Vacations were far and few between for this family, so when Daddy had a chance to take one, he jumped at it. I cannot remember the last time we took one. But then again, I am only eleven.
I was sitting in the back seat of our old beat up jet black Volvo Station Wagon with my little brother. He was licking his cherry lollipop and his lips were red because he played with it more than sucked it. I just wanted to grab it and throw it out the window. However, if I had done that, he would not have anything at the moment to occupy him. Like a good big sister, I left him alone. I just hoped he did not touch me. I did not want to get all sticky.
Daddy never said where we were going on this vacation. I guess he wanted it to be a surprise. It must have been in forever land though because it felt like we had already been riding forever. We had not stopped since we left our house. I looked at my watch with a picture of a unicorn on it. I love this watch. It is my favorite. Of course, it is the first watch I have ever owned. But I had no idea how long we had been in the car already. All I knew at the moment was my bladder was at max capacity.
“Daddy, I have to pee! I am sitting cross-legged back here!”
Just as I finished, Daddy began to slow the car and exit onto the ramp that took us to a rest stop. I never thought I would be so happy to see a toilet in my entire life.
Having emptied myself, I walked out and found Daddy standing and admiring the view from the back of the rest stop. It was obviously built to make travelers rest and relax so they will be comfortable to get on the road again.
“It is nice, isn’t it Daddy?”
“Lovely, just lovely. The perfect stop to stretch and get revived.”
We turned and Momma was coming out with Raymond by her side. She had cleaned the lollipop juice from his face. Now if he touched me, I would not get sticky. Thank you very much Momma!
“Ready?” Daddy said and me and Momma answered with a loud “yeah” in unison.
Piling in the car, Daddy cranked the engine, and we were once again on the road. The concrete of the interstate was quite bumpy and put Raymond out like a light. Spongebob Squarepants also helped with that, as the portable DVD player fell out of his lap and onto the floorboard between his feet that were not quite yet long enough to reach the floor.
I just sat there with my hands in my lap and looked at the scenes flashing by. Mostly, it was cars and big rigs, but at least it gave me something to observe.
Momma sat in the passenger seat reading a book and Daddy was paying attention to the road. I continued to stare out the back window. Daddy was in the fast lane passing cars and trucks and I waited until we neared the next big rig to pump my arm so that the truck driver would blow his horn. I always love to do that whenever we did get on the interstate.
This one was red and as Daddy sped passed him, I pumped my arm up and down, but nothing happened. The truck driver looked down, but it was as if he did not see me. I waited again until Daddy closed in on another one. When it was in sight, I readied myself and began the arm motion. Again, nothing. What was I doing wrong? I was sure the drivers saw me.
I was not sure if I wanted to try again, but Daddy was coming up on another eighteen wheeler and I knew if I did not try, I would kick myself. One more time I thought.
Daddy got beside him and I let my little arm flap. Nothing. Not even a peep.
I slung myself back down into the seat and I felt the tears come to my eyes and the blubbers exit my mouth as I said, “Daddy, I can’t get the truck drivers to honk for me!”
Daddy looked around a moment and said, “Honey, see if you can make this next trucker honk his horn for Katie.”
Momma smiled as Daddy pulled up next to a dark green big rig. Momma set her arm in motion and the blast was so loud! I smiled one of the biggest smiles ever.
Raymond jumped out of his skin as the trucker blasted the air out of the silver metal tubing atop his roof. I covered my mouth to keep from laughing so hard. But I was happy. Momma had gotten a trucker to honk for me.
The sun began to fade and dusk set in. We had been on the road for a full day. I did not know where we were, but with the night coming fast, I knew we could not go much further without stopping for sleep.
“I’m getting tired. When are we going to stop for the night? Raymond looks pooped too.”
“Sweetie, let’s find a hotel for the night. We all need some much-needed rest,” Momma said to Daddy.
“Yeah, we got at least a day or two until we reach Arizona.”
Arizona? We were going to Arizona? What in the world was there? I thought. Was not much of a surprise now, was it? But still, Arizona?
I racked my brain as the Radisson Hotel sign came into view. Daddy slowed and turned into the lot and parked. I watched as he headed to the lobby. Momma, Raymond, and I all waited patiently for him to arrive with the key to our room.
Daddy returned to the car and drove to a spot near where our room was located. It was on the second level. We all piled out of the Volvo and Daddy opened the hatch to get our luggage. Momma had packed for me, so I did not know what I had to wear. It did not matter anyway. The minute I was in the room, Raymond and me found the bed we would be sharing and as soon as we hit it, we both fell asleep.
The sun began to peek through the curtain of the room right into my eyes. What a great way to wake up I thought. Raymond was already up and somewhere with Daddy obviously since neither was in the room. Momma was sitting on the edge of the bed watching some early morning television show. I got up, walked past her to the bathroom, had a quick pee and shower, and walked out naked needing clothes. I was too late though. The luggage was already gone, Momma was making last minute touches to her hair and make-up, and it felt like they were getting ready to leave me.
I rushed back into the bathroom, threw the same clothes I had been wearing back on, and was in Momma’s footsteps out the room door to our trusty old black Volvo.
Before I could blink, Daddy was passing the sign that took us into Texas. We were now one more state closer to Arizona. For what yet, I did not know.
As I looked out at the views that we passed, something looked vaguely familiar about what I was observing. Every so often, something would catch my eyes that I had seen before and I would say to myself, “Hey, I remember that.” It was apparent now that we were traveling to a place we had already been and obviously loved. I could not wait to see what it was because, no matter how much I tried to think of what Arizona held, I was unable to.
