I woke up in Chattanooga with no idea where I was for a few minutes. I propped myself up on my elbows and sat there blinking while my eyes adjusted, though only a minuscule sliver of light found its way through the thick hotel curtains. My four-year-old's curly hair spilled across the pillow next to my face, my son took up a disproportionate amount of space across the bottom of the bed, and the dog was using my ass as a pillow as he is wont to do. I glanced at the other double bed in the room and saw my fourteen-year-old with all kinds of available real estate at her disposal. I grumbled a bit as I made the dog jump to the floor by pushing myself up and out of the pile.
My phone buzzed with a text exchange about the cat we had given to a family in Connecticut before we left. They needed vet records and stuff, which were in the car, so I threw on some clothes and went out to find the paperwork. While the dog sniffed around the grass along the edge of the parking lot, I snapped a photo of the vet record and sent it off, followed by a Paypal payment to cover the vet visit, and thus completed my obligation to quirky Felix the Cat, who my ex-husband adopted and promptly decided he couldn't keep about ten months earlier. One more loose end tied up.
The dog and I came back inside, and I sent off a few emails in the quiet before the kids got up. I got myself dressed and ready before starting the refrain of "C'mon, everybody...time to wake up! Let's go get breakfast before we get in the car." Nobody wanted breakfast. Nobody wanted to get up. Nobody wanted to move.
Sorry, guys, not an option.
They staggered through the hotel breakfast (make-your-own waffles, biscuits and gravy, bacon, and--most importantly--coffee), we loaded up the car with all our stuff again, and hit the road.
Day Three felt like it was off to a good start, until we hit a traffic jam that brought us to a complete halt. Cars did what they could to pull aside and make way for a couple of police cruisers to come through, lights flashing and sirens blaring, and I told my kids to say a prayer for whoever was injured or killed in what must be a tragic accident up ahead.
Traffic inched along for a long time before opening up as quickly as it had slowed down. I expected to see crumpled metal or some other dramatic remnant, but we didn't come across anything resembling the scene of an accident. It seemed weird to have such a significant delay with no evident cause.
The explanation came when my friend in New York texted to ask if we were still in Chattanooga, hoping we were out of harm's way. Turns out the lights and sirens were headed for this when they went blazing past us. A quick CNN search made me sit in dazed silence for the entire time we were driving through Georgia. When will it end? When will we stop hearing headlines about angry men with guns and nothing to lose?
Alabama gave us this storm. Soon after I took this photo, the rain started falling hard and fast, and I couldn't see anything except the red taillights in front of me. We didn't pull over, though. No time for that. I made the kids listen to "Sweet Home Alabama" because it had to be done.
We crossed the Mississippi line and kept going.
The closer we got to Hattiesburg, I started sitting straighter in the driver's seat. An optimistic chirp took up residence in my voice even as I replied to the endless stream of "Are we almost there?" from the four-year-old. I started smiling a little easier, dancing more in my seat (to the chagrin of the teenager next to me), and maybe driving just a little bit faster than necessary.
You see, Hattiesburg meant family. My mom's dearest childhood friend waited for us there, she who has known and loved me since before I can remember, who calls me godchild and stood ready with arms wide open, her oven and refrigerator full, clean towels by the pool and clean sheets on the beds. Her embrace felt like the first hint of home, and I almost cried when she hugged me after we pulled into her driveway.
We stumbled out of the car and into bathing suits, and everyone loved the pool until the freaking dog fell in and sank like a stone. Accustomed to such calamities, I grabbed his collar and towed him to the steps so that he could climb out. The kids looked at me like a hero, and I thought, "Really?! After everything else we've had to deal with, pulling the stupid dog out of the pool is what makes you respect me?" but whatever. I'll take what I can get.
We dried off and gathered around the dining room table to feast on salad, crawfish pie, macaroni and cheese, and other culinary marvels infused with Southern hospitality and love from the hands who prepared them. I drank sweet wine and felt wave after wave of tension roll off me in the muggy heat. The food, the company, and the conversation all combined to create a peaceful, gentle moment I will never forget.
We fell asleep that night in comfort and safety, and I thanked my lucky stars for friendship that stands the test of time and distance and somehow expands to include each other's offspring. Here's to the endurance of hickory sticks.
Thank you again to an amazing Tammy/Yaya. That Mississippi summer night glows in my memory.
Mother, photographer, writer. Expert in making things up as she goes and figuring things out along the way.