The Drive Home – The New York Times

The Drive Home – The New York Times


Emma Cline

Nathan Bajar for The New York Times

The ride home from the airport isn’t particularly eventful. The communication of any actual news has been left to the siblings or my mother — my father and I rarely talk about anything meaningful. Instead, he likes to point out things we’re passing, or relay some mild fact gleaned from the Yahoo home page.

He brings a bag of sunflower seeds, the plastic cup into which he periodically spits his tobacco juice. Sometimes there’s an apple rolling around for me on the bench seat of his truck, or one of the packs of the gum he buys in bricks from Costco. My father, a famously opaque man, is made visible to me in these small ways. These small offerings.

Whatever happens after I arrive at my parents’ house — sitting down for the meal, participating in all the self-conscious acts that are meant to reinforce the idea of family — feels less real to me than the hourlong ride from the airport, something less showy but somehow truer. My father tucks his tobacco under his bottom lip. He tamps it with his tongue. It’s rained a lot lately, he tells me. The dog killed one of the chickens.

Beyond these basic updates, I get another kind of information, which is that my father, for this prescribed time, is present. It may be one of the few instances when I am ever alone with him. Out the window is Northern California in November, the sun through the dusty windshield, the bay flashing past. We don’t have to look directly at each other, or even work very hard at the act of connection. It’s built into the ride, the mathematics of being picked up, that moment of recognition when I see his truck and his familiar shape at the wheel.

Maybe it’s the freedom offered by the liminal state, before the inevitable drag of being home, of settling into old grooves of relationships, whatever gap of understanding might always be there. This is something else, something quieter and kinder. He holds out the pack of gum. I take a piece. We chew in silence.

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