I remember standing in a parking lot saying goodbye not knowing if I’d ever see my friends again. After college time and money were like chains squeezing me tighter and tighter. I had to work, and travel was unpredictable. I couldn’t rely on my car to get across town let alone across two states to come visit. If I even had the money for gas.
We were all on the brink of change. No one knew where they’d be in a year. What once seemed forever was an illusion, even illusions seemed transitory. Quicksand was all around us. We held on tight as we hugged each other good bye.
Years later when we reunited we were no longer the same people.
We’d had another argument and so I went for a walk after dinner. It was dark, but darkness is only relative in the city. There is light everywhere. The atmosphere around the arc lamps sends diffused halos rippling out to the blurry edges. I walked along the shore of Lake Michigan and then through the bird sanctuary where everything was silent; from across the harbor came the muffled strum of auto traffic on the Drive. Popping out of the Magic Hedge and about to cross the parking lot, I spied a coyote silhouetted, the bristled hairs on his back standing up. He turned to look at me, the only two figures on an asphalt landscape. After a minute he galloped off and I continued circumnavigating the promenade before turning toward home.
Dad and I sat in the parked car waiting for my ride to come pick me up. Before on-line websites there used to be message boards where folks tacked up information. That’s where I found the phone number of a guy heading up to Chicago. I’d gone home to sort through the rest of my stuff as my parents had sold their house. It would be my last chance in the house where I grew up, and though I wanted to salvage a lot more momentos, I had to leave a lot behind. Since Dad had retired, they were moving to a resort community with a view to spending their golden years golfing.
We waited in a Denny’s parking lot in awkward silence. It had not been a happy transition. For some reason I couldn’t understand: Mom and Dad were worried about me. I’d chosen to live in a commune. I didn’t want to join the rat race and live a suburban lifestyle of middleclass mediocrity. Not that anyone was promising me any of that. Basically I didn’t know how to go about getting a job after graduating college. So we sat there with a box of on my lap filled with glitter candles, seashells and pinecones, and jewelry trees of dangly earrings I would likely no longer wear.
Without saying it, I knew I was a huge disappointment to them. Minutes ticked by. I needed to say something before time ran out. But where to start? Will you come to my wedding? Can I count on you for some help (meaning: money)? Is the abyss so wide we cannot traverse it? If we meet in the middle will we both die? A car pulled into the lot matching the description the guy gave me over the phone.
“Well, this is it.” I looked up from my box.
While home I had tried to needle out of my mom a favorite tea pot and several other things she had once promised me as keepsakes. She was in no mood to be generous. In fact bitter words had passed back and forth, something to the effect that I was little more than a transient hobo, and on my end I asked her why she had to be so selfish; they had more than they needed.
Dad reached behind him in the back seat and from a padded crate brought out a clock in a wooden case that used to sit on a mantel in the living room. It once belonged to his mother. It was easily over 100 years old. He handed it to me.
It all happened so quickly. I’m not even sure I hugged him goodbye. Soon I was on my way, relieved and also at a loss. As we transferred onto the highway, I looked back, but of course Dad was long gone.
If I travel far back in time I am able to observe dinosaurs. Sometime around age 5 I went with my parents in the car to a fiberglass dinosaur exhibit in a shopping center parking lot. They were huge—bigger than a kindergartner! —on flatbed trucks. I remember their automaton necks wagging, a flash of plastic teeth, the flip of a tail. I riddled my parents with questions: Are they still around? How long ago did they die out? Were they really this big? What did they eat?
They were the most majestic thing I’d ever seen, and later, whenever passing that shopping center, I’d scan the parking lot for remnants of dinosaurs.
Jane Hertenstein is the author of over 80 published stories, a combination of fiction, creative non-fiction, and blurred genre both micro and macro. In addition she has published a YA novel, Beyond Paradise and a non-fiction project, Orphan Girl: The Memoir of a Chicago Bag Lady, which garnered national reviews. Jane is the recipient of a grant from the Illinois Arts Council. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in: Hunger Mountain, Rosebud, Word Riot, Flashquake, Fiction Fix, Frostwriting, and several themed anthologies. She can also be found at http://memoirouswrite.blogspot.com/ where she gets 20,000 hits a month.