Falling Sky

Some days on the road that fall I felt like we were all kidnap victims, my father some desperate outlaw trying to get us as far away from the scene of the crime as quickly as he could. Other days I felt like we were all fugitives on the run. Most of the time, though, I felt like we were being drawn west toward some terrible future. Though my father’s hands were on the steering wheel he was not in control. We were going to live in California, and he was going to war. At night in my journal I practiced writing the word “Afghanistan.”

We had Thanksgiving dinner at a Sizzler Restaurant in Tucumcari, New Mexico. My little sister Marla whimpered that there was no cranberry sauce. Mother spoke softly to her. My father stabbed his steak like it was an enemy.

My parents argued every day, beginning in the darkness of the motel rooms before we kids were awake. I slept in a sleeping bag on the floor, Marla on an extra cot if the motel had one, in bed with Mom and Dad if not. In the dark, pretending to be asleep, I’d roll onto my back so I could listen with both ears. I couldn’t hear much other than their urgent voices, and I didn’t dare open my eyes. Even now whenever I think of their fights that fall I cannot conjure up any visual memories—just disembodied voices whispering in the blackness, like co-conspirators.

This was the daily routine: Dad with his heavy foot, apparently eager to get to California, to be gone, and Mom finding various ways to slow him down, almost dragging her feet on the road. His foot on the gas, hers somehow on the brake. And so we staggered west

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