When the telephone rang waking me from my usual restless sleep, I knew it must be Mama. There in the shadowy hours of early morning, her anxious voice told me I would have to make the long lonely drive home.
I hoped the drive up from the South would be therapeutic. I needed time to prepare for what I knew was ahead. Hurriedly packing a bag, I felt the familiar scraping sensation return to the pit of my stomach.
Driving across the bridge that stretched high above the Ohio River, I felt the scraping sensation grow more intense as I realized my destination was only a couple hours away.
Car windows down, I listened to the hum of the tires and breathed in the potpourri of spring blossoms. Farms zoomed by alive with springtime; soon after junkyards heaped with dead automobiles spread against the landscape.
Trying to forget the junkyards and concentrate on the spring day, I drove on until tall modern skyscrapers came into view. I recalled only short stubby buildings in my hometown.
"How long had it been since I'd been home?" I asked the steering wheel. Mama would remember. I swallowed hard in hopes of making the stabbing sensation in my stomach disappear.
Flipping on the radio, the disc jockey shouted, "Hello, Columbus!" and the little Chevy was flooded with rattling music I didn't understand.
Poor Mama. I knew she was at her kitchen table alone with a cup of coffee gone cold. The familiar sight was burned in my memory.
Entering the city, I saw flat-faced red brick houses lining the street. A small cheerful yard surrounded by a black iron fence was comrade to each neat house. Little gray shops perched on street corners were like silver doves cooing, "How long since you were home?"
Home. The word repeated in my brain, playing over and over like a needle stuck in the groove of a 45rpm record from my adolescence.
The scraping in the pit of my stomach crept upward, erupted into the usual gnawing sensation, then settled in the empty space behind my heart.
Bob had lived in this neighborhood, I recalled.
The houses had obviously been rejuvenated. They took on cheerful personalities, unlike the small brick boxes with postage stamp sized yards of cracked clay where Bob had lived so many years ago.
My first love. I smiled to myself recalling the lanky blonde boy from high school. I recalled him going into the "Men Only" bar to buy thick barbeque sandwiches for us while I waited outside.
Mama never liked Bob. I remember her waiting at the kitchen table at night when I came home from a date with him. Her eyes were angry and accusing as she looked up at me from her bitter cold coffee. I would suddenly feel guilty and wonder why.