Down the road
The route is the same,
hurtling five miles over the speed limit
southbound on U.S. 1.
I have spent years on this highway,
its asphalt unrolling before me
predictably, familiar and haunting.
I saw the predawn Christmas darkness evaporating,
the sun rising in the rearview mirror,
as we raced to reach Wadesboro before breakfast ended.
The excitement on children’s faces in the back seat
overwhelmed their lack of sleep as
Christmas music blared from the cassette player.
We made our annual journey
in a dreamlike fog to see relatives my children barely knew
and I rarely saw.
How many cars have I steered along this path
knowing every turn and every landmark,
every mile marker and town limits sign?
Some stretches of the route have been widened
with new lanes of asphalt, the tree line bulldozed back.
New stores and parking lots and homes
have supplanted the woodlots and the fields.
In these later years, I drive this same route
with different emotions. Anxiety and grief replace anticipation.
I drive to find my parents, immobile and uncommunicative
in the nursing home antonymous to home.
Now the steering wheel points toward funeral homes
and cemeteries at the end of the road.
I ask as the miles trip over on the glowing odometer:
Will this be the last time?
The last venture down this familiar road?
Will there be at last nothing to lure me here where I began?
To spend three more hours on the road?
Will this be the end of my road?