It’s now Friday, February 28, and Kansas City is in my rearview mirror. There are no sights to see today, no scenic views to slow me down. I had only one destination in mind this day.
I’m sure I could have squeezed another day out of this trip, but I was ready to go. I had talked with my girlfriend Ashlie throughout the week and she was ready for me to be back and I was ready to be back to her as well. Even the night before as I sat in the bar in KC, my ex-wife had let it be known to me that Ashlyn had been visibly upset that day while playing. When asked what was wrong, she said that she missed her daddy. The way my custody agreement is set up, it’s rare when I go more than five days without seeing my girls. It had now been eight. I had talked to them on the phone a few times during the week, but even they knew that I had been gone too long. When I received that text, it made me happy and sad at the same time. Certainly, I was sad that I hadn’t seen them in so long. On the other hand, I was pleased to know that they were smart enough to figure out that they were supposed to be with me. I knew when I got back that they wouldn’t be staying with me that night, but I was going straight to them. I just wanted to see those beautiful faces.
I crossed the Mississippi into Illinois at 3:14 that afternoon. I was familiar with this drive. I had taken this route for work about every two weeks for seven years. I only had a few hours to go. I saw all of the familiar exits on I-72. Exit 35, Pittsfield. Exit 60, Jacksonville. I merged onto I-55 in Springfield, formerly a weekly trip for me. I was close. I hit I-155 a little after 5, one of my least favorite stretches of road in the world. Tonight, however, it was actually quite beautiful. As I headed north, I looked to the west at the setting sun and it was amazing that night. Any place can be beautiful if you open yourself up to it. As I took the exit towards Pekin, I let my ex-wife Cara know that I was heading to her house. She was getting married the next day, and they were planning to take all of the kids out to dinner at 6, so I hit the gas as I asked her to wait for me, which she did. I pulled up to her place at exactly 5:45. I knew I would only have a few minutes, but that was okay. I didn’t need the dramatic scene as they ran into my arms. There was no musical score setting up the scene. As she let me in, Brooklyn was crabby and crying and Ashlyn was in the bathroom. But just seeing Brooklyn’s face warmed my heart. She finally smiled and Ashlyn darted towards me when she saw me and they were back where I needed them to be. They both told me that they missed me and they loved me and that was all I needed. I assured them that I would see them the next day and they would be coming back to daddy’s house. I thanked Cara for letting me come by and I was gone.
I pulled into the driveway at 6:19 and my house never looked so good. Unfortunately, Ashlie wasn’t home yet, which was disappointing, but I knew she’d be there soon. Actually, the first thing I did when I got here was help my neighbor move two vehicles that were stuck in the snow. After a few minutes, Ashlie pulled up and we had our reunion right there in the middle of the street. We toyed with the idea of going out that night, but instead decided to just curl up on the couch and watch a movie, which was the better decision. She was tired. I was tired. And I certainly wanted to be nice and refreshed when I picked up the girls the next day. At some point, I brought my bags in and while I was in the car, I checked the mileage. It read 126453. Over those seven days, I had driven 3,776 miles through twelve states. I had seen so many places I never thought I would get the chance to see and I’m so glad that I took the time to do that. Opportunities like this don’t come along too often, so I’ll never regret taking a journey across this great country we’re so lucky to live in. But there really is no place like home.
If you read The State of The Luke Norris address (which you can find in the Archives section), then you know part of the reason why I took this trip in the first place. To avoid any confusion, the goal of this trip was never to find that certain answer. The goal was to take some time to myself to figure out on how I’m going to get to that point, and that’s what I’ll take away from this trip. The outlook and clarity I have now is so much better than it was even a month ago. There are obstacles I’m going to have to overcome, but it’s how I choose to deal with them that I feel much more confident about. There are things that I want to do that maybe I’ve been too scared to attempt and that stops now. When we stop trying, we start dying and I’m ready to really start living.
It’s now Saturday afternoon and I’m pacing back and forth, eager for my girls to be home. After what feels like forever, I finally pick them up and what I was really looking for Friday night happens. The girls run into my arms and I don’t know if I’ve ever been so alive. It’s time to go to daddy’s house. Just having them there always makes life better and on that day, I don’t think it’s ever felt more true.
They’ve had a long day already and I could tell they were tired, but still excited to be here. It’s me and all of my girls, finally back under the same roof and all is right with the world. The Grand Canyon made a valiant effort, but this is truly beauty at its best.