I had taken enough beatings and was now driving away from the city that had been my home for more than 24 years. It was all I knew. I would learn more now. I was taking my kids to a safer place, wherever that place may be.
I had been driving for about two hours, having no particular destination in mind. Just away was all I knew. Driving kept me connected to everything somehow. As long as I was driving I could ignore the fact that I had no real place to go.
The sun was beginning to rise and with it my hopes that my parents would finally relent and give us shelter. They couldn’t refuse to help me now could they? I stopped at a rest stop phone booth and made the collect call to my parents.
“I told you we would help you,” boomed my father’s voice after I confessed what I had done. “But you know the conditions.”
“I can’t leave my kids, dad. You know I can’t.” I began crying. My parents were my only hope, and they were telling me to throw away my heart.
“Then there’s nothing we can do for you. You made your bed when you married him. Now you have to lie in it. Grow up Linda Jean. You should never have been a mother. You’re not very good at it. Look at the shitty life you’ve given them already. You live no better than the bums in the streets. The best thing you can do for your kids is to let Rudy have them. You’re a McPherson, and that name is worth everything. Don’t muddy it any more than you already have.”
“My kids are worth everything, Dad.” I wondered if he had heard me. I assumed he did since I now stood there with the receiver still in my hand listening to a void of static in place of my father’s voice. I stared into this emptiness, not seeing or hearing anything around me, but having this all-consuming knowledge that at the tender age of 24 with two kids in tow, I was still alone.
What would I do now? What would happen if the money ran out before I could find a place to settle? Sell my body; Never. Sell my blood? Only drunks and outcasts did that. Sell my soul? Hadn’t I already? I was all there was in this world for my children, and somehow I had to be enough.
My husbands thoughts were usually centered on schemes to make money through ill-gotten gains, which to him was the easy way out. So, it had not been too difficult for me to con him into a divorce the previous year. If we were divorced, I could collect welfare. Easy money. Money he never let me see.
I did discover however, that when he was drunk, it was easy to slip money out of his wallet. He was constantly buying drinks for his friends, so he rarely knew how much he spent anyway. After months of sneaking a dollar or two here, five there, and on rare occasions a ten, I had pilfered three thousand dollars. Now that we were gone, it had to be enough.
In the fashion of bruises, sunglasses are a compulsory accessory. The ones I chose to wear this day were not only to hide the contusions, but to hide the shame as I walked into the store. I was now working on automatic pilot and everything that had been drummed into my head over the last five plus years was indecent, immoral and illegal. I knew that one more indiscretion would not make a bit of difference as to whether or not I would burn in hell.
Stealing was much easier than I thought it would be. Since I didn’t know where we were going or how long we’d be living in our car, I chose sleeping bags for warmth, and a camp stove to save on the cost of eating out every night. A tent seemed a necessity if we were to go camping; a large cooler to keep our food refrigerated; a first aid kit, for with two small very active children, I never knew when Band-Aids, or worse would be needed; a slew of travel games to occupy those very active children; an atlas to reach our destination, whatever that might be; a CB radio in order to hide from Rudy and soon the police; and last but not least, hair dye.
I took a deep breath and walked up to the cashier. I watched as she carefully entered each code into the register. When the grand total came, it matched my calculations exactly. I wrote the check, for the full balance, knowing it would not clear.
My transaction complete, I walked towards the exit with cart and children in tow. As I was leaving the store with my purchases I hesitated for a moment before passing through the threshold. I just knew that the silver haired lady who wore red tennis shoes and carried a cane was really an undercover security agent. I realized when I made it all the way to the car without a single incident, how foolish and paranoid I was being.
What I didn’t realize, was just how small a Vega really was until I tried to fill it with all of our newly acquired possessions, which filled the trunk and back seat. I crammed the last item into the car and had the kids share the front seat. We drove away, ready to begin our new lives together.
In my mind’s eye, I had envisioned spring flowers and sunshine while making the journey to our now chosen destination of California. Somewhere around Columbus Ohio, Mother Nature decided to have a good laugh. In the warmth of an International House of Pancakes the kids and I ate our first actual indulgence, which consisted of hot chocolate and pancakes for dinner. While dining, we watched as the twenty-three degree gray cloudy evening turned into a full snow storm.
