The road to my father’s house is always long. There isn’t a way to make it shorter. I once had friends in Thomasville I could drop in and see but at Christmas their road was much longer than mine. They spent two days on the road at Christmas, first getting up at dawn to dive to her parent’s house which was only twenty miles away, but by lunch they had to go back home and drop off the toys her parent’s had given their two kids, and then on the road to his parent’s home which was seven hours away. They would spend the night there and come home the next day and all the while the kids were yelling and screaming about wanting to go home to begin with. No one on either side of the issue would give an inch because of that insane idea of having Christmas at someone’s house is more important than Christmas itself.
We did that for a couple of years when I was a very small child and it was worse back then because there were three of us kids and we lived in a very tight knit little neighborhood. We wanted to get out and explore Christmas gifts with the other kids, but we were boxed up and taken to our grandmother’s house two hours away and wouldn’t get back until dark. That only lasted a few years and then everyone started coming to our house Christmas morning and that lasted until the divorce then we started having two of everything there for a while. The two Christmas and Thanksgiving ordeal still goes on to this day, except we finally have just one Thanksgiving at my sister’s house now.
The road back is long. The place where I spent the worst part of two decades of my life is packed with ghosts and dead memories, long past attempts at growing up and drunken swipes at good times. Most of the dirt roads are gone now, and we never saw that coming, like most things, but no one ever realized roads themselves where transmutable. Once was, at sixteen, you could park a car in the middle of the road in the middle of the night and stand there and take a leak, drink a beer, roll a joint, make out with a young girl, and traffic didn’t exist. You could pull off into any field and there was nothing but darkness and stars and hope. Rarely was there any sort of interruption and that was not nearly as rare as meaning, but we weren’t sure what that meant any more than we were cognizant of the world around us that might change.
On the outskirts of Blakely there’s a small motel and I think it was there before the town, actually. I spent forty dollars, back in the early eighties, for two night there, for a long date with a woman I loved, and lost, and had regained just for a while longer. I was going into the Army, she was a single mom all of a sudden, and it seemed like what we had lost in the High School we might have again. There was alcohol and pot, and a lot of sex in two nights but there wasn’t anything else. To me, what else was there to have? I was twenty-two, and broke, with no car, no prospects, no outlook past what was in the last bottle, no future past the next erection, no sense of obligation except to keep the illicit drug industry alive, but I did love her wildly. She had left her daughter with her parents and she missed the child and I did not understand that, could not understand that, and when a friend picked us up to take us home after those two days we went down that same road that I had to travel to get to Christmas, and I remember it still.
The road has been changed, though, and now it’s a four lane where there was once only two, and there’s a by-pass and the woman who was still a girl with a daughter is now a grandmother because that daughter has a daughter. In the blink of an eye everything changed and now all that is left that was the same is the motel at the edge of the town I cannot stand but have to come back to anyway. There is the house where the first young person I knew died of cancer. There is the house where the first person I knew whose father died when we were still in High School. There is the house where someone I knew was killed along with his brother in a car wreck. There is a spot where there was a restaurant, now long gone, just a bare patch of land. There is the old pizza place, long since turned into other restaurants, but that is where I fell in love with pinball. There was a liquor store there where I bought cheap booze when I was sixteen. I know where each and every side road leads and each and very side road leads nowhere, just as they always have, and just as they always will, until they in turn, are changed or destroyed.
I feel like a ghost, recalled from the dead, to haunt where I once lived, in the name of the past. I pull over in the parking lot of where there was once a place that made good pizza, and where I learned to play pinball, and I wonder about what happened to the man who ran the place, and made the food, whose name I never knew. I made a drug deal in this very spot in 1978 and bought a pound of pot, and that was going to be my ticket to big time drug dealing, and I wonder if the man who ran the pizza place had dreams as big as mine. I am likely older right now than he was when he made pizza, and I always thought he was ancient.
The road back leads past all these places, but now I am surfacing, driving upwards and outwards and into the future, not the past. Christmas is over and the town where I am but a ghost recedes from my rearview mirror and resides only in the form in which you see it, for yet another year.