Anywhere But Here

The ancient Jeep sputtered to a stop in the driveway, and Maxi knew it wouldn’t start again without mechanical aid. She felt like she could actually feel the car sagging from the trek. She told herself to be grateful the car had even survived the 1,000-mile trip, but all she could muster was a dull mixture of relief and disappointment as she looked up at her childhood home. She studied 155 Spring Rd. unnecessarily. It looked exactly as it had for the past 20 years—white columns, red brick, and black awning—aside from a new wornness it hadn’t had last time she was here. All the lights in the house were on, which meant everyone was home, waiting for her. She could see a lamp glowing in her bedroom that hadn’t been updated since she painted it neon green when she was 14. The garage door was ajar, the McDougal family junk on display for the whole neighborhood. A sprinkler misted lazily in the lawn, dampening the grass in the early twilight. How could I let this happen? Maxi wondered as she watched the arc of the water.  

A layer of anxiety settled onto her skin as she thought about actually going inside the house, actually having to speak to her father. She let her head sink forward onto the steering wheel, pressing her frontal lobe against her hands. Her mind had been blank during the drive. She had focused on getting herself home in one piece as she listened to playlist after playlist, a low fuzz clouding her mind as she passed long stretches of nothing interrupted by gas stations and cows. But the sudden lack of creaking and groaning from the car brought her thoughts into clear focus, and the thick coat of shame that had lined her throat when she called her mother last week returned. The “oh, darling, why didn’t you tell us sooner?” and “of course your room is always waiting for you” had made her skin prickle.

Her body felt heavy the longer she stalled, as if the boxes of clothes and old yearbooks crowding her backseat were weighing her down instead of the car. She lifted her head, peeking back up at the house. Moths fluttered in her stomach. She hadn’t been inside the faded brick walls in four years, and she hadn’t planned to for at least four more. But she’d looped the end of her cul-de-sac with nowhere to go, ending up exactly where she started. The inevitability of it all was exhausting. 

Maybe I could call him. The thought flickered, tempting her. She reached towards her phone, dialed the number she knew by heart, but then hung up as all of the reasons she shouldn’t crashed against her once again. She threw the phone against the dashboard, and the screen shattered with a quiet crack. Perfect. She groaned and slammed her hands against the steering wheel, accidently honking the horn in her frustration. The noise startled her, and she looked up at the hose apprehensively. She’d given herself away and once they saw her, there’d be no turning back. Panicky adrenaline in her gut made her grab her keys, turn the car back on, and by some miracle, it ran.