Thursday, December 24, 2009

Wyoming Sleep: a Christmas memory

The road hums beneath the tires.

Out the hatchback I can see the stars, more and more the longer I look.  I run my finger along the cold glass, feel the lines bump bump bump.  Next to me, Jenny stirs inside her Star Wars sleeping bag.  Her legs are in my space, but even when she's asleep she is the oldest.  On my other side Amy lies motionless and silent.  That only happens when she's asleep.  I don't sleep in cars.

Sitting up, I can see my parents in the front, talking in low, comfortable voices.  They are softly lit by the light of the radio and the dials on the dashboard.  Our headlights shine briefly on each detail of the landscape and then move on to the next.  Watching the snowy edge of the road, I play a game with my eyes.  I can either focus on one shape at a time, jumping from one to the next, or I can relax and watch it all blur together into one long, unending direction as we move forward, forward, forward.  It seems like the road will never end.

Lying down again I hear the hum of the tires and the occasional rhythmic bumping of the road.  I don't sleep in cars.

But the next thing I know Jenny is sitting up next to me, talking in an excited hush with my parents.  I can tell by the pitch of the tires that we are moving more slowly now.  Outside a town melts into sight, factories and bridges, then houses and schools.

A few more turns and then I know where we are.  We tumble out of the car, so cold in our pajamas and coats.  I recognize the creak of the porch door, the slap of the plastic covering the screens.  Now I can smell the wood, the paint, the old toys, home.  Not my home, but the home of my home.  Then they are there, still warm from bed, Grandma soft and Grandpa stiff and coarse.

We sleep on the floor in the living room under homemade afghans and flannel blankets.  The clock tock-tock-tocking in the background, our school pictures arranged on the wall.  Each one freezes a moment along the road.  First grade - flash.  Second grade - flash.  That smiling girl with the crooked teeth and the frilly blouse - is that still me?  How many more pictures will fit on the wall?  The cat curls up in the nativity scene with real hay for the manger and the Christmas tree spreads its fresh scent over us all. 

Tomorrow there will be curly-headed cousins, a tumble of inside jokes and My Little Ponies.  There will be laughing adults and cooking and eating and games.  And then there will be Christmas, with stories and wrapping and toys and music.  And one day I will sit in this room and look back on it all, a long coil of memory compressed back on intself inside these walls, now bare of pictures and the clock ticking tock-tock-tock...

But in this moment I close my eyes and feel the warmth wrap around me and sleep: Wyoming sleep.