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A New Beginning

written by: Anselfan

As I opened the door to the van and stepped unto the callous pavement, I felt the crisp autumn breeze glide longingly through my crimped hair. To the west, I saw the horizon of golden trees dancing on the distant hill in perfect synchronization as cars hummed along 40 highway. The rustic scent of burning leaves made me reminiscence as I closed my eyes and took a long, deep breath…

…The last of the boxes had been packed in the moving truck. Keith and I brought out the cat carriers and temporarily sat their precious cargo in the dewy grass next to my parents' driveway. Our cats cried frantically, but to no avail.
"That the last of it?" Keith questioned me.
"Yep! Let's get going so we can make good time." I said hastily yet cheerfully.
"‘Kay, hun," he acquiesced as he ushered me to my parents.
This must have been the cue that my parents were waiting for as they reluctantly shuffled their feet forward to prepare for our send-off. My dad, intimidating-sized to those who don't know him, leaned over gingerly, "Bye, toots. Take care and call us as soon's you get there." He followed these words with the bear hug that I'd grown accustomed to, holding on for just a few seconds longer, almost fearful of letting go. His scent, although subtle, was as much of a trademark as his hug: A hint of tobacco muffled faintly by spicy cologne and aloe-scented aftershave. I smiled fondly at him knowing that I would no longer take his essence for granted like the engraved jewelry box that he once made for me.
"You shouldn't see too many scorpions, rattlesnakes and tarantulas roamin' around," Dad said mischievously.
"D-a-ad!" I exclaimed jokingly punching his round belly that I used to cuddle up on as a toddler.
"‘Course I don't blame you for movin' back if you do," he added with a twitch of his Magnum P.I. mustache. That was Dad. Disguising a shred of hope with humor. And catching people—especially me—off-guard in the process. Realizing that his last plea was an utter failure, he sighed and kissed me lovingly on the forehead.
As Dad turned to pat Keith on the back, the tears that I had only seen four times before in my entire life came trickling down my mom's flushed cheeks like cool April showers. Now having said her farewell to Keith, she pivoted to say goodbye to me.
I could just feel her heart shattering in two as she cried, "Happy Anniversary. Ca…care…ful." Her perfume lingered in the air silently pleading me not to go.
Mom's height was practically that of Dad's if his legs were cut off. Her chestnut-colored hair feathered toward her eyelashes as her thin peach lips parted in disbelief. Mom's flawless completion could easily make her pass for 35. But like any stressful ordeal, her wrinkles tattled her true age like a child on the playground.
"We will be, Mom," I reassured her. As she looked at me imploringly, our embrace was well overdue. I held her close. All the times that I had hugged her before, I never noticed how she just felt like home. She kissed me on the cheek delicately as she clung to my waist. Then after a few brief moments, I let go. I let go of her Saturday chocolate bunt cake, her Sunday night fried chicken, her occasional mouth-watering sweet tea. And as I turned to face Keith, I hoped to let go of the misunderstandings, too.
"I put some extra drinks and snacks in the cooler for ya," she quivered with a concerned tone in her voice. This was Mom. So giving. So worrisome. So afraid to show her tenderness, particularly in these moments, when she had no choice.
"Thanks for letting us stay here last night. We'll call you when we reach Albuquerque. Love you," I backed away humbly.
"We'll miss you. Take care," Keith added as we each bent down to pick up a portable cat cage.
I glanced up at Keith. He flashed his irresistible boyish grin, blue eyes sparkling as the perfect compliment to his striped shirt. This morning marked exactly one year of our wedding. Except for the thawed out remains of our wedding cake, this experience was our only gift to each other. Losing myself in his eyes, I smiled back entranced by his uplifting demeanor. He hovered over our kitten's cage to give me a peck on the lips and to hand me a walkie-talkie before heading to the truck.
"Be good," he teased.
"I will be," I said playfully waving him toward the truck.
Until we established new accounts, our cell phones were to be used only for emergencies. So we resorted to this Cloak and Dagger maneuver that worked beautifully on our wedding day to ‘keep the bride and groom away from each other,' in the words of our coordinator.
Just like our wedding day, I was too excited to cry now. I urgently wanted Mom and Dad to know that although I was sad to leave my childhood hometown, I was also elated to break free from it. But not from them.
Still beaming, I waved one last goodbye gently placing our eldest cat's carrier into the front passenger seat. I strolled around and slipped into the driver's side comprehending that I had roughly 19 hours of sitting time, myself.
Moments later, I adjusted my rearview mirror and observed as Keith drove down the street to turn the truck around. I took a minute to breathe deeply as if this was the only chance that I'd ever really given myself permission to. Up until this point in my 24 years, I had said goodbye to them before numerous dates, sporting events, camp, and even college. But not like this. This goodbye was different. It wasn't just saying goodbye as I moved nearly an hour away to school or across town into my sister's rental property. Or even the previous year when I moved into Keith's apartment. This was a move across the country. A move to a city I had never visited before. My thunderstruck parents went inside the house after waving for the final time.
