Stories The Journey

A Drive in Summer

Connecting the pieces of my life on a 1,200-mile road trip from Minnesota to Texas

Ostensibly I did it to save money. Using a car’s air conditioner burns extra fuel, so I decided to drive the 1,276 miles from Bloomington, Minnesota, to Lake Jackson, Texas, with the windows down.

If you’re not of a certain age, nationality and social status you won’t have heard of Click and Clack, hosts of “Car Talk.” It was (is?) an automotive-related radio program broadcast in the United States on National Public Radio. It was strangely popular among people who know very little about cars, like my dad and my best friend, Paul. Meanwhile, people who actually understand cars don’t listen to public radio. “Car Talk” was pretty niche.

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Anyway, according to Click and Clack, or, at least, according to Paul, the savings made from not using a car’s air conditioner is negated by the additional aerodynamic drag that comes from driving with the windows down. According to my brother – who understands cars – the TV show “MythBusters” came to the same conclusion. But I’m pretty sure they’re all wrong.

In every car I’ve ever driven, air conditioner use had a noticeably negative effect on fuel consumption. I am a starving artist, yo. It’s money I don’t really have. Filling the tank of my father’s Honda Accord – borrowed for this trip – costs roughly $40; I estimate I saved $80 by navigating the great American concrete river sans air-conditioned bliss.

Several hours into the journey, speeding across the Kansas landscape, I realized there was another reason for keeping the windows open: I wanted to feel America.

Feeling very American

Jack Kerouac taught us to love the road trip. Thanks to him and the diligent work of the Big Three automakers’ marketing departments, the road trip is an integral part of the American experience. You’re not really Yanqui until you get in a car and just go. But as much as Americans profess to love the road and the nation it cuts through, most would prefer to block out the experience. They see their country from a climate-controlled box, separating themselves from the sound and feel of that which they claim to be exploring.

In a way, they know no more about the great and wide of America than a person who has never even been there. How much do you get of a place by only looking at it? If you roll up the windows and crank up the AC as you sail through Arizona desert, how much more do you really know of it than some dude sitting on a vibrating chair, watching the same thing on a high-definition television set? Touching a real woman’s breasts is infinitely better than seeing pictures of them on the internet. Swimming in a river helps you understand it better than simply standing on its banks. And watching a landscape unfold before you has greater worth when you breathe it in.

S’MORE REBELLION

The day before I set out, it had been jungle hot in the Twin Cities. It was like having one of those steam towels they give you at Japanese restaurants shoved down your throat, or being trapped at the bottom of a rugby ruck. Or both. The air was too thick to breathe. The heat was inescapable.

That evening I drove to Dan and Johanna’s place for dinner with them, Anthony and Maggie – friends from my St. Paul days. In the air-conditioned cool of the house, lounging on spongy new carpet, we debated the wisdom of going outside but Dan and Johanna live in the sort of place that draws people outdoors: a mile down a dirt road and nestled in several acres of land. The house is really only a place to sleep. 

Inside, the house looks largely unoccupied. Outside, Dan and Johanna have planted gardens, set up chicken coops, stacked cords of firewood and cut trails leading out to grassland. Theirs the sort of place about which country songs are written. And it takes so damn long to get there from my parents’ place in Bloomington that such a song could have been written and released about me en route.

Jungle hot be damned; we ordered pizza and went outside with cold beer and gallons of mosquito repellent. This is the Tao of Minnesota: unless there’s a risk of being struck down by lightning, no summer day should be wasted. As the sunlight abandoned its fight against the sullen gray clouds that had dominated through the day, a soft breeze started to push in. The day’s heat finally faded. Nighttime wrapped around us. Flames danced in the fire pit and we made s’mores with Reese’s peanut butter cups.

Maggie and Johanna picking fresh raspberries

For our friends in the Soggy Nations: a s’more is an American dessert made at campfires. Using a stick or straightened wire coat hanger, a marshmallow is toasted over the fire, then placed on a piece of chocolate. These are sandwiched by graham crackers – dry, square biscuits that are a bit like McVitie’s Digestive biscuits, but less depressing. Tradition holds that the chocolate be Hershey’s. I’m not sure why that’s the tradition. It just is. Sometimes things just happen. 

We broke the rules by using Reese’s peanut butter cups, and with the walls of culinary tradition torn down we went mad with rebellion and added fresh raspberries. Then Maggie and Johanna went completely off piste and scrapped the chocolate altogether: marshmallow, raspberries and graham crackers. It was a crazy time.

