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Homecoming

After delivering the keynote and a technical breakout session at the 5th Annual Webmaster Forum (and I’ll be posting those files over at Complex Spiral‘s web site by week’s end), I realized that I had planned poorly.  When I arranged to drive to the UIUC campus for the conference, I did some research and discovered that it would be about a seven hour drive.  Because of that length, and not knowing exactly how the conference schedule would work out, I decided to get there Monday evening and leave Wednesday morning.  Now here it was, the middle of the afternoon on Tuesday, the conference was over, and I had nothing else planned.

So I checked out and started driving.  I left the UIUC campus right around 5:00pm Central Daylight Time.  As I departed, I knew that as I crossed back into the Eastern time zone, I would lose an hour, so I wouldn’t arrive home until 1:00am local time.  Most of the drive would be done in darkness, which I dislike, and I would have to fight road fatigue every mile.

It was worth it.

I passed through Indianapolis as the sun was setting, almost getting lost at the junctions of Interstates 74 and 465, mentally saying “hello!” to the gang at New Riders as I curved past the downtown and merged onto Interstate 70.  Three hours later, I edged around Columbus, matching speeds with an Animal Control Unit van on the theory that if he was doing 87 miles per hour on the outerbelt of a major city, it must be okay for me to do it, too.  Around 11:40pm, I refueled at the BP station just off the SR 97 exit (Lexington / Belleville), the exit closest to my home town.  As a high school student, I used to gas up at the same station on my way to and from work.  I sent another mental “hello!” to my sister, who still lives in the area, and my father, who the next day would be moving away from the area for the rest of his life.

As I got back onto Interstate 71, headed north, I cast my thoughts ahead to my arrival home, now only ninety minutes or so away.  I pictured dropping my things in the dining room, going up the stairs in the dark, and walking slowly and quietly into Carolyn’s room.  For a moment, I imagined looking over the edge of her crib just as she opened her eyes, gave me a big welcoming daddy smile, stretched, and then shut her eyes again to drift back into sleep.  I could see her face and her smile in my mind just as clearly as I could see the road in my headlights.

It was, after all, what had compelled me to get into my car, even knowing the length of the drive before me, late that afternoon.  It wasn’t that I was bored; I could have found any number of things to do in a college town.  I was in my car, passing within a few miles of my family without stopping, because I missed my wife and child more than I could stand.  I had chosen a lengthy, boring, late night drive over another night away from them.

It was worth it.

When I did finally arrive home, two minutes shy of 1:00am, everything went just as I had imagined it up until I snuck into Carolyn’s room.  She didn’t wake up, as I’d known she would not, even when I leaned into the crib to kiss her lightly on the forehead and whisper good night to her.  I knew that if I woke her she would smile at me, but that was never even an option.  So there was no welcoming smile, but that was all right.

For another minute or so, I just stood and watched our daughter sleep, listened to her breathe.  The pure innocence and beauty of a sleeping baby cannot be put into words, no matter how hard pop stars and rock stars and poets may try.  But I understand why they do.

It was worth it, I told her without words, looking down at her face, the same sleeping face I’d imagined in every detail.  It’s all worth it.

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