Now I remembered this drive well. I remembered how being in the car up and over the mountains and down the windy road made me nauseous. What made it even worse was the fact that it was covered in snow, blanketing the hills like too much sugar on a stack of French toast. Every once in a while, I would see a patch of blue-sky peek out from the curtains of clouds. Yet looking up didn’t seem to help my nerves and so I looked out the windshield from the backseat of the truck.
We were going to our parents’ house in Reno. My younger sister Noel in the passenger seat, my brother-in-law Michael behind the wheel. We weren’t talking much, here and there about the weather, the icy roads, the traffic. It was small talk, and it was everything but the most important topic at hand. That topic of course was the fact that my sister and I were going to say goodbye to our dad.
My sister was asleep in the passenger seat for the last hour until we came to a stop on the highway. Breaking semi-abruptly, we all sat up a little straighter in our seats, stretching and yawning from the being in the car too long.
“Where are we?” my sister asked croaky.
I opened my phone and checked the map.
“Looks like were about twenty minutes away,” I said.
“People don’t know how to drive in the snow,” Michael said, “The guy in front of us almost slid off the mountain twice”.
“Well, we’re almost there,” I said a little dryly. I looked at the line of cars waiting to exit as we changed lanes and passed in order to continue on. Reading the exit, I realized we were almost at our destination.
As we drove down the freeway, I watched the casinos and hotels pass by and thought about how different the day was for the people in those buildings. For the people inside they were enjoying themselves, their reality was a little different than mine right now.
We finally reached our exit and pulled off into the closest gas station. Michael parked and started to get out before looking back and stating he was going inside to use the restroom. Noel turned around and asked if our uncle had texted me. I looked down at my phone even though I knew I had no notifications.
“No, last time he texted was before we we’re going up the mountain”.
“OK,” she said quietly before turning back around.
I thought she wanted to say more but had a feeling she didn’t want to discuss what was going to happen next at length. I think sometimes saying what’s happening out loud can be hard because then it makes it real. That fact that we were all here, going to meet up somewhat unexpectedly was very real now. I had driven up from Southern California the day before and it was only now that I started to think about how things were going to go.
Michael got back into the truck and asked if we needed to go. We both shook our heads and he pulled out of the gas station. We headed down the road for a minute before I realize I needed to pull up the address. Navigating the streets for Michael, we eventually came up to the house.
“Where should I park?” Michael asked.
I looked around the narrow road filled with cars. I decided that he should just park in front of the driveway. He flipped the truck around, parked, and turned the engine off in front of the pale-yellow two-story house.
We all got out of the truck, but I knew I was the one who would be leading us into the house. I stretched a bit, then shivered slightly from the cold air that was creeping its way into my jacket. I zipped my coat up a little higher and put my beanie on before closing the truck door. There was enough snow on the ground to make me consider my every step. I treaded carefully up to the front door, hearing my sister and Michael’s snow breaking footprints behind me.
“Do you think I should knock?” I looked back and asked them.
“I’m pretty sure it’s unlocked, I thought I saw mom open the door?”
I turned back around and opened the door. It was dark except for some light shining through from the sliding glass doors at the back of the house. I could instantly hear muffled talking and sniffling. As we made our way into the house, I felt a bit claustrophobic. The house immediately brought us into a narrow hallway, with a small staircase on the left and a shelf of coats on the right. All three of us huddled into the entrance, with Michael coming in last to close the door. I walked down the hall and came to the kitchen on the right.
My uncle was standing there with my mom.
“Hey,” I said quieter than meaning to.
“Hey kids,” my uncle says tiredly. My uncle is my dad’s younger brother who lives in the area. I haven’t seen him in a few years because I don’t live close, but I recognized him immediately from all the recent zoom calls we’ve had about what’s going on with dad.
“How was your drive?” My mom asks sadly. She looks tired and her eyes are red and puffy.
“It was fine,” Noel states clearing her throat.
“There was a bit of traffic, but the roads overall weren’t too icy,” Michael offered in.
I feel as though the house is even smaller with everyone standing in one spot. I shiver a little as I look out the sliding glass doors to the backyard. The dogs are staring at us but aren’t barking. They look like two old men with white fur coats on. Yet their eyes were wide, four piercing black coals staring in. They are great Pyrenees dogs and love to be outside when it’s cold. I figured they hated it though in the summer with the high Nevada heat.
I looked back at my uncle and realized I would be taking the lead on this. It was I who had orchestrated this gathering with my mom and us. I was also the one who had sent him an email a few weeks before. I didn’t have a plan I realized as were heading up here. I had just been hoping that as his brother he could help be logical and calm, since my mom and sister were often too emotional when it came to dealing with family issues.
“Where is dad,” I asked to the room.
“He’s upstairs of course,” my mom said quickly and high pitched. I nodded at her and looked to my sister. I gestured that we should go upstairs but looking at her watery eyes I could tell she was getting emotional thinking about just being here.
“Do you want me to go?” I tried to say evenly, “You can hang back if you want and take a minute?”
She nodded in agreement and moved to her right so I could get by. Michael then stepped to his right as I headed down the hall, back to the front of the house to take a right to go up the stairs.
