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CHAPTER ONE: THE ARRIVAL OF STEPHANIE MILLER:
Driving on S.W. Naito parkway is no easy task. Especially in a 18-foot U-haul truck (tailed by our connected blue Toyota Camery in the back), I’m finally happy to gaze at the marvelous city that’s now starting to surround me. Its beautiful array of colors, shapes, and structures are so breath-taking I can’t dare to look away.
“Wow, Portland Oregon” I praise in my head as the morning sun rises in the distance, shining upon the thin-white clouds smeared perfectly across the sky like a painting.
“Isn’t it beautiful? I told you you’ll like it here” reach mom’s comforting voice.
I still can’t believe it. After three miserable days of racing from Austin Texas(a country town known for its wide open fields and quiet living spaces), and driving through endless high ways with deranged drivers always cutting us off – being forced to sleep in dozens of truck stops, with drivers so suspicious it terrified me from sleeping – and eating at diners with the most disgusting bathrooms I had ever seen in my entire life, I can finally relax and enjoy being in a city so culturally designed its like being in a world of art.
Even the people here are looking more bright and happier than back home as they continue about their day: groups of women chatting with their friends in café bars; four boys and a girl happily shopping around for shoes in a shoe store; and even a reading group through a library window is happily sitting on the floor in a circle while a guy stands in the middle, sharing tales so interesting it distracts them from the novels on their laps.
This gives me hope that one day, I will feel the same happiness and security as these people do. And with that idea, as I keep my gaze out my window, my imagination starts to take me into a world where teens of all races happily welcomes me into their lives like I’m apart of their family: from laughing and playing in different parts of the city, to sharing secrets of crushes and gossip to lock away, never to reveal; even meeting their families and sharing their laughter over the most craziest of stories at the dinner table.
It’s the life I’ve always wanted; the life I can’t wait to have, and the life I can’t wait to see. I feel so excited I quickly turn to mom.
“Mom, how far do we have now?!”
Mom, Katie Miller, is a single woman with blond hair and blue eyes that’s been driving ever since we left. She looks a bit exhausted, but by the smile on her face, she still had some upbeat energy left. I guess the long drive hasn’t slowed down her enthusiasm.
“Oh my god I still can’t get over those mountains! Oh my god they were huge!”
She’s still on those?! We pass them like thirty minutes ago!
“Yeah whatever” I mumbled.
“Mom how far do we have now?!”
“Calm down Steph, its only a few miles away”
Her lighthearted voice is relaxing, but it isn’t strong enough to calm my excitement.
“What, you’re excited to see your new school?” she asks.
“Yeah!! I always want to know what it’s like here-
Suddenly a thought raced across my mind. They must not like shy, self-conscious people here. Thinking back, those people didn’t appear to have one single sign of insecurity in any of them. They all seem confident and friendly, like they’ve been outgoing their entire lives. I don’t know if they were shy before and grew out of it, or if it’s their natural persona. But if it’s natural, I’m pretty sure they’ll think I’m a freak here, because shyness has been my whole life. They may even refuse to give me attention, or even bully me, just like the teens from my old school. Now I’m petrified to even take a chance here. I think I should get home schooled.
“Yeah, you have been through a lot in your life. Its only right you get a chance to meet and reconnect with people” mom continues. But her happy demeanor isn’t enough to tear the fear of uncertainty away from me.
“Steph? Steph you okay?” she catches on with her voice carrying concern.
“Mom, are you sure no one has ever been, bullied or tormented by their shyness here?” I ask as my voice trembled.
“No, no honey no, trust me the schools here are fine. When I first came here, the first question I asked the realtor was how was the schools here. She replied not only is Lincoln high school one of the best and oldest schools, but their sports team is considered one of the best in the entire state”.
I don’t really care about their sports team. I just wanted some reassurance there wasn’t any problems here. But than again, how does Mom know if the realtor wasn’t just saying that for the sell?
“So don’t worry honey, I’m sure the kids here are a lot different”.
I slowly turn to the floor to try and believe her. And I really wish I can, but without evidence there’s no solid support. I need some reassurance to give me hope. To help me feel at ease. And it looks like to be able to do so, I’m gonna have to find out myself, which is something I’m definitely not looking forward to.
Suddenly I hear her I-phone ringing with that same average melody you hear from one of those old house phones. Which has and always will, drive me crazy! She had dozens of ringtones to choose from when she first bought the phone, and some were actually pretty good, but instead of choosing those, she chose that one.
Why? When I asked, she said it gave her phone some class, I can’t see it. To me it just sounds annoying. I tried over and over again to convince her how annoying it was, and for her to change it. But no matter how many times I stressed my opinion, she always had the same comeback: “Its my phone, I’ll do what I want with it!” ugh.