So crazy we didn’t really know where to go from there. Plus, everyone other than me had to work in the morning. I had to drive across the country.

There was a sadness in our goodbyes. That’s a running theme of my trips home: I see my friends, laugh with them, embrace them full of joy, then walk away – trying not to cry until I’m out of view. If I’m lucky, I’ll see them in a year. More often than not it’s longer. And so much life happens in the space between: houses are bought, jobs are lost, love is won, marriages fail, children are born, loved ones die, joys and tragedies. And I will miss them.

Yet, I feel pulled away. My personal narrative is one of always yearning to find a place where I can grow roots, getting there and feeling on fire with the need to go elsewhere. As my borrowed old Honda danced down the dirt road leading away from Dan and Johanna’s house, the cool air of summer night mussed my hair through open windows and whispered of open road.

FREE AS WE’LL EVER BE

The first 230 miles went without incident: up early and speeding out of the Twin Cities opposite to morning traffic. I first noticed the heat in Des Moines, Iowa. 

I had stopped for lunch, unable to resist the call of a Buffalo Wild Wings. Returning to the car, belly full, I was struck by the sting of the sun as I walked across the restaurant’s treeless parking lot. I will never understand why developers of cities, businesses and housing have such a deep hatred of trees. With nothing to stop it, the sun came at me from all corners, even bouncing off the white of new concrete. I squinted against the glare, felt the burn of the car’s door handle on my fingertips, opened the door and was pushed back by an oven-like heat.

It was unpleasant but I was back on the interstate soon enough. By the time I found a radio station broadcasting something other than advertisements, Iowa was tolerable again. 

Soon I was gliding across the Missouri state line. I have long struggled to understand why anyone would want to live in Missouri. It gets bitterly cold in the winter, but not so often that you reliably get enough snow to enjoy the season. It’s flat, so even if you have snow there’s not much to do in it.

Summers can be miserably hot but swimmable lakes and rivers appear to be few and far between; and the ocean is hundreds of miles away. Missouri’s major cities of St. Louis and Kansas City fall into that category of American towns like Cleveland, Detroit and Albany: places that were once important in one way or another and are now largely to be avoided. 

I had considered visiting St. Louis as part of my trip across the United States in the summer of 2009 but had been consistently advised against it by everyone I spoke to.

“Have you been there before?” they would ask.
“No,” I’d say. “But I’d like to see the Arch.”
“It’s not all that impressive,” they’d say. “And then, once you’ve seen it, there’s nothing else to do. You’re stuck hundreds of miles from anything else that’s interesting.”

The thing about a place, though – any place in the world – is that there will always be at least one person who loves it. If you drive any great distance, in any country, you will inevitably pass through towns and cities that hold no appeal to you whatsoever: towns you will forget even before you are beyond their boundaries. But somewhere in each of those places are people for whom it is the whole world. Somewhere in those places are people who wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, people who would ache and die inside if you dragged them away. I try to think about that when I travel. I try to imagine not only what it would be like to live there, but what it would be like to love living there. Some places are more of a challenge for me than others. Missouri, for example.

At a rest area in Eagleville, I got out and went for a walk in the surrounding plains/grassland. This was one of those rest areas that feels like a destination, the sort of thing you only ever see in America, with a meandering nature trail and ambitious road art. Iron silhouette statues of bison were dotted about an enormous field of wildflowers, a giant silhouette Native American overlooking the scene. I walked up close to the statues and saw a hawk sitting on the shoulder of the Native American. Little prairie birds darted around me, moving so fast and at such tight angles that they were hard to glimpse. It reminded me of North Dakota, reminded me of a girl from long ago, and I thought perhaps I could see why someone might at least like that little corner of the state.

Silhouettes of an America that used to be

I hit Kansas City at rush hour. Slowness of traffic and urban landscape poured heat into the car. The roads to and through the metropolis seemed to have been designed by someone who hated Kansas City. With erratic, nonsensical turns the interstate winds underneath soot-laden bridges and past walls of concrete misery, only occasionally offering you a glimpse of a downtown that wears the look of a prostitute who’s just realized she’s going to have to drop her asking price. Again.

I crawled into the state of Kansas, picked up speed and coughed up car exhaust for 20 miles. Moving deeper into the Sunflower State, the heat wrapped around me even at 80 mph. There’s a scene in the James Bond film Goldfinger in which the villain threatens to launch a nuclear missile at Kansas but then decides against it, reasoning “no one would notice.” 

