Picture: “Evergreen Plantation” Photographed by Mike Jones
The truck’s engine purred beneath me. I gripped the wheel with white knuckles, unwilling to pry them from the hot leather. The dirt road stretching out before me beckoned me home. But it has been a long time.
I turned the ignition and removed the keys, tossing them on top of the dash. I looked at the picture of you taped next to my speedometer. A small bead of sweat formed on my forehead. The southern heat felt familiar as it built in the old truck’s cab. The stagnate air hung quietly while I mustered the courage to get out.
I sighed, opened the door, hopped out, and shut it a little harder than I meant to. I was more nervous about this than I cared to admit.
Someone had recently driven down the dirt driveway; the small particles of dust still hung in the air, visible when passing through the bright sun’s rays cutting through the trees. The old oaks had been planted down this driveway sometime before the civil war, every twenty five feet or so. Their branches intertwined with each other’s and over the driveway creating quite an enchanting tunnel of green. The leaves were full; yet always allowed just enough sun through to make the undergrowth feel magical. It’s magic wasn’t lost on me today. I had almost forgotten how these trees made me feel.
Willing myself to put one foot in front of another, I started the walk down the long dirt driveway. This was one stretch of road that needed to be walked, not driven. I needed the time to process what awaited me at the other end. I could barely make out what laid ahead, the end of the tunnel of trees almost glowed white with the bright sunlight. The end of the road no longer obstructed by the giant oaks or their leaves. With each tree I passed under, a different memory flooded my mind.
We hung from that tree upside down and played like monkeys.
I broke my arm falling out of that one.
You carved our initials on the backside of that one’s trunk.
We pretended those leaves were money and collected thousands, rich for the day.
And there is branch we sat on when you told me you loved me.
We ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches under that tree.
And there is where you proposed.
Each passing tree held beautiful moments. The next held tragic reminders. Back and forth, until I wasn’t sure if my tears were from joy or grief. The red dirt under my sandals left temporary footprints of my journey. After the summer rain that would most likely fall later, there would be no evidence of me coming home.
Every few feet the sun would warm me in it’s rays. A welcomed sensation. But within seconds, the shadows were grim reminders of the truth. I was walking this road alone; and while your ghost played among the trees around me, you weren’t beside me anymore.
Up ahead I saw the distinct line the sun drew in the red Georgia clay. Like the line of rain you see falling in the distance, or the line of children during a game of red rover at recess. The hot sun on my face meant I was home. I knew who waited for me on the other side of the bright white light, but I was unsure if I was ready to see her. This was a visit I had postponed in attempt to save myself. Save myself from the truth. The grief of my reality. The reality of my grief. There would be no more shadows, no more place to hide. There was only the full sun to expose everything I’d been attempting to run from. Going home does that to a person. Exposes you, for you who you really are. Where you came from, and those deep, deep wishes of who you’d hoped to be.
I can no longer be what I had hoped. Not without you. That’s why I knew this would be so hard. This is why I had waited so long. But I knew today was the day. I woke up feeling brave.
I stood, staring at the wall of light. The lines of trees stopped and the sun blared down hard on the expansive, uncut fields of tall grass that spread out before me. The house anchored the end of the driveway the way I remembered.
She stepped out of the front door, wiping her weathered hands on her blue apron. Her face was tan deeply and wrinkled from years under the Georgia sun. Her white hair pulled back in a loose bun. Her brown eyes looked worn and heavy with her own years of sorrow and pain. I saw a tear run down her cheek as she nodded and slowly turned to enter back into the house.
I needed her. As much as I didn’t want to or wished I could do this on my own, I knew I needed her. I stepped out of the protection of the tree’s shadows and walked towards my home. The sun bathed me in what I had feared. Exposure.
I walked towards her, towards my past, so that I may find my future.
So that I may start new again.