Sitting underneath the stars, hearing the whirr of traffic just a few feet beyond the parking lot, balancing on the grey, pebbly picnic bench, I realize how much I have.
There's a cup of ice cream in my hand, luscious folds of half-melted creamy stuff in white and deep fudge brown mingling among the peanut clusters, and I dig in with just the tip of my plastic spoon, catching a tiny 1/4 bite on my tongue, letting it melt and squish around my teeth as the sweet creaminess sinks into my tongue.
Around me are the voices of loved ones. Parents sitting side by side, each licking an ice cream cone. Dad has frozen yogurt because he's on a diet, and Mom says hers is healthy because it has cherries. Maraschino cherries. My brother and his friend ordered the usual double scoops, as much ice cream as the cone will hold without the whole thing toppling onto the warm cement. It takes them eons to lick them down to a manageable size.
And out there, all around, are the sights and smells and feelings that I've grown to associate with "home": the Southern twang, the Ford trucks, the lights of the hotels beckoning business travelers, office parks and dog parks and art museums and McDonald's restaurants, long summer days and cicadas and sweet tea and cliche songs on the radio. Each little thing is a word, a word that makes part of a sentence, and that sentence tells a little bit of my story. It's the prologue, the backdrop, the context that shows where I've come from and gives a sneak peek into where I'm going.
But the most important thing about knowing this is home, is that I know it now. I know it before I leave, before it all disappears and I'm left with nothing but memories. I can't hold on to what's left of my childhood, I can't stop change, and no matter how much I want to I can't make life stop still. It has to keep going. All I can do is appreciate the moment while it's here, experiencing something to create a future memory out of globs of ice cream and fragments of laughter, a splash of whispered conversation and one or two significant looks, all tied together with the ribbon of white headlights streaming down the street towards midnight.