I took one last sigh and glanced at my not-so-comfortable female feline friend of two years, Koby. Her piercing green eyes glared back at me as if to say "What are you doing to me?" I laughed. "We're moving to Phoenix, Koby Sue," I said in the whiny, high-pitch voice that I automatically used when speaking to pets or kids. I couldn't help this annoying habit of mine. Her wire-like whiskers gently raised straight up into the air as she surrendered hopelessly to a yawn, meanwhile pretending to ignore me like any respectable cat should. I assured myself that my sassy calico friend was no stranger to traveling. In fact, she had been to Iowa, Texas, Missouri and all of the states in between. Now she was about to add new states to her list. Poor silly cat. I soothingly nudged her moist, cotton candy nose through her unforgiving kitty jail cell. Then her left white-sock playfully hit my finger begging, "I promise I'll be good if you just let me out !"
Turning away from my otherwise spoiled cat, I reclined my seat. It was only six o'clock in the morning, but the air was thick as if my skin wore a soaking rain jacket turned inside out. I wondered if Keith felt this gross. Relieved that this was the 21 st century, I put the AC on full-blast and tuned in to MIX 93.3. Then I cranked our trusty Honda Accord in reverse pondering if I should have driven my effortless Civic instead. But for now, my favorite car was to be dragged along tediously for a two-day journey.
As I backed sluggishly out of the driveway, I plopped up the visor, slid on my sunglasses and rubbed together what remained of my dwindling vanilla-flavored lip gloss. I wasn't even going to bother primping in the rearview mirror, fearful of what I might see. I put the car in first gear.
Out of anxiousness, I clutched the steering wheel and gulped my saliva as loud as mate-calling toad. My nails created sharp pangs inside my clammy palms. This journey was beginning merely two weeks after it had been planned. Hard to believe.
I caught up with Keith just in time as his wound around the corner of Bryant Drive. My life was married to Keith, but my eyes were married to this unyielding yellow truck for the next two days.
Traffic was light and peaceful, a good sign. We would be at the interstate in less than a mile. Easily resting my left hand above the steering wheel, I trekked down this familiar thoroughfare unsure of when I would see it again.
After what seemed like an eternity at the next intersection, our two-cat, two-person caravan merged unto I-70 at last. It wouldn't be much longer until we were crossing the border into Kansas. I shifted the car into fifth.
"Here we go, K.S." I whispered almost hesitantly. Then I grinned realizing for the first time that my cat's initials were the same as my true love who now lead us like a steam engine on rails. A flicker of light hit my diamond ring causing its immaculate prism to glisten on the dashboard. I meditated what a perfect day that it was for driving while reaching for my water bottle to take a sip. Apprehensive about having to go to the restroom too soon, I placed the bottle back into the cup holder and focused on the mesmerizing white dotted lines on the interstate.
Thirty minutes later, a fuzzy sound came from the walkie-talkie. "Steph, are you letting Koby roam around," Keith asked.
"No. Why? Are you letting Andy roam," I questioned.
"Ya. He likes it pretty well. We can switch ‘em later if you want," he proposed.
Preferring the least vocal cat while traveling, I replied, "Errr…we'll see."
Our orange and white cat was spastic at times. We called him orphan Andy because after his mother was ran over by a car, he wandered to my sister's front porch and meowed until she answered the door. Although fiery at times, he was still as smart as a whip. I could just picture Andy's skinny little body running like a flash of lightening all the way to Arizona without any fear of cars or wild animals, the plot for something like Homeward Bound. Unlike the pampered Miss Priss Koby, he always had this I-can-do-it-myself-thank-you-very-much attitude. Andy was a survivor. Then again, he had to be. So much of one, in fact, that we sometimes wondered if he even needed us at all.
Andy's personality complimented Koby's the way that Keith's complimented mine. I questioned Keith's judgment regarding Andy's independence, until it occurred to me that he would never sacrifice our safety for the sake of our pet's curiosity. I shook it off.
"I have a surprise for you when we reach Albuquerque," he said unpredictably.
"That's nice. Does it involve a pillow under my head," I asked. After the words flew from my mouth, I realized the implications of what I had unintentionally said.
"Sure, if that's how you want it," he said wittingly.
"You'll have to settle for spanking my butt while we fill up at the gas station," I retorted.
"I'll think it over. 10-4," he concluded with a chuckle.
I leaned back in my chair reflecting. We had no jobs lined up for when we got there. We didn't even know where we were going to live. Still, I wasn't worried. I was confident that I could find a teaching job and that Keith could get an I.T. position. Plus, we had enough money to make it our first couple of months there. We would be fine. I knew we would be because it just felt right. This move was another new beginning.
My eyes scampering across the pink Missouri skyline, I rouse from my comatose state like Rip Van Winkle. There were few times in life that I felt more alive, still more at peace than now. In any case, this was my life now. This was our life. And life as we knew it now rested alongside stacked furniture, between crammed clothing, among countless breakables, atop four wheels, enclosed in a yellow rectangle, with the whines of two vulnerable cats and the echoes of a mother's despairing sobs. I turned up the radio ignoring my random thoughts. Meanwhile, we followed the road bewildered yet empowered by where it would take us.


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