I peek over to find its coming from inside the plastic cup holder between us. She picks it up, presses the screen, than places it against her ear.
She immediately starts having a low casual conversation like she knew this person her entire life. Now I’m curious. Mom has never talked this way to anyone at work, so it can’t be any of them. Than, who is it? She never gave it to anyone in our family, even when we lived in Austin. Hell, she didn’t even give it to the cousins she hadn’t seen in years when we met them at a family picnic, only the house phone number.
It’s something I rarely understood, and when I questioned her about it a few months ago, she revealed it was so she knows its either from her boss or co-workers. Which made sense, seeing how mom’s an accountant. She also told me most of the people she worked with at Bank of America were women.
That was even better, until she revealed that the rest were men, with wives, who continuously hit on them as if they were making a game of it. They even tried to hit on mom a couple of times. Scary, I know. But thankfully she turned down their advances. Unfortunately she still had to work with them on reports and stuff. I just hope mom didn’t give in. I slightly lean over to listen, but the callers tone is way too low to catch clearly. She suddenly giggles. Now I’m dying to know. I haven’t heard mom laugh like that since with dad before his tragic accident two years ago. Did she move on? Has she found someone else and hasn’t told me yet? If so, how come?
I peer to get a hint at her screen, but I only spot the phone’s bottom peeking out from the left side of her cheek. Her voice starts to calm down. I wonder if it’s the same guy from her job that she told me was cute a while ago? Oh no, the same guy that she also caught cheating on his wife with his secretary! Oh please god, don’t let it be him! Why would she need some guy when she’ll always have me?
“Yeah, I’m almost there now” she says as she glances at the navigation than back to the windshield.
There now? Is she crazy! I don’t want him to know where we live!! While they continued, I lean over a little bit more until I’m just inches from her shoulder. But I still can’t hear any words, only the callers tone. Suddenly the truck bounces. I lose balance and slam against her shoulder hard enough to push her towards the door.
I jolt back to my seat and stared out my window like nothing happened. Hoping she’ll let it go and not let me have it in front of him. Uh-oh, her voice sounds a little offended. I take a deep breath to calm my nerves for the most loudest roar I will ever hear in my life. But instead, it gratefully continues as if nothing happened. I exhaled deeply. I guess that person really changed her for the better. I decide to stick by the window and wait for now. The less I interfere, the better. After five gut wrenching, suspenseful minutes she finally hangs up and puts it back in the cup holder.
“Who was that?” I fearfully ask while gazing out the corner of my left eye.
“That was the realtor. She wanted to know if we’re there yet”.
“Oh thank god! I thought you were talking to that creep who was married” I said in relief.
“What creep that’s married?”
“You know, that guy from your job. The one you said was cheating with his secretary”.
“Oh, right him, yeah now I remember now…he’s dead”.
That startles me a little.
“He died? How?”
“Didn’t you say he was in his twenties?”
“Yep, it’s a shame too. I guess drinking too much coffee will do that to you”.
Oh, I guess he became stressed out after his wife found out. I stare back at the scenery.
Still admiring more buildings and designs that continue to grasp my admiration, until low tapping against a glass screen creeps through my ears; slowly breaking and pulling my attention to my left.
“Come on!!” Escapes moms frustrated, panicky voice.
Okay, now I’m starting to panic at mom’s gaze as she pokes hesitantly at the navigator’s screen. Breathing hesitantly like she’s having a panic attack. She finally gives up and slams her palm against it; than turns in frustration back to the windshield.
“Mom, what happened to the navigator?”
She ignores me and seems to be scanning the road for any recognition of where we are. In other words, we’re lost.
“Oh god don’t tell me the navigation froze!”
I yell as I lunge forward to the screen, hoping it’s just a small glitch. A two-dimensional map surrounding a small red-car displays our location, and apparently the car froze on NW Glisan street. That’s impossible. We passed that street as soon as we got off the bridge minutes ago. That’s weird. It was working fine when we used it to get here, and now it just stopped? Suddenly the screen shuts off, engulfing it into darkness.
“Oh no, oh no, no, no, no, no”. I panic as I started tapping the sides like I do when our T.V. would act up. But unlike the television, it never returns. I check its plug. It’s still in the cigarette lighter. What the hell is wrong with this thing?! Frustrated like mom, I slam my wrist against it too before freaking out back in my seat.
“Oh my god!” I shout as I covered my face and lean in my seat.
“Don’t worry honey, I’ll find a way through this”.
Mom rubs my back to calm my nerves, but it isn’t working. While getting irritated and hoping to find any ideas, I slid my hands down to look back out my window for help. I can’t believe after three days of traveling and putting up with all this drama, the damn navigator breaks down when we really need it. Piece of junk!!
“Don’t worry. I’ll figure something out” mom says calmly with confidence.
