Her best friend
Saturday, February 02, 2013
Almost from that first trip I took to Scranton in late April, 1971 when I went west for the last time with my ex-wife, my daughter, and my then best friend, Mike and his girl friend, Marie, I take the same roads when I visit there – traveling west along Route 80 into the Poconos Mountains, then along the mountain ridge to Route 307 west, coming into Scranton passed Lake Scranton, and then down a hill made famous by a Harry Chapin song, and since we were traveling in an overweight pick up truck on the back of which we had built a large wooden box, we expected the same demise as in Chapin’s song, ignoring as he had, the signs that said overweight vehicles should not go down that steep hill.
Route 307 is a classic blue highway, one of the few in the east that I know of that ripples like a ribbon the way highways often do in the far west, full of trees and fields on either side, and remote cars traveling head of mine and far behind so that when I drive it, I feel as if I am in a time warp – and traveling this road this week I felt again the way I did the first time, expecting almost anything to appear beyond the next ridge.
Nearly every trip through this landscape has meaning for me, although the moods have changed over the long years, from those days after my breakup with my ex-wife when I traveled this way in the hopes of a reunion only to have her vanish west beyond my reach, though later, a decade after our breakup, I rode this same road to reconnect, meeting my then-11 year old daughter and to bridge a friendship with my ex-wife I never thought possible, a life long bond more powerful than any marriage.
I often drove this road simply to heal, although this trip was a rare mid-week trip to simply have dinner with my daughter, and to get glimpses of the place for a possible permanent move here.
I am always in awe of woods, and so could not resist pausing at Lake Scranton for a walk through winter woods, with fast moving streams and the leaf-covered ground, trees rising around me like pillars. It was a cold walk and I was under dressed, and could not warm up despite the steady pace, so that when I returned to the car, I still shivered, and needed the car heat to get the chill out of my bones.
This did not stop me from pausing at the overlook to stare down at the city cupped in the river valley beyond, one of those breath-taking visions of a place that from a distance doesn’t ever seem to change. When I plunged down into it and parked, I took another walk, less chilled, but still cold, through the city square, passed its statutes and its monuments, passed places I remembered, but were no longer there.
For a few hours, I talked with my daughter and had dinner at one of the usual Chinese places in a mall from which many decades ago, I had helped her and her mother get boxes for a forced move from one house to another, part of their never ending legacy of shifting locations, something that has changed over the last decade or so since they lived on the same street I went to this time.
I started to get ill even before dinner was over, and decided to drive home and suffer in my own bed rather than in one of the local motels, thinking that it would not be too terrible a journey since the sky looked clear and full of stars.
The snow started after I got back onto the mountain ridge, a white out so terrible that I had to get behind a tractor trailer with the hopes the driver was not as blind to the world as I was. But it was the lack of salt that scared me, two lanes of solid black ice cars could not melt fast enough to keep from refreezing.
It was a slow, dark and terrible hour’s journey that did not get better until we came down off the mountain to clear roads and star-filled skies, and even then, the chill had settled deep into me, making me remember that one other time when I had come west to collect my daughter for a visit east and the snow had come down so heavy that even the Delaware River valley provided no relief, and only passing through it and into New Jersey changed the weather pattern from snow to rain.
I was grateful this time for the lack of rain, and the dry roads into the east, feeling ill over the cold walk in the woods, but healed in a different way, after my talk with my daughter over dinner and her saying how much she loved her mother – unsaid in my mind that I did, too, since I never stop loving anyone I ever said I loved – and how much my daughter needed her mother.
“She’s my best friend,” my daughter said, and there was a look of great pride in her eyes, one of those life memories that clung to me even through the worst of the storm and the long ride home.
Some things do last, I thought, pulling finally into my driveway in Jersey City.