Moving Home
By Meggie Green
Art by Sarah Jean Alexander




I.

When I move home from New York with Natalie in July, we take 81-South through the Appalachians and I drive most of the way while she plays with her phone and props her bare feet against the dash. We’re wearing jean shorts and our hair is up and we listen to whole albums by Third Eye Blind and Fleetwood Mac through battery-powered purple speakers we bought at a Walmart near Ocean City.

The mountains loom ahead of us and everything’s green and glowing in the sunlight, and the way the road stretches out and then bends back into itself makes me think of the tiny road that winds up the mountain back home. From the top you can see small farming towns and the Arkansas River, which in the early morning is obscured by another river of fog. There are moles and wild turkeys and trees that at their midsections grow horizontally for 12-15 inches and then back up again, creating makeshift chairs of varying heights. At night the fog crawls back over the river and animal shapes are lost to the darkness, but their noises carry through the trees, rhythmic and slow.


II.

We stop twice in Pennsylvania, first for coffee and then to eat Subway sandwiches. I put chips on my Veggie Delight and smash them between the bread and realize I only do that when I feel comfortable around someone. I tell Natalie this and she smiles. I say the last time I ate Subway I sat in my car in a hospital parking deck while outside the weight of snow bent branches to the ground. I put chips on my sandwich and watched the sunrise and stared at the dark red specks on my fingernails I got from holding a bag of my mom’s blood that drained from a thin tube attached to her upper thigh. She ate jello and watched “Wife Swap” and when the bag got full I carried it to the bathroom and emptied it into the toilet. The room was so cold that I wore my jacket and scarf while I slept, and when I woke up my mom was moving her toes in small circles.

When I think of my mom’s long hair falling over her hospital gown I think of the old house, of her stepping out of the bathtub and wrapping a towel around herself, her dark hair dripping and pools of water collecting on the tile floor. I think of her in my room at night, smoothing my hair, checking for snakes, rubbing my back until I fell asleep.

I think of how I treat my stuffed animals and boyfriends and dogs with the same learned tenderness, how I still have a strong urge to rub his back until he falls asleep because it’s pleasing and reassuring and asks for nothing, and that seems like the kindest thing you can give a sleepy person.


III.

It’s storming and we’re still wired from Adderall when we stop at a Motel 6 in Virginia. We discuss driving 8 hours out of the way to go to the beach the next day, and I tell Natalie it feels like we’re trying to prolong the trip and not move home at all. She nods and says she knows. After we take showers and dry our hair we go to a gas station for beer and snacks, and we fall asleep on the bed looking at our phones and eating Doritos. In the morning we wake up late and hungover and don’t go to the beach, and I have a text that says, “I just walked into my room and was surprised to not see you, peripherally, in my bed.”

I think of his room the first time I saw it when I knocked on his door two years ago, and seeing it again when we left yesterday morning. There were stacks of papers on his desk secured by bobby pins of mine he’d found in the sheets. I think of waking up in a warm square of refracted sunlight on his bed and feeling momentarily confused by the speed of light through glass.


IV.

In North Carolina we drive through a long tunnel that delivers us to the other side of the Smoky Mountains. When the sun finds us again our pupils constrict and adjust to the daylight. I think about when he visited me three months ago, about the cab ride back to my apartment, how our driver stopped to get chicken nuggets and in the drive-thru I lay my head on his lap and looked up at his beard, the broad slope of his nose, the menu’s fluorescent lights caught in his glasses. I think about how our hands found each other through our coats and when he leaned his head over mine I closed my eyes and watched the darkness grow and thought of a small animal in the shadow of a larger animal.

I am always thinking of him in terms of animals, and if two people are ultimately unknowable to each other, then an animal must be more unknowable still. I regard him with the same stubborn concern that I do the dog, and yet her loyalty is unmatched by his. My immutable idiot love for him is maybe not love, but then what is the gnawing feeling I get for nonhuman animals whose kind eyes belie a fundamental lacking?


V.

I think of the last time I called him from my roof, how I dangled my feet over the ledge while he read me a poem by his friend, how I cried silently when he said, “And no one has leaned over and kissed me for a long time.” I wiped my nose on my sleeve and said, “That’s really good.” I told him that when we got off the phone I’d send him a picture of the sun going down over the bay so he’d get to see two sunsets.

Each state we drive through is made more colorful by its own highway wildflower program, and in Arkansas this time of year the roads are lined on either side by Ox-Eyed Daisies and Purple Coneflowers. When I talk to him on the phone I want to live inside the phone call and not where I’m calling from. When I drive toward him on 40-West my whole body feels like a nervous engine and my stomach is where it shakes the most.


VI.

I text my mom when we cross the Mississippi and she texts back emoticons that mean she’s very excited to see me. I imagine lying on the kitchen floor while the dog licks my face and sniffs my bags, my grandma drinking wine and playing online poker, my dad on the mountain wearing a wide-brimmed hat and carrying armfuls of branches to the fire.

I think of pounding beers with my sister and then walking alone and tipsy to his house and standing on his front porch, wondering if he’ll hug me and how tightly, what’ll be different about his room, whether he’ll look at me when I’m not looking and look away when I look at him. I text him a picture of a sign that means we’re an hour from Little Rock.

I glance at my phone and feel like I have to pee but decide I can hold it until Natalie has to go too. There are beads of sweat on her nose and our knees are pink from the heat radiating through the windshield. I roll down my window when we cross the river and watch the shadow of the U-Haul move across the bright, rolling water. Natalie’s driving the last stretch of the trip and as the sun gets lower it hits her hair and she and the sky behind her are the same golden color. I look at our city’s sparse skyline and think of the curves of his arms, the hair that snakes around his ribs, the way he folds his towels. I feel tired and think of the things I say that mean, “I have made myself believe you are essential to me.” When our exit gets close Natalie plays her favorite Usher song and we both sing along with windblown hair, and somewhere deep in my belly I feel like I got off at the wrong stop or boarded the wrong flight, like I am hurtling dumb and witless to a dead place.





*
Meggie Green lives in Arkansas
*
http://funyeah.tumblr.com
*
Sarah Jean Alexander lives in Baltimore
*
http://sjwritten.wordpress.com
*