by Olivia Pridemore
I awoke one morning to a summons in the form of a notecard at the foot of the bed. My fiancé had gone for a run; I donned my shoes, slipped a twenty from his wallet, hit the freeway as the sun struggled up and over the horizon, drove and drove. Three states and four smoke breaks later, I fizzled out around two miles from the nearest rest stop, walked on into the morning. In my dreams, the car’s still idling on the shoulder, waiting for a passenger.
After Desert Storm, my father was assigned to a caravan, winding through the desert like great grey brains, gutting outposts as they went. The men worked quickly. Wary Saudi farmers tracked their progress from a distance. Dad was keeping watch when he felt engines rumble to life, breathed the dust of his unit’s departure. Later that evening, they found him walking down Death Highway, skirting the pitfalls of patriotic resolve.
In high school, my dad bought an old blue VW beetle for 60 bucks, picked up his girlfriend to take it for a spin. The passenger seat caved in at the McDonald’s drive through. They spent all night waiting for a tow. He was nearly asleep when Andrea told him he wouldn’t be a father; the driver’s side caved in too.
I thought about my father’s voice on the 10 1/2 hour ride to our reunion in Oklahoma City, my little brother cooing in the backseat. Air Traffic Control training lasts four months: one Halloween, one Thanksgiving, half a soccer season, seven playdates, my brother’s second birthday, a lifetime. What a rapturous thing to behold—son meeting father for the first time.
We picked a direction, not a destination, stopped every 100 miles to clean toe prints off the windows, took a detour in Amish country, tasted pies & jams & homemade peanut butter, licked the roofs of our mouths like dogs. I begged you to leave me there, a life I could build with my own two hands.
Gran still trembles as she remembers those blue Alaskan winters, like two long nights. She fixed rackets to the boys’ boots, drove to the edge of the school yard, sent them waffling through the snow in a downy bumble, switched off the heat for the return trip home.
On my eighteenth 4th of July, I got ash in my eye. Mom drove me to the hospital to get drug tested; I pleaded. Our tears dripped off our cheeks, ran down our arms, soaked through the upholstery, squeezed through the door cracks to make love to the wind.
I got high for the first time at Johnson Park, listening to Oasis under a grove of sycamores trees, hair tickling my elbows, tangling with the leaves. I couldn’t go home, so I drove slant-eyed to the salon, wondering if I would still be beautiful, hoping I wouldn't.
At seventeen, my father stole away on the back of a fruit truck. My grandmother wept; it was a school night. Dad was so high, he didn’t budge before the truck crossed the Florida State line, wedged between mangos, basking in the euphoria of stars.
Quitting my first real job was like a witching—no notice, no explanation. I snuck into the office at 3:17 am, cleared emails, gathered personal belongings (one cactus in a white ceramic pot, a dry erase calendar), draped badge and lanyard over keyboard, drove home under my father’s singing sky.
Olivia Pridemore is a multi-dimensional artist and cofounder of Silver Needle Press. Her works have appeared, or are forthcoming in, Portland Review, Permafrost, Sand Hills, Bridge, The Ocotillo Review, The Raw Art Review, Pidgeonholes, Round Table, Ampersand, and elsewhere. Olivia teaches writing courses at Austin Peay State University, and she challenges herself to appreciate local flavor by shooting all photography in the greater Nashville area.