The same hands that will, in a few moments, wave goodbye to a grown daughter, now fold up childhood scooters. His hands first opened this scooter on the first Christmas of the twenty-first century. My mom was on bedrest with my baby sister, so Christmas was different that year. Santa came to their bedroom instead of the fireplace. There it was, under the bed, the gift I didn’t know until that moment that I so desperately wanted.
The “sea-biscuit” yellow house of my growing up years sits in a little valley. There’s no river in this valley’s center, but the school bus stops here. And though no trickling stream carved the edges, there is a puddle in the valley’s center, and to a seven year old, it was a lake. I’d paint the lake into a sunshine by riding my scooter through it, trailing ribbons of water behind me in every direction. The one hill was just steep enough to give momentum to make it to the summit of the next hill. I knew the cracks of the sidewalk by heart. Over years of skinned knees, my blood has soaked into the asphalt of Fairlawn Downs. Eventually, my little sisters grew old enough for scooters too. Unlike me, they got the name brand, “razor” scooters. Theirs were green and blue. Mine was black. To give my old, cheap scooter the illusion of being special too, I got a bell and a round compass to attach to mine. Every time I passed my house, I would ring the bell. I’d make sure the compass pointed north.
Somewhere along the way, the compass fell off. It was a round little marble of a compass (that was probably never geographically accurate) and it fell off frequently. One day, I wasn’t able to find the very thing that was supposed to help me find my way. I remember mourning the loss with all the sentimentality a child can muster. Though gone was my momentary direction, the bell still rang. It still rings, these fifteen years later. A few weeks ago, I had claimed the scooters and in doing so rescued them from the jaws of yard sale death. So my parents and my puppy helped me prepare to drive away. My dad folded the scooter, just like he did so long ago, grease on his hands and love for his daughter in his heart.
And I drive away. Three years ago, I thought these roads would never become familiar. I wondered if I could ever make the drive to college without a GPS. Now, I know three routes by heart, without a compass to guide me.
The sun begins to set as I drive. It is a blinding sun that illuminates every speck of dirt on my old windshield. It is a brilliant sun that catches every leaf and makes every piece of roadside grass glow. Wildflowers are the seashells of the highway, I decide. The window of my 1998 Camry is down, and the wind plays with my hair. Its expert fingers lift the gossamer strands and set them down again, tying my hair in skillful knots I’ll grumble about later. But as I reach out to let the breeze flit through my fingers, like time, I marvel at its power.
The leaves are just beginning to think about changing. A few Fall leaders have already begun to blush, their reds stunning in the seas of fading green. I know in a week or two, this drive most people pass off as boring, will be even more enchanting. The heroes in the audiobook I’m listening to are just about to win as I turn onto I411. A prism of a rainbow hangs over Rome, the town to which I travel. I’ve never seen a rainbow at sunset before. I want to take a picture, but I am driving too fast. The picture will have to remain internal.
As soon as I shift into park, I text my roommate: “SUNSET.” I don’t bother to pull out any of my bags, and I lean on the side of my car, facing the valley that the parking lot makes. Three friends come outside to see the sunset, to welcome me home. “You survived,” Hannah says with a hug. I had. Away for the weekend, I took a graduate exam that will determine the roads of my future. The test itself was five hours long. For five hours, I’d sat in a cold cubicle, with no comforts of home around me, stretching my brain and berating my ignorance while reading boring essays and doing dreaded math. These friends that greeted me at sunset had endured the preparation tears, and now they celebrated with me at the setting of the sun. We paused in the beauty of the sinking fire for a moment, and then I casually mentioned, “I brought back scooters.”
Childlike gasps of excitement, much like my own long ago Christmas reaction, prompted me to open my trunk. We pulled out the scooters and found a new road to fly down. It was perfect, just enough slope for the wind to tangle hair, just enough to make me feel a bit afraid (my balance isn’t what it was when I was seven). Then the hill leveled out, and there was a long path for correction at the end. We laughed until our lungs couldn’t hold in any more air and we had to bend over the edge of the scooters to catch the elusive breaths.
I do not know what roads I will take next year. They’ll be new, and there will be days I will long for my lost compass. But then, I’ll remember that I know the roads that have brought me to this future moment. They’ve been paths of joy, steep and long and lasting. And these are the roads that will welcome me home whenever I return.