. Once upon a time a local jokester spray-painted a mouth and eyes around the largest stone protuberance. The paint appears to be gone at last, but the greeny-brown pool beneath looks the same, opaque and still.
The night my father drove the Grey Ghost off the bridge into that water, the surface was black and red and blue, bouncing back police car lights and a tow truck’s flashers. I couldn’t see much else from the window of my mother’s car. Jason was asleep in his pajamas beside me; my faith in my mother was so absolute that when she leaned over the back seat to tell me everything was okay, I fell asleep too. Did we wake up again that night? Do I remember my father’s pearl-snapped shirt dark around the neck and shoulders or the fat bandage over his eye? Maybe. Maybe that was another time.
Around two more curves. I am pleased beyond belief to see the trees still arching and meeting over the road, a gallery of untouched live oaks. The road widening crews haven’t reached this stretch and I don’t want to see it when they do. A buff caliche road slants sharply up and away to the left. The cinderblock City Hall directly opposite gleams with new white paint, although it appears deserted, just as it was every time I pushed my way up that dusty hill on my first yellow and brown three speed. Every now and then a lonely fire truck would be out in front. The volunteer fire department appears to have its own building now, just across the road.
The night my father hit the street sign at that intersection and flattened it into the municipal building lawn, he arrived home to find one of the license plates had come off his Trans-Am. As he told it, he returned to the scene in the predawn hours to find the evidence wedged into the soft dirt beneath the dead sign. He picked up the plate and left, still unobserved. Still drunk, however, he scrawled an obscene message on the concrete stoop, cleverly leaving it unsigned. In his version of the story, the trickster hero had once again outsmarted the forces of authority. I was proud of him.
Now a turn at the tiny city’s one business, a landmark restaurant built of the same limestone as our house. These are the dirt roads, pitted by runoff and graded once or twice a year, that I walked to and from the bus stop every day. A left turn through the remains of some long-ago stone gate. Over another creek, this one my playground in the years before boys and cars. Keep to the left at the fork.
Pass the house with the railroad ties, where as kids we got the idea that it was strange that two women lived together and raised small dogs, but had no idea exactly why that might be.
Pass the incongruous bamboo wilderness, meant as a privacy screen but long since turned jungle.
Pass the leaning pin oak in front of a neighbor’s house, marked now with a reflector, marked one night twenty-three years ago with most of the red paint from the passenger door of my father’s Ford truck. His friend Jerry owned a garage; the door was repainted before the tree’s owners could search out the offender. In the rain, the bark glinted red long after the actual paint had peeled away. I knew not to talk about the paint.
At last, the long pebbled driveway into which I do not pull. The window of what used to be my room still looks directly out onto the terminus of that drive which was the prime parking space reserved always for my father, requiring only a straight forward motion and a timely brake. The bed my grandfather built especially for me was set high over storage drawers and rose to the level of that front window’s sill: to this day, headlights through a window in the dark will wake me at once. At night, all the nights of childhood, I inhabited an involuntary lookout post.
Not the lights that particular night, but the horn. For some reason, my father had pulled much too close to the house and was blowing his Continental’s horn in steady long blasts at short intervals. This was new and therefore even more dangerous, so I eased back the blind by millimeters, uncertain how far he might be able to see into the house. A momentary silence. I looked out. The driver’s door was wide open, the interior light on, and my father’s head swayed slightly before he collapsed onto the steering wheel, blasting the horn again, which woke him just long enough to lift his head and cease the sound for a moment. The quiet lasted just long enough for him to pass out again and set off the horn.
I had to get my mother, who hadn’t wakened yet. Carefully, stealthily, I slid off the bed and went crouching from my room, terrified that my father might somehow see me seeing him. Afraid above all else of hurting his pride, afraid that my father might feel ashamed or embarrassed, there in the driveway, having made it only almost far enough this time.