We only stopped one time on our way. That was to get gas and use the facilities and then we were back on the interstate. Raymond sat beside me eating the cheese crackers that Momma had bought him. He was getting crumbs everywhere. I did not want anything, so I saved Momma money there.
With the tank full and the time were making, we would cross into New Mexico by sundown.
“I can’t believe we are going to be at the Grand Canyon tomorrow,” Daddy said as he continued the eighty miles per hour down the interstate.
“Yeah, me too. It’ll be so nice to be back at the place Katie enjoyed so much,” Momma replied as she glanced in the back seat to Raymond and me. I watched her take Daddy’s hand also as she did.
The Grand Canyon. I should have known. I knew that was in Arizona. I learned that in school. I did enjoy it very much. It was just last year when we went. The view was breathtaking. The entire natural formed reddish-orange water-scaped stones and valleys painted a picture in my mind that I will always remember. Momma even has a picture of me and Raymond standing overlooking it on the mantle at home. Shortly after that picture was put there on the mantle, a small decorated wooden box was placed beside it.
We stopped again for the night halfway through New Mexico. The place Daddy chose sure was not the Radisson from the previous night. It was quaint and served the purpose though. At least it did for Daddy, Momma, and Raymond. As for me, I was too excited to sleep. I just laid there beside my little brother in the bed wide awake thinking of seeing the Grand Canyon again. It was going to be special.
I opened my eyes to the sunlight being let in with the opening of the room door. Daddy was already taking the luggage out to the car. Momma was helping Raymond put on his shirt. I jumped out of the bed and stood beside him as Momma combed his hair. When she was finished, she asked energetically, “Ready to go?”
Raymond and I both yelled, “Yeah!” at the same time.
As we walked out, Daddy was shutting the hatch of our black Volvo. He looked at us and said, “Well, we should be at the Grand Canyon in a couple of hours.” His tone though was subdued. It did not sound enthused.
Momma went and hugged him as me and Raymond piled into the backseat once again. Momma held Daddy for a long time and I could swear I saw tears roll down Daddy’s face. Was there something wrong? Or was the excitement of seeing the Grand Canyon getting to Daddy?
That had to be it.
I did know how long we had been on the road, but when we passed the sign that read, “Grand Canyon- one mile,” the butterflies fluttered in my stomach. The excitement of seeing it again became real. I wondered, would it still be the same?
That one mile went by fast and Daddy was now taking the exit that took us to that great rustic attraction. I almost began to sweat with anticipation.
Daddy parked across from where all the other tourists were looking out over the vast valley of deep orange hue. Some of the other visiting kids were climbing on the thick wrought iron barriers. That really was not permitted, but park officials did not police it. It was fun to do. I did it when we were last here. Raymond was too little to do so then. He was not now. I could not wait to see him try. I would help him if he wanted.
We all got out of the car and made our way over to the barrier that held the view of virtual sunlight. Daddy and Momma stood together, their arms wrapped around each other. Raymond stood beside Momma holding on to her pants leg. I stood beside Daddy and wrapped my arm around his waist. But something was wrong. I could not feel him.
Now I was confused. Daddy’s warmth always comforted me. Where was it? Why was I not able to feel my Daddy? I started to panic.
Then Daddy said, “Let’s go get Katie,” and him, Momma, and Raymond turned to walk back to our car.
I stood there beside the wrought iron fence overlooking the Grand Canyon thoroughly confused. I screamed, “But Daddy, I’m right here!”
There was no reaction from my family. It was as if I did not exist. I tried again.
“Daddy, Momma, Raymond, didn’t you hear me! I said I am right here! See!” I yelled again, this time waving my arms.
Still nothing. What was going on? I surely did not understand.
I started to run across to them to the car, but stopped short when Daddy took my bag out from the back and began to unzip it. He stuck his hand inside and pulled out the wooden box that sat on the mantle beside the picture of me and Raymond taken in this same spot we were all just standing, overlooking the Grand Canyon minutes ago.
Daddy, Momma, and Raymond began to walk back over. Daddy was holding onto the wooden box securely. As they approached, I was in tears. I now knew what that box held. It held my remains. I was dead, but did not know it until now. No wonder they could not see or hear me.
As soon as they reached where I was standing, I turned around to join them. When I did, I stopped in my tracks because of the extra site I saw hovering over the Grand Canyon.
It was bright white and glowed with a golden hue around the edges. It floated beautifully above the canyon with precise accuracy. It was drawing me in, but I did not want to go.
I stood beside Daddy staring out over the Grand Canyon along with the shimmering bright light. I knew my family could not see it. I surely wished they could have though. It was just as wondrous as the Grand Canyon itself.
Momma was now carrying Raymond as she and him joined Daddy and stepped closer to the fence barrier. I stood with them, tears rolling down my face as Daddy held out the wooden box that carried what was left of me.
As my parents and brother touched my resting place as of now, I saw my granny come into view through the hovering light. She was smiling as she approached the edge. I wiped the tears away from my eyes and smiled back to her.
In the sweet voice I only heard and so remembered when I was smaller, granny said, “Katie, darling, it’s time.”
Slowly, I climbed over the metal fencing holding spectators of the canyon back and floated over to granny, joining her in the hovering golden light. I looked at Daddy, Momma, and Raymond and heard Daddy say as he opened the wooden box and let my ashes fly with the wind over the Grand Canyon, “Goodbye Katie, you’re finally going home.”
As soon as the last bit of my dust drifted away in the wind, granny and I turned and walked further into the lighted golden tunnel together. The opening closed behind us enveloping me inside with her. It would one day open back up to let Daddy, Momma, and Raymond enter.
I can wait for however long that would be. Right now though, all they needed to know was I was finally home.