For our last night in our apartment we all slept in Max’s room. The idea was that it would be fun, like a slumber party. All of his things were now gone, either shipped to Seattle, sold, or (gulp) thrown away. We didn’t want him to feel scared about the transition but have a sense of fun. Max slept in his inflatable Thomas the Tank Engine bed, while we slept in a an Areo bed that we discovered has several holes in it. At 6am I woke up on the floor and stared around the empty room. I saw Max’s butt in the air, slowly making his way toward the closed doo, his version if crawling now. Nicole was no place to be seen. We got up and walked out into the equally empty house, where in the living room I heard Nicole shuffling around. As it turns out, she had gone to bed at 1, and gotten up at 4. The car was packed, but we had over compensated and couldn’t fit everything in. At the last minute we would have to throw away a bunch of things. Nicole’s eyes got teary, from lack of sleep, emotion, and excitement. This was the moment when you have to say, they are just things and let them go. So we did, and in a mad dash saying goodby to people on our block, Nicole handed them gifts. The Indian woman who ran out Bodega, a store we both hated because they catered to high school kids, and not parents of a two year old. They always had plenty of pop and candy, but never anything we wanted to actually ingest. We dropped gifts on neighbors door steps like the Easter bunny dropping eggs and when we were done, as people rose to go to work, we watched them, delight on their faces, as they found a little gift, or confusion as they threw away the garbage someone left on their stoop.
The last person I saw going through the stuff left on our sidewalk was a Muslim man who drove a van for disabled people. He looked at me and then looked down at the stuff on the ground, he pointed, as if asking, “free?”. I nodded, “All yours.” He smiled, gave me a thumbs up, and took a bunch of the children’s stuff. I had seems him before, but this was the first time I realized he had children, or some connection to children. He looked over at me and said “thanks man”. I said “no problem, enjoy”, and I went inside to get the cats.
Our cats Sophie and Dash would not be making the cross country trip with us. It was a sad but necessary step to take. We would be staying with my sister in law and her husband, who was deathly allergic to cats. We double washed all of our clothes, because even the faintest hint of cat and his throat would start to close. Not like he needed an eppy pen, but he has a serious issue with breathing around felines. Walking inside Nicole asked if I needed a hand, I said I doubt it, and made my way back to the closet where they were hiding, a carry cage in each hand. They were remarkably easy to get in. Each one gave me a resigned look that said, oh, something’s changing, and scurried into their respective cages. Then I took them to the car and arranged them with the rest of the chaos in our tiny Volvo we called little red.
Our first night would be spent in Winston Salem North Carolina with my father. On the way we would be going right past Washington DC, where our friend Matt Seidman’s mother and step father lived. They had found out about our conundrum regarding the animals, and, being huge cat lovers, volunteered to becoming their parents. It was an amazing bit of good luck and we were very greatful.
Nicole took Max to the car and left me to do the final walk through of the apartment. It wasn’t until I was alone that it started to dawn on me how much had happened in this place. This was where my son was born. These were the only walls he knew, and he loved it here. My logical brain knew he would be fine, that once he was settled everything would change, but at that moment all I could think is he will hate us for this. I touched looked into the windows of our tiny backyard and a million images of him playing back there flooded my sight. I needed to leave or I would crack. So I looked around the apartment one last time, smiled, and said goodbye as I closed the door.
The first 3 hours were about what you’d expect. Every distraction we had planned for our son for a ten day car ride had been used up in about 15 minutes, but besides some normal toddler screaming, the ride was fairly uneventful. That didn’t change until after DC.
I said goodbye to the cats with Max. Max loved our cats, especially Sophie, who was as tolerant with him as a saint. Not that there would ever be such a thing as a cat saint. Cats, by there very nature are assholes, and though we loved our cats, we have always been aware of their nature. Intimately. It’s not as bad as my friend Meg McQuillin, who woke up one night with her cat peeing in her mouth, that cat is a supreme asshole, and frankly I’m surprised Meg didn’t kick that shit out the door. I supposed the very definition of a cat person is someone that will just take it from them no matter what. Our cats would wake us up at all hours of the night, stand in the litter box and piss outside it, shit in the tub, pester you for love until you wanted to scream, and then, when you finally say, ok, I’ll pet you, they bite the shit out of your hand. That, is a cat. Of course in the end you still love them. That’s the mystifying thing about them. After they do terrible things you still want to pet them, and part of you even admires their attitude. After all, wouldn’t we act like that once and a while if we could get away with it?
So Max would lay on Sophie. He would tackle her. Try to rider her like a horse, and every time she would just let it happen. So the reasonI say she was a cat saint is because of her very uncat like behavior. Max said goodbye in the only way he knew how. He laid his head on her stomach and said, “Bye bye Sophie, love you.” and as now, his father was a puddle on the floor.
We drove away from DC and almost immediately hit traffic on 95. Between DC and Richmond we sat for at least an hour in bumper to bumper traffic. In these instances we decided that using the iPad to keep Max occupied it perfectly justified. The child is strapped into a chair for hours and can’t move. If an adult had to go through such torture you could be sure they would at least be allowed some sort of optional programming, like dish network or a movie for all of coach. At the time we only had two movies. The Lego Movie and Bob the Builder. Though Max is a bit young for The Lego Movie, he loves it, and now I know the script by heart after listening to it over and over.
