(For the first chapter of this journey, read “History and the Call to Adventure.” For the second chapter, see “Crossing the Threshold and Riding with Jesus.” For the third chapter, see “The Land of Adventure and an Introduction to Totems.” For the fourth chapter, see “Death, Rebirth, and Honoring the Ancestors.”)
Days earlier, my dad and I had downloaded the classic trucker song, “Six Days on the Road,” as sung by Dave Dudley. Over the course of those days, we had gotten some good laughs out of it, as its chipper, uptempo beat kept our wheels hauling down I-40. But today was the day for which we had truly been waiting to play this song, the reason for why we had downloaded it in the first place—to be singing:
Well, my rig’s a little old, but that don’t mean she’s slow. There’s a flame from her stack, and the smoke’s rolling black as coal. My hometown’s comin’ in sight. If you think I’m happy, you’re right! Six days on the road and I’m gonna make it home tonight.
And to finally have that be true, to know we’d be home that night. And yet, as the song filled our speakers for one last time as that sweet Chevy and her two longest companions came cruising down Highway 101, my hometown comin’ in sight, it was evident that the song-evoked laughs my dad and I had shared along I-40 were still back somewhere square-dancing on I-40. The two of us stared at the last stretch of night road ahead of us with fixed, tired eyes, and the lyrics came out of our mouths in an automatic fashion. Perhaps it was just that the repetition of the song had finally run its course, or maybe we were simply trying out a new rendition of the song, but if my dad and I are truly as in tune with one another as I learned us to be while on this trip, then I think I can speak for both of us when I say that I know exactly what was going on. I understood why the melody hung heavy in the melancholic air of our return.
This homecoming wasn’t the same as the border crossing. Although there was excitement, word had already spread throughout the land that the Chevy was home. The fine, cured meats and bouquets of flowers had already been presented as offerings to the great automobile. The parade had already stretched for miles. So, by the time my dad and I came rolling into our quiet hometown with the windows rolled down and the fanfare blasting, all of the pomp and circumstance seemed to have already retired for the night. We had spent the last eight days in this magical world that only truly existed on the road. This was the return to the real world. In the morning, we would wake up to all of the worries and all of the tasks that had once lived outside of our road-life bubble.
And so it was. We were home. The Chevy had completed its journey. It was Christmas. Life continued, and we shared our stories over time.
The days flew quickly by. I had hoped to relive some of my favorite memories with the Chevy during the week that I was home—blasting sad country tunes out to that open field of mustard seed, puddle splashing in the bottoms, lunching together by the bay. But time slipped out of my hands, and I never got the chance.
I was looking out the window one morning at the Chevy sitting in the driveway when I realized that this was ok. Memories are beautiful, but much of their beauty is born from their endings, the fact that they are, indeed, just memories. It is at the end that we tell the story. In this moment, I saw the sullen elegance of accepting this ending.
Being back home with the Chevy now, in the middle of this era of my life, felt like I existed in a parallel universe—the side of the coin, the turn on the path, that over the course of my life, my steps did not choose. Now home, the Chevy and I were driving somewhere along that road that I didn’t follow. She had returned to her home having successfully driven me to my future. My adventure would soon plow on, but it was time for her to rest. Her bowing out was an acknowledgement that this was now my journey to live, a recognition that I had chosen my path. I could’ve moved home after college. I could’ve made a life there. But I turned left instead of curving right, and my world got irreversibly bigger. The Chevy had made that turn with me, and now she reminded me so clearly of my confidence in that choice. The journey to take the Chevy home, in the end, was really more about my return to the east without her.
The Hero’s Journey is a circle, meaning that the return to the known world is actually the next call to adventure. I had to release my attachment to the Chevy and the life we knew for the life I had found and the life I would continue to build.
The day of my departure, my dad sat in the driver’s seat and I in the passenger’s, while the car sat parked in the driveway. I looked at him, he looked at me, and then we completed our journey with the sacred passing of the key.
He drove me to the airport, and after prolonged hugs and final philosophizing, I passed through the point of no return—airport security—carless. The planes that fly out of my hometown’s airport are tiny, so carry-on luggage often has to be left planeside for storage outside of the cabin. As I sat there with one carry-on full of electronics and work stuff and another full of totems, I wondered which I’d risk departing with if I had to leave a bag outside of the plane.
I sent my dad a text reading, “Laptops or totems?”
Without delay, he responded, “Totems. Always totems.”
And I smiled as I stored my backpack under the seat in front of me, filled with journals, souvenirs, photos, and gifts.
As my plane slowly rose into the sky and curved to make it’s breathtaking lift over the Pacific Ocean, leaving home felt different than it had the many times before. I looked down out through my window. I knew that my dad was likely parked at the viewpoint where we once went to rollerblade and walk the dog, where many times we had sat and conversed, where many times we had sat with no need to say anything at all. I thought about him down there watching my plane gradually disappear into the blanket of fog, and—to steal his line—my eyes welled up like I had a bad, old cold. I could feel it in my own heart at that moment that he was looking up at me and feeling the very same thing. The magnitude of the micro-moments that create a life was clearer with every foot my plane climbed in altitude. I was leaving my home—for my home.
A few weeks later, back in D.C., I was bopping around like normal—a city girl with her feet and the metro—when I got the message that caused me to pause. Apparently, after I left, the Chevy began to really fall apart. The brakes were grinding, she couldn’t pass a smog check, it wasn’t looking good for her. She really had used everything she had left so that we could have this story. My dad let me know that he had sold her “as-is” to the mechanic at the smog check place for a mere $600, figuring he could fix her up. And that was that. I took a moment of silence to wish that sweet girl well, and then I made my descent down the escalator to catch the next metro.
Throughout my life, this story will be told many times. It will be told through many lenses—spirituality, family, country, passage, song. Some retellings will mirror the structure of epic poetry, showing the story’s progression from beginning to end; others will capture the short stories within the journey. Sometimes the story may be told in sadness, and sometimes it may be told in great cheer. But then, there will always be that one way of telling it that my dad and I will only ever really know, ever really understand, and that—having that, I will cherish forever.