Heading back “home” again always made Hayley feel both anxious and excited. They say the road can be cold and lonely, and a lot of the time it was. But it was also filled with grand adventures and wondrous sights. Still, none of it meant anything without those trips back home—with its warmth and anticipation.
She felt good this year, trim and agile, and even had lost a bit of weight. Her mood was blue—not in the sense of being sad or melancholy, but more so in the way she felt energetic and in her haste to get home. The work kept her on the move, often against the tide so to speak, but now it felt like gliding on ice as she coasted back to the place where she would be recognized as special: to see and be seen again.
“I’ll be there soon,” Hayley thought to herself in the dark quietude of the long road. “I’ll stay for a little while, then I just need to check in with the boss for a bit, and then I’ll be back again right after that.” Saying it aloud in her own mind made it seem like a promise, but also an explanation for her absence.
Despite her best efforts and genuine desires, Hayley never could stay in one place for very long. Her work was year-round and her distribution route was constantly making demands on her time and resources. Apart from the occasional interactions along the way, she was mostly alone on the journey.
This was oddly comforting in a way, since it was actually her initial act of defiant willpower that broke her away from the crowd in the first place, and that marked her as a leading light vis-à-vis her peers. She may have come from humble beginnings, but Hayley was determined to achieve a measure of stardom.
It was, after all, a common story—although few ever stayed in the game long enough to realize it. Hayley was special, she knew that, and this knowledge sustained her. They were depending on her, both in her real home (the one she rejected and to which she would never return) and at her adopted one (where she felt admired and appreciated for who she was, for her obvious strength and shining spirit). How many times have we heard such a tale? Country gal longs for spotlight, follows dream to big city…
This time, though, the trip felt different. Her haste and anticipation seemed to ebb and flow throughout the year, but now it was all flow. Live fast, burn bright, die young, stay pretty—Hayley knew the story. She may not exactly be young anymore, but she felt spritely and beautiful nevertheless. Who says you can’t age gracefully? The world does no favors to leading ladies, yet she had defied the ravages of time.
Still, there was always the sense that this might be the last time around the block for her. The trip grew longer and colder with each passing year, and the relentless quietude of the road weighed on her more as the familiar journey became routine. “We all have our time,” she thought, “and that’s a good thing.”
As she reflected on her accomplishments, Hayley felt warm and glowed with satisfaction. She had done so much good during her time, holding nothing back and leaving a positive legacy wherever she went. Her life’s work had meaning and helped expand the realm of knowledge and wisdom alike. She brought nourishment and essential resources to the table every day, so to speak, and even though she wasn’t able to be there in person to reap the harvest, she saw the fruits of her labors in the faces of the myriad children. Hayley had given all of herself to all creatures large and small, and in a way felt very motherly.
Now, as she prepared to enter the final stretch toward her adopted home, she sensed that her work was completed, and that the return trip coming around the other side would be her last visit to these parts. Her light would soon dim, as it must for all things; she had prepared herself to make the culminating leg of the journey in bare darkness. At least she might glimpse the home of her birth, if the path led there…
Lemar Starland, along for the ride