I lifted my head and rubbed my eyes. My face was printed from the wrinkles in my backpack. I had slept most of the trip. Through the mouth of the tunnel I could see a faint light, and then: the whole city panned out before me, gulls and traffic swerving and gliding around high rise buildings. I couldn‘t fight the smile taking over my face. I was home. The tattooed boy next to me stirred as the bus turned and headed down a steep hill. The greyhound bus pulled into the station and a handful of groggy travelers stumbled out, yawning and looking around.
Most nights I would go down to the water and watch the sinking sun bring the boats to shore. There I would meet up with Ethan and Grace, my best friends, to talk and drink. Tonight was no exception, even after my long trip. I zipped up my purple sweatshirt, tied my shoes, took a deep breath, and set out walking. The sun was already beginning to fall on the hills. I chuckled when I noticed my tall, lanky shadow.
There they were as always on the grassy hillside, already a bit drunk because I was late. An excited Ethan stood up and hugged me roughly, patting me hard on the back. Grace kissed me on the cheek, and laughed softly.
“Sam, you missed it, man! Yesterday that older fisherman slipped and fell right off the dock.” laughed Ethan hysterically, slurring his words. “We missed you, Sam.”
I smiled and sat down beside them. Home at last. Home for me was not defined by the confines of the city, or by the sheetrock and shitty wallpaper of my apartment. Though I loved both, what made me finally relax was my friends. Ethan and Grace were my family. I had known them since high school, and with my mother so far away, they were the one bit of joy in my life that kept me alive. They had been together for two years, and I trusted them with my life.
“So how is she,” asked Grace. “Your mom.”
“She’s staying positive,” I replied. “That’s all you can ask. She’s happy.”
Grace leaned over and gave me a soft hug.
I told them about my trip. I told them about the crazed black man in Denver with big eyes who had just been released from prison, asked me if I had any crystal meth. I told them about how rude a hairy woman had been to a deaf girl who sat beside me in Portland. When the hairy woman asked the deaf girl to move, the girl didn’t hear and just kept staring out the window. All kinds of insults began to spew before she realized what was going on. I always came away with incredible stories after riding the bus.
It got dark and cold. We were freezing and huddling together before we were ready to go home. I finally walked them to their house. At three in the morning I stood alone in front of my apartment looking out at the stars and the streets. I could see my breath curl in front of my face. I had missed this place. After only being gone a week I began to appreciate the smallest things, like the doorknob I had installed. I looked warmly at the welcome mat I purchased at the second-hand store, worn from visitors.
The next morning I woke up to the phone ringing. It kept ringing. Reluctantly, I picked up. It was the nasally, shrill voice of my aunt Kristen.
“Hello?” I replied.
“Hey, honey. I’m so sorry.”
“She just didn’t wake up this morning.”
“Honey, I’m so sorry. Give me a call any time.”
Though I had never been close to my mother, even though she had hated me for most of my life, I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t move. I held the phone to my ear for what felt like an hour.
That night the rain poured down in buckets. I called Ethan and Grace. They braved the swirling water and showed up on my door mat with red noses and frozen fingers. I offered them cocoa and macaroni and cheese. They said yes to the cocoa. The rain kept on all night, and flooded the streets. Ethan and Grace decided to stay with me for the night. We turned up the heat and laid around on the orange shag carpet. I still had not told them.
“Ethan, do you think you are ready to go,” I asked pensively.
“I thought we were staying?” Ethan interrupted, confused.
“No, I mean to leave us, to die. If you died now, would you be satisfied with your life?”
“I actually have thought about that.”
“Is there anything you still want to do before you die?”
I waited for a reply. I waited and waited because I knew he had a response. Just as I was about to ask again, he leaned over and kissed Grace hard on the lips. We all laughed.