Her question was simple; Mom’s always honest, a straight shooter. “Are you open to driving home?”
She caught me as I was about to go on a run out of my apartment complex. It was after dark, not a peak hour, and the weather was muggy; I assumed that nobody would want to be outside in this humidity. I wanted to sneak in some exercise, under a half-hour, before bed.
For the last six months, I had been living in a three-bedroom apartment in a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia. My mom was across the country with my brother and sister in our three-bedroom-turned-into-four apartment in northern California. I moved here at the end of August to follow my passion, something my family had always loved and supported in me. I moved out here to try out to become a professional athlete.
Last year, after Thanksgiving, I woke myself up at six in the morning, made myself coffee, and packed my car. I was going to drive myself across the country in one weekend. I hugged my family, and we took a photo before I left. I drove down the highway ten miles to my dad’s house, and he packed me breakfast for the day, hugged me, and sent me on the road with $100 dollars cash. I remember how the drive nearly broke me in my initial surge; a snowstorm altered my intended route through Flagstaff on highway 40. I’d called my mom a little after midnight to plan another route, she booked me a hotel room outside of Phoenix, and the next morning I would take highway 10 through southern New Mexico and Texas.
As the morning light beamed into my room, I struggled to open my eyes. My alarm had been going off for nearly an hour. I moved laggardly through my morning routine. Before I ever made it to Phoenix, I finished my second coffee, the one that I had poured to drink on the road. After passing about twenty exits and State Farm Stadium, where the Arizona Cardinals play, I felt my heavy eyes flutter. Another ten exits later, I finally pulled into a gas station parking lot to sleep. I imagined that in a little over an hour, I’d be rested, refreshed, ready to get back on the road.
Ninety minutes later, I came-to feeling exhausted. An arid, unfamiliar terrain surrounded me and sweat stained my clothes. I muttered to myself, half-awake, “Mom, I don’t want to drive across the country.”
After four days on the road living through fast food and gas station coffees, I arrived at my apartment the evening before my first professional training. My friends couldn’t believe what I’d just accomplished.
As I stepped outside of my apartment for a run, I started left down the main street, I could see some of my neighbors drinking beers around their truck bed. I passed by them, turned left again into our neighboring apartment complex, through their property to a back road, and took another left, down a winding turn to the normally busy highway. I crossed that street immediately, in another minute I was at the campus of one of the small colleges in my city. I’d gone a little over a mile before I got off the main road and started up the school’s glorious fitness trail: A former student once told me the steep trail was known around the college as the “Oh F*ck.”
Sheltered by Georgia pines, the shadowy trail was remote, quiet, and peaceful. I tore through the mile of hill climbs in minutes, but I still wanted more. I ran across the street to the main campus between dimly lit buildings to the parking garage for students and sprinted up its stairwell six times as if my life depended on it before I felt that I had done enough to turn around and head home.
With a break in my workout, I thought that now was a good time to respond to my mom. I fired off my automatic thought to her question; I thought that driving across the country was a bad idea . It would be better to follow the shelter-in-place order where I was.
Traveling during a global pandemic is a bad idea. I knew that if I drove home as a potential carrier of the virus, I could put the lives of others, including my mom’s, in danger. What I didn’t think about at the time was that families would be split apart by this pandemic, that people would be forced to stay away from their loved ones, and that this could be a point of major stress in a usually cohesive dynamic.
“I have no words for you” came onto my screen. The first line of a blurb of text that made me grimace. It was my mom telling me that she was devastated, that she’d asked me repeatedly, that she’d sacrificed in her own life when I needed help. She’d gone from a radiant pride in how her son traveled across the country, trained with a professional sports team, played in the teams first preseason game, to tell him he wasn’t reliable, the door to his passion had closed, that she had doubts about the state of his mental health.
All I could do was sprint. I doubled back down through the campus, crossed onto the empty highway, and charged up the winding hill towards the apartment complex that took me to my own. I darted through the neighboring complex and disintegrated onto my front door as I gasped for air and my heart pounded.
The first thing that I did after I washed my hands was to call my dad. I told him what Mom had texted me. He could help, having spent 15 years married to her, and he knew firsthand what it was like to disappoint her.
Dad and I talked for almost an hour. We talked about our fears of getting sick, and the thought of spreading the virus to our loved ones. We talked about making hard decisions, a hallmark to us of being a man and being able to live with our decisions. We talked about love and showing kindness and understanding when others are stressed. And we talked about belief, knowing that life is hard, but having faith that good will come around to you if you continue to do your best.
As the call ended, he’d talked me out of responding, saying something inflammatory, something that I may regret for the rest of my life. “Anything else?” He asked me. I thought about it. I mentioned that I was interested in getting confirmed, he’d raised me religious, but that I had needed time to come to the conclusion on my own.
He laughed into the receiver. “Do you know that’s exactly the class I’m teaching right now?”
“You’ve told me that before.”
“When did you think that you wanted to do that?”
“Well, it must have come in the last few months. And for the decade before, I thought that was the exact opposite of what I wanted.”
He laughed again. I thought I heard him choke up through the receiver.
“That’s just… Absolutely fantastic.”
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