St. Louis, MO
Sometimes you need to go backwards to move forwards. Especially when you doubt yourself and don't know what to do next. All my packing was done. Boxes that would go into storage formed an untidy wall around me.
"Where you moving to?" asked one of the men from the van lines, as he flicked the butt of a Camel cigarette onto my lawn. Except it wasn't my lawn. Not anymore. So why worry?
"I haven't decided yet."
That pretty much summed up my life. I was at a crossroads, a spot on the map between emptiness and confusion—and I didn't know which way to turn. Watching the workers load up my stuff only made me feel more unsettled. I signed the paperwork for the movers, hopped in my car, the black Camry I've named Black Beauty and drove to a familiar parking lot.
"Cara Mia Delgatto! I've been expecting you." Kiki stood at the back door of her scrapbook and crafting store, Time in a Bottle. A red dog leash connected her to her rescue pup, Gracie, a harlequin Great Dane.
"Let me guess. You were on your way to take this lover dog for a potty break." I reached down and patted the floppy ears on the black and white giant.
"Uh-huh. Care to come with? You can tell me how you've been."
We hadn't gotten halfway around the block when I broke down and started crying uncontrollably. Kiki and I perched on a low concrete block restraining wall so I could sob while Gracie sniffed and peed. Kiki put her arm around me, and I wet her shoulder with tears while she patted my back and murmured, "Get it all out, Cara. You'll feel better."
When I'd cried me a river (the Mississippi, I'd guess from the muddy look of it), we started back to the shop. Once inside, Kiki put Gracie in the doggie playpen and grabbed a Diet Dr Pepper for me and a bottle of water for her.
"It's done. Everything's going into storage. I couldn't stand being in that big house night after night by myself," I said. "I don't want to see the restaurant again, either. It doesn't matter whether it's called Cara Mia's or not. That was our place, our family place. Now that Mom and Dad have passed away, and Tommy's left for school, there's nothing to keep me here in St. Louis. Besides, winter is coming and I've always hated cold weather."
"Time to make a new plan and move on down the highway." Kiki smiled at me, her curls framing her round face. One hand rested protectively on her belly.
"But I'll be leaving so much behind."
"Yes, and you have your whole life ahead of you. Come on back to the store. I have a little gift for you."
When I was seated at her work table, she handed me a gift bag filled with tissue paper. I reached inside and pulled out a memory album of my years in St. Louis.
"This is just grand." I paged through the album. "I could never have done anything like this."
"We all save our memories in different ways. You are just as sentimental as I am, Cara. Look at you! I bet those are Tommy's old jeans you're wearing, right? Your son grew out of them and now they're yours."
"That's right. At the restaurant, I always had to wear a little black dress, so in my free time, I like dressing down. My belt was once my father's, but I had it shortened to fit. These rings on my right hand are my mother's engagement and wedding rings."
"May I remind you of all the redecorating you did at the restaurant, and how you came in under budget?" Kiki grinned. "In addition, you always smell like sandalwood. Is there a memory associated with that?"
"Sandalwood brings back good memories of summers in Florida. My parents used to rent an apartment above an antique store called The Treasure Chest. The owner stocked the rental with bars of sandalwood soap."
As she had predicted, that long crying jag had been cathartic. With my gift under my arm, we walked to Kiki's car. She reached in and handed me a heavy shopping bag.
"Another gift?" I squealed.
"There's a surprise for you to enjoy on the road so you'll think of me."
"Like I could ever forget you!" I took the gift and thanked her.
With her hands on my shoulders, Kiki looked at me with moist eyes. "I expect you to stay in touch."
Nodding, but too choked up to respond, I turned and walked to my car.
I waved once more, pulled out of the parking lot and tried not to look back. The hardest part of my journey was just ahead, as I'd have to drive past the Arch, that magnificent silver rainbow in the sky. It had always been a talisman, a welcome mat.
But this time, it seemed to wave goodbye.