I live in Washington, on the east coast; they live in Charleston, in the US deep south. I have a house there too, but it seems a stretch to think of it as home, so rarely I am there. No longer I enjoy driving the distance at one go, and so going there entails planning ahead and using a hotel as a midway stop.
The bigger reason for my rare trips is that I have become accustomed to my home and my town. It is a pleasant enough house, larger than my needs. I rarely use the ground floor and am content using only the kitchen, one of the bathrooms and the large bedroom I have made my study. A smaller bedroom I use only to sleep, and the deck outside is my favorite haunt, to read and to daydream.
Even the city, Washington, though I live on its fringe, has its fascination for me. It is a busy city, always vibrant, resonant with memories of the places where I have lived, worked, eaten, met with friends, watched plays, heard concerts. Its streets evoke memories, its hotels have histories for me, its old buildings fascinate me. Its free museums are an eternal charm, its think tanks with their talks are an enticing draw.
Yet my daughters are there. At 500 miles. When I see them my heart takes a leap.
Now I live a more tranquil life. It is largely a life of quiet study, sustained exploration and a peaceful probe of troubling matters. I am happy in my home, relaxed in my fitful interviews and at home when I travel to unfamiliar shores. But it is all by myself. If I am happy, there is scantly anyone to share my happiness with.
My daughters are 500 miles away. In another world.
Of course, I love to see them. I take breaks from whatever I do and spend a few days with them. I would have preferred them to be a little nearer; I could visit them more often. The distance is a bit more than I care to drive in a day, and the pandemic makes it harder. I am forced to stay overnight in a hotel, where it is hard to avoid other people in a hall or maintain social distance.
For months I have not seen my daughters. I speak to them on the phone, even see them periodically on my computer. I miss feeling close to them. I miss holding their hands or hugging them. They tell me of the improvements they have made in their homes. They have bought shiny new cars. I haven’t seen any of those. It frustrates me, even when they send me photographs or try to show me on the phone. I am old-fashioned enough to want to see it all directly, standing next to my daughters, and be able to tell them what I think of them. I want to be able to share, in my limited way, their life with me. I want to feel a part of their fast-changing life.
But they live 500 miles away. A huge expanse of space between us.
No longer. Last week I took an impulsive decision. The decision to take a risk and drive the 500 miles and visit them. A Hilton hotel offered to give me a sanitized room, exempt from all service staff. I stayed there a cautious night and drove through the southern countryside to Charleston.
As I came closer, each hour I reminded myself I was an hour nearer to my daughters. The drive felt easy, the traffic insignificant. I drove at a steady pace, resisting the lure of the rest stop cafés on the way, and finally entered Charleston.
For my convenience, they are both waiting in my Charleston home. They have brought food, plenty of it. They have chilled the wine. They have placed the covers and cutlery on the large dining table. But first I must hug them and kiss them and peer at their beautiful faces. They are smiling and my heart is bursting. What did I do to deserve such loving, charming children!
But, wait, what else have they placed on the table? A big tray with a large, luscious birthday cake. They remembered it was my birthday! I invite my daughter’s tousle-haired little girl, just three, to come and help me dice the cake. Excited, laughing, she comes and places her soft little hand on mine and steadies the knife as it enters the almond-chocolate cake.
All the 500 miles have simply melted away, like the butter and sugar in my birthday cake.