I eyed the desolate landscape, then looked at my mother, who I’d never seen shed a tear. “What are you talking about?”
“How do I even begin? I know I’ve not been a good mother to you. And part of the reason has to do with that cross.” Her voice steadied as she told me about a day more than 30 years ago.
The facts were simple. A Greyhound bus with a half-dozen passengers bound for Mexico collided with a semi-truck whose driver ran the stop sign at the intersection. The resulting crash killed one bus passenger and injured both drivers.
I stared at the cross, questions swirling in my mind. I asked the one that floated to the surface. “Were you on the bus?”
The silence between us stretched on. As I waited for her answer, I reflected on how little I really knew my mother. She had always been somewhat mysterious, suddenly disappearing for a few days at a time, once or twice a year. My father would smile sadly when I asked about her unexpected absences and say that she was off exploring the world. She always returned and, to my knowledge, my father never questioned her whereabouts. He also refused to tolerate my asking her about the trips.
The summer between my junior and senior years of college, she abruptly took off one sultry August night and didn’t come home—or call—for two weeks. While she was away, my father suffered a fatal heart attack. I, as the only child, had to shoulder the responsibility of burying him. My mother traipsed back home to find her husband dead and buried, and her daughter so furious with her that their relationship never quite recovered.
Now I wondered if her words would shed any light on her past.
“Yes, I was on the bus,” she said in a voice barely above a whisper. “I was running away to Mexico to be with some drifter who had caught my eye. Now I can’t even remember his name. I, well, I wanted adventure, not a baby and a husband.”
“And so?” I prompted when the silence lengthened again.
“I sat on the bus by myself for most of the journey, until an older man took the open seat beside me a few stops before Orogrande. He didn’t say much at first, but then he began asking questions about my journey and my life, such as where I was headed, where was I from. His gentle eyes put me at ease, and I found myself pouring out my unhappiness.”
Mom blinked back tears, her voice becoming thready as she continued. “After refueling at Orogrande, the man pulled out a worn Bible. I rolled my eyes and said, ‘Don’t you go quoting Scripture to me, mister.’ He just lovingly stroked the Bible’s cracked cover and said, ‘But, Norma Jane, Jesus loves you, and He says so right here in this Book.’ Whatever else he was going to say, I’ll never know. At that very minute, the semi hit the bus.”