Tuesday, January 20, 2009
on the road again
i was going to wait for the spring. i really was. but i got cabin fever, and a small windfall that enabled me to pay off a bunch of medical bills, and it was suddenly a possibility to go again. fellow vandwellers sweet mike and my "numees" (that's sister in algonquin) heidi were anxious for me to join them. when ron told me the temps in texas, that clinched it. the pacific coast via san antonio would cure what ailed me.
then i was going to wait for monday. i really was. but impulsiveness ruled, and when i got up saturday morning, i knew i had to go. i had to tweak a few financial issues, and blow off an appointment with joe on monday, but i knew if anybody could understand the geographical cure, it was joe. and when i called him on sunday to say i wouldn't be in on monday at 11:00 because i was already in north carolina, he did. thanks, joe :-)
so here i was on saturday morning with two days preparation left to do, and about 4 hours to do it. my kayak was covered in snow, it was 2 degrees out, and a storm front was headed our way. i started cramming stuff into the van like a crazy woman........oh, wait! i was!
the rear doors of the van were frozen shut. i had to get them open to get at the cam straps to secure the kayak to the roof rack. i had to run the heaters full blast in the van for a half hour to get the doors open. the cam straps weren't there. my brother showed up and asked if i could wrap some christmas presents for him. ah, keith. he even missed russian christmas this year. ya gotta love him. they were the weirdest shaped presents i have ever wrapped, including some antlers. i am not kidding. they kept poking through the tissue paper. i swore alot.
i finally found the cam straps. got the kayak on the roof. stuffed the rest of my gear and the dog in the back of the van, grabbed my passport, and we were off. i was frazzled, and half-sick with anxiety. what a crappy way to start a trip. but i had an appointment down the road. i just didn't know it yet.
i heard her coming before i saw her. she was sobbing, her breaths a mix of terror and exertion. i had pulled off the interstate around 8pm to let mutt go pee in some bushes behind a mcdonalds. she was barefoot, running in a crouch, with a trash bag of belongings and a purse in her arms. clothing spilled out as she ran, and i remember thinking that whatever was after her would track her by the garments, like giant bread crumbs, strewn along the pavement from the little motel down the hill.
"whatever" turned out to be her boyfriend, and he was going to kill her. please, did i have a cell phone? i could hardly understand her through her moaning and crying, but she wanted me to call her brother, and crouched down in the bushes next to us. when i got her brother on the line, he knew immediately what was wrong, and said he was on his way. the urgency in his voice was apparent. i was really scared at this point.
her name was sharon, or shannon, i couldn't tell through the sobs. her terror was palpable, and she kept saying "he's going to kill me" and "i'm so sorry", until she said" he's going to kill us" and i suddenly realized that i could end up like the victim in one of those news stories, gunned down in a domestic dispute, just an innocent bystander in the wrong place at the wrong time.
i begged her to get in the van, but she refused, saying he would see her in the light, "just get down" she begged. i pushed Mutt into the van and shut the door, then got down next to her. it was almost like i was outside my body, looking at myself calmly crouched in the bushes behind a mcdonalds with a woman who believed she had just minutes to live. i was terrified inside, but i remember leaning up to her and saying in a conversational tone "my name is katie, and that was my dog Mutt. he's a nice dog". it sounded idiotic as i said it, and she showed no signs of hearing me, so lost was she in her terror. as i talked to her, i hit speed dial on my phone. i wanted to let someone know where i was, if i died here in the bushes in some town along the interstate. i got ron's voicemail, and continued my conversation with her while speaking into the phone, asking her the name of the town we were in, and did he have a weapon? i was pretty fixated on knowing how we were about to die, but she never did answer me, just continued sobbing and patting her purse and the trashbag, in front of her on the ground, with the flat of her palm in an odd, repetitive movement. i was struck by the way she did this, over and over, as if to reassure herself that they were real and hadn't disappeared. twice she reached out towards me as if to touch me in the same way, but pulled back without making contact. i wished she would touch me, because i would have liked affirmation of my existence, somehow.
minutes later, her brother and his friends pulled up, and as they pulled her from the bushes, he clapped me on the back and said "thanks, lady". as they led her to the car, she stopped and reached out her hand and touched my arm, with her palm, much as she had touched her bags on the ground a few minutes before. "thank-you, katie" she said, and then was in the car and gone.
i felt for a moment like the velveteen rabbit, when he became real. there was so much love and gratitude in that touch, and i was deeply moved by knowing that after all, she had heard me there in those bushes, offering her all that i had. no real sanctuary, no salvation.... just my presence, no matter what comes. a friend had taught me recently that all we really need to do in life is show up. that was all i could do for her, and that was enough.
i shook for a long time, heading on down the road that night. i thought alot about the velveteen rabbit....how in the story, he becomes real only after he was shabby and tattered from the wear and tear of life with The Boy, after practically having the stuffing loved out of him. i felt really real that night.