I left Colorado at four in the morning, when the sky was still starry and dark. I left in a ’93 Civic that I’d loaded with boxes of toys and clothes the night before. I had carefully attached two dog leads to the passenger’s seat. I wanted to be prepared.
Ten weeks earlier, we’d caravanned to Colorado from Washington. The idea was to spend a summer in wilderness, to see if that was where we were Meant To Be, but I still didn’t know. I only knew this: a) wilderness problems were different than city problems and b) in the city I had a job.
And so, I was about to return to that job with both dogs and both sons, while my partner stayed behind, attending to commitments. I dreaded the journey. To be responsible for four living things while driving across four western states struck me as only barely possible. I knew we’d make it home in the same way that, during childbirth, I knew that my sons would make it out of my body alive.
In the morning I loaded the dogs. Also, I loaded my sons who still slept, but who woke at the morning air. I kissed my partner goodbye and drove down the mountain over rocks and bumps and ruts. My sons were awake.
The idea had been that both boys would sleep soundly for hours as I drove. But now the baby was screaming and my older son was already demanding snacks. The dogs refused to settle; they turned in their spots obsessively, unhappy with the space I’d allotted them. We had twenty-one hours to go.
I could not hear my music through the screaming, but I tried. I tried to relax, but I couldn’t see. The night was so dark. Even with my brights on, I leaned forward towards the windshield, trying to see where I was going. Each time I approached a corner, I imagined swerving to avoid a bear.
That baby, he wasn’t going to sleep. My older son quietly placed his hands over his ears. It was quarter to five and still pitch black when I pulled into the empty parking lot of a grocery store—the one we’d been shopping at all summer long. There were lights on inside, a delivery truck outside, a man emptying palettes of bread. He didn’t seem to see me, though I felt conspicuous, a small car alone in a big lot. I rearranged some bags so that I could sit next to the screaming baby’s car seat. The dogs rearranged themselves too. I leaned over the baby and pulled out my left breast. He drank. He quieted. He slept. I put my breast away. After returning to the driver’s seat, I drove on.
From there, the roads widened. The edge of the sky grew light. I listened to music. In the rearview mirror, I watched my older son fall asleep.
A hawk flew alongside me for a spell. Ahead of me were yellow hills and a pinkening sky, but behind me were the mountains I was leaving. The end-of-summer sun rose above them turning the clouds crazy shades of orange. I was heading towards Utah, but Colorado, behind me, knew how to put on a show. I wanted—I needed a photograph. I could not safely take one.
It occurred to me that everything good—my sons, my dogs, my partner, the mountains—everything good was behind me, visible mostly through the slice of view afforded by the rearview window, some of it not visible at all.