We kept driving, absorbing the familiarity of our beloved North Carolina. Tyler and his girlfriend, Deaven, were waiting at the house for us. We hadn’t met her yet, and I wanted her to be comfortable with us. I remember thinking she must be nervous, and we were about to come in like a few rusty wrecking balls with all our drama, emotions, and creatures. They live about an hour away, so they planned to stay the night and we were so looking forward to spending time with them, especially since we hadn’t seen Tyler in over a year.
Months before our trip, we had our first Christmas away from each other. We put Tyler on the big screen TV in the living room and connected with him via Zoom. I would internally cringe each time there was a glitch, or Tyler’s face froze, and felt myself many times wanting to throw something heavy and sharp at the TV, hating not being with him. We made the best of it, but as I continued driving toward our new home, I fantasized about our next Christmas, one where we would all be together.
As the landscape began to look more familiar with its flat roads and green everything, we began to relax driving on the smooth, wide highway with higher speed limits.
We knew as soon as we arrived at our new house, we would have to set up two large dogs crates that were folded up under Sam and the dogs in the bed of the truck to temporarily house the chickens, and I couldn’t wait to put the two flocks into them. The years of waiting to be home turned into months then weeks then hours and the minute-counting finally began. Baylee, who was in charge of the GPS as navigator, would fill me and Max in as Sammy and the dogs laid low in the back of the truck.
“59 minutes!” he said. It was official. A rooster crowed.
“37, 23, 15, less than ten!” Gary, one of our cats, meowed angrily.
After a very long day, we found our new driveway, honked the horn, and saw my child and his girl waiting for us near our new home. My boy. My little baby who was now a man whom I missed in debilitating forms. I stopped the truck, got out, and ran to him alongside his pup, Gisele, not wanting the hug to end, wondering for only a second if I remembered to put the truck into park.
After quick greetings, we wanted to get the chickens situated so I went right to the bin that held our favorite hen, Barbie. I looked in it and saw her lying down, lifeless with a swollen head. I grabbed her still-warm body and hugged her to my chest.
“Barbie, no!” I yelled. We all cried. She must have broken her neck trying to get to us. I continued to hold her close to me, feeling her grow colder while I checked the other chickens. The rest were active and feisty, all but Becky.
She was not looking well. I handed Barbie over to someone to wrap in an old towel, then reached in to gently pick up Becky. I put her in a comfortable place in my new room, the first thing I moved into the closet, and prayed she would recover. I took water and put it to her lips and told her how much I loved her, then ran outside to help the boys assemble the new cages and settle the chickens down. When I checked on her a few minutes later, she had passed. She had no marks, so all we could imagine is that she died of a heart attack. Fourteen survived, including Becky’s biological daughter, Mr. Jarndyce.
We didn’t have time to mourn as we needed because the other chickens needed to be moved to a big cage under a cool tree so they could have water and grass. We struggled to set up the cages in our rush but finally got them up and took them out of their bins to free them under the tree. They drank water and nibbled on the fresh North Carolina grass, not complaining once about it being too spiky. Our remaining fourteen looked healthy and they were happy to stretch their legs.
With our heads and hearts still saturated in darkness and guilt, we looked at our new house and property, set up our air beds, and made stiff Jack-and-Cokes. Our shoulders were low and tired but we were relieved to finally be home. When it was time for us all to find sleep, that’s when my tears came with convulsions, so many of them, and for so many reasons. I had my urn with Roger’s ashes reminding me of my own strength and that he was still with us, and it helped me settle down.
We awoke many times during that night because the roosters on the back deck were crowing at their unfamiliar surroundings, and for their missing hens, Barbie and Becky. We couldn’t wait to set up their coops the next day and bury the ones we lost, and although their crows kept waking us, it was a sign of their health so I welcomed it.
We’ve since mourned our chickens and began to move forward with our new life in North Carolina. Massachusetts will always grasp pieces of each of our hearts with her icy clutches, and there are parts of her I will never stop missing. We are truly home here in NC, though, and when we start to look back at our big move, we shake our heads really fast to rid of the memory, and turn our focus to the future as we continue to live very thoroughly in the most glorious present.
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