I think back on that last winter, so many years ago now it seems but really only about four. The first year of that grand transcontinental road trip with Tweedy and Margo so fresh-faced and forward-looking. I seemed to be the only sibling willing to acknowledge the imminent dangers that lay before us. “Billy is such a worrywart.” It’s true that I can be a bit high-strung, but I haven’t experienced much in life to dissuade me from that worldview, especially given that Tweedy was no longer with us.
We had all wanted to be anywhere that wasn’t there. It was the third harshest winter on record. We didn’t need much help wanting to leave. With the help of Tom, the scrap yard owner’s son, we moved all of our possessions into a less rotted out Buick than our Cloud Car, the place where we had been living since our parents disappeared. I hadn’t realized how much I wanted a big brother in Tom, who always smelled of motor oil and tangy sweat, helping Margo learn the ins and outs of car maintenance. I wonder what came of him. I remember staring from the back seat at him waving us goodbye, a forlorn look on his gaunt, pock-marked face. I was remiss about that connection that grew taut like a string the further we drove.
Tweedy, of course, wasn’t happy with settling in New Mexico. “The dry air doesn’t agree with me,” she would say. I guess the traveling bug really hits our little family at 16 and Margo and I knew there was nothing we could say to stop her. She had found a way to fund her trip and she was on her way with a cursory smile.
Margo is happiest when she can see the wide open blanket of stars above her. Tweedy wants to feel the crush of people around her even though she has begun to hate being inside cars. I’m not sure if she’s going to find happiness in LA, but she seems to think that that is from where it springs. I, on the other hand, am happy to be connected to family in some way. Margo only lives a few blocks away in her small red Adobe house with its terra cotta roof and water spout chimes.
I’m in the Arizona junior ranger training program now. They seem to trust us even though we have no identification other than what we choose to call ourselves. I prefer the name William because it has a certain dignity to it although it may not entirely detract from my schoolboy looks. But I’m legally considered a man now, for whatever that is worth. I really wish I could learn to wrestle bears, but that is not part of the motto of the ranger program.
I see Margo from time to time, tending to her garden of cacti or staring out at the mesas, her brown hair long in a ponytail now. She looks worn but relieved of the burden of taking care of us and free to pursue her own dreams. I can’t tell if she is content with her new life. She seems slightly unmoored but perhaps, I am projecting. I know how I would feel if she started on a new leg of journey without me.
I know that we still haven’t all gotten used to the foreign world around us. Sometimes, I miss the crispness of the snow, the sound of it crunching underfoot, even the feeling of the cold grip around you like a vice, squeezing your lungs and filling your shoes. For a long time, that was intimacy for me, the three of us packed into that car depending on each other for warmth, company, laughter. The desert air aspirates my lungs with sand, the dryness cleansing but lonely. We have become disconnected from one another, not just by distance, but by the fading memory of what we had.