Iridescent lights play a game of tag with the cars passing through the wet supermarket parking lot.
I am six years old, sipping a Dr. Pepper in the backseat of my grandparents’ Oldsmobile. Winter has arrived in all of her splendor and chaos, and my grandpa is smoking a cigarette outside the car while my grandmother chats on about the upcoming snowstorm and how she hates to drive at night.
I stare out the window, looking for the stars until my grandpa’s face suddenly appears in front of me. His thumbs are in his ears, his fingers are wiggling, and his false teeth are protruding from his mouth.
I let out a squeal of delight, and my grandmother nearly jumps out of her seat. She catches sight of him and yells, “Allen!” in mock admonishment. He winks at me.
I don’t want to leave.
I have a silly habit of forgetting my jacket this time of year. The store where I work is warm, and my heater in the car works better than the AC. On any given day, I can be found rushing from the vehicle to a building in school clothes or my work uniform, cursing the 30 degree temperatures.
I will never be more alive than I am at this moment, waiting on a text from some guy I want to believe will be around for the rest of my life, but who I secretly dread will forget me within the next couple of years.
I will also never be more alone.
Snow begins to fall from the sky just as my shift ends. I race across the pavement, snow stinging my bare arms and face, and shiver as my car heats up. My phone buzzes, and I check it, hoping it will be the boy wanting to see me before my curfew.
It’s my grandmother. Text us when you get home. We love you.
I cry off and on for the thirty minute drive home, past his darkened house. I can’t remember the last time I called them, but I can remember all the times he didn’t answer his phone when I called. I pull into my driveway, wondering if he thought at all about me as the snow began to fall.
I text them from my car, dry my eyes, and run across my snow-covered lawn into the safety of my home.
“I have to go away for a while,” I say aloud to the Taco Bell sign.
It’s February, and the parking lot is mostly empty.
The supermarket is now a Kohl’s, and the shoe store that taught me how to rebuild my life from all its broken pieces stands empty.
I’ve told nearly everyone about my upcoming move, including my grandparents, but I couldn’t just vanish without telling the ghosts.
I don’t want to leave.
I know that before I pack the first box. I know it, in fact, as soon as my husband says his job has transferred him halfway across the country.
Yet, leave I must.
I know now what I did not know at ages six, seventeen, and even twenty-five. The world does not revolve around me.
It’s a simple concept, but it has taken me years to understand that this is not my story alone. I am background character to every person who has passed through this parking lot in the last twenty-eight years.
And for my greatest roles thus far–the wife, the grandchild, the daughter, the friend, the happy little redhead in the back of a big, grey Oldsmobile?
Well, there is a lot left to write.
I climb out of my car and sit directly on the pavement. The parking lot breathes. It’s library of fascinating and heartbreaking stories. The cold creeps into my bones and I close my eyes to drift once more.
I am six.
I am seventeen.
I am twenty-eight.
A page in a book, a loved one’s sleepless night, or a car in the parking lot. It’s all part of the same storm.
“Stay,” the ghosts whisper, but it’s more comfort than invitation or plea. There is a restlessness in the air that feels both dangerous and familiar.
It’s time to go.
The writer in me aches for the chance to drop stories like bread crumbs across the miles, and races against a clock I cannot see–if only for the chance to remain rooted in the ground long after the asphalt is gone.
Prompt: Creative nonfiction about a writing sanctuary (www.pw.org)