Despite all of the nothingness of our drive, mom and I still had a wonderful time (with a few exceptions). We stopped in Tucson for my last taste of wonderful In-n-Out goodness.My eyes were a bit moist when we drove out of the parking lot. After Tucson is New Mexico, and the only good thing about New Mexico is that its only a four hour drive to get out of it. The Land of Enchantment is not very enchanting. At least along the I-10. My mom and I stopped at a motel so we could sleep for a few hours. BAD IDEA! I was afraid to sleep in the bed, and disgusted when I made the mistake of opening a drawer. I felt like I needed to be decontaminated afterward. It should have clued us in that they had hourly rates (I didn't know that was code for sleezy). Since this is my only experience with New Mexico, I have to say: it sucks. Sorry New Mexicans.
Entering Texas was pivotal. Like entering a new land. And then the novelty wore off. Very quickly, because we entered El Paso. And the most exciting thing about El Paso is that its scary. And the McDonald's. I love McDonald breakfasts. And the price of fuel drops considerably. We fueled up in El Paso, and then continued on. The rest of Texas... boooooring. Because of this, I'll spare you the drive with the exception of one key moment.
I fell asleep somewhere between Van Horn and Fort Stockton and woke up between Fort Stockton and Ozona. What woke me was the peculiar sensation of sweat dripping down my forehead. I leaned over to turn the air conditioner on, and my mom discreetly turned it off. I thought this strange. After all, it was August. And we were in the middle of Texas. It was hot. The resulting conversation went like this:
“Mom, its hot.”
“I have something to tell you...”
“Well, I forgot that we filled up in El Paso and that we didn't get any fuel in Van Horn.”
“I didn't stop for gas in Fort Stockton.”
“We're pretty close to empty and the next city is Ozona. In 50 miles.”
"Riiiiight. Huh. Okie."
So, I understood the concept of no air conditioner. And began praying. The sweat continued to drip down my forehead and down my back, and the anxiety of being stuck on the side of the road in the middle of God's-nowhere, Texas, made my stomach begin to constrict and churn and I began to worry that Houston was the place that we would never make it to.
We drove over the hills and through the valleys approaching Ozona. Then up ahead, in the distance, we saw it. A white building with a roof and a sign that rose into the sky. A gas station. We were saved! We'd have the air conditioning back on in no time! Sure, they would most likely gouge us with their “last-chance” gas prices, but we would pay! Better than having a tow truck charge $500 for coming to fuel us up. So we got off the freeway, and drove towards our beacon of hope. Only to find: it was closed. The windows were painted white and it had been stripped of its gas pumps. We were doomed. With heavy and anxiety-ridden hearts, we returned to the freeway, apprehensive about the fuel and time we'd wasted trying to get to the worst gas station in the world.
Thirty minutes later, mom and I were hardly speaking, as if speaking would deplete our fuel resources further. We were sitting on the edge of our seats, at least as far as our seat belts would allow. I was scanning the horizon for a sign of Ozona, even though I knew it was still a good twenty miles off. My stomach continued to flip and flop. My mom broke our vigilant silence.
“Kate, you know what this is, don't you?”
“Uhh... its the beginning of a really bad horror movie?”
Mom laughed, “No, this is God asking you, 'Do you trust me?'”
I chuckled, “I think I kind of already proved that, didn't I?”
“Yes, but now He's asking for you to give up the little bit of control you have left. He's going to provide. Just trust Him.”
I smirked, “Oh, I do trust Him. Just not my car's fuel efficiency.”
We fell back into our silence. Every time we reached the summit of one of Texas' many rolling hills, I prayed that we'd be able to see Ozona. No dice. If God was indeed testing my trust, He was bringing me to my limit. Here I was, forsaking my family, abandoning my friends, and moving to Texas for Him, and we were about to run out of gas. How is that for fair? I began to get annoyed, and I had an interesting dialogue with Him.
“Really God? Really?”
“Yup. Do you trust me.”
“Seriously??? How much more do You want me to trust You? I think I've made it pretty clear...”
“Stop whining. Just trust me.”
I didn't respond. I moped. And stewed. And kept an eye on the horizon and on my car's gas gauge. The thing about my car's gas gauge is that the idiot light comes on when there are about 20 miles left in the tank. It wasn't turning on yet. Yet.
Fifteen minutes later, my mom uttered that phrase feared by anyone every in charge of anything or trying to accomplish something new and challenging.
