I stayed in Florida another year, and then came north, too, to visit family before heading west and home to California. I sold my white 1990 Nissan Stanza, which needed work, and bought a white, with red leather interior and sunroof, 1984 Mercedes 420SEL – a grand touring car with long wheelbase and very low mileage. Why the low mileage? Why, because it had been sitting for a very long time. “Trust me,” said the salesman.
I boxed up all my stuff – clothes, books, sheet music for my two acoustic guitars (the guitars I carried with me in the car), journals – everything and shipped it to California to be put into a storage unit where the rest of my belongings already were, awaiting my arrival. I packed into the car necessities and music tapes and CDs, everything that would fit. I stuffed the car to the gills.
From Naples, I drove north on Interstate 75. When I got to Cape Coral, about 40 miles up the road, the tires flew apart. They were dry rotted. I left I-75 and drove, gingerly, to a tire store just before it closed and had all four tires replaced. Motoring on, I got to Lake City, Florida, where I-75 meets I-10 and began hearing this whirring sound under the rear of the car, like that of a helicopter rotor. When I got to Jacksonville where I-10 connects with I-95, the whirring sounded measurably louder. I turned up the music. Rain began as I neared Fayetteville, North Carolina. The rotor sound crescendoed while a fortissimo squeak came in and played pizzicato above it. I had to stop. AAA towed the car 35 miles to a Mercedes dealer downtown.
I enjoyed my five days in Fayetteville. In those sunny, crisp October mornings and afternoons, I left my little motel and walked around downtown, strolled the college campus set on green lawns among mature conifers and deciduous trees, stopped at a quaint used bookstore and bought some books. The townspeople were friendly and accommodating, the drying leaves tinted in gold, scarlet and ochre, falling from the tall trees heavily wooding the area smelled heavenly; overlooking the valley through which I-95 ran, I felt as if I were on a kind of a perch … it was really quite pleasant; I thought I was going to have to live there.
The rear axle had broken on my car and gasoline was leaking into the trunk, leaking all over my portfolios of landscape photography and photo note cards. Well, look, I’m not that fat, and I didn’t have claw-foot, cast iron bathtubs in the back seat or anything like that; well, I did have some books and stuff, but I could see out some of the windows. Truly, I had loaded the car down; all I needed was a maroon tassel strip lining the top of the windshield and I’d look like a Mexican lowrider. I went to the UPS store, unloaded the car, boxed up most of my things and shipped them to California.
Five days and several thousand dollars later, the car was repaired – not completely, but enough to get me to Wilmington, Delaware. I left Fayetteville at 5 p.m. and arrived in Wilmington at 1 a.m. My mother was waiting up and ready with food for me after my long trip. I couldn’t just haul off and drive to California now because I’d spent my money on the car. I had to get a job. I had no clothes, not even a winter coat. I got a job at a department store where with my discount and position to see when clothes went on sale, I could buy clothes for a good price; and my step mom gave me her mom’s brown London Fog winter coat – her mom had just died after years of suffering with Alzheimer’s.
I was saving my money to go back home. However, Emma’s condition had declined. She had been feeling too unsteady on her feet to descend the Mayan-temple-height flight of concrete steps behind the apartment house to take out the trash. Moreover, she wasn’t always taking her blood pressure medications. She needed help. I knew I’d have to stay in Delaware. I felt the floor of my chest open and my heart plunge into my stomach.