BARKLEY lounges in the backseat on his bed, tethered by a seatbelt specifically made for dogs. I start the car, back out of the garage, and drive down the asphalt driveway. It’s 4:30 in the morning. All is calm and all is dark black.
ME: Well, Mr. Barkley Avenue, we are going on an adventure. Driving over eleven hours to NY in one day. I am so excited to see my daughter, but you know, a little scared to do it alone.
BARKLEY tilts his head and his upper lip curls over his too-big-for-him teeth.
ME: Sorry. Yes, I do have you. But you can’t relieve me in driving. You only have your dog license. What I mean to say is I don’t have Peter. This is on me. All of it. I am ready for the challenge. I wasn’t ready a few months back, that’s for sure. What makes this time different, you might ask. Well, I don’t really know. It just feels….different. I feel more confident. I feel less negative emotions. I feel ready. And I don’t know. Maybe I missed her so much, I needed to push past all of my fears and anxiety. My kids have given me so much strength since Peter died. I found reserves in me for them. In the process, I learned what I had in me all along. Maybe I’m kind of like frigin’ Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.
BARKLEY stands up to look out the window.
ME: Yeah, I hope we see lots of interesting things too. Indiana and Illinois will be quite boring. They’re the flatland states of this nation. A friend reminded me Indiana and Illinois are also the bread baskets. She’s right, but flat bread baskets, like baskets that serve slices of bread and not whole loaves. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I love Illinois. It’s a tough person’s state. We don’t take crap and we work hard. I love that about us. And I do love the Chicago skyline, One of the most stunning skylines in perhaps the world. But the rest of Illinois is pretty flat with not much to see. The same with Indiana. Or maybe it’s not exciting because I see them all the time. I guess if you stare at a Monnet long enough, it looses its appeal. Maybe this time around, I’ll see different beauty. I will look for the different beauty. But between us, I doubt much is there besides long roads of expressways lined with trees, and a few patches of cows and farms. Yawn, I know.
I turn on music, and start to sing along to the eclectic selection playing off my Spotify account. I glance at Barkley through my rearview mirror. He moves around in circles until he shapes himself into a donut on his bed.
ME: I’ll try not to keep you up, my friend. Don’t you just love music though? I love my taste in music. I have everything from Flo Rida to Eric Clapton, from Nina Simone to Demi Lovato. Yup, classic rock. blues, pop, even some gospel, all on my account. I always choose music based on lyrics and maybe some catchy rhythms. I do not like music without lyrics or places with long guitar rift. It bores me. I know. I’m a music snob. And yes, I do have Chris Stapleton on my playlist. People will give me crap and say he is country music – they know how I feel about country – but I see him as Americana, a bit of Bluegrass. Besides, his voice is sexy as fu…well, you know.
After three hours, and carefully timed sips of my tea, Barkley grows restless and my bladder says it’s time. We stop for our first of five stops, not all are to use the facilities. Two were for stretching and waking up. Four hours into the drive, and after two hours of being lulled by an audio book, I buy a cola. I’m not a cola drinker, but the caffeine and sugar wake up my exhausted body with electrifying results. Two sips and I wonder if that what cocaine feels like. Having never snorted, I will never know the answer, but I think I feel what people have described . After half a cup of Cola, I begin to rehearse the answers to podcast questions sent to me a few days before with an energy resurgence to rival my soda-induced hyperactivity of my youth. Barkley is a great audience. In my new found exuberance, at stop rest three, I move Barkley up to the front seat, closer to me. Newly secured, I find I have a need to touch him for some reason. He seems to need me as well. We don’t normally spend much time apart, so maybe it’s just our mutual longing.
ME: Look at all these trees, BA. Ohio is pretty stunning. They even have hills. And look, we’ll be coming up on Cleveland. People have told me Cleveland is a great city. I know they have the Naps, the Browns and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Whenever the Naps – or the Indians back in the day which I’m glad they changed the name, by the way – or the Browns made any type of playoffs that Chicago did not, I rooted for them. I think because Cleveland seems to have a familiar vibe, like Chicago.
I point out the front window.
ME: Look, Barkley. Cleveland’s skyline. Pretty cool. Oh, and look. We’re driving past Lake Erie. Maybe that’s it. Maybe they are both cities by a lake with great skylines? I don’t know. There’s just something that says, Cleveland is cool. I think, on our way back, we’ll stay overnight here. I am starting to question why I thought driving straight through was such a great idea. To be honest, I don’t know why I thought driving period was a great idea. I thought we would see more Fall foliage, but so far, it’s been pretty green. And it’s sad to see all the dying trees. There were so many so far. I don’t understand why people question climate change. Anyway, you’ve been a great travel buddy, but driving bores me. I loved when Peter drove. Then I could time travel in my sleep. Now, every hours is felt and I’m bored and exhausted. I’m going to have to find a way to stuff you into a pet travel bag.
BARKLEY looks at me.
ME: I won’t stuff you, but see how your can fit. You do have that weird ass long body. It’s the Cocker Spaniel in you. You’re such a mutt. Oh, yeah, speaking of mutts, Lily is going to lose her ever-loving mutt mind seeing you again. You two are besties and I’m sure you’ll pick up the rhythm you left, sorta like your owners. Yeah, mother and daughter reunited, along with their dogs, the besties hounds. It will be sooo much fun and wonderful….once we get there.
BARKLEY eyes start to droop.
ME: Go to sleep. We have about 5 more hours. I’m thinking we’ll stop one more time…maybe more. I might need to wake up some and I sooo don’t want anymore Cola. Half a can and I am done. Probably why I never did cocaine. I am a light weight. But go to sleep now. We only have less than 5 hours to go.
With a little under an hour to go, I turn off the highway and drive through little towns in the Finger Lakes area of New York state. I am in awe of the old houses and the changing colors of the leaves. The trees are still mostly green, but color is peaking out more than what I saw traveling the entire day. My body wants to collapse in a chair. My shoulders and neck need to release their tension. My mind needs to jump places it couldn’t when I’m driving. I am would like a glass of wine to chill out with And Barkley is moving about as if he had enough. I also want to see my daughter, and her dog, Lily.
The Airbnb place comes into view and already I’m relaxed, It’s reminds me of a camp sight in the 4H days of my youth. My daughter and her dog join us fifteen minutes later. The dogs have not forgotten each other and greet like army buddies. I can’t stop hugging my daughter. We toast to me making the trip, my courage to do so, Barkley being a great companion, being together again, and the familiarity of all our comfort. As I go to bed, I know it was all worth it. Every last boring, frustrating, anxious bit of it. Then I say to Barkley who is cuddled up at my side….
ME: I’m not kidding, though. We got to look into flights next time.