Only ten years have passed since the last time she was in this town, but she quickly realizes as she looks around how much the town has changed. It is much bigger now. The downtown is no longer igniting any memory in her head. She drives past the downtown area and heads east, doesn’t even bother to make a stop. Again, she has no clue where she’s going. No GPS, no paper map, relying on 100% intuition only.
After driving for what seems to be about 15 or 20 minutes, making a few right, left, or U turns, she finally comes into a road that looks a bit familiar. She makes a right turn and starts heading south. And then, there it is, she sees it. She’s been hoping and relying on the small likelihood that after 10 years, it is still there. It’s a wagon wheel, propped on the side of the road, marking the name of the street behind it. She can’t believe her eyes that the wagon wheel is still there, making her life so much easier now. The wagon wheel in her memory though looks so deceptively bigger than the one she’s staring at now. It is actually NOT a big wagon wheel, but a regular, decent size wagon wheel typically used back in the old, western days. Nothing special to it. Just an old wagon wheel, but with a bit of decorations of flowers and green grass around it. The wagon wheel marks the name of the street she is now making a left turn onto, the Wagon Wheel Drive. A big sigh of relief is slowly coming out of those lips. She is finally here, she whispers to herself.
It doesn’t take her long to find the house. She reduces the speed to slow down in front of a row of green lawns, and finally stops in front of the house she’s looking for. It looks exactly like how she pictures it in her memory and old pictures. Even the paint is still the same. Quiet, empty, no sign of anyone behind those big window glasses in front of the house. She remembers those big windows and the blue couches on the other side. And the piano. And pretty much the layout inside the house, everything. She remembers them way too well actually, more than the layout of the town. She spent way too many days hiding behind those walls, too shy and scared at times to come out, too embarrassed to open her mouth only to receive funny looks and chuckles from some, too self-conscious of her own “foreign” appearance. Another sigh, but this time it’s a heavier one.
The neighborhood has a suburban look and feel to it with large, luscious, green grass front yards and big, open road where kids can actually play sports on the street. An awareness suddenly comes to her that she may be attracting suspicious attention from the neighborhood. An unfamiliar car, a stranger inside. There may not be an Asian family anywhere in the neighborhood, so an Asian girl in the car with an out of state license plate is bound to draw attention. She starts to drive again, making a U turn at the next intersection. And at that moment, it dawns on her what that other feeling was she felt earlier that kept knocking at her heart during her driving into town.
It was grief. A grief for some kind of loss. A loss for what, it is not clear to her. A loss for a sense of family, or just a loss for the youth time, she can’t tell. Nonetheless, it is present. Tears are starting to come up now, slowly, and she knows it’s time to go. She leaves the scene without even remembering to take pictures. She only remembers it later after she makes the left turn at the wagon wheel, but she has no more strength to go back.
Back to the driving again, with no GPS, no map, just 100% intuition. At this moment, it is apparent to her that she is reliving the memory of those early morning rides inside the yellow school bus! She is on that route now. Yes, the awful, scary times inside the big yellow monster. The kind of pit-in-your-stomach feeling every time she was about to enter the bus and again when she arrived at the school. It’s the horror feeling, stomach churning feeling that she felt on every school day. What got her to continue waking up in the morning and still showing up to school without showing any physical or emotional symptoms as a result of the nervousness in her stomach, is still a puzzle to her now. Thinking of that school bus though, she can’t stop one particular funny memory that is now rushing into the surface, and she’s starting to smile.
TO BE CONTINUED