The Way Back Home

(This is an exercise in describing a location without actually telling the location)

Still as a statute I stand gazing across the bay.  The ferry moves so slowly I can barely feel any motion at all. This moment is historical, at least to me. I clearly see the skyline dark, heavy with smoke and fire in my mind’s eye. I imagine being here when it happened and I am so glad I was not.  I woke that morning and all was normal.  You know, normal in the sense I was struggling to make ends meet each week, wondering what I was going to eat for lunch, arguing with my wife about the kids, complaining about the government, gas prices, health care.  The normal things; the common things filled my life and mind.

I couldn’t come back afterward.  There wasn’t a wife and the kids had disappeared. I called around to find them.  I called all our friends; but nobody had seen them.  For all I know, they are dead.  Dead, like my wife.  Now, here I am, alone, the same, yet different.  Our house stands there with overgrown shrubbery; the windows dark, the paint fading, the gutters full of leaves and debris.   I stop here first to see if anything is left of my old life.  Maybe, in the back of my mind, I hope to find the kids still here, going to school, playing video games and entertaining friends.  It is like walking back in time.  Beds are unmade, the kitchen is messy, and a faint musty smell permeates the rooms. It is eerily creepy.  I keep expecting normal.  There is nothing here for me, so I leave.  There is no need to call a taxi as I am too keyed up to ride.

I walk and walk. Crowds jostle me. Taxis speed by.  Everybody moves like all is normal; maybe for them, it is normal.  I don’t think it will ever be normal for me, here, again. I am amazed at how things are the same, yet different.  The corner store still has the same faded signs, “Milk $2.00” and “No bills accepted larger than $20’s.” It is funny how I remember the signs when I see them and how we always joked about the milk costing $2.49.

The neighborhood school is much larger with tall fencing surrounding the playground, barbed wire wrapped along the top of the fencing.  I continue to walk.  My destination is the ferry. The last happy place I remember with my family.  I envision that day and have envisioned it over and over again the past five years.

A fine rain falls, warm and wet it lightly coats our clothes as we walk down the sidewalk.  “Honey, maybe we should take the bus,” she said, “The kids will complain about walking in the rain.”  Laughing out loud, I spread my arms and turn full circle as I look up. I stick my tongue out catch the rain.  I feel rain running down my collar.  “No, it will be fun. Playing in the rain is going to be fun.”

We all gather at the roadside and have the pre-trip check.  My wife asks the questions like a drill sergeant, “Picnic basket? Sweaters? Identification? Emergency money?” Everybody answers, “Yes, yes we have it.”  Their voices are short, affronted because she asks. I always find that amusing since one of them will always forget something.

We cavort down the sidewalk.  It is a special day, a family day, to celebrate our freedom from our old life of poverty. The kids don’t understand freedom and I can’t make them understand, but I can show them the symbol of freedom.  Thirty minutes later we arrive at the ferry.  There are not many people out today because of the rain.  We are ok with that since it allows us to be silly and fun and to forget the day-to-day grind.

The water is choppy. Our legs take a few moments to adjust.  The rain mixes with the water spray from the ferry.  The kids lean over the ferry rails letting the spray hit them in the face.  “Be careful,” she said.  She always watches all of us, like a mother hen.  We take it for granted, normal.

At the island, we find a place to spread out and enjoy our picnic. Because it is raining, we head to a pavilion. The basket is full of food, but not every day foods; no, the basket is full of canned meat, commodity cheese, white bread and peanut butter.  These are the foods we ate when we were poor, mostly homeless and destitute.  These are the foods that remind us how blessed we are today. These are the foods we eat as we gaze at the greatest symbol of freedom in America.

It is fun.  We don’t argue today.  We are enjoying one another’s company, the food, the rain and the camaraderie before I leave on an extended business trip.  They will not miss me while I’m gone, but I know they keep this memory.

As water hits my face, I realize I have gotten on the ferry while lost in my happy place. I lean over the ferry rails feeling the water spray on my face as I gaze across the bay.  The skyline is different today.  It will never be the same, but the Statute stands tall, bright against the blue of the sky.

The ferry docks and I look around.  The pavilion is still there, like everything else, a little time worn.  I walk to the pavilion and notice a family eating at one end of the tables.  I sit, father away from them, silently asking if it’s ok to intrude.  Smiling politely, they nod their heads.  A small family with three adults and one child eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  I lay my head in my hands, and let the memories wash over me.  I hear my voice tell my children that today is the day we celebrate our freedom from poverty.  As I raise my head, I realize it is not my voice I hear; it is the voice of one of the adults at the end of the table.   Our eyes meet in recognition.

10 thoughts on “The Way Back Home

  1. The island is Ellis Island. This story made me pretty sad to think of the loss of this person’s family. I feel that if this man would have had his family still living with him, he might take the family for granted. It’s only when things are gone that we come to appreciate things. I can see it now:

    The young boy looks at the statue of liberty, points and says “Daddy, daddy, mommy says we went there and had great low budget meals! You remember that daddy? You merember?”

    The father mumbles something about picnics while checking the rise in Whatsapp stock. His financial difficulties are too much lately, he doesn’t have time to focus on his son’s recollections of memories he can’t even hold in his tiny head.

  2. This story was a little hard for me to follow at first. But then it got a little easier. I believe it talks about how many of us take things for granted and then when they are gone there is nothing we can do about it. whether it be people, money, or simply the food we eat taking things for granted is never a good thing. Appreciate what one has while it is in their hands for it may be gone very quickly and the chance may be gone.

    • Alysa, This was an exercise to describe a place to the reader without telling where it is. Were you able to discern the location?

  3. This is a sad story the man should have appriciated what he had family is one of the most important things in life now he has nothing no home family or love mhe shouldve appriciated his kids and his wife he realized it too late i wish it couldve ended better for him but this story capitalizes on the appreciation aspect oh loving what you have before its gone

  4. this story can put the things that we take for granted every day like the freedom that we are so blessed to have and now and days people don’t know what it means not to be free the people whom died to keep that so true. The reason the person in this story doesn’t recognize the skyline is because the two towers that are missing but the island that they visit has the statue of liberty the truest sign of freedom in this great country

  5. From the story, I am able to picture a family visiting the Statue of Liberty, taking the Staten Island Ferry. The storyline is actually very moving, as I too have been there, have family in Jersey and once lived in NYC. It is important to appreciate both the small and large things in life, especially keeping loved ones close to you. Nice work!

  6. I find this interesting as an exercise. The location, New York, is identifiable three-quarters of the way through. But by that point the location no longer matters to the reader. By then your following this man as he goes through the time before a tragedy. It could be any man, any where, any when, and the emotions would be the same. it suddenly becomes less about where he is and becomes what he’s doing.

  7. Off the back i knew the location of this story when mentioning the statue, the bay and ferry. I Immediately knew it was Ellis Island. This story had me in suspense, it never did say how he lost his family. However he did forget his memories of his family. The dad lives a sad life but should be more appreciative that he once had a family.

  8. From what I understand, the father that had left his family in NYC, comes back looking for them. He ends up finding them in the very same place, the island where had gone back to relive some of the most precious family memories.
    It also reminded me of the honor I feel when I can finally say that I am an American citizen. I very much appreciate, the freedom, the rights, and even the ability of being able to afford the basic necessities in life. The land of the free and the brave.

  9. This is a sad story of a man who lost his family and longs to have them back. His memory of the last day his family was happy had him so mesmerized that he didn’t even realize he was boarding the ferry. Although this story never tells what happened to his family you can sense that it definitely wasn’t good. I loved the detail of this story

Leave a Reply