This story is one of the July Writing Challenge entries chosen to be a featured story.
There are three rules my parents taught my sister Riley and I as kids.
- Always know where you’re headed
- Never look directly into the sun
- Never be outside of the house after eight o’clock
But by the time we were both just seven years old, we had broken each rule at least once.
During the summer before junior year, I had my heart set on every important decision facing me. For weeks my family had been pestering me about college, careers, final exams, and I’m honestly surprised I never exploded. But now, things had slowed down a bit since school was out. It was my last real summer. My last bit of freedom, of recklessness. The last bit of thrill in my life for a while. I intend to soak it up completely.
“Maya, come down for breakfast, please,” my mother called from downstairs.
I set down my notebook, which was filled almost entirely of ideas, poetry and drawings. I quickly brushed my hair and slipped on my house shoes.
When I had found my way to our French country dining room, my mom and dad were sitting silently at the table. No newspaper, no pot of coffee brewing, no fresh flowers Mom always picked from the garden. I felt a weird lump form in my throat. Something horrible is about to happen, I thought to myself.
Reluctantly, I sat down in my chair and pulled in closer to the table.
“Where’s Riley?” I asked, breaking the strange silence.
“She went to a friend’s house,” my dad answered, removing his glasses, which were perched upon his nose.
A brief pause occurred before I asked another question.
“Is something wrong?” I asked, though I don’t know why. I already knew the answer.
My mom’s back straightened up in her seat. She leaned forward, grasping my hand in hers. She looks sadly into my eyes before saying, “Grandma Jan died late last night. After you had gone to sleep.”
The words didn’t hit me at first. Everyone knew Grandma Jan had been suffering from stage four cancer for the past year and a half. I just hadn’t processed how fast the end was coming until now.
I could feel my face turn pale, as if the circulation in my veins had just been wiped away.
“Maya, are you all right?” my dad asks.
I manage a nod, a lie. I grab my keys and run. Halfway out the door I yell to my parents, “I’m going for a drive!”
I race into my driveway and stumble into the driver’s seat of my grey convertible. I turn my car on, roll the windows down, and then I’m gone.
I drive for hours upon hours, longing to forget the information I heard only moments ago. The information that changes everything. Grandma Jan, up until last night, had been a kind of support system for me, even when she was on support system in the hospital. I visited her three times a week after school. We’d talk and talk about the simple things in life and the non-simple things. I’d get out my frustration about college majors and career routes, and she’d help me through it all. She’d basically been my best friend.
But not anymore.
Instead of trying to find a destination, somewhere to stop (though I had no idea where I was at this point), I just kept gradually speeding up and speeding up. By about five o’clock, I found myself lost in the Arizona desert. All that was here was the slightly thicker air and sudden altitude change. No cars, no people—except for me.
I don’t get out of the car. I park it and lean out of the window. All of Grandma Jan’s life wisdom floods my mind and breaks my heart. I can hear her saying the words, Just because I’m alone doesn’t mean I’m lonely. And the great thing about being alone is that you can really be with whoever you want. With your mind and your heart.
I repeat the words over in my head a few times. I look out into the sky, where the sun is just now beginning to set. So bright and full of energy yet taken for granted.
Grandma Jan was the sun, for me at least.
I eventually know it is time to get headed home. It’s well past nine, and my parents are definitely worried. But I feel better now. I feel reassured. That’s when it hits me that in the past few hours, I had broken every rule. But I don’t care anymore. For the first time in a long time, I know what I want.
I want to just keep going. And when nothing goes right, go left.