True, there’s not a great deal to see and do in Superman’s adopted home state, but perhaps because of that it is one of the best places I know to be at sunset.

Free of urban landscape, Interstate 35 floated through a sea of seemingly endless lush green hills populated by little more than tranquil, bemused-looking cows. Occasionally the road dipped down into a little island of trees and creek or river, then danced back up another ridge. At sunset I found myself gliding through Flint Hills, the last great expanse of tall-grass prairie in the United States. The fading golden sun was warm on my face as it sank just behind my right shoulder. The sky went bright orange, then pink and red with strips of salmon-colored cloud stretched thin across the horizon.

Already by that point I had heard “Free” by Zac Brown Band enough times to know the words by memory. I turned off the radio and sang to myself. Then I went quiet and listened to the roar of wind and road. I tasted the warm freshness of the air. This Kansas summer evening was warmer than a Cardiff summer day. As the car shot onward into the night, the headlights reaching into nothingness, I heard crickets singing in the grass. When the road dipped into an area of trees I could hear the whining song of cicada.

Cicadas. The choir of my childhood summers.

Dinner was two cans of Red Bull and several packets of Fig Newtons. I had timed things poorly and not thought about how the only food available on the Kansas Turnpike would be McDonald’s or gas station snacks. By the time I reached Oklahoma it was too late for any restaurants to be open.

NO ONE SLEEPS IN OKLAHOMA

Rest areas are an under-appreciated facet of American life. These are not like the “services” of most European motorways, which are too often crowded, expensive and depressing. Rest areas in the United States – dotted along the country’s interstates and highways – are free. The restrooms are almost always clean. You can usually purchase soda and snacks from a vending machine but there is no KFC or Starbucks. In the olden days, when I was a kid, it was common for nearby civic groups to set up little tables and hand out coffee to weary drivers.

Rest areas are maintained by the states they are in, so number and quality vary considerably from place to place. Some states use their rest areas as tourist centers, staffing it with a person who happily hands out pamphlets and will circle points of interest for you on a complimentary map. Many rest areas have designated spots to exercise your pets. Some – like the one in Eagleville, Missouri – have little paths where a person can walk off the effects of being cramped in a car. Often there are picnic benches; sometimes there are barbecue grills. Free wi-fi is increasingly common; free coffee is increasingly rare. In Minnesota there are rest areas roughly every 40 miles. In Oklahoma there are none.

At least, there are none on Interstate 35 that are still open. Anti-government sentiment of the past decade or so has contributed to the closure of many rest areas in the United States. Americans seem to hate the idea of paying taxes for something that anyone other than themselves might use. They don’t like trains and buses, they don’t like maintaining roads and bridges, they don’t like public schools, they don’t like universal health care, and they don’t like providing no-cost areas for fellow drivers to avoid shitting themselves or becoming so tired that they drive off the road and die. This is especially true in the not-so-great state of Oklahoma.

In addition to forgoing air conditioning on this trip, I had chosen to abstain from motel use. The run from Minnesota to Texas normally requires at least one overnight stop, two if you’re taking things easy – four if you’re my grandfather. As a kid my dad would usually start looking for a place for us to spend the night just before dinner. In those pre-internet days you drove from place to place, asking for rooms and moving on if a place was fully booked. Our timing was such that we always missed out on the cheapest hotels and ended up staying at a slightly rundown Radisson that was far away from everything save a Wendy’s or Golden Corral.

My plan for this trip was to simply stop at a rest area when I got tired and sleep in the car. Crossing into Oklahoma, the Red Bull had begun to wear off and I was eager to find a place to stop. But that place never came.

Exhaustion sank its fangs into me. Oklahoma became nothing more than road and darkness. Somewhere in God Knows Where, I stopped at a gas station/casino where frightening scar-faced men smoked cigarettes and watched me purchase an exorbitantly expensive can of Red Bull and a dusty bottle of water. I drove and drove: 236 miles wanting sleep. I remember nothing of Oklahoma City, nor Norman, nor anything else beyond. I just pushed on and on and on.

Around 2 a.m., I crossed the Red River into my home state. There, the road suddenly veers to the left across the bridge and if you aren’t careful you’ll drive full speed into an enormous 24-hour pornography store. Welcome to Texas. Just a few miles further on, I found a huge rest area where I parked beneath an enormous state flag waving in the warm summer night. I folded down the back seats and crawled in so my head was in the car’s boot (ftypah: “trunk”). I sent a text to my girlfriend and fell asleep with the phone still in my hand.

