Monday, January 14, 2008

The Journey on the "Hound"

The summer night air was beginning to cool as we stood in the bus station parking lot. Diesel fumes filled the air, choking any sweetness that may have been there. My mind was too numb to notice...the air could have been filled with the aroma of beautiful roses and my senses would have been immune. We had waited in Jason's SUV as long as I dared - this was a bus I couldn't afford to miss. I took a hold of Jason and gave him a hug and a love and then looked at Paula. We embraced and I felt the softness of her lips as she kissed me goodbye. The taste of her lips was as I had remembered them. It had been six months since the last time we had any form of intimacy
Jason and Paula looked as numb as I felt. Their eyes were empty, as I'm sure mine were. None of us knew what to expect as I got ready to get on the bus. The last six months had been more than any of us could truly comprehend, but the next thirty-six posed even a greater enigma. PRISON! How can anyone who has never been in trouble, or even known anyone who had been in this kind of trouble, begin to predict what the future was going to hold.

I went into the terminal to pick up my ticket, glancing back as they drove away. They heading in one direction, me in the opposite. There were no tears to choke back...they had dried up months before. My mind kicked into its analytical mode as it often does when I'm not wanting to deal with the emotional situations I find myself in sometimes. The terminal was packed with people. Young. Old. Male. Female. Probably every color was represented. I hurried to the counter to make sure there was room for me on the bus. Even though I had pre-paid and had a confirmation number, I was feeling a little paranoid. My mind kept worrying, "what if I miss the bus or there isn't room for me?" "What will happen if I can't get to the prison by noon in two days? Will they put out an APB for me?" I couldn't let any of that happen. I may have been rude and cut people off getting to the counter, I really don't remember. Too much of that moment is just a haze.

It was getting dark as we finally loaded. Every seat was taken. I didn't have to worry about checking any luggage, all I had was a small backpack that I carried my Bible, a sandwich from Subway and a T-shirt and sweatpants. It fit easily under my seat that was midway back next to the window.

It had been years, almost a lifetime since I had last ridden a Greyhound bus. It was when I was in my early teens and I had gone to Spokane with Mom and my brothers and sister to go Christmas shopping. It seemed exciting then. Not so tonight. The seat wasn't comfortable, and there was no anticipation of what kind of cool presents I could find to buy for my family. I'd been on a lot of other buses in the interim between then and now. All of them school buses as we'd travel from one school to next to compete as I was a high school coach when I was a teacher. This seat felt nearly as uncomfortable as I remembered those had been.

By the time we reached Tacoma, my Subway sandwich was half way gone. I didn't want to eat it all...I figured I would probably be hungry sometime tomorrow. I had a few dollars in my pocket that Jason had given me before he dropped me at the bus terminal. Somehow in my mind, it seemed wrong that he was giving me money. But the past six months had begun to humble me and I accepted it with a grateful heart. I knew that there would be things that I needed once I got "there" and didn't want to waste any of the precious few bills that I had.

As the night faded, the towns drifted by. It seemed that we stopped at nearly every wide spot in the road all the way to California. No way to get comfortable enough to sleep. Even as the passenger load decreased and there was no one in the seat next to me, it was impossible to stretch out. They just don't make the seats in those buses for men who are over six feet tall. By 2:00 AM, we were in Northern California and it was time to service the bus. Two hours in an empty bus terminal with nothing to do and no where to go. I thought about laying down on one of the hard, empty benches, but I was concerned that if I fell asleep, I might miss the bus when it left. I was travelling alone, so there was no one that I could count on to wake me. So I just sat, reading day old newspapers, every poster on the drab, colorless walls. I didn't allow my mind to think forward, to try to predict what it would be like in 48 hours when I would be sleeping in a new place...a place where they housed criminals and the bars had windows and they locked the steel doors each night.

We finally pulled out and found ourselves on the empty blacktop heading south once again. As the sun began to creep up and soften the darkness of the night, I was able to pull out my Bible and find solace and comfort in the words I found there. The Book had become my refuge and my strength during the past six months. The words jumped off the pages in ways they never had before. It was more than just a good history story to me now...the words had power and had begun to change my life. As I read, the miles and minutes passed by. I finished my reading and pulled out a paperback that I had picked up in Seattle before I got on the bus. The 200 pages flew by and I soon found myself closing the book and looking out the windows once again.

There was a time when I would have loved the view. I would have wondered what was growing in each field. How close was I to San Francisco, or L.A.? But not today. Today, it was just an empty landscape. My mind didn't absorb the beauty or the wonder of the creation that passed by at 65 miles an hour. It was empty, numb...even slightly scared. Scared may not be the right word...perhaps apprehensive would be a more apt description. I've never been afraid of the unknown, but I just couldn't wrap my mind around what was happening and what I would face in only 24 hours.

The conversation of the kids in the seat behind me drifted up to my ears. High school students heading to a recruiting station to get tested for the military. I was tickled by the bravado of one of the boys. He was going to be a "SEAL" and he was telling his classmates how hard the training was going to be and how easy it was going to be for him to get through it. The dreams of youth...how I miss them. My dreams had turned into the nightmare I was living today.

The bus arrived in Bakersfield 25 hours after I walked up the steps in Seattle. I walked into the terminal and headed to the phone booth to check for a phone book to find a city map. No luck. Like phone booths all over the country, someone had managed to rip out the phone book pages that I needed. I looked around the terminal and found a city transit map so I could find out where my motel was. When I had called for reservation, the clerk had said that it was right across the street from the bus station. I looked, and she was wrong. It wasn't there. Fortunately, I had the street address, and I soon found myself walking down the dark, deserted streets of Bakersfield, going in the direction that I hoped would lead me to my motel. The street numbers passed by and it appeared I was going in the right direction. After 20 minutes, I spotted the sign. With a relief, I walked into the office and checked in...then up the stair to my room. The last room I would sleep in for 1086 nights that I would be able to enter and exit at my will.

1 comment:

Deb said...

My dreams had turned into the nightmare I was living today. So powerful.

1086 days/nights - the title of your book?

This makes me want to cry for you, but also for every lost man like you. For every lost one of us.

So you arrived at prison sleep deprived and numb and so alone (yet not). I'm off to read more. You've been busy!