“Isn’t that where we used to turn?” Maile asked.
We were too late – the sun had already set in Orange Park, Florida. Still, we followed dark roads through the vaguely familiar neighborhood.
“I think that’s the road,” Maile would say, or, “Wait, that looks familiar.”
Then, as if emerging from a dream, clarity. Turn right at the stop sign. Straight through the next intersection. Then finally left on to Papaya Drive.
Even without the sun, the sky maintained some kind of cobalt blue against which the inky outlines of palm trees made everything feel very foreign, very faraway, and very long ago. I stopped the van and put it in park. Maile and I stared across the street at the single story house.
Eleven years had passed, but nothing had changed. Oh, maybe a tree was missing from the front yard. Maybe the grass looked better cared for. I doubt they had an anemic vegetable garden behind the house.
Memories popped into my mind like Polaroids. Pulling up all the carpet in the living room during our first day there and then sleeping on the rolls of old carpet that night. Me coming home from a long week on the road to find light peeking around the edges of the curtains, knowing the person who loves me most on this earth sat inside that house. Bringing home a little puppy that totally cramped our style but to whom we could not say “no” at the pet store.
And they just kept flashing through my mind, these instants.
* * * * *
But sitting there in the minivan, with four kids crying or laughing or arguing in the back seats, it felt like maybe all that stuff never happened. And if it did happen, it was so long ago – maybe it didn’t matter. Maybe all those memories would eventually just evaporate from my brain, and then from Maile’s brain, and then all would be forgotten.
Then Maile reached over and grabbed my hand.
“It’s been a crazy 12 ½ years,” she said, and I knew exactly what she meant. And suddenly it did matter, every little moment, even the ones I’ve already forgotten, because all of those moments are what brought us to that moment, parked in the dark in a minivan with our four audacious children having their own Barnum and Bailey’s three-ring circus in the back seat.
So we just sat there, our headlights shining down that old familiar road, and we stared at that house the way you stare at an old friend when you pass them at the county fair, and then you walk on without saying anything because words would only ruin the ground around the memorials of those good times.
Some things are best left in the very long ago.