A few hours later, I woke up confused. I don’t remember the details of the dream I’d been having other than it was about that North Dakota girl from long ago and it felt very real. Then suddenly I was in North Texas and it was 5:30 a.m. 

I fell out of the car gracelessly and weaved toward the restrooms. Some part of me was lost, trying to figure out where that girl from a dozen years ago had gone. I stuck my face in a sink basin and ran water over my head. When I looked up I saw another man had come into the restroom, stripped down to his shorts and was washing himself at one of the other sinks. He had set out soap and toothpaste and a toothbrush and a towel on a window sill. Probably a few years younger than me but looking older, dark-tanned and sun-bleached messy hair, he whistled as he scrubbed the back of his neck with a rag.

“Mornin’, bud,” he said in an easy red-dirt accent.
“Mornin’,” I said.

I washed all the sleep from my eyes and went back outside into the weak gray light of morning. Crickets climbed on a broken water fountain. There were a dozen or more cars in the parking lot, my father’s 10-year-old Honda easily the best looking of the bunch. 

A child slept on the dashboard of an old Ford Econoline. Two overweight men slept open-mouthed in a 1980s Pontiac Grand Am missing its front bumper. A woman in dirty brown dreadlocks and tattered skirt undid the rope that had been holding shut the tailgate of an old Plymouth minivan, propped it open with a broomstick and dug through a backpack. The man from the restroom came out, wearing dirty khakis and an A&M T-shirt. He patted the woman on the back and handed her the soap and toothpaste. 

I had not been the only one to use the rest area as a place to sleep that night. But I was probably the only one doing so out of choice.

H-TOWN

I looked up at the giant Texas flag waving overhead and thought about the drive ahead of me. I was tired, but decided I wanted to get through Dallas before rush hour. The people of the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area are some of the worst drivers I’ve ever encountered. Imagine if a dog could drive; you’d be better off with him.

The denizens of DFW speed up, suddenly slow down, drift from lane to lane and otherwise behave as if they have all recently refused treatment for a concussion. Unless you enjoy the white-hot burn of total rage, it’s generally best to avoid being stuck in traffic with them.

Three hours of sleep hadn’t been enough. But I found a kind of commiseration in listening to a radio morning show, the crew of which had only started earlier that week. They were still coming to terms with their new early shifts and suffering from sleep deprivation. It now being Friday, the show had devolved into little more than a room full of guys trying to keep one another from falling asleep on air. At one point, after about 20 seconds of silence, the host, Russ Martin, breathed: “Oh, Lord. I haven’t been this tired since I was born.”

Safely beyond DFW I stopped at a Waffle House in Ennis for breakfast. I sat at the counter and was served by a woman named Brandie. I’m sure every guy who walks in there knows her name because it’s on her name tag, which you spot incidentally when staring at her enormous stripper boobs.

“Whatcha want, babe?” Brandie asked as I sat down.
“Uhm. Tea,” I said, quickly trying to scan the menu that had just been handed to me. “May I have a hot tea, please?”
“And?”
“Two eggs, scrambled. Sausage. And hashbrowns, please.”
“White or wheat toast?”
“Wheat, please.”
“That it for ya?”
“Yeah. Think so. Oh, can I have an ice water, as well, please?”
“Yup.”

Brandie wore a fashionable Dr. Pepper baseball cap, which was holding up bleached-blond hair and helping hide dark, weary eyes. Her makeup was done in the heavy style of Northeast Texas women: thick enough to stop a low-caliber bullet. Ineffectively hidden by a tent of a uniform were a large pair of what I assume were fake breasts. 

In my head I made up a story that she is a stripper in the evenings, that she has two kids and an insufferably no-good Vicodin-addicted ex-husband who occasionally shows up and borrows money. I tried to think up some sort of “I’m a writer” reason to ask her a bunch of questions about her life and learn her story but it was too early in the morning for me to be inventive. I ate my breakfast with a sense of purpose, gulped down my tea and got back to the road.

In Madisonville, I stopped at a Buc-ee’s to buy a 12-pack of water bottles. You’ve probably heard of Buc-ee’s. If you haven’t, you should have. Nominally a gas station, Buc-ee’s has developed a die-hard following because of the things sold there, like leather gun-style holsters for mobile phones and some of the best barbecue in the state. The Buc-ee’s slogan is: “Everything you ever needed. You just didn’t know it.” 

