Going Home

Going Home

From Chicken Soup for the Soul Celebrating People Who Make a Difference

Going Home

The greatest thing in this world is not so much where we stand as in what direction we are moving.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I’d about had it. Five hundred and fifty miles traveling in a twenty-four-year-old truck carrying cats, goats, and a dog pulling a trailer full of geese, sheep, and ducks. No power steering, no assisted brakes, and a top speed of fifty-two miles an hour, but that was only on good roads. I figured my average was about twenty-eight. To top it all, I was lost. I wanted to cry, needed to actually, but didn’t want the tears to sap my last drops of energy.

The previous two years had been hell. I had sold my home with the intention of buying a small holding to house myself and animals. Like many others, I had a dream of the simple life, a haven away from the stresses and tensions of the modern world.

But the minute I sold my place, the housing market took off, and I landed slap-bang in the middle of the biggest housing boom the Western world had every seen. I ended up shifting from a variety of lousy rental accommodations to even lousier ones. I had packed up my belongings and animals and uprooted us all so many times that the prospect of relaxation, peace of mind, and security became a dim and distant memory.

After being a victim of greedy, manipulating landlords and watching “friends” disappear in an ever-increasing stream, I felt like the loneliest woman on the planet. My belief in fairness, democracy, and true friendship evaporated drop by drop with each passing day.

After spending nearly every waking moment scouring the Internet and agencies for a suitable property I could afford, I finally found one. After five months of legal wrangling, the house was actually mine. After two years of feeling like a dejected refugee in my own lands, I had finally secured a place. A place I may eventually call “home.”

Once again I loaded up my belongings—the ones that hadn’t been lost, damaged, disposed of, or stolen, in my frequent moves—and thirty-six animals of varying species and finally set off. There was no excitement, no air of anticipation, just tension, tiredness, and concern. I worried about how the animals would withstand the journey, how to unload all the stuff when I got there, if I got there—would the old truck stand up to the long haul? I worried about feeding the animals and bedding them down once we arrived: Would the pen doors be secure enough? Would foxes be in the area just waiting for an opportunity to attack? I glanced at myself in the rearview mirror. My features were stern and focused. I couldn’t afford either mistakes or bad luck. If something went wrong, I was on my own.

The stick shift on the old truck was heavy and stiff. If I needed to brake, I had to practically stand on the pedal, my backside leaving the seat and my head nearly touching the roof. It plodded ponderously up the small, narrow, roads of the beautiful countryside. But ahead, even in the darkness, I could see the imposing mountains rising into the clear night sky. I stopped using my rearview mirror; all I could see were hundreds of headlights following me staunchly through the evening gloom. I lost count of the number of times I stopped at service stations to check the animals and take a nap. Then night started to turn into day and the rain came. Gray and metallic in the early October sky, it seemed to somehow complement my mood and appearance. I was filthy. My eyes avoided the reflection in the restroom mirrors and the inquiring stares of fellow travelers. I cursed the bright lighting and spotless, reflective interiors.

But finally, I was nearly home. An hour, one wonderful hour, and we would be there. I turned the page on my directions and my heart skipped a beat as I realized it had been ruined from some earlier spillage. I was lost on the steep hills on a busy Saturday afternoon.

People beeped their horns and shouted as the old truck and trailer struggled and plodded up the hills while I strained to see signs I might recognize. Eventually, I just went north; the one thing I knew was to go north. Finding a turnout on the other side of town, I reached for my cell phone. The battery was running low. I phoned the woman who had originally found the house for me; it was the first time we had ever actually spoken. “No, I don’t know where I am, but I have a beautiful view of the sea,” I told her. “Yes, I will take the next left and call back—provided my battery holds out.”

I was panicking. It was turning dark and stormy, and the animals had been confined for a long time now and needed their freedom. The main road turned into a single-track country lane. The hills were steep, the truck lumbered on, rarely getting out of second gear. My arms screamed from fighting with the heavy steering. I had to reverse, many times, on narrow lanes and tracks. My phone battery beeped ever more urgently. It was another three hours before I finally found my way. Even as I drove the last half mile to what I knew would be our final destination, I felt only partial relief.

The big job was yet to come: unloading the animals, finding water buckets, feed, and securing their accommodations. My mind was overloaded with the coming practicalities of it, and the prospect seemed overwhelming. I turned in at a muddy track signposted with the name of our new home. The rain lashed the windshield, and the wind buffeted the big truck side to side.

Then I saw them. People. People I had never met before. People I had only known through the written word on the Internet. Strangers who had come to help. They had no vested interest, no reason to come; we had no past relationship, but they had come. The relief was unbelievable. Men jumped up on the roof rack and began unstrapping my worldly goods, deftly unloading tables, chairs, and chests. They had tools to mend doors and repair latches. They brought hay, straw, fuel for the fire, kindling to light it. Food for me—food for the animals.

Women made drinks and unpacked linens and clothing. They made the bed, started a roaring fire. Nothing, it seemed, had been forgotten.

The men unhitched the trailer and shifted it across the muddy ground with ease. The winds blew fiercely and the rain pelted down, making conversation difficult, but even in the dark they continued to mend fences and usher animals into their respective sanctuaries.

Still, I couldn’t smile. A filthy, thin, bedraggled, middle-aged woman, who for two years had felt discarded by society, preyed on by vultures in human clothing, and betrayed by friends, couldn’t truly comprehend this humanity from strangers. Their physical efforts, understanding, and compassion was too much for me to bear.

I felt like an alien watching the world from a distant planet. My emotions couldn’t assimilate the contradiction between the people I had encountered for the past two years and these true humanitarians. It was as if they were a different species.

They cared, and what was more, they had shown they cared.

It was days before I could speak the words to thank them, but even those were a poor reflection of my gratitude, not only for their help, but also for reigniting my faith in the human spirit.

Betty Heelis

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