Title: Ghosts of Desertion
Summary: The whole world is going to change, and I can't tell whether it's going to be for the better or worse
Feedback: Would be framed and shown to my grandchildren in 50 years time. firstname.lastname@example.org
Geographical apology to all Americans: I'm sorry if this story makes little sense geographically. I'm just a Brit who has very little idea of the scale of your wide open spaces. I made up the names of all the towns and guessed about how long it might take to get from Wyoming to the other side of the country. I hope it's at least within the realms of possibility...
The station was nearly deserted when I arrived there. The rain that had been falling down hard all morning finally eased up to a slow drizzle just as I reached the shelter of my stop, as though it had waited until that exact moment to let up on me. I must have walked for 4 hours straight in that rain to get to the next big town away from where I used to live. I couldn't take the risk of starting my journey from home. Everyone knows me there. I couldn't have set foot in that station before I'd have been hauled right back home, and I don't know if I would ever have plucked up the courage to leave again. This is the bravest thing I've ever done. My palms are sweating and I want to break down and cry right here at the bus stop, but despite my sheer terror at what I'm doing I know that I have to do it. And I have to do it now.
There's a reason all this is happening now. I can't quite see what it is yet, but there are forces more powerful than instinct or coincidence calling me on. I'm sure of it. The weight that's been towering over my head since yesterday morning is still hovering up there waiting to drop. It's not just love and need that have led me to where I am now. Something else is coming, something that the three of us need to be together for. And I can't help feeling that it all has to do with me.
The whole world is going to change, and I can't tell whether it's going to be for the better or worse. It's as though we're standing on the brink of a huge chasm and I can't see over the other side, but I know that I have to jump, and everything depends whether I make it or not. There are people that mean me harm as well as good, and I don't know whether by running away I'm escaping them or walking straight towards them.
I have more than 1500 miles to travel, but those first 10 miles were the longest. I used to think that distance was meaningless, that it was just a matter of numbers and geography - I thought that you could only ever be as far away from something as you really want to be, but in those 10 miles I knew that every single millimeter counted in taking me further away from everything that I used to be. 1500 miles more and I'll be someone else again. God knows who I'm going to be in between.
There's an odd assortment of people here waiting to board the bus. An old woman wrapped up in a thick woollen coat, with a single suitcase resting against her feet. There's a teenage girl just been dropped off by her parents, buying a magazine from the small stand by the entrance. And there's a middle aged woman with ash blond hair who smiles at me as she sits down on the bench, sipping a hot coffee from a Styrofoam cup. A few more people trickle in as the morning gets lighter, and after about a half hour the bus finally pulls in at the stand, its destination proclaimed boldly on its front. Minneapolis. The first stop on my way home.
I get on the bus, trying hard not to stumble up the steps, pretending to look like I have a legitimate reason to be here alone embarking on this strange journey. As the engine cranks up and splutters into life and we pull out of the station I look out of the window to take a last look at the place where I grew up, and realise with a shock that I don't really recognise anything at all. I'm already further away from home than I've ever been in my whole life.
After a few miles I find myself drifting off into an uneasy sleep. The rhythm of the bus is soothing, and I feel like I could collapse from exhaustion, but the sleep that finally comes is a haunted one. I'm a small baby again, back when I still lived with my mom. My dad is gone and there's something happening that is scaring my mom. There's a stranger around who's making her feel that way. I remember a man with dark hair. A man who had a face that wasn't a face, who held me in his arms and said things that made my mom cry. He wanted to do something to me. He was hurting me. I didn't like it when he held me and it made me scream out for my mom. I think that was the first time that I was ever afraid. There's something about this that I'm supposed to remember. One of the reasons why I have to go home now. In my dream I feel myself just on the edge of comprehension, about to make the discovery of something I thought I'd lost, when I suddenly wake up, and whatever it is that I was meant to know remains unknowable.
I must have been crying out in my sleep, because the blond lady is now sitting next to me, her hands on my arms, gently shaking me awake, her eyes wide and alarmed.
Her voice is gentle, concerned. She smiles down at me kindly and slips her arm around my shoulder. For a few moments I lean into her embrace and allow myself the comfort of being held, as she whispers "there, there" over and over again above my head. I don't like feeling like a baby though, so when I finally get over the indignity of crying in front of strangers I pull away and thank her.
" I was dreaming about something that happened when I was little," I say. "I'm sorry. It's nothing, really. I'll be OK now, thanks."
"Are you travelling alone?" she asks, pulling her arm away, obviously sensing that I've pulled myself together enough now to be embarrassed by her attention. "Where are your mom and dad? I saw you at the station all by yourself."
"I'm going home now" I answer. "I've been kind of staying with friends for a while, and now I'm going back home. My mom and dad are meeting me at the other end. I'm alright now, really."
She looks at me half unsure, an encouraging smile on her face. "Well, I get off at Monkton, but if you need anything before that then I'm sitting right over there." She indicates the seat opposite to mine. "I have more than enough food and drink if you get hungry later on. We want you to get back home to your parents in one piece, don't we, after so long away from home?"
I nod and gaze sightlessly out of the window for a few seconds. "Thanks. I think I'll try to get to sleep again. I'm tired, and I have a long way to go yet." She's nice, but I want to be left alone now, so I turn to her and dismiss her with a firm "I'm fine."
The ash blond lady got off at Monkton like she said. She turned to smile back at me as she got off, and waved as the bus pulled out again. After a few more miles I managed to drift off to sleep again, and this time I didn't dream at all.