The heat was becoming undeniable as I sped toward Houston. I gulped down water and used Wendy’s napkins to wipe away sweat. It was hot, that kind of heat where adjectives and cognitive thinking slip away. All one can process is: “It is hot.”

In a field to my right, I spotted several people in white jumpsuits, lined up in formation. Several yards away and at all sides sat men on horseback, looking strangely like the Native American silhouette in Missouri. But these were real men, sitting tall in the saddle and wearing white cowboy hats, holding real rifles. Rather than iron bison statues they were keeping on the men in white jumpsuits. This was a prison work crew. I was passing Huntsville.

Huntsville isn’t necessarily the sort of place you want to end up. It is home to Texas’ execution chamber, the Texas Prison Museum and used to boast one of the more brutal prison rodeos in the United States.

Prison work crews under the watchful eye of mounted guards

But arriving Huntsville is like sitting on top of a hill. When I was a boy it meant we were almost home. Houston was not so far away. Indeed, with each passing year, Houston stretches her concrete fingers ever closer. Huntsville feels like the start of a tumbling, accelerating fall into the heat and humidity and smell and madness of Houston.

I cannot imagine two people falling in love in Houston. Sure, I can imagine two lovers from elsewhere making a bad career move and ending up there; I can imagine any number of teenage backseat romances; I can imagine two people slipping into a pattern with one another, having kids and finding themselves in an endless cycle of mortgages and parent meetings and home improvement and keeping up appearances. But I can’t imagine two pure souls – a Houston boy and a Houston girl – meeting in Houston and truly falling in love there.

When I was a boy, we played a game called Smear the Queer: a football is thrown to one boy then the rest of the kids chase and tackle him. The ball is thrown to another boy and the process repeats. There is no win or lose, no strategy, no end – just boys beating the shit out of one another until they get bored. Often we would leave the ball out and instead call a person’s name: “OK, now Grant is ‘it.’ Everyone get him!”

We played Slaps. We played Spread Eagle, a game that involved having a kid stand against a wall and throwing a tennis ball at him. In Hide and Seek we had to run and touch a tree without the person playing “it” hitting us with a stick. The game Bombers involved standing on opposite sides of a ditch and trying to hit one another with rocks. We fought for fun; first to the ground loses. And sometimes we would just sit and punch each other in the arms and legs and chest and back, to see who could hit hardest.

I cannot imagine two people falling in love in Houston.

The city is a human throng. It has no sense of purpose or direction or commonality. It has no heart. It does, however, have nearly 6 million people in its metro area: a metro area that extends dozens upon dozens of miles beyond its downtown. Great rivers of dusty white concrete, perpetually under construction, spider across 10 counties. Houston is big. And it is hot. It is a hot you can’t comprehend – burning, humid, unforgiving. Evil. In 1866, sent there to squelch lingering Confederate sympathies, Gen. Phillip Sheridan said: “If I owned Texas and Hell, I would rent Texas and live in Hell.”

Despite its being stretched across five lanes in each direction, traffic slowed to a crawl about 35 miles north of downtown. I reached behind my seat to grab a bottle of water from the 12-pack I had bought in Madisonville, drank it down in one gulp and tossed it to the passenger-side floorboard to roll around with the other empties. I reached behind me and grabbed another bottle. Sweat was pouring out. My arm no longer stuck to the armrest, it now slid, leaving a trail of sweat.

My father would later claim that “no one in their right mind” would drive across Houston without air conditioning. He is probably right. And although I may not be of sound mind, I am at least of sound body. I am a healthy person; I could handle the physical strain of the heat and humidity. I’m certain, however, that a large number of people would be physically incapable of doing such a thing. It would literally kill them. Especially considering the city has the highest rate of obesity in the country. Houston has sprawled so terribly, so unnaturally, that it is a very serious threat to one’s health to drive across town. It is a city that defies God. It is a city of madness. And it grows ever larger.

THE HOUSE THAT BUILT ME

Eventually I fell onto Highway 288, the road to Lake Jackson. Getting out of Houston is like fighting against a planet’s gravitational pull, but once beyond the turnoff for Alvin I felt the city’s grip loosening. The car returned to its 80-mph cruising speed. Miranda Lambert sang on the radio.