Nicole had the brilliant idea to take us off 95 and to takes a side road, that though not as fast speed wise, would take us adjacent to 95 where more traffic had piled up. My wife has a great head on her shoulders and we shaved some time that way, until we didn’t. We went as far as we could go until finally the traffic from 95 spilled onto the little road we were on, so we joined by up with the freeway. After a whole the traffic stopped and the breezy 70 mph speed limit kicked in.
As someone who has spent the last 7 years on the easy coast, and grew up traveling up and down it’s highways and byways, I am used to tolls. I would even go so far to say I am exceptionally well prepared for them. I always make sure I have an excess of cash just for handing to a person standing in a box on a highway, who I always hopes doesn’t smoke, because all that exhaust and cigarettes will kill you. So when we saw the toll in southern Virginia coming up, I didn’t think twice. I do the same thing every time, look for the EZ pass lanes and the cash lanes. However this time was different. Most of the 20 lanes said exact change, and the 2 that didn’t said full service. My mind was racing. I had seconds to figure out where to go. what was full service? Do you have to give a blowjob to get through? And how much was the toll? Most of the time the price was on the booth but I couldn’t find it anywhere. Then I see it! The price. 70 cents. 70 cents… I reached into my pockets and fished out bills, all the time the car is still rolling toward an exact change booth. I’m yelling to Nicole, “DO YOU HAVE ANY CHANGE!?”, while at the same time looking in the rear view and watching hundreds of cars speeding towards me. Nicole hold up a quarter and looks at me with frightened eyes. I look up. I’m in the lane for exact change and now there is no going back. Nicole is yelling, “BACKUPBACKUPBACKUP!” I’m yelling “ICANTICANTICANT”‘ and Max is screaming “MAMAMAMAMA”, as if she is in another room and not six inches away. Then I remember the huge bag of change I handed Nicole that morning. “Where is it?” She looked at me with searching eyes trying to remember, then remember and in an excited voice says, “The way back.” Then the word register what that means and she buries her face in her hands. Now there is only one thing to do. I look in the rear view mirror and see all the cars. I look at Nicole and Max and I smile. I put little red, our car, in reverse, and I punched it. It all happened so fast I hardly remember it. I thing I was going about ten miles an hour as I weaves around on coming cars and ended up in a full service line. We sat there for a moment sweating and breathing, just being, as we rolled up the the booth. I reached out and handed the man a dollar. He gave me my 30 cents change and I said “Do you smoke?” He furrowed his brow and said, “No.” “Good” I said as we drove away.
We drove for a long time after that. Weaving in and out of traffic like speed racer if speed racer was always tired and closer to middle age. Gosh, can you imagine that show? Middle aged Speed Racer. It makes me depressed just thinking about it. Him, tired and neurotic from over use of his adrenal glands and his chimpanzee coloring his hair because he had started to go gray. At some point in this elf we realized what bad parents we had been. In all the timed we had spent packing we had neglected to get Max any good foods for the car. We had his usual Trader Joe’s snacks cheese crackers, dried mango, apple, and Cheerios, but no real real food. At lunch, when we stopped withe cats he had part of a PB and J, but those never really do the trick, they’re like a pretend meal. You eat them, and they’re good, but afterwards you always want something more substantial.
So we stopped at a place I had never been before. 5 guys burgers. Ironically. None of us eat beef, but we figured they must have a turkey burger or veggie burger. No such luck for the turkey, but they had a “veggie sandwich”‘ and a grilled cheese option. The veggie sandwich was mushrooms tossed on the grill with melted cheese on top, lettuce, tomato, and onion. I ordered one for me and one for Nicole. Max got a grilled cheese and fries. I know. So much better than everything else. Still, he ate a lot and then Max and I sat in the giant chair in from of the restaurant, watched traffic pass and the sun start to dip.
We got back in the car and my mind began to wander. I always do this when I hit North Carolina. This melancholy feeling starts to wash over me as I see the humidity in the air start to increase. The green starts to get more and more lush and I am reminded of what an amazing time I had growing up down here. It’s a real pity that NC has fallen on such ignorant times. The state leaders have cut back education to a ridiculous level, making it harder for everyone to receive a good education and many of the programs I used to get through school have vanished, leaving many questions for the younger generations. I remember everything so well. The places and the experience I had. As we began to enter the world of my childhood I started to think about Max more and more, and to wonder what kind of life he will have in Seattle.
It was about this time he started saying, “I wanna go home.” He was tired of being in the car. He’s a runner and wanted out, wanted his playground that was 600 miles behind us. “I wanna go hooooome.” Nicole and I looked at each other. “Buddy” I said. “We’re moving to a new home in Seattle.” “Noooo I want my home.” “Max honey.” Nicole said, “You are home, where ever Daddy and I are, that’s your home.” He seemed momentarily satisfied by this. Then after a minute, “I wanna go home.”
We rolled through North Carolina and watched the sun set. It was beautiful. Later that night we rolled into my fathers house and the moment Max got out and saw his grandfather, he forgot about wanted to go home. Somewhere in there he knows he is home where people love him, and for Max, the kind of kid he is, that’s just about everywhere.
Also, I grew up in North Carolina, I had no idea it was big chair country.