Her bus was headed west towards home. It was shortly after midnight. She shifted uncomfortably in her seat, twisting her boarding pass so often that it had become as soft as cotton. She stared out of the large windows and its layers of petrified water droplets. There was nothing but darkness on the desolate two-lane highway, the only view was the vague silhouette of herself from a distant reading light reflected back. She did not need to see it to know what was out there. The times may have changed but the slight dips in the arid landscape remained. The cattle yards, the truck stops, the barbed wire still stood after decades of wind and winter and summers. They would remain.
Her uncle had reluctantly purchased the ticket for her. Her grandfather was dead. She couldn’t afford the fare and her mother, worse off than she was, was too deep in her own grief to tend to the needs of her daughter. This was a 30 hour ride. Enough time to wait like an inmate destined for lethal injection. Enough time to think about life, family, and regret. This was her first time back home since the summer she turned 18. She was bringing back no wild successes, no fruits of promise, no legal offspring.
Daybreak came and slowly the horizon exposed itself, she did not need to see her destination to feel it. The road home only expanded slightly and the subdivisions stretched farther replacing miles of orchard. The dry hills were made flaxen in the cool, January air. Other than the addition of a Panera and a Trader Joe’s not much of the main drag had changed in ten years. She set foot on her old turf at the empty terminal. No one met her at the station. She simply grabbed her large duffle bag and started towards her grandfather’s house through the neighborhoods she spent years wandering through as a child. The house hadn’t changed much either. The walls had supported her extended family for the last forty years. Her grandfather purchased it upon his retirement from the Army. Undoubtably, the house would be given to her uncle, the most responsible of his children. He was also the man who paid her expensive tuition during her brief moment as a hopeful MFA. A fact that made her take a deep breath before knocking on the door.
Her cousin Tiffany was the first to see her. Tiffany was now fifteen and, what appeared to be, deep into her goth phase. The look in Tiffany’s eyes made it very clear that she had no recollection of the stranger before her. She tried to not be hurt by this. It was fairly narcissistic to expect the teenager to have ever remembered her presence. But there was a time when she couldn’t get Tiffany to leave her side, often spending many afternoons in high school caring for the little girl.
“Hi Tiffany. I’m your cousin, Lyn.”
Tiffany wordlessly shuffled to the side allowing just enough room to pass. Lyn’s eyes surveyed the livingroom. The wood paneling and decor hadn’t changed since her grandmother, God rest her soul, left this world twenty years prior. Her grandfather’s old recliner stood were it always had, empty now, an untouched relic. She wandered to the back of the house where she heard her mother’s voice. From the hallway she could see her mother pacing back and forth through the doorway with various armfuls of her grandfather’s clothing. She stood there a while in the early morning darkness. Her mother stopped and stared at her. Her mother’s eyes were red and raw. She was always one for dramatics.
The pleasantries, awkward hugs, grueling questions trickled through. Family acquaintances brought food. Amber, once her most trusted confidant, came with her two kids. They sat on the patio as Amber’s boys played in the garden.
“You should’ve told me. I had to hear this from my mother.”
Amber was the kind of friend Lyn simply outgrew. Social media had ruined that comfortable distance. Amber was always hurt that Lyn was never a strong internet presence. Lyn just didn’t put much faith in technology created for people with an abundance of time on their hands, even though she did.
“What happened to that guy you were dating? The musician? Wasn’t that going well?”
It was not. Between their mutual vices and his penchant for sleeping with their various friends and her lack of self-esteem or sobriety, it failed. Just like many of the promising creative ventures she had started and never finished. Or the curating internship. Or pretty much any job. This would be bottom but bottom had been going on since she dropped out junior year seven years prior.
The moment of actual dread came at the wake. The reason for her sleepless bus ride and her first heartache, Jamie. It was the kind of pain that was so strong and so gutting that the subconscious buries it deep inside. The kind that is the root of all future relationship failures and the reoccurring theme that haunts her dreams at night. For one brief and beautiful moment, Jamie was hers. He was everything she wanted for the bulk of her teenage years. She put everything she had into this acquisition. Every time they kissed she did it as though it would be the last time. Perhaps she knew that she loved him too much? More than he loved her. It made leaving him behind for the promising future that lay ahead of her easier to believe but did not remove the sting when he impregnated and then married her former rival two years later. She sent a horrible and confusing love letter to him upon this discovery ending with the words: My love for you isn’t in the poetry but the lack of it.
Her body cringes in remembrance. She never wrote to him again.
And there Jamie was, across the room holding her unconsolable mother. Older, but handsome as always. His wife not far behind. Her eyes immediately darted at Lyn upon entering the mortuary. The staking of claim. If she knew Lyn at all she’d have known that Lyn wasn’t a contender. Lyn barely was fighting for her own life, she wasn’t about to start the daunting task of stealing someone else’s. Realizing that she is not in a town that is her’s anymore and feeling like a stranger at her own family’s funeral, Lyn went to find the office. Coffee. Solace.
She could see the funeral director was watching a local syndicate broadcast of a poorly produced crime show. She slipped past him and into the breakroom. With a cup of old coffee and a pack of cigarettes she stood outside in the high desert winter. For once she was done being alone with her thoughts, then the familiar smell of marijuana drew her attention to her cousin, whose everyday life was a funeral. Silently she joined Tiffany and together the two outcasts shared a moment of peace.