I put the key in the ignition and try to hold back the tears. The past week home has been surprisingly easy. Everyone asks how I feel…mostly wondering how excited I am. I feel nothing, really. It’s been two weeks of catching up with friends, and packing my life away. Now that it’s time to leave, the lump catches in my throat. I wake up my three sisters to say goodbye. The three of them each hold me a little too long to not get upset. I try to keep a strong face. Mom is the best. She knows how hard it all is for me and tries to keep the conversation light: “Be safe, have fun, call with updates.” As soon as I’m ready to leave, Dad conveniently hops in the shower. I announce to the house I’m leaving. Mom says its ok but I know better. She opens the bathroom door and tells him I’m leaving. “OMG Are you kidding me???” It’s ok, I’ll wait, just tell him to be quick. He is. My sisters have already gone back to bed. It was a late night. Mom sits with me in the dark of the living room. Dad comes downstairs, dressed in jeans and a Giants t-shirt. I try to be as ready as possible. I don’t want to say bye to him and have to linger afterwards. I slug down a quick glass of OJ and grab a bottle of water off the back porch. OK, I’m ready. As soon as I say goodbye I can walk out the front door. Dad hugs me longer than he should. I can feel him starting to get upset. I cannot cry right now or I might never leave. I don’t look him in the eye as I head for the door. “Jesus Christ, Dad.” Mom laughs. Dad has no idea what he’s doing to me. One more hug for Mom. I’m out the door. I pull away with tears streaming down my face, Mom and Dad watching me from the front door. It’s dark. The moon is still high in the sky.
I cry most of the way to Mike’s. As soon as I pull in the driveway, there’s some excited tapping on the window. I pull myself together and step out. Troy has a huge smile on his face, ear to ear, pumped up and ready to go. There are even a few motivational claps in there. I feel numb. The lights are all on in Mike’s house. His dad stands at the door while his Mom sits at the kitchen table; both with cups of coffee in their hands. I’m concentrating on not crying. Do not cry. Mr. Manfre wishes us luck; I’m sure he’s worried. Mrs. Manfre tells us to cheer up and be excited. She doesn’t understand that with every close human touch I’m that much closer to breaking down. Mike starts the drive, me in the passenger seat. As soon as we get to 295 South the silent crying begins (as if Mike doesn’t know what’s happening). I’m completely overwhelmed. Eventually, I drift off to sleep.
When I wake, we’re in Maryland, stopping for breakfast with Troy’s dad, Harry. We eat at the Double T Diner at 8am. There’s something weird about a white-haired old lady waiting on you, wearing a purple baltimore ravens jersey. Her name is Kathy – very nice. It’s my first time meeting Troy’s dad. I rudely interrupt him to announce, “OMG, Troy looks exactly like you.” He laughs. Even though Sonny and I both don’t know him, the conversation is easy. He pokes fun at our generation, “You kids and technology…do any of you know how to read a map??” No, Harry, I do not.
We leave the diner. I fall asleep again, mouth hanging open most of the time. Finally, in Virginia, I get motivated and start to drive. I drive all the way into Nashville, Tennessee, where we stay the night. Troy, Sonny, Mike, and I arrive at the Hilton. Mike’s Dad has free rooms so we’re lucky to stay extremely cheap for our three nights on the road. We’re met by the most adorable lady giving us each a warm oatmeal chocolate chip cookie right out of the oven upon arrival. What service! She tells us we’re the most positive people to enter the hotel all day. (Lady, you just gave us all warm cookies!) We then get settled and head to a bar, the Red Door (Farno’s recommendation).
It’s very chill. Everyone kind of stares as we enter, but it passes. We each go up to buy rounds for each other, When I approach the bar, I try to stay calm. If this was NY or even Hoboken, they’d be asking for my drink order as soon as they saw me at the door. Not so much. I stand there waiting. I try to be calm. Finally, a regular next to me asks if I’ve even ordered a drink yet, I tell her no. “OK, we need to do something about this.” She waves down the bartender. He is very nice, it’s just the service is terrible compared to what I’m used to. What will it be like in California?? I order Red Splash, which is totally decent. I am not expecting this place to have any kind of good wine. I spot the bottle. When I tell the bartender he has it, he has no idea what I’m talking about…actually thinks I’m ordering some kind of silly shot. The four of us hang out and talk about our ideas for writing, We’re all very motivated. (Obviously, we haven’t even arrived yet).
We get a cab back to the hotel, preparing for another long drive tomorrow. I’m anxious, but I’m pretty positive I’ve been through the worst of it this morning. It’s all up hill from here.