“How?! You use the same navigation to find the realtor”.
Now I can see her confidence starting to slip away. But than she lights up, showing me an idea is born. She reaches inside the cup holder to pulls out her cell phone again. Once she dials a number and put it against her cheek, did I start to understand, and my fear of being lost has finally abandoned me. She and I finally smiled; feeling much hopeful as it ringed for the realtor. It rings, and rings, and rings, and after a few minutes it’s starting to feel like forever. With every passing ring, our happiness is slowly fading away into frustration.
“Where is she?” Mom complained.
She stops and dials again. But after a few minutes again, nothing.
“My god! Why ain’t she answering?!”
She tries again, but I already knew the pattern by now. So I just turn to the window with the hope of still finding someone. But instead of seeing a single person, I only see average-to-small size homes aligned next to each other as if I’m still in Austin.
This surprised me. I thought Portland was this huge, spectacular city mom told me about with lots of buildings and stores as far as the eye could see. Instead it didn’t look any bigger than Nashville: a small city surrounded by a huge suburban population. I guess some people here prefer the quiet life of sunny days and large lawns rather than a loud, bustling city, except for me. I’ve spent my entire life in that quiet scenario, and I really didn’t plan on seeing it again. But, I guess we can only live where she can afford; if we can get there.
“Damn it!!” she yells, finally yanking it from her lips and turning to the screen while still glancing simultaneously out the windshield.
“Okay, there has to be a G.P.S. on here or something” she frustrates as she scans her phone by sliding the screen over and over again. But all it does is cause the anger in her eyes to grow even more, until she hands it over to me.
“Damn it! Stephanie can you download the G.P.S. for me?!!”
I take it from her and examine it. That’s when I notice only eight percent of her battery life remaining. So I search all over my seat for the charger. But I don’t see it. I think it’s on the right side, so I check. Again still nothing.
“Mom, where’s the charger?”
I look at the gap in-between us, still no sign of it. Now I’m starting to get frustrated too. Where did I put it? I sat up to remember when I last had it. But I only remember using it to charge mom’s phone in the truck and that was hours ago.
“I don’t know! You had it! Check the glove compartment” she commands.
Spotting it in front of me, I opened it and push aside dozens and dozens of papers shoved in by mom. But after all that work, I still don’t see it. So I slammed it shut and started looking in-between our seats again, this time under them as well. Even though I still didn’t see it, I keep trying, with the hope it’ll turn up eventually.
“Mom, it wasn’t in the glove compartment?!”
“Where did you put it?!”
Again, still nothing. I jolt back up. Suddenly a thought flashed of me handing mom the charger after charging her phone those few hours ago. I knew it!
“You had it!”
“Steph, I do not! You had it!”
Alright, our little battle here is not going to get us anywhere. So I’mma try to remember what I did with it.
“Alright, I remember charging your phone before we left Austin” I replied calmly as to not upset her even more.
“Yeah, and I remember unplugging it when you were done and handing it to you” she vented.
“Than after I charged it a few hours later, I-
That’s when I remember putting it in my left, blue-jean pocket. I reach in with my left hand. My pockets are so tight it constricts my hand from sliding in easily, forcing me to squeeze through. When my fingers finally touch a thin rubber cord tangled up in loops, I look up in shock. I don’t understand why I didn’t feel it against my leg earlier. I guess cause its been there for so long my leg has gotten use to it.
I grab and slowly pull it outward. Now I can feel it sliding against my leg, until its end dangles in the air. Once mom turns and sees it in my hand, she gives me a sharp look with the reply: “Wow, you couldn’t tell that was in your pocket the whole time?”
I look away from embarrassment and handed it over along with her cell phone. She takes it.
Okay, now this place is really starting to look impressive. The apartments here looks surreal. Its Greek-temple design looks very magnetic next to the old Victorian style homes standing across the street. And the newer ones across from it, with the same Victorian design, are very interesting. It makes me want to jump out of this truck just to get a peek inside all of them.
“Oh god! Don’t tell me it gave out!” she yells.
Oh now what?! I turn to investigate. She pulls it out the lighter socket and shoves it back in. Next she taps the screen frantically. Than pounds on it with her thumb like its no tomorrow.
“Damn it!! Its not working!!!"
She yanks the cord out the plug and throws it, along with the cellphone, back in the cup holder. This is just great! First the navigator, now the lighter plug, what the hell is wrong with this truck?! It’s like we’ve hit bad luck as soon as we got this thing! Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if the house had termites! Mom turns down another street so fast I couldn’t catch the name of it. It’s narrow, like the last one, but these houses look even more beautiful. They look like doll houses, but are only designed for decorations. And each one looks more perfect than the last the more we travel. I hope our house is down this way.
