What is the feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? –It’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s goodbye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.
Jack Kerouac, “On the Road”
“Here comes the fuzz, Mom!” My sister shouted from the back seat of our powder blue Impala. “Here comes the fuzz!” Mom hit the brakes but the trooper’s lights were flashing before the garbage on the dash had time to hit the floorboards.
“Son of a bitch, girls, I think he got us.” Mom pulled off the road and yanked on the parking brake, then took a drag of her cigarette and forced the smoke through her nostrils. She was pissed. We were only in Ohio and had two more states to cross. Cash was tight and two girls under the age of five weren’t the best traveling partners. The last thing she wanted to see was a cop.
Mom had gotten out of the Big House the day before. Within hours of release, the Impala was packed and our dog was shedding hair in the front passenger seat. She’d swooped into the foster home where Lisa and I were living and, after gathering our meager personal belongings and making small talk with the parents, lifted us by the waist and wedged us among the debris cluttering the back seat. “Mommy’s so happy to see you girls. I missed you so much.” She kissed the tops of our heads and closed the door, then slid behind the wheel and revved the engine as she lit a cigarette. The car backfired. Lisa and I giggled. “How’d you like to go on a little trip?”
The officer approached the car. His face appeared in the window and my mother, her brown eyes bloodshot and filling with Oscar-worthy tears, looked out from beneath her hippie locks. He was practically a child himself. His round face was flushed the color of cherry Kool-Aid, and perspiration had made his blonde hair curl around the brim of his cap. A long silence passed as he took in the carnage of an impoverished family in transit.
Two young girls in pigtails stared at him. Our faces were smeared with peanut butter and jelly, our knees raw from crawling around on torn upholstery. A box of rotting fruit from our maternal grandmother gave off a faint aroma of overripe bananas and had encouraged a couple of fruit flies to make the trip with us. Toys were tossed about, some wedged under large garbage bags filled with our clothing. Lisa and I sat perfectly still, holding hands while we pressed as close to each other as possible. Mom hadn’t bothered to put out her cigarette and the car was filled with smoke. Lisa’s cough broke the silence and the officer returned his gaze to my mother. He puffed his cheeks full of air and allowed its slow escape as he consulted his conscience about what to do with this frazzled woman and her daughters.
Looking away he said, “Ma’am, it seems you were speeding. I’m only giving you a warning this time. Please, just slow down some, especially since you’re traveling with these little girls, here.”
“Thank you so much, officer. Thank you.”
Lisa and I chimed in, “Thanks, officer! Thanks, Fuzz!” My mother popped the Impala into drive and we started to move before he had time to react. We were off again, headed for a new home and our new father, filled with the humble expectations of the nomadic.