I spent yesterday in a time warp. Jena was a bridesmaid in a best-childhood-girlfriends’ wedding, along with several other lifelong friends, and Tom and I were invited to join the celebration.
Going back to the mountains is a mixed bag for me. I feel totally at home and out of place at the same time. This is how I spent the 24 years I lived there. A neighbor and a stranger.
The small church was packed. I recognized one pew full of people on the other side of the church from where Tom and I sat in folding chairs. It was filled with the neighbors and friends I had raised my kids with, and my X husband and his new wife Patty, from Boswell, PA. Really!
The ceremony these two young kids created was touching. It brought me to tears. Their words, humor and poignancy made me realize how grown up our daughters had become. (Jena if you are reading this don’t get any ideas.)The bride (and groom) had clearly designed a wedding that was uniquely their own. Everyone recognized their personalities and quirks. The groom deliberately ended his wedding vows with a preposition (they are both English buffs), to alleviate his brides insecurity that her vows wouldn’t be as good as his. “Where are your vows at?”
Instead of communion, or lighting a common candle, or pouring colored sand into a bottle, the groom poured milk into a goblet, the bride chocolate. Together they stirred it into chocolate milk. The best man provided two straws and together they drank from the same cup. There was not a dry eye, or a face without a smile, in the church.
The bride and her dad danced to a song they sang together on road trips. Not just any song, but the operatic Sarah Brightman & Andrea Bocelli – Time to Say Goodbye. As they spun around the dance floor they sang it to one another, hitting high notes with dramatic flourish.
In his toast, her dad told funny stories. One in particular was about a phone call he got while working the late shift. She told him she had hit a bird with her car. She had killed it. But, it was still stuck in her grill. Could he please get it out when he got home? “Of course,” he said. Turned out the bird was a goose. Stuck in the grill, and the hood, in such a way that as she drove the 4 foot wing span opened and closed.
Again, not a dry eye or an unsmiling face in the room. Conjoined polarities.
At the end of the evening Tom asked me to drive home. I took the wheel without hesitation. I knew these roads. I had driven them most of my adult life. I recently told someone that I am still learning to be a city driver because I am really a country driver. City driving, with all the cars on the road, the on/off ramps that send me careening into 70 mph traffic, the street lingo rolling off natives tongues — the parkway, the crosstown blvd, the boulevard — the surprise road closures that knock me off my course, keeps my breathing shallow and my wits on end. Being in the mountains, driving in the dark was a piece of wedding cake.
Except it wasn’t. And when had it gotten THIS DARK? I couldn’t see anything outside of my headlights. At some point I noticed the road we were on was getting terribly narrow and winding. I didn’t remember this stretch of road from Ohiopyle to Chalk Hill. Where were we and how had I gotten off course?
I could hear Twilight Zone music playing, Rod Sterlings voice saying, “You have just entered another dimension.”
Tom pretended to calmly suggest I wait to find a driveway to turn around in. He was concerned that the sides of the road would be swampy. In a very small voice I told him I didn’t suspect there was going to be any driveways along this road.
And there wasn’t.
I eventually found a wider part of the road and did a K-K-K turn, knowing that to go further could lead us into the part of the mountains where no man has gone before and returned to tell the story. Dunbar.
I wound my way back up the road, totally disoriented in a completely familiar place. And let me say again, it was so damn DARK. We came to an intersection that I sat at for more than a minute, getting my bearings. (You can do that on country roads at 8:30 at night cuz you are the only one on the road.)
My wits returned, I turned right and successfully drove us home. To Pittsburgh. That is my home now. But driving past the entrance to Deer Lake, my home of 24 years, I could have just as easily turned left to go home.
Returning to a past life. That is what I did yesterday. I fell back into conversations as though I hadn’t been gone for 5 years. As though I had seen neighbors just the other day. But when they asked me, “What’s new?” how do I begin to tell them: my whole life.
Perhaps you can never go home again. Or at least not without some disorientation.