It’s been one year since I packed one more box, bought one last sandwich, and drank one more cup of coffee on the Jersey Shore.
My dad and I ate breakfast at a chrome-slicked diner. I asked for jalapeños in my omelet and the waitress to take our picture.
My mom and I met at Dunkin Donuts. My sister, who works behind the counter and triggered my habit years ago, gave me her signature Vanilla Spice, perfectly tempered with sugar and cream.
We sat by the window and looked out at the sea and didn’t say much (for once). A postcard family in a donut shop. I was about to ruin the picture.
But even eleventh hour nerves could not cloud the impatience of long-distance love. The moment had been a long time coming. The time, I knew, was now.
I drove away slowly and felt my heart heave.
For hours I sang under my coffee breath. Southern Crossing, a mix CD: it took my mind off tears. I listened to songs I’d known long ago and watched the mileage climb.
Gray skies and rain across PA, down the spine of West Virginia. The clouds looked like they do today: blurry backslashes floating through trees.
I came into Charlottesville after night fell. I got twisted around, turned a U in a lot. When I found my development, the storm had passed; I slipped up a hill toward a back row of houses. My new numbers hung on featureless siding, bronze digits shining beneath a wet porch lamp.
I parked in a spot intended for residents. My bag grew weightier as I climbed the stairs. I stood at the door and paused a moment, inhaling slowly, tasting in the air.
Three hundred miles from life as I knew it, shivering trees shucked rain off their leaves. Families moved behind closed windows. Mountains hunched in looming darkness. And light spilled out beneath my new doorway: a puddle, a promise, around my feet.