People Like Us

The Road Home, Part 1

20131112_112625I hate them, I thought. I hate them and I hate my life.

 

I fell back onto the array of cardboard boxes that had been tossed haphazardly into the back of our old Ford pickup, and tried very hard not to cry. The edges of the boxes that held my family’s possessions jabbed into my back mockingly, a constant reminder of how temporary my life had always been. I laid back and watched the sun set dimly through homemade, wooden side rails on the truck, and marveled at how even a sunset could lose its luster when seen through slats of hopelessness.

As the mouth-watering aroma from the nearby restaurant made my stomach roar with hunger, I heard my father’s voice in the distance, describing convincingly the events that led to his recent run of bad luck. “And when we finally got way up here, there was no job,” my father was saying. “After a few days things wasn’t working out at my brother’s house, so we had to move on. Then the old truck broke down—it’s the water pump. Thing is we ain’t got any money now for the part the truck needs or food or ‘nothin.”

Mortified, but somewhat curious, I leaned up and peered through the wooden rails. My father was talking to a pleasant looking older man dressed in khaki pants and a neatly pressed white shirt. The expression of pity on his face made me cringe. Encouraged, my father went on. “This will be the third night we will spend in that old truck. Me and my wife and my mother-in-law, we sleep in the front. My two kids, they have to sleep in the back.”

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Pictured: My cousin Sherry, Grandma, and my dad. Taken in the restaurant parking lot

The man glanced curiously at our old truck and shook his head as he plucked two bills from his wallet and handed them to my father. Then the man looked sadly at what had become our home, and he abruptly gave my father more money before disappearing inside the building. “I can’t believe he actually just did that!” I moaned, with the depth of humiliation known only to a sixteen-year- old.

How could he do this to me—to us?

My father walked back to the old green truck, counting the bills in his hand. “He gave us enough for a start back to Texas,” my father was saying. “There is enough to fix the truck and get us a little ways down the road.” My grandmother smiled broadly, causing her ice-blue eyes to light from within. “See, didn’t I tell you, God always makes a way for his children.”

My father laughed scornfully. “IF there IS a God,” he countered.

That was the problem, my father didn’t believe in much at all. He had no faith in God or in anything good for that matter. He didn’t even have faith in himself. Lately, his negative attitude and the dismal reality of our poverty-stricken existence had caused me to constantly question the meaning and value of life.

We spent one last night in the parking lot. After a hot meal at the restaurant, we washed up and brushed our teeth at the adjoining gas station before turning in for the night. I laid in the back of the truck under the clear, June sky lit with millions of stars and thought of my father’s words. I wondered if there was anything more out there, or if this was all there was.

“God, where are you now?” I asked aloud, hoping He would hear.

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Pictured: Me with my cousins in the back of our truck

The next day we were on our way. Despite our meager meals of sandwiches and nights spent at roadside parks, our money soon ran out. We began to rely upon various churches for assistance. Every day around late afternoon, we searched for generous souls who were willing to help, if only to send us on our way, far away from their comfort zones. Most of those who assisted us seemed to do so out of a sense of duty. With every request for help, I sank further into despair and could see no way out.

One evening, when we were unable to find help, we drove for most of the night. I sat in misery in my cardboard bed and thought of what it would be like to die. Would it be better than this? There is nobody who really cares; I am worthless. I could see my worthlessness in the eyes of those who had reluctantly given us help. Unexpectedly, I remembered the words of a Sunday school teacher I once met when our neighbors had taken us to church. “God loves you, no matter who you are or what you have done.” I shook away the memory. Then where are you now? Where is all this “grace” and “love” and “mercy” they say you promised? I thought bitterly of the people who had helped us; at best, they were only lukewarm toward us. They were merely tolerant, performing a duty. I began having conversations with God about my disappointment in His people – somehow this comforted me.

The next afternoon, as we were traveling on the interstate, I was startled by the sound of steel banging on the highway just beneath me, and our truck coasted toward the side of the highway, forced to pull over on a blind curve. My father maneuvered the truck as close to the side as he could, and got out of the truck cursing. “What the hell happened now?” He ranted. He got up under the truck in the fading light, still cursing. “Just what I thought-the drive shaft! We won’t be going anywhere soon, that’s for sure!”  Traffic flew past us, and any amount of light we had was gone now as darkness covered us. The flashing emergency lights on the truck seemed so inadequate in such a dangerous area. The bed of the truck jutted out slightly onto the highway, just inches away from passing vehicles. I felt our truck rock as traffic roared past, seemingly unaware of our plight.

Real fear coursed through my body; I knew it was unlikely that anyone would stop to help us. The traffic was moving at such a high speed that, even in daylight, it would be difficult for anyone to notice our predicament, should they want to help. I helplessly stared at the starlit sky, wanting to be free.

PART 2 COMING ON 11/13/13

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