On the way home from a tour of looking at colleges, a milestone trip on the parental journey, we encounter a sign warning of construction delays ahead and though it is already late at night and we are only halfway through a long trip, we detour, choosing a short delay as being preferable to the risk of an uncertain and possibly longer one. This is how we find ourselves driving through Pulaski, a small town the thruway bypassed long ago, leaving it stuck in time, quaint, obsolete. It takes our breath away. It looks like a movie set, as if every detail, from the dim street lights to the faded signs in typefaces no longer used, has been masterfully recreated for actors in period dress to enact their period drama. Except it isn’t a movie set. It is a real town, clean, neat, not boarded up, not in disrepair, but eerily empty, as if everyone left a hundred years ago and never came back. How did the town survive intact? How did it resist change?
We are driving late at night because having found where she wants to go when she leaves us, our daughter says she’s done and just wants to go home. So we cancel the motel reservations and the next appointments with the admissions offices and, at five o’clock, start driving. It will take us close to nine hours, but we understand: when you’re done, you’re done and it’s time to go. We drive long into the deep night, my husband and I, stopping for gas, for coffee, for a rest, for something to eat from the gas station concessions. It is strangely intimate and beautiful, driving wordlessly together in the empty dark while our daughter sleeps peacefully behind us, hour after hour.
“Thanks for driving me home,” she says when we get there and heads to her room. My husband, mission accomplished, likewise stumbles out of the car to go upstairs and collapse. He’s done all the driving. I stand in the empty driveway for a moment, and all I can think is, This is love. This is what love is. Tomorrow I’ll go pick up the dog.
Except tomorrow was already here. It just didn’t feel like it yet.