The highway has changed over the years. I can remember when stop lights would sway above the road in Gulf Coast storms, when vans parked on the roadside selling everything from shrimp to velvet paintings, when my grandparents’ house was far away. Now the 288 is a motorway: a shining, white express route with nothing to slow you or draw your attention. In almost no time I was turning onto the familiar curving, buckled roads of old Lake Jackson. And then up the two-strips-of-concrete driveway of my grandparents’ house, past the towering live oak and parking in front of their weathered old garage.

I took a big gulp of water, stepped out of the car. The next-door neighbor’s air conditioner hummed. A dog barked. I opened the squeaking screen door at the back of the house – no one who knows my grandparents comes to the front door – then the heavier door. Years ago, my grandfather had rigged it so a music box plays “Eyes of Texas” when you step inside. The first few notes announced my arrival; I let the closing screen door push me inside.

Gulf Coast sky

“Hey! There he is!” my grandmother sang, coming to hug me – then pausing. “What on earth?!”
“Oh, yeah. I’m a bit sweaty,” I said. “I drove with the windows down.”
“All the way?” she laughed.
“Yeah. Houston was really hot.”
“Well, OK…” she said, her voice arcing to let me know her opinion. “I’ll fix us some hot dogs.”

“Hey. Chris,” my grandfather announced from his chair.

Breezy announces everything. He doesn’t ask or converse, he declares. It comes from his years as a football coach, I suppose. He has always been able to hold a certain authority with his deep-voiced West Texas accent. One of my favorite stories of him comes from when he was a high school vice-principal. He prevented a school shooting by walking right up to the shotgun-wielding teenager and saying: “Give me that gun, or I’m gonna have to tell your daddy.”

Of course, in those days he was also a physical presence. Now 86 years old and recovering from a stroke, he was thinner than in my memory. I walked across the room to him. That’s what you do; Breezy waits for people to come to him.

“Hello, sir,” I said, sticking out my right hand. “How are you feeling?”

He looked at my hand, frowned at it and waved it away with a quick brushing motion, then lifted up his left hand. I switched hands, extended my left, and he crushed it. The stroke had affected my grandfather’s right side, which is sort of fortunate because he’s naturally left-handed.

There is importance in a good handshake. That’s something my grandfather taught me. You are conveying things with a handshake: things about yourself and about how you feel toward the other person. I’m sure some people would accuse me of being outdated for holding that view, for judging people by the way they shake my hand. I don’t care. My artistic side would like to care – feels I should care – but I don’t. A handshake is important; I’m unapologetic about that. It is the first step in showing your worth. Swimming in a river helps you understand it better. Driving across your country with the windows down helps you feel a part of it. Shaking a man’s hand helps you know who he is.

My grandmother set out chili dogs and glasses of ice tea. After lunch, she brought bowls of vanilla Blue Bell ice cream for me and my grandfather.

“Chris. They have Blue Bell over in Wales?” Breezy ask-announced playfully.
“No, sir. They don’t.”
“Hmm. They got any pretty girls?”
“Yes, sir. I can think of a few.”
“Pretty girls but no Blue Bell ice cream?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Well… I don’t think I’ll go to Wales. We got both here.”

I brought in my things. A chocolate bar that my mother had sent along for my grandmother had completely liquified in the heat. I trudged upstairs, set my bags in my mother’s old room, then went to take a shower.

I had only slept about three and a half hours in the last 30+ hours. Clean, with food in my belly and in the cool of the air-conditioned house, I lay down on my bed and looked up at the ceiling. I thought of when I was a kid and my grandmother would take me to the beach or down to the pool. I would splash and play to the point of collapse – until I was dehydrated, worn out and sunburned. Then, in my exhausted kid delirium I would lie on my bed and listen to the world around me: my grandfather watching sports, the ceiling fan, cicadas.

I lay there and thought of the summers and Thanksgivings and Christmases and birthdays and Easters. I thought of climbing trees, jumping off the railing, sliding down the stairs, crawling through the laundry chute, hiding behind the couch and going on long evening walks with my grandmother. Thus far in my life I’ve called at least 16 different places “home.” I’ve lived in 12 cities, in five states, in three countries. My grandparents’ house has remained the only constant. More so than anywhere else, it is the house I grew up in.

As I drifted off to sleep, I listened to the soft “click-click” of the ceiling fan. Outside, cicadas were singing in the live oaks. Downstairs, my grandfather was watching baseball.