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We Were a Back Road Family

Writing Contest home

Jeffrey Rowledge, Madrid NY
The Writing Contest for Young and Adult Writers
Winner in Category: Creative Nonfiction Age 12-20

"Ring, Ring…" Every other weekend that noise started it all. My family is divorced and the ring of the phone signaled it was mom's weekend. I'd get the call at a sitter and they would say its time to put your play clothes on. Otherwise known as rags I wore to my mom's. I never wore those to play in. They were like uniforms that meant we had quite a journey ahead. Those clothes embarrassed me. It made me think my mom was dirty, and that as soon as I entered her house the dirt would fly to me like a magnet to the refrigerator. I dreaded the weekends.

A few hours later the blue Camaro would pull up with my dad at the wheel and my step mom right beside him. Allen and I would strap on our shackles and off we were for four and a half hours. Allen and I were refugees in our rags packed on a journey to the next camp. That's just what they were, refugee camps, as soon as we settled in you would hear gravel under tire and off we were going to safety again. Allen got sick a lot in the car. He didn't like those journeys. I just got sad and would cry. I'd proclaim to my parents that I'd hit my head when we hit the bump on the newly paved road. My tears came down like the markers between the lanes sometimes solid other times sporadic. You could say those roads were like the Trail of Tears. Allen and I never had much of a social life because of those trips. We were best friends though we drove through hell and back together.

About two hours in to the trip we would pull over in Lowville and have dinner at Arby's or an old café. I never understood why we ate out on the trip to moms and just had sandwiches in the car on the way back. Maybe to stall time or convince Allen and I that we could just turn around and the road home would be smoother.

Then I always remember dozing off and suddenly hearing gravel. Next you know Allen was puking up his Arby's kids meal. (I'd think what a shame I'm still hungry.) He'd get back in the car as cranky as an old man on the way to the doctor. Boy was he a "joy" sometimes!

Then out of nowhere there would be tanks everywhere. I really loved Fort Drum. It gave me something to glare at in the tight back seat of that Camaro. Allen and I were at war with our family and we were on the losing side. Allen and I were fighting a war trying to win both of our parents over at the same time. We covertly told lies to gain affection from both sides of our family. What do kids know anyway? Then there would be the lighthouse that Allen never saw; he was too busy cutting logs. That lighthouse cutting through the thick night searching for lost objects in space. We didn't know it then but my bro and I were searching too. We were looking for family, love, and happiness.

From Fort Drum on it was broken up back roads for the rest of the journey. We were a back road family cracked with pain. The old Camaro would hall down those roads. Those roads were never sunny it always seemed to get gloomier and gloomier at each strike of the signal light. Allen and I always pretended we were driving the car. We would grab the air and shift the old blue Camaro around the corner constantly racing through life. That's what Al and I did to distract the tears and upset stomachs. We would discuss our cool cars that we would buy someday. We would argue about whose was better. If it weren't for that dammed sticky vinyl car seat I'd have the best car. He always won. In some way I loved him for that.

And then there it was. Lawrence Road stretched before my eyes like Goliath intimidating my brother and I. Staring at us and helping us to realize the trip was coming to an abrupt halt. I always knew when we were on that road when we rounded the hilly corner that made the butterflies in my stomach cry. There it was my mom's big white house reaching for us; pulling us near. Then dink, donk, dink, donk. We were in the driveway. The tears rolled down my cheeks crashing down on my vinyl prison making a sad plastic sound. The door would open and I'd repeat over and over, "does it look I've been crying?" My parents saying "no as another crashed and this time hit the gravel that I was now so firmly standing on. I'd kiss them good bye and get in the house. As I approached the door I cried for the safety I would be entering and the confusion that still remained. I'd walk in the door with the biggest smile on my face as my lips created a ditch for my tears. And then my mom with clammy worried hands would embrace my confused body. I love my mom, but the conditions I lived in confused my outlook on my parents. Along with all the questions of childhood I had one more than most. Why do I have four parents? Then it would seem like just a few seconds later and the sound of gravel would hunt me again and off we were Batman and Robin who seem to think they've saved us again from the cold loveless Penguin. Another weekend gone, so many ahead. So many speed bumps are still waiting with evil patience. So much road construction would be needed to heal this old cracked up road.

I look back and become sad for the friends and love my brother and I have been passed by on the highway of life. Al and I may be standing in the median together on a chaotic highway but, hey, we've got each other. Side by side ready for any trouble that comes along.


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