Driving in the Berkshires by Elizabeth Mitchell

August 2004

Mom, you point out the white steeple and green valley below us to our right. I take in the soft dreamy clouds and calm blue of sky, as we drive around a curve in the mountain. Lush foliage surrounds us. Our windows are low to let in the wind.

My sleeves are rolled to elbows, dressed in my favorite shirt of light blue and burgundy. My hair is newly twisted in curls, twists I plaited during the 10 hour drive. Later today, I will take a picture in this shirt. The smiling face that more than a decade later remains on my yellow college id.

In my hands I clutch the printed directions, though we will not need them anymore. We are less than two miles south of the intersection of New York, Vermont, and Massachusetts. The last curve in the mountain before we descend back into the trees.

You are happy, I think, but tired, on the last 15 minutes of our ten hour drive that you have driven alone. This trip you will make nine more times, from Michigan to Massachusetts and later from Maryland, after you have moved. My energy and focus from 12 to 16 went into graduating from high school, getting into college, but unfortunately not learning how to drive.

The back seat behind us is full of the things you’ve bought for me: twin extra large sheets, a sturdy lamp with fuchsia shades, school supplies, a duvet cover embroidered with bright lilies and a hummingbird.

After I get the key to my room, we meet my roommate and her parents. She is 5 feet tall, waist-length, blond hair, Texas accent. Her mother and father, loafers, buttoned-up shirts, people of few words.

Later during the year the distinctions between she and I, her family and ours, her wealth and our lack, the pink side of the room and the one of aquamarines will become better known. But for now we are first-year students during orientation and you are three parents dropping off daughters at college.

The first night you stayed in Williamstown I felt foolish for not knowing how much a hotel room would cost, for I should have been factored that in. I had hoped you could sleep on my bed and I on the floor, but my roommate disagreed. Nonetheless you stayed in the closest hotel, the one you couldn’t really afford. In the morning my roommate’s parents complained that the bed at their hotel was too uncomfortable. But you recommended the best hotel, the Williams Inn, to them for next time, even though there wouldn’t be a next time for you.

The next time I remember you sleeping in a hotel near Williams College was the weekend I graduated. Some nights you stayed in a rental car underneath the stars in the shadows of the mountains.

Mom, the day you left me at college, there were few words between us. I invited you to a picnic for families of students of color. Having stayed at campus the summer before, there were people there that I already knew, a few students who I greeted warmly. I don’t remember what your face looked like then and I cannot begin to guess how you may have been feeling. Yet we were both surrounded by a tent of people we did not know.

You told me it was time for you to go then. I don’t remember why I didn’t walk you to the rental car. I don’t remember giving you a hug or telling you that I loved you. I stayed there beneath a white tent filled with people. And you drove away, beginning a 10 hour journey back home.

If I had walked you to the car, I would have told you how courageous you are and how much your life is filled with grace. To entrust the well-being of your 16 year old daughter to a community so far away. To trust that I would be safe in these mountains.

————
Elizabeth Mitchell grew up in Detroit, MI and calls southeast Michigan home. Her writing can be found in several journals including BLACKBERRY: a magazine, Blue Heron Review, and Mobius: The Journal of Social Change. She builds websites for social justice causes for a living.

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