by Brenda Colbath
Imagine if you will, waking up in the Ladies Restroom stall wrapped in a musty blanket, on I-5 in Southern Oregon. You are wearing ragged jeans, flip-flops, a big red t-shirt with a smiley face on the front. You have no memory of how you got there or who you are.
You sometimes have flashes of being in a white nightgown, and a beach.
You don’t know where you are going, or where you have been. Your body continues walking south, always south. The day’s blend into each other, until after three days without food, you finally have to beg. You ask for a meal in exchange for work at a Truck Stop. A nasty cashier tells you they don’t give handouts to homeless people, and screams at you to get out.
Humiliated, head down walking for the exit, you get smacked in the face with the door.
Getting hit in the head is the best thing that happens to you in months. It could turn out to be the light at the end of the tunnel.
Chapter 1 Wake up and smell the Roses.
My eyes open slowly, and I see the gray ceiling and concrete walls surrounding me. Where am I? How did I get here? Slowly consciousness creeps into my brain, my body and the memory of having spent another night wrapped in a musty old blanket comes into focus. My weary body drags itself to an upright position. Looking around my makeshift camp, in the Woman’s Restroom in a rest area on I-5 dawns on my mind. Camping the night in the handicapped stall is my choice; it’s the biggest and farthest from the door; it makes me feel a little safer even though the door is not locked.
My body yearns for a long hot shower, hot breakfast, and clean clothes; but that comfort can only be recalled from dreams. Showers only happen when it rains, and they are cold. A hot shower is only available in my dreams, my body shudders through another frigid cleansing in the tiny metal sink. With disdain, I pump the vile green soap to cleanse my skin, which I am sure will never be the same. My shoulder length red hair looks like I stuck my finger in a light socket. I rinse until my head is nearly frozen and it doesn’t help.
My need to be clean overrides my desire to look and feel human and pretty. That desire has been shoved roughly into the past I can’t remember. I dry my body and blot my hair on the soft brown paper towels and cringe at the damage they are doing. I can’t remember having smooth skin and soft waves in my hair. After some acrobatic maneuvering I semi-dry my Red curly hair with the hand dryer. After finger-combing my unruly hair into a ponytail held in place by my last elastic band, no point in looking in the sort of mirror. Looking will only make me feel worse.
My outer clothes could use some washing in the small sink. However, it is too cold now for then to totally dry hanging over the stall. The thought of putting wet or damp clothes on my body sends shivers
down my spine. Drying them using the hand dryer would be possible, but time is prohibitive. Moving on appears to be my only option.
The face that looks back at me in the crappy mirror is not a teenager, nor is she old. There are a few tiny lines around her eyes when she smiles, but there is nothing to smile about these days. The once oval shape now looks gaunt, with dark circles under the Greenish Brown eyes. That stark face resembles no one, and that is who I am… No one.
It feels like I have been walking down this road forever. I am having trouble putting times together: my recollection of when and where I have been comes and goes. What happened before waking up in the first stall is a frightening blank slate. Daydreaming of what my past could have been is giving me something to think about mechanically placing one foot in front of the other.
Once, in my daydreams, a curtain in my mind suddenly opened. I saw a tall, sandy-haired man. He is calling me and knows me, but I do not recognize him. I feel like I should know that face. Unfortunately, no sound comes through the curtain, and I strain to hear what he is saying. As fast as it opens, the curtain slams shut and no matter how hard I concentrate, it will not open. It remains locked. The whole curtain vision thing is frightening and at the same time comforting hopefully someone is looking for me.
My grumbling stomach starts demanding food; I choke down the last of my stale bread. I clean out my small jar of peanut butter and wash it down with water from the sink. I use my finger to get the last little bit out of the jar; wish my tongue is long enough to lick it clean. Peanut butter is protein and bread; even stale is grain. Wonder if I was a health nut in my former life? I try to drink as much water as I can from the fountain; I don’t have a bottle to fill for my daily trek.
Life is strange, just when I feel lost, and alone my luck changes. I find a discarded water bottle, after rinsing it out, fill it from the fountain, I feel better about the day ahead. Yeah, I know it isn’t sanitary to use a discarded water bottle. Not a lot about my life that I can remember is sanitary. One thing I learned the hard way, make-do with what you have, at least that is my new motto.
