The Long Road Home

He couldn’t remember how long he had been driving. The house had been quiet when he crept away like a thief in the night.

It had rained hard all night. Speeding down the mountain road despite the still slick surface, he saw the sun slowly pushing aside the low-hanging clouds. It would be a magnificent sunrise, but its promise did little to lift the weight from his chest.

The Suburban’s wheels swished softly as they struggled to cling to the smooth, wet macadam. Reaching the valley, he sped along the highway, not sure where he was going. Here and there, he saw a barn leaning precipitously, fighting desperately to cling to what surely had been a once glorious life.

Occasionally, he passed a stone farmhouse, still splendid against the ravages of past winters. He wondered about its inhabitants. What stories could these houses tell? Cows grazed peacefully in pastures, now brilliantly green and sparkling under the early morning sun. Up one hill, down the next, the truck wound its way through the countryside.

He wanted to scream – a deep guttural scream that only he would hear. He had left his kids with her and her parents. The thought clouded his vision. He wondered if anyone would miss him. He anguished over the thought of his kids waking and finding him gone.  Still, he couldn’t stand the fighting and arguments that had become increasingly mean-spirited and painful.

Anger stirred in his belly as he clenched his teeth, knuckles white gripping the steering wheel. I’ll call her later.

Heading eastward, he knew he would eventually reach the interstate. Once there, he intuitively headed south. At noon, he wheeled off the highway, stopped for gas, and bought a 12-pack of beer and cigarettes. At his kids’ urging, he had stopped smoking years ago. Now, he knew the cigarettes would calm him. He had no appetite.

Back on the interstate, he drove more carefully, not wanting to attract anyone’s attention. At the first rest stop, he relieved himself. Clambering back into the truck, he gazed at the empty beer cans littering the floor. The seats normally would have been occupied with noisy, bickering kids. He sighed deeply. Might as well head home.

Hours later, the sun began to set. No one had called. The absence of contact stung. He reminded himself that this was the way she was. Always wanting me to apologize first. Always my fault. He swigged the last beer, belched, and threw the can onto the floor. Reaching the bustling city still many miles north of his home, he stopped to relieve himself along the busy road.

Climbing behind the wheel again, he slowly pulled the truck onto the highway, wincing at the sound of the fast-moving vehicles blaring their horns. He drove well within the speed limit.

As darkness fell, he sought out his familiar haunt. Parking at the edge of the steep slope, he sat quietly, watching the surging river flow past, white caps caught in the headlight’s beams.

How many times have I thought how easy it would be to drive into the river? Each time the thought of his kids had called him back from the precipice. He knew the time had come. He knew what to do.

Pulling into the home’s driveway, he gazed at the dark, silent house. She hated living here from the day they had moved in. Never an opportunity passed for her to voice how miserable she was. He turned the engine off and dialed her number.

When she picked up, he said simply, “Hey.”

“Where are you?” came the flat response.

“Home. I just got home.”

“You left me here with my kids, my parents and your kids! What is wrong with you?!”

“You have no idea, do you?” he said calmly. “I’m tired of living this way. Tired of our spiteful arguments. I’m done. Done.”

“Fine.” The line went dead.