By: Vifa McBride
Creative Nonfiction, 2018
My mother was the sort of woman who drove down every road just to see if she could naturally find herself home, yet who took the same route home from work every day for over thirty years. I am not really sure what sort of woman that is, but I am sure that she wouldn’t have given a damn about that because the geese chase you on Maple but the dogs wander the roads on Esota, and frankly she has better things to do than to go around worrying about what someone like me thought about how she liked to spend her sunsets, and in her day you’d have to go out to the tree and pick your own switch and you would learn quick to take a large one and rethink your tone of voice young lady, thank you very much. I had once thought to bring up the fact that there were, in fact, no trees from which to take switches around the house in which she grew up, but I knew that she would just as soon tear one from the ground at her feet.
On this drive, the twice-a-day-for-thirty-years drive, she would pass the sign that once was white but had chipped itself away to reveal the bare wood beneath. As children we would remark that someone should take it down, just a silly old plank nailed to a silly old tree for an event years ago that probably nobody even went to because it would be silly to go out and just run for no reason. My mother would sometimes smile and sometimes scowl at this. Then she would rest her hand at the top of the steering wheel and point, somewhere far far away as if we weren’t talking about the sign but about something we were too young to understand. Always she told a story about some group of women running for some cause and always I asked how people would raise money at all by running and thought it a sordid affair that anyone would ever have to.
She could only see it as she drove toward home, being just the simple old plank that it was. For much of my life this meant nothing to me. Even for the last few weeks, I have spun silently over the spindly road and noted the sign, and though I felt greeted by this nostalgic piece it was no more than that. A raggedy old remnant from a childhood lost before I could ever quite grasp it. But today, as the golden fall sun sets the maples practically aflame, and the same bigtalking ravens calling out Ma! Ma! Ma! as she had let us believe they did on one day full of laughter when my brother was still little and she still loved us.
Sometimes you think things are all out of place and falling apart in the moment, but when you look back you can’t help but feel that all of this was intentional. So specific a set of things had to happen and maybe if one detail had been different things would have been okay but you couldn’t hold all of the pieces at once and they all fell into place against you. Maybe that’s what I want. If I can make all of the pieces fall just like they did then, with such a gentle destruction, maybe I’ll learn some kind of control over it. Like it’s a story and you, poor reader, are joining the protagonist in an intense bout of suffering and only I can guide you through them. Like I can give you both a new ending to her story.
The tears melt grief into my skin and I feel like I have to scream. She’s gone. She’s been gone for a long time, and now I think that maybe she had never really been with us and maybe she kept taking this road hoping to find her real home and maybe she never found it and maybe 45 I’m going to be just like that. I sit in my car, crumpled against the wheel, and sob beneath the trees, thinking of my mother and the times that I somehow knew she had done the same, because damn it we were trying but sometimes we don’t know what to do and there’s always someone saying keep going, keep going but we’re tired, so tired.
A sound leaves my throat that might have started out as a sob but that fell back into my throat and rang from my chest instead. All she ever did was keep going. I stumble from the car and into the ditch beside it, locking tearful eyes with the old thing. There are no people around to mask the flaking leaves beneath my boots. The corvids watch curiously, this human that collects their things. I press my shaking fingers under the edges of the plank and pull, expecting a great bond to have held it in place for so long, but the wood gives easily and I hurry both of us to the car because this is probably stealing from a public area and so I sit looking at the antique tree-rot in my passenger seat.
Keep going, girls!
She can only see it on the way home.
Keep going, girls!
I grab the thing again and shove it into the trunk.