I know the Hume highway pretty well. I know certain trees in different light, the lists of sign posts and good places to stop where the dog can run. I love the change of patterns in light and shade as the trees move away from the road and recede into grasslands and towns. As I drive by them my eyes follow roads that lead off to the East and West. My thoughts triggered by this place name or that roadside stop. It had been seven years since the first trip. I remember how big a deal it was in those days; food was prepared and packed and the car checked. Music strategically planned for the ebb and flow of energy. I’d follow the map, checking off places as we passed. Just to make sure. Now days I do not share the drive. I stop when I have to. My ipod plays nonstop on random. I fill my water bottle but do not pack sandwiches. I drive with my eyes glazed. I know that when the trees come close and start to crowd the roadside that it is almost time to turn inland.
As I head south again, home, my thoughts will often turn to previous drives. Tracing old ground. Maybe my tires get stuck in the old grooves. On the first trip back down, it was an evening in mid December, and the light was pink. It was beautiful. But I was peeling like a photograph in a fire on the inside. I could barely contain my over heated thoughts. Far away down south - while I had been packing the car ready for our first trip home, my grandmother had been injured. A head injury that knocked her out. The image struck me cold. For the first time I was overcome by fear for her life. I sobbed and sobbed for miles on that early trip home. My impotent husband unable to console me.
Not long after this I had driven back up with a carload of my pot plants. My daphne and my lillies. I felt so proud and excited. My plants always made me feel all the more at home. We unpacked the car and in the tray of one of them was a frog. A tiny brown frog the size of my thumbnail. At first I was excited – a hitchhiker from home! But it wasn’t long before I realised he’d die if I kept him. We called the ranger and he was taken to a local reptile park to live out his days.
Closer to the end of our marriage when we were driving south, my thoughts would follow my eyes and turn away to the East as we drove south through New South Wales. Unknown lands lay that way. I’d fallen in love with a Wagga boy. I wondered what kind of place would create such gentle composed beauty. What colour the dirt was. The trees. Were there hills on his horizons? I wanted to know but had to peer across my husbands arms at the landscape beyond. I had to be content to day dream. After the divorce my thoughts would wander wider and I would look for a black car on the side of the road, perhaps a burst tire or maybe he would be out of fuel? I could help. I would stop and smile. And he would look up and see me and be relieved. It never happened. It won’t ever happen.
It was on one of my solo drives south that I got the call that I had a job at the library. My phone rang and I missed the call. I pulled into a service station and called back. The news was good. My gamble to return to Canberra solo had paid off. It looked like I might have a career after all.
Such a loaded sentence.