I change buses myself at Fairmont. Somehow I know exactly where I'm going. I shouldn't be surprised really. I should just trust the truth to lead me wherever it is that I'm meant to be. I just wish it would lead me in a straight line.
900 miles to go. Day two of the great William cross country trek. The blond lady from before has made me realize just how difficult it is for a ten year old kid to hop a bus and travel halfway across the country by himself without looking somewhat out of place. I'm getting good at it now though. You just buy your ticket and then stand next to any man or woman that looks like they could be your parent, and board the bus right behind them. Nobody asks any questions but just assumes that you're the kid of that man or that woman. It's quite fun, standing there in the queue checking out the other people and choosing who to be my mother or father each time. I must have had 2 mothers and 3 fathers just getting through South Dakota.
You're in trouble at night though. Sooner or later some well meaning old lady will ask you where your mom and dad are and what you're doing all alone at a greyhound bus station in the middle of the night, right before they take you in an arm lock that would put a professional wrestler to shame and frog march you to the nearest cafe to extract your life story from you. Man, that was a close one. I swear that last little old lady was going to bundle me into a taxi and offer to adopt me herself. Thanks, but no thanks. Been there, done that. Now I need to get home.
So, 900 miles to go, and I'm standing at another station in another town that I haven't got the patience to be in. I like to watch the people at stations though. They all have someone that they belong to, whether it's someone that they're saying goodbye to or someone that they're coming home to. I like to watch the children jump off the bus and run towards the grandparents that have come to meet them. I like to see the young couples who are saying goodbye to each other and clinging to each other and crying as though they'll never see each other again.
There'll be no-one to meet me at the end of my journey though. I wonder what I'll say to them when I find them. "Congratulations, it's a boy"? God, I hope they like me. I must be different to the son they would have raised. I wonder what the William they would have brought up would be like. He'd be happier than I am, I think, and more spoilt. He'd have slept in their bed when he had nightmares and they would have been there to hear his first word and see him take his first steps. I hope they can love me as much as they would that other William.
I can't stop thinking of all the things that I'm looking forward to. I'm looking forward to playing catch with my dad. I'm looking forward to eating my first meal cooked by my mom, and the first time that she tells me off or sends me to my room. I'm going to make my dad tell me the facts of life just to see him squirm, and I'm going to pester my mom to give me more pocket money and let me stay up later and let me watch the 15 rated movie and I'll make her nag me to get me to do my homework. I want everything that these people at the stations I pass through take for granted. God knows it's been a long day coming for all three of us.
100 miles to go. It's been 3 days since I left my other family. Just 3 days, and I can't feel them at all. From the moment that I left the house we were lost to each other. My mom and dad could be on the other side of the world and I would be able to seek them out and find the space where they were, but my other family are gone already. I can't close my eyes and feel my mother laughing or crying, or my father smiling at something that she has just said or done. It never occurred to me that that would be gone once I was gone. I guess I just can't have them both. I can't have the mom and dad that I so desperately need to be with and the parents that raised me at the same time. I had a choice and I made it, without even realising that I chosen at all. But I did. I have deserted two people that I love and I don't think I can ever get them back. It's like dying and being born all over again. William Van de Kamp has been re-incarnated as a terrified kid on a bus who has no idea
So what am I? Am I a blessing or a curse? Sometimes I feel as though I'm marked with a deaths head. Sooner or later I bring pain to everyone who loves me. Maybe I'm not a miracle child at all, but a blot on the lives of the people that care about me, like a timebomb waiting to go off in their faces. My real mom and dad thought that I was the answer to all their prayers, and that with me they had finally found all they had wanted. I was supposed to bring them peace and rest and fulfilment, and instead I just ended up driving my dad away because of what was inside me. All those months that he was away from us it was because of me, and in the end it was all for nothing. It was all my fault. And then it put my mom through hell to have to give me up. I think I nearly killed her because of that. It would have done if it weren't for my dad. He was all she had left after I was gone, and because of me she didn't even have him anymore. And now I've done the same thing all over again, ten years later, only it's my adoptive parents that I'm torturing now.
50 miles to go. This bus feels like it's travelling against the current. As I get closer and closer to my final destination I feel every inch of me straining to make it go faster, as though I could push it all the way to Maine just through my sheer need to get there. I want to fly all the way there. My spirit is soaring miles ahead of me and I'm just following behind it trying to catch up. I can almost feel it swooping down on my parents and saying, "I'm coming, I'm coming. I'm nearly there. Just wait for me, please. Just wait a little bit longer and I'll be there." I can hear them calling me with every mile that passes. I'm being pulled with a force that's as irresistible as my own heartbeat, and every second that it takes to answer it is a millennium to me.
So, here I am, sitting on a greyhound headed for the state of Maine. Why Maine I don't know, except that that's where I'm meant to be heading. That's pretty much the only thing I'm sure of at the moment. Instinct, my dad would say. He always trusts his instincts. The facts could appear to totally contradict him, but he would always stick to his gut feelings, no matter what dangerous path they led him down. And now I guess I'm just like him, taking that fatal leap into the unknown. If he can do it, so can I. One of the many things that I've learned from him is that sometimes you just have to jump, and make your parachute up as you fall. And something tells me that when I get off this bus in a couple of hours time, my mom and dad will be the ones to catch me.
Followed by Ghosts of Home