As I moved up the carpeted stairs, I looked at the wall and scanned though the framed family photos. I thought about how many times these pictures were hung up and taken down. We moved often growing up and I became accustomed to packing and unpacking with swiftness. I placed one foot continually onto the next step above, until I felt my body stop at the top of the stairs. The upstairs was as small as the downstairs it seemed and almost as dark. I made a right and followed the short hallway to my parents’ room. I knocked lightly on the bedroom door, and it opened slightly. I could see into the room somewhat and saw a queen bed disheveled a bit. I pushed forward the door slowly with my fingertips as I kept an eye on the bed. At the end of the bed was my dad sitting upright, yet his head was down. He didn’t look up at me as I walked in the bedroom just like I had walked in the snow, considering each step.
“Dad?” I asked quietly. I stopped a few feet away because I didn’t want to startle him. He didn’t look up and instead just sat there. He was wearing blue jeans and a T-shirt with his sneakers on. I sat down next to him and thought about what you say to someone when you want them to get help.
The bedroom was heated but it felt cold. I could sometimes feel the sun come in from the window on my left as if it is shining in and wrapping a blanket of warmth around me. I hoped the warmth would fill me up and allow the words deep inside me to spill out and sprinkle over us and this moment. If I could sprinkle those perfect words on us, then perhaps like a blind man seeing the sun for the first time, it would change his world. But I realized I don’t have this magical voice that could switch a light inside someone’s darkness. I thought I could share my small light that I feel I have learned to carry with me through my hard times. But if I gave my light to someone who was not willing to try and ignite their own, then mine would cease to burn as well.
I sat there for what felt like hours and I think sometimes he would respond to questions and statements I thought I said. I think about what I could say that could make a difference in his thought process, but at the end of the day I realize people have to want to change.
The handle to the door was cold as I closed the bedroom door behind me. I walked back down the hall to the stairs. As I headed down, it felt like days were passing and I had no sleep. I held onto the rail as I floated on the stairs back to the front of the house.
I made my way down the hall back to the kitchen where Noel and Michael were standing. Noel looked older, as if she aged years from when I last saw her. I looked to my left and asked where mom was.
“Living room” Michael answered calmly.
I turned to my left where the living room was and went over to the couch. Mom was sitting at the far end, staring at her phone. She looked up at me as I walked over to her. I sat down next to her and tried to think of what I should say to be supportive. But I felt at a loss of words again, I somehow never knew the right thing to say but hoped that just being there was helpful in some way.
“I found a number to a program that I think will be a good fit,” my uncle said with a sigh as he came into the living room.
He left to go call the number in the front yard. I watched him leave the house and close the door behind him. I knew we wouldn’t talk about what was happening and how it made us feel. I just thought about what it felt like to try and help someone for so many years. I thought about our family and how it felt like we lost someone even though he was right upstairs. My uncle came back into the house and told us that some people from the center could come and pick him up. I looked over at my sister and saw her put her head down. My mom said OK in the smallest voice, but that seem to echo loudly in my ears.
About an hour later we were packed into the truck again and driving slowly up the on ramp to the freeway. We didn’t talk about what happened much and instead decided to play some music. I listened here and there but I found myself disassociating as I stared out my window. Often when I didn’t want to think about something I would check out and that became a regular occurrence recently.
I also thought about how my uncle said he would keep us informed about my dad’s updates. I couldn’t help but think about what was going to happen with my mom. She had told us she was going to come the following weekend and stay with my sister and brother-in-law for a while. I told her I thought that was a good idea and she should even think about making the move permanently. I knew this was a lot to ask and that it’s all so life-changing, but I wanted it to be a
fresh start for everyone.
Noel asked if I was hungry, I told her not really but if they wanted to stop and grab something that was fine with me. We ended up stopping at a corner store to grab some snacks for the drive back over the mountain. Wandering through the isles I grabbed something small quickly and some water before paying and heading back into the truck. As Noel got back in, she turned around and told me how glad she was that I was there.
Weeks before I decided to make the trip up here, I was stressed and nervous about how everything was going to happen. I felt the anxiety but tried to block it out. Though days before, it would manifest itself as a pain in my chest so strong that I couldn’t ignore it, I was being affected by this. I soon realized after the visit that change is difficult to do alone, and the truth is we all needed each other for this to happen.
“No problem,” I said to her trying to sound strong. We pulled back onto the freeway and made our way up the mountain into California. I watched as the white covered boulders passed by quickly into an eventually blur. I listened to the distant sound of the radio playing country music, until I popped my ear pods in and tried to find something else. I shuffled through my playlist so that I could stop replaying everything over and over. I wanted to find that song that would allow me to escape for a moment, into another world.
Rebecca Adele is a creative writer, pursuing a BA in English from CSU Channel Islands. She’s written many short stories and poems centered around family and relationships. Her latest poem 'You Told Me', was published in the Channel Islands literary journal The Island Fox. Originally from the Bay Area, she currently resides in Southern California working on a collection of short stories. In her spare time, she enjoys photography, reading, painting, and recording her film podcast The Totally Inexpert, Expert Film Podcast.