I decided to get a room at the attached motel. My father, in all of his infinite wisdom, taught me how to drive in New York city in the middle of a snow storm, thinking that if I can drive under those conditions I could drive anywhere. I was not at the time however driving with two very frightened children in the front seat. The idea behind my leaving was to keep them safe. How could I do any less now?
We drug in our suitcase and some games and spent a wonderful afternoon playing Parcheesi, Chutes and Ladders and Candy Land. After our dessert of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, washed down with tap water, I tucked the children into the single full sized bed and kissed them goodnight as I had done every night of their lives. I went into the bath and looking at the bathtub longingly, I opted for the shower anyway. I really wasn't sure if I would ever again be able to take a bath after my last experience in one.
There is something soothing about an evening shower. It’s not something one can really describe other than the passage of being able to wash away the days cares with the stream of hot water, and for the first time in years I was able to linger within that passage and enjoy the soothing comfort of the cleansing waters. As I stepped out into the fog of steam I knew from this moment on our lives would be different.
It had been years since I had slept soundly and every little noise seemed to bother me. I heard a loud noise outside my window, and when I woke with a start a bit disoriented, forgotten momentarily where I was and that I was safe. Nothing could hurt me or the children now.
Not being able to go back to sleep, I rose, dressed and allowing the kids sleep a bit longer, I slipped out of the room for some fresh air and coffee. This trip was rough on them, I knew, and as much as they feared their father, they missed him as well.
I inched my way down the icy stairs, taking care not to slip. It wasn't until I had reached the last step that I noticed the small crowd in the parking lot. It was then I realized what had actually woke me up. As I parted the onlookers, I knew my bad luck was still ongoing.
“I tried to stop,” cried an absolutely horrified old woman.
“We know you did doll,” comforted a waitress. “We saw it all.”
“I hit a patch of ice. The car just kept on sliding.”
The waitress looked up and seeing the look on my face as I stared at the carnage that was once Vega, deduced that it belonged to me. “It really was an accident. We all saw it,” she stated in the old woman’s defense.
As a solitary tear escaped from beneath my closed lids, I took a deep breath and nodded. I turned to the woman and gently touched her arm. “Don’t worry. Accidents happen.”
The waitress patted my hand and then led the old woman into the warmth of the restaurant while I remained outside coatless, shivering and disheartened. What was I going to do now? I couldn’t afford to wait while the repairs were made, if they could be made at all. I needed to get back on the road this morning.
“I’ll buy it from you.”
When I looked up I couldn’t help but chuckle. I didn’t know if it was due to shock or to the fact that staring at the wreck, was a middle aged balding man, trying unsuccessfully to hide his bald spot, by wearing the four or five strands of hair that he did have parted on the side and over the top of his head.
“I’ll buy it from you,” the stranger repeated.
“I’m sorry?” I wasn't grasping what he was saying.
“You’re obviously headed somewhere and this will just hold you up. I’ll give you one hundred dollars and take it off your hands.”
I didn’t know if I had spoken out loud before or if my thoughts were that well read on my face, but it was an answer to what I was going to do. I calculated as quickly as my addled brain could go and thought at the cost of a truck rental for the five days I assumed it would take me to get to California I would need ninety dollars. I wasn’t touching the three thousand.
“How about one hundred and fifty?” He opened his wallet and took out a significant amount of bills.
“Two hundred,” I heard myself saying.
He thought momentarily and gave me the amount asked for. I knew when he parted so easily with it that he’d probably still make a profit from it even as is or he would not have agreed so heartily. My loss, his gain. Either way, I had to get back on the road.
My kids and I were waiting at the truck rental store before they officially opened. Within minutes I was signing a contract for the smallest truck available. Together the clerk and I walked out to the truck for the customary inspection. He went over all of the details necessary for me to know in order to drive the truck properly. In only an hour’s time, we were back on the road once more headed towards our new home.