The ride back is never good. From anywhere. At any age.
A family gathering in New Jersey. Not far, just over the bridge, maybe forty-five minutes. It’s okay getting there, got the food in the backseat, we are all sort of alert and in a decent mood, there will be a meal and conversation (granted, not always a plus, the latter…), my shoes are pretty and not too uncomfortable, and my hair responded well this morning (no humidity!).
The day evolves naturally into end of meal, diminishing conversation, glances at the clock, getting those dishes to the sink.
Enormously tired, and it’s not even late, still light outside. Gotta stop at the gas station to fill up on ‘cheap’ gas before leaving the state. Never been a happy passenger, I admit it, abhor long car rides, easily nauseated by looking out the side windows, turning to the back seat and, God forbid, read something. Then, it’s pure ‘please-hurry-up-I’m-going-to-be-sick-very-soon’.
Sliding down on the seat, trying to zone out until we get home, battling increasing depression, oncoming of a violent headache.
But can’t. Zone out, that is. There is another meal to put together upon my return, people still need to be fed, yes, again, because it’s early, and one needs those three square ones. But I have nothing at home, should I defrost the sauce in the freezer, but do I have enough time, and what if they don’t like it?
Don’t want to think about duties, commitments, expectations, others’ needs, ever-present responsibilities. Leave me alone, world, I’m nauseous, weary, don’t want to be conscientious and reliable.
But I must. Because I’m a mother. We get no slack. We must be on. All the time. That’s how it works.
It always has.
Italy, damn long time ago. Returning form somewhere – a day trip, a museum visit, maybe from visiting some far-removed relatives in the country. Slumped in the backseat of the green Simca, behind my mother’s perfume cloud that wrapped itself around my head and squeezed it like a vice. The windy road making my stomach churn, my siblings next to me, arguing, shoving each other, as I tried not to throw up. Car sickness has always been my torture, thus ruining many outings all through my childhood and beyond.
Dinner, my mother kept saying, frantic, anxious, pushing my father’s arm for emphasis, Devo comprare qualcosa da mangiare, forse una mozzarella…Sarà aperto il negozio? She would insist that he go a different way, stop by a certain salumeria which should still be open (Sbrigati! Hurry!), we could pick up some fresh mozzarella and maybe some bread, quickly before they close, or are they closed already? She would pull out her wallet, check for cash, because who ever heard of credit cards then.
I know, of course, now, that she didn’t want to worry about buying mozzarella, her own stomach probably queasy from the car, the tension (there was always tension) straining her nerves, my father’s caustic comments plunging her into despair and gloomy reflections on what-the-hell-happened-to-my-life, but she bore it. No, not gracefully, but she did, damn it.
I am my mother now. We need to pick up mozzarella, or something, people need to eat. I could make grilled cheese.
Maledetti car rides.