“Alright…if I can remember where she took me…lets see”. Mom examines the distance with intense focus, the same thing I’m doing. I spot a green and white sign coming up with the words: NW westover road. I turn to mom to see if that’s where we’re going. And by the look of her eyes starting to light up, I guess it is.
“Yes!! Okay hold on”.
She slams on the gas. Flying down this, once again, narrow street. But this one’s aligned with cars just inches from the truck. I stare deathly afraid out the windshield while squeezing my seat as tightly as I can, hoping this isn’t my last ride.
“Mom, can you lean to the left, please?!!”
“I can’t! I’ll crash! Believe me I’m scared too! Just hold on”.
“Hold on?! Why can’t you slow down?!”
“Cause I got to get this truck back in time or they’ll charge extra for it!”
“Yeah! But its not worth dying for!!”
I quickly grab my seat belt and rush it into the buckle.
I turn back to the road. Seeing those cars racing beside this truck is causing me a near panic attack. My breath starts to seize, my heart is pounding so hard it’s about to burst out my chest. The truck also shakes and bounces from cracks and holes that’s populating the street; each one getting more intense and constantly reminding me of an on-coming collusion.
“Yes! I think I remember this place! I think this is where she drove at…”
I follow her attention. I see the front of a small red-house, with two larges trees to our right, standing in its front yard. Its now coming just a few feet from us. I hope this is our house, until we pass it, now I’m starting to sweat.
“And I remember seeing these trees beside it! We’re almost there now”.
“I hope we don’t die!”
“Trust me, we will”.
I turn to her in horror, only to be greeted by a comical smile.
“Mom this isn’t funny!! This is not the time to be playing around!” I cried.
“Relax Stephanie relax, we’ll get there soon”.
“Yeah, after a trip to the hospital!”
I peer further in the distance with the hope of us getting closer. Suddenly a few yards away is a small gray-S.U.V. dragging itself onto a four-way intersection like it’s out of fuel. Now all these images of us slamming into him played strongly in my mind like horror movie. I lean back, hoping to god it moves in time.
“The hell are they doing?!” mom alerted.
She blows the horn, but it still doesn’t move. I can feel the truck slowing down, but not quickly as I would’ve hoped.
“Mom just swerve around them! Or stop!!”
“I can’t stop! The trailer will crash into these cars!!”
My hearts pounding even harder now. I think I’m having a heart attack. Thankfully, two large empty parking spaces are at both ends of the street before reaching the intersection. Now it’s our chance to avoid collusion.
“Mom, mom turn to those gaps now!!”
She eases the steering wheel to the left. I see the truck moving closer to the gaps, but not fast enough.
“I’m trying! I’m trying!!”
I look through the jeep’s driver side-window. He franticly turns the key in the ignition as the engine chokes, but it still doesn’t move. Suddenly the vibrations shake my arms too violently to hold firm. I can also feel my muscles shivering and cringe as my breath starts to wheeze. It’s getting too close to the S.U.V. now, and the driver is glancing deathly afraid at me as he continues.
By instinct, I shut my eyes and turn my head, expecting a powerful impact…A few seconds pass, I still feel the vibrations. I can still hear the engine. But I don’t feel a collision. I open my eyes, and became so happy to see another long, narrow-road on a new, quiet suburban neighborhood surrounding us.
This time it’s empty, and filled with newly build homes placed perfectly beside each other as if a brand new suburban block have been built. I exhale the biggest breath my lungs could carry. I can’t believe we actually evaded a near- fatal accident. I’m a little shaky from the experience too, but I’m still so glad to be alive.
I don’t know who was watching over us, god, or dad, but since both could have been, I got to thank them.
“Thank you” I whisper to the heavens as mom gently rubs my back. I lean on her shoulder while letting the comfort sink in as a big smile now grows upon my face.
“I hope we find the house soon” I said.
“Believe me, we will”.
She kisses me on the forehead, helping me to feel the love and support I desperately deserve right now. I glance ahead, thinking to myself: “the faster we get off this road, the better”.
After two hours of cutting through streets and looking at signs I never heard of, this place is really starting to irritate me. And as I rest my head against my hand by the window, I’m starting to doubt if we’ll ever get there.
“Mom, do you even know where we’re going?”
“Figures! Why did I ask?” I whisper.
“Don’t worry Steph, I’ll find my way I promise”.
What when I’m eighty?! But than again I shouldn’t be so hard on her. It’s not really her fault. She did buy the house two weeks ago. Hell, I’ve forgotten teachers lectures in less time than that. It’s just that every time I glance at these familiar houses passing me by, it makes me feel like I’m destined to travel through this entire state forever. And with every passing minute, I keep imagining my fiftieth birthday coming up and still not getting there!
“Hold on, I think I see it…” she announces as she stares out the windshield.
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