A withered and worn slab of asphalt no more than 18 feet wide was all that separated the life that I was forced to live with the life in which I longed to live when I was growing up. Every morning and every night I would peer out of the old and clouded second story window of my bedroom and see the sunshine-yellow middle line of Ararat Highway, the line that flamboyantly mocked me, always reminding me which side of the road I was forced to live on.
My eyes would follow the line for as far as I could see in both directions. To the right, the line went out of sight as it passed the corner of the BB&T and disappeared into a haze of slender pine trees that towered over the tiny brick bank. To the left, the line went further, my line of sight ventured deeper into the desolate landscape, only cutting off at the top of the hill that Blue Ridge Elementary School stood on.
When my eyes would finish following the twisted and curved lines of the road, they would gradually shift upwards, directly forward, towards the south. Unlike with the unforgiving divide of the road, I didn’t bother to trace the asphalt line that lead to the oasis on the other side of the street, instead making a mad dash directly to the ranch style brick house that sat alone in a sea of blank pastures.
My grandparents’ house was everything that mine was not. My house was lonely, while my grandparents’ house was always lively. My house was cold and haunting, my grandparents’ house was warm and welcoming. My grandparents were good to me, my mother wasn’t.
The house that I lived in with my late twenties single mother sat at the corner of Friend’s Mission road. Beside of our house sat a rural Presbyterian and Methodist Church, perhaps the congregation lacked the conviction to pick one or the other. The house had originally been built as a boarding home for kids by the church in the early 20th century, my grandfather told me one blistering summer evening as he tended to the nearly 100 year old grapevines that sat at the edge of the yard.
He knew the ins and outs of the wooden eggshell colored house well. He could rattle off the oral history of the house to anyone that did or didn’t ask, having once lived in the house himself. My childhood home was the first house that my grandfather ever bought, providing shelter for his family, and later on for my mother and myself.
Night after night I would tiptoe my way up the old wooden staircase, paying careful attention as not to put my full weight on the steps, knowing that if I did, they would let out a loud creaking noise. A noise that I knew would wake up my mother from her peaceful bathtub somber. Presumably tired from working all day and tending to a child by herself, she would often doze off at the end of the day in a steaming hot bath, while leaving me alone with that day’s VHS recording of “Days of Our Lives.” Whenever the roughly 45 minute episode would finish, I knew that it was time to make the hike up the stairs and tuck myself into bed, but not before gazing out from my window to see the dimed beacon of light coming from the kitchen of my grandparent’s house. The blinds were drawn, they always were, which didn’t allow me to see who I wanted to see before falling asleep.
Some nights, when I wasn’t swept up in the melodramatic flair of the soap opera, I would crack open the door of the bathroom and stare at my mother as she slept. She would sleep so long that her body became prune-like and the bath water turned frigid. I would stare at her and wonder how long it would take for her to realize that I had flown the coop and crossed the asphalt divider onto my oasis.
Instead of doing what I knew I shouldn’t do, I would simply make my way up the stairs with as little noise as possible and raise the blinds just ever so slightly as to create a sliver of an opening between the bottom of the blind and the window seal. I would snuggle up under the covers and stare out the window until the light from my grandparent’s kitchen would go dark, which was almost always at 10:30 p.m. on the dot. After receiving the subtle signal, I would then go dark as well.