The long drive home
It starts at seven or eight, packing the laptop and pump and papers in the trunk. I have a checklist in my head: things I've forgotten before. The Medela cones, the milk tucked in a corner of the fridge, the ice packs, the drycleaning that gets dropped off each week at Reception.
The air is warm and still and a little stifling, with a piney smell. This whole part of town seems to have been squeegeed and polished to a shine, with a green Christmas tree fragrance like you get at the car wash. I look up at the coast oak, hoping the murder of crows will acknowledge me as I glide by in my silent car. I look at the sky to see if the local Cooper's hawk will show himself. He usually doesn't.
I think of Olivia, wanting to show her the horses on the hillside and the turkey vultures circling nearby. Some day.
The drive to work is full of business and caffeine; the drive home is for melancholy and anticipation. I think of how transient each phase is, how she is a different person now. More opinionated, more independent. She can move herself around, slowly and awkwardly but quite surely, through her rolling and scooting and flailing. She can always find her thumb when she needs it, loves to hold her feet and rock.
I hit Highway 280 and start to daydream. Then there's a small blur of white, hovering over the silver-tan grasses: a kite, kiting. She swoops and then rises again, defying gravity. I saw a coyote in that same small meadow once.
I think of how Olivia is a small but solid wall: every thought and plan and emotion runs into her and stops. I think of how separate I feel from Jeff now, handing her back and forth, sleeping in shifts, unable to find the time for each other anymore. I miss him.
I think of why I let work bother me, wishing I could figure out how to stop worrying about it, stop feeling this sense of dread and impending failure. I have never failed at work before, but I have never had a reason to. Now I do.
The 92 comes up quickly. I head up and then down, scanning the light poles absently for a perched red tail. It's hit and miss. I think of the days in the third trimester when Jeff and I would look at each other mischeveously about now and head off to a favoroite restaurant nearby, usually when we were supposed to be eating some healthy leftovers at home. We always laughed and called it a "treat".
The bridge requires some attention--winds are usually high, the pavement ridged in a way that grabs at the tires. Brown pelicans fly by in formation, looking both prehistoric and militant.
A jacaranda tree, slightly past its peak, presides over a carpet of periwinkle flowers. Great and snowy egrets fly by if I'm lucky; sometimes a harrier patrols near the marsh. I know that I'm halfway home.
The 880 is next, full of trucks and traffic. It smells of diesel. I find myself missing days when we'd stop at the ugly megastore and look at the baby aisles, overwhelmed but excited.
The 238 is a short connector with narrow lanes and no shoulder. I watch the road.
The 580, open and wide, leads me past the hill below the zoo where deer sometimes browse, and where once I saw three wild turkeys. I try to prepare myself for home, picturing the eleven or twelve hours I've been away from Olivia and what she'll be doing when I get there.
I glide onto the 13, submersed in a river of third-growth redwoods. I turn off NPR--Fresh Air is long over--and wonder where the red-shouldered hawk goes each winter; his pole is always empty from October through May. I feel a wave of fear, a wave of nostalgia, a wave of insufficiency. I miss Olivia but know she's happy without me.
The exit comes up quickly. I turn down the hill, a view of the Bay slighly blurred by haze or smog or both. It's still beautiful.
Two turns. I'm home, pulling into the narrow driveway in front of our tiny bungalow, disturbing the robins in our overgrown bush. I grab the laptop, the pump, the bags of accessories, the dry cleaning, my blue purse, the empty water bottles and trundle toward the stairs.
Jeff is there on the porch, Olivia happily propped, face out, on his arm, like the carved woman on the prow of a ship. My throat tightens, I try not to cry. Sometimes I succeed.