I’m awake before Kiddo, for once. The sun’s still below the horizon, the sky just beginning to light. I can see the glow through the camper’s canvas, and I’m glad of it. I’ve been up for hours, staring at the dark and wanting nothing but to get up and walk. To go.
I dress as quietly as I can, gather the coffee makings, and step outside. Leave my daughter and wife sleeping. There’s just enough light to see by, and the wide dry lakebed we camped on the night before is still as anything. A dusting of persistent stars stand against the coming dawn. It’s cool, too. The crisp kiss of winter’s out here in the dark, not yet bold enough to brave the daylight.
I fire the stove and boil the water. In the silence, the hiss of the stove sounds obscene, and for a moment, I worry I might wake the toddler sleeping on the other side of the wall. Her tiny snores never break, and I watch the blue flame spill a bubble of light onto the desert floor. Steam rises in thin, gray wisps, first from the pot, then from my mug. I walk a ways out from the truck, first just to get some air in my lungs, then to put some distance between my family and I.
I’ve spent this year trying to be here now, as the Buddhists say. Plan for the future, remember the past, but bring my consciousness to the moment at my feet. I’d spent a lifetime gunning for some far off maybe. For eventually. For later. This whole exercise, selling our belongings and running the road for a year, was focused on the day at hand. Drinking up the early days of my daughter’s life while we explored our country together.
Yesterday, the future came for us.
There was the election, of course. I’d half-hoped to run us far enough into the sticks to escape cell service. To put off knowing how that disaster would go, one way or the other, but Johnson Valley is dotted with towers, and we had enough bars to watch the results tumble in. And it’s hard, looking at my daughter. It’s hard knowing that we’ll have to raise her to find her spine. To stand tall and firm and to fight like hell for rights that seemed so certain yesterday. To bare her teeth and defend the only thread that’s held this union together for so many years: majority rule, yes, but minority rights, too. The right for of all of us to share this weird, sprawling country with one another, regardless of the thin things that separate us.
And before that, it was the phone call that told me the paychecks weren’t coming. That we were on our own, 3,000 miles from the home we left behind. Furious as I was, it wasn’t anger that dominated the emotions thrashing at my chest. It was homesickness, a powerful urge to be somewhere familiar. The knowledge that there is no such place for us only made it worse.
The desert’s trashed out here. This area hosts all manner of races, and the sand’s littered with pieces of machines. There are scraps of plastic fenders. The remains of tires. Bits of frame. You could assemble of vehicle with what’s been left to bake in the sun. I walk through it all, stumbling in and out of two-track ruts that wind off into the miles of nothing. I’m headed for the broken ridges to our south, their stones just now fading orange.
When I reach the top, I have enough time to sit and sip cold coffee out of my only mug. Tiny desert birds flit in and out of the rocks around me, curious at the interloper. The truck is small in the distance, a white smudge on the dim edge of the sprawling dry lake. Headlights flicker on the highway, miles off. The sun is a slow thing. It takes its time, and the first long, red rays won’t touch the sand for another 10 minutes. I fill my lungs with the dry air and wait.
There’s something perfect about the mechanisms on display here. The measured pace of things. The silent clockwork of our world. The bare truth that there are endings, yes, but beginnings, too. The reassurance that there are new days coming, and that they will be bright. That you just have to wait for the light.
Beth and Kiddo are up by the time I make my way back to the truck. I can hear our daughter’s squeals from a quarter mile out. When I open the door, she’s standing there in her footy pajamas, her red hair wild, her eyes bright. They fill with glee when she sees me.
“Dada,” she says, on her way to a shout.
She fills my heart, and I don’t know whether to cry or laugh. Both, maybe. It’s enough. Enough to push away the fear and loneliness of yesterday. The homesickness. Enough to keep going.