One afternoon in high school, I missed the bus home and found myself walking instead. I quickly passed by the school grounds and began walking along the shoulder of a two lane road. Despite it being early March, the weather was mild; it was neither cold nor cloudy, and the air was dry. There was some snow on the ground around the stubbles of wheat beside the road, but not very much. This straight road across empty fields went on for about a mile and a half – almost half the total distance to my house. After that, the route became much more circuitous.
In front of me I could see mountains dominating the western horizon. Off to the right, I occasionally glimpsed the downtown skyline, some 15 or 20 miles away. It was just a small group of 30-story buildings standing out against a mostly flat background then. The skyline is much bigger now, and the fields are all filled with houses. Only the mountains are about the same.
This was my junior year – 11th grade – and I had very little idea of what the future would hold. I was too preoccupied with the present to think of that. All my efforts were focused on just getting through each day. I don’t know if I was really doing anything all that difficult, but somehow it felt like I was. Despite that, there were moments of reprieve amid the hardship, and I lived for those moments.
Walking along, I felt free; I felt like an explorer. There was no need to worry about anything. After I had gone a pretty good distance, one of the most beat-up looking old cars I had ever seen came to the side of the road and stopped in front of me. I looked inside and saw that there were two people in the front seat. The driver was Leah, the girl with semi-long blonde hair who talked to me almost every day in the school cafeteria. Another girl was sitting over on the passenger side; she had long dark hair, and I didn’t recognize her at all. I opened the back door and got in.
Leah gave me a big smile and introduced me to her friend, Nancy, who turned around and smiled as well. Nancy said “hi,” and I said “hi” back; and then we were all riding down the road together. As we rode along, I was struck by the contrast in hair color between the two of them. They both had long, or at least semi-long, shiny hair, but Nancy's was jet black, while Leah's hair was totally blonde. The difference was so stark, I couldn't help but wonder at it.
At each important intersection I told Leah which way to turn, and we followed the exact route that my bus would have taken. We rode past fields and trees and houses, down straight streets and winding ones, until finally we arrived at the street where I lived, and stopped at the third house from the corner. I thanked Leah for the ride; she smiled and said she couldn't have left me wandering in the countryside. I said goodbye to them both, and opened the car door. I hesitated for a moment as I tried to think of something else to say, but nothing came to mind. Then Leah said that her car was almost out of gas, and she had to get to the nearest station right away to get some more. So I got out and closed the door, and she drove away.
The school year was over less than three months later, and I saw her for the last time on the final day of the semester. She waved at me from across a crowded hallway, and I waved back. I wanted to go over and say something to her, but the hallway was so crowded, and the people were all moving so fast, that it didn't seem possible. So we just waved goodbye, and that was that. But that was something, and something was enough.