Walking all day on my sore feet in worn out flip-flops is not a fun excursion. Dressed in a pair of ragged jeans, a large faded red T-shirt with a big yellow Smiley Face on the front is not a fashion statement. It beats the hell out of what I was wearing when I was dropped off on a beach in Oregon. The feeling of kindness lingers in my memory, and I vaguely recall someone speaking a language I did not understand or recognize. I remember being from a dinghy in my nightgown wrapped in an old blanket.
My memory seems to come and go; some days I can remember the beach and some days I can only remember waking up in the restroom stall.
Suddenly it starts to rain hard and soaks me to my skin in a few minutes. It’s amazing that it can be raining, and the Sun is peeking out from behind the clouds. I start looking for shelter until it stops raining if it is going to stop today. Damn, my stomach is growling again or is it still? Lately, I am unable to scrounge enough to satisfy its always demanding needs. As I walk my mind starts to daydream about a blazing fire, soft blankets, huge comfy overstuffed chair, and a good book. I can almost smell the hot chocolate and taste soft sugar cookies with white icing and colored sprinkles.
Suddenly I realize that I can smell the coffee, hot chocolate, and sweets. This rest area has a booth in an open area next to the restrooms. It is a small square building with a large door that is pulled up and braced with two posts, making the door a shelter from the rain, thankfully. My body is drawn toward the smell, and soon I am standing in front of the window. A woman with a kind face is saying something to me. I am so hungry, tired, and nervous that I have to ask her to repeat it twice. “Hello, there, you look hungry. Have a nice big cup of hot chocolate and a couple of cookies, or donuts.” says the sweet lady. The sign says a donation is appreciated, but of course, my pockets are empty.
I smile as I peruse the goodies. The minute the woman turns her back my hand snakes out, and snatches as many cookies and donuts as can be stuffed into the plastic bag, I’m hiding. When she turns around again, I accept the large cup of hot chocolate. I thank her and scurry off to eat. I think she knows what I did but feels sorry for me. Why wouldn’t she? I must look a fright, soaking wet in filthy clothes.
One of my better judgment calls is to spend the night right here in yet another handicapped bathroom stall. Making myself at home, I take huge handfuls of paper towels in the stall. After stripping off my clothes and drying my body, I wring them out and hang them over the stall hoping they will dry by morning. Confiscating nearly all of the paper towels makes a pad on my blanket hoping to keep the dampness from soaking through. I drink my hot chocolate right away to warm my insides and eat about half of my donuts and cookies. My belly is full, and the hot chocolate has warmed my insides. I lean back against the wall to relax for a minute or two; the next thing I know, its morning. My body is curled in a ball with the blanket over me. Guess the wet/cold blanket was better than nothing.
I discover I am in southern Oregon approaching the mountains that separate Oregon from Northern California. The maps in the rest area are helpful; finding out where I am is good and not good at the same time. The need to travel south to escape the freezing weather is becoming more pressing. The thought of walking over Grants Pass and the Siskiyou mountains in freezing weather; the possibility of snow is not a comforting thought. I fondly look at the Pop and Candy machines, but those goodies are not on my menu today. I have eaten my free goodies, and as I said my pockets are empty.
The rain has let up, and my plan is to walk throughout the day. I notice that the snack building is open again this morning. I get another big Styrofoam cup of hot chocolate, and the sweet lady makes me take a whole bag of goodies, guess I didn’t fool her last night. With the help of the hand dryer, my clothes are nearly dry. I stop feeling the cold as the hot drink warms me from the inside out. I walk fast on my worn out flip-flops, ignoring the pain even though my poor feet are begging for sneakers. My stomach continues to growl loud I sound like a wild animal after munching most of the cookies. Gritting my teeth my mind is resolved to leave the half dozen donuts for dinner tonight and breakfast tomorrow in case I can’t scrounge anything else.
Begging is out of the question, however, sometimes strangers give me a dollar or two or a bottle of water. When that happens, I hit the vending machines and get goodies to quiet my always ravenous
stomach. After a short rest, my body continues my never ending trek. To where I do not know, I feel the need to go south.
I have shied away from people unless I am so hungry that my stomach overrides my fear. I do not know what makes me afraid. People have offered to give me a ride; therein lies the rub. How can they drive me somewhere when I don’t know where I am going and not at all sure where I have been. Hell, most of the time, my mind can’t recall how I got from the beach to the first Ladies bathroom stall. There are memories of waking up naked under tons of blankets in a strange beach house and the next instant I am in a restroom stall. My mind plays tricks on me and causes panic to set in when that happens. For a few days, there haven’t been any lapses, least any that I can remember, but how would I know?