We drove to Lancaster in the pitch dark. My son and youngest daughter were in the back seat with the dog between them, and my oldest daughter took the front seat so she could work the Spotify playlist from my phone. I should have been exhausted, but I had crossed into overstimulated territory like my kids sometimes did when they were infants and toddlers. Miles passed, along with bridges and hills and all the exits I recognized from previous trips. One by one the occupants of the car drifted off to sleep, except, of course, the driver.
I used the quiet time to think, to pray, to process the clusterfuck of the previous days and weeks. I was still wearing the mismatched outfit; I still hadn't showered since the evening after the movers left (which was really only the night before). Every once in awhile I have a day when I think back to events from the morning and feel like they happened a week ago instead of mere hours: that night on the drive to Lancaster felt like a year from the morning when we dropped the table on my toe. Only the physical pain as I pressed the accelerator could convince me it was only hours in the past.
We rolled into Lancaster well after midnight, and I dropped off the two older kids with their aunt. They shuffled into her house in a stupor, and I backed out of the driveway and headed to a nearby hotel with the little one and the dog. My former sister-in-law would have welcomed all of us--including the dog--with open arms, but there's only so much chaos I can feel okay about inflicting on someone else.
Bleary-eyed and the walking definition of a hot mess, I grabbed only what we needed from the car, checked in, staggered up to our room holding the little one on my hip with one arm and the dog's leash in the other hand, and I got everyone settled before taking one of the ten most appreciated showers of my life. I changed into the clean pajamas (and yes, underwear) carefully placed near the top of my bag, fell into the bed, and thanked God for the Red Roof Inn before sleeping like the dead for seven full hours.
We woke up, gathered our things, and checked out of the hotel. I had to figure out how to reconfigure the arrangement of all the stuff so that we would fit, but somehow I got it all in there. Thank goodness for little ones whose feet don't reach the ground and an engineer uncle who managed to teach me a few things about how to make the most of available space.
We drove back over to Aunt Nicole's to visit and retrieve the big kids. Nicole is my youngest's namesake, and I have loved her since we met when she was 13 and walked around humming TLC's "Waterfalls." She spends her life supporting, including, and celebrating people most of us would walk past without stopping, and I never see her or hear her voice on the other end of the phone without feeling for a moment like all is right with the world because someone like her exists in it. I hope my daughters grow up to be just like her. After all the stress and sadness and grief of the preceding weeks and days, in the middle of this crazy journey, the stop at Nicole's was probably the moment I started to really breathe again.
We had breakfast at a diner midway between her house and the highway, and I got to hang out with her toddler for awhile at the end. It's no secret I love babies, and for some reason, they seem to love me back most of the time. We bonded over the rock bed in the parking lot while Nicole bonded with my brood over pancakes, and before I knew it, we were saying goodbye in the parking lot. I insisted on a selfie of our group, and in an effort to get in close, we ended up leaning into each other in almost a pyramid configuration.
I remember learning in geometry that a triangle is a sturdy, reliable shape (and then trying to incorporate as many of them as possible when constructing the stupid marshmallow-and-toothpick bridges we had to build for a class project). The angles draw strength from each other in a way they can't in a square or rectangle; there's something about having that connector piece ("hypotenuse," in technical terms) reaching across between two points that adds stability. Aesthetically, a triangle shape is pleasing to the eye, and photographers are encouraged to pose their subjects and compose their shots with triangles in mind. Triangles = good stuff.
I doubt Nicole would have ever predicted someone would call her a hypotenuse, much less intend it as a compliment. But she was, and it is, and I can't think of a more perfect person to launch us forward, away from the trajectory of all that we knew in the direction of the path unfolding in front of us in Texas. I remember pulling out of that parking lot with a sigh of relief and smiling a real smile in the rearview mirror at the little ones as I reached across the front seat for my daughter's hand. I might have even said out loud, "We're going to be okay."
Mother, photographer, writer. Expert in making things up as she goes and figuring things out along the way.