The orange-ish hue of my gas light began to glow. And Ozona was still nowhere in sight. We hadn't seen a sign for the town in twenty minutes, and we had no idea how much further it would be. And that sick, twisted, sadistic little light kept glowing. Occasionally, it would fade and I would exhale a breath that I wasn't aware I'd been holding. But it would be a short lived relief, because it would only turn back on seconds later, and glowing more fiercely than before.
Ten minutes later, a sign of hope appeared. A billboard ad for Sonic. Five miles away. And a sign for a McDonald's. And then a sign for Dairy Queen. Three more miles rolled by, and the orange light kept glowing without reprieve. I felt the sweat dripping down my neck and rolling down my back, and I kept glancing at my mom, and she kept her faithful eyes on the road, scanning for an offramp.
We went over a hill, and then we saw it. A small town, gleaming in the Texas summer sunlight. And a gas station. An actual, honest-to-goodness, in-business gas station. We pulled off the freeway, and practically rolled into the Chevron. It wasn't until I was opening my door, feeling a breeze of cool wind wash over me that I heard God say, “I told you to trust Me.” I hate it when God says “I told you so.” Mostly because I feel embarrassed that I just didn't listen.
We only stayed in Ozona to fill up, use the facilities, grab something to drink, and then kept going. We had a good three hours before making it to San Antonio, and from there another three hours until Houston.
After the gas debacle, my conversations with mom became more eased. We started talking about everything. Things that I'd never discussed with her before. Her hopes for me, her fears that she hadn't taught me enough. I told her a lot of stuff too. Stuff that I'd kept from her about my relationship with the stupid boy; how I hoped that I made her and my dad proud. Inevitably, I ended up crying again. We kept talking all the way through San Antonio. About our family, our prayers for them.
At 3pm we prayed the Chaplet of Divine Mercy together. I knew in that moment how blessed I was to have my mom so firm in the faith, to have inherited her faith and make it my own. I believe that for any believer, that is their own prayer for their children: for them to grow up in faith and let it transform them, and make it their own. At least that's my prayer for my children (if I ever have any).
Through San Antonio we raced, not paying attention to the many billboard ads about the Alamo or Riverwalk. That would be a trip for another time. We stopped in Seguin at a Chili's. Mom took me out to dinner. Our last meal before she'd leave me, and I would officially be on my own. I don't remember much about eating that night, but I remember it went by too quickly. We filled up again, and randomly, one of the station attendants noticed my license plate.
“California, huh? Where bout?”
“Oh, about fifty miles east of LA. Riverside.”
“Small world. I lived on La Sierra. Over by the high school. Then I moved to the apartments by Castle Park.”
I don't remember his name, but that station attendant remains in my memory about how small a big world can be. Because (for those of you unfamiliar with Riverside) this random stranger lived ten miles away from me. And here he was in a random city, going to school to be a nurse.
After Seguin, we were stuck in traffic. A big rig had been essentially decapitated and it took us two hours to go four miles. It was almost 10pm by the time we were out of it, and by midnight, we could see the lights from Katy on the horizon. An hour later, we were thrown into a cleaner motel room close to Intercontinental Airport. My mom's flight left at 6am. Exhausted by the trip, and worn out by the traffic, we both collapsed on to the bed. We requested a wake up call at 4am, so we could get a bite to eat, and then mom would catch her flight.
I don't remember falling asleep, but I do recall hearing the phone ring. I was disoriented. There was no clock, and I heard the shower running. It must have been 4:30, because there was still no light outside. I felt around for my glasses, and tried to focus on a coherent thought. I needed to find out exactly what time it was but my phone... I must have left it in the car. The time changed automatically on it. Fumbling for my keys which I had dropped haphazardly on the floor, I got to my car and saw the sunlight breaking nightsky. If it was 430, it was too early for that. I got my phone, and it said 5:30. Surely that was wrong. It had to be a mistake. We'd requested a wake-up call an hour before. I called the front desk. It was 5:30. Its amazing how quickly a mind can snap into focus when adrenaline starts coursing through your veins.
I yelled for my mom and told her what time it was. The water turned off immediately. I threw on my clothes, brushed my teeth and mom whipped through the room with her wet hair and started throwing all of our belongings into her travel bag. We were out of the door in five minutes. A few days later, I would have to drive back to the motel to get my baby blanket and atm card. Apparently I was too quick about packing.
We didn't have a chance to say good-bye really. I was already crying when we were circling IAH, and when we got to her terminal, I was close to sobbing. Her flight left in fifteen minutes. My mom flung her door open and I went around to get her bag for her. She hugged me tight, took her bag, said a quick prayer over me, kissed my cheek, and then ran for the ticket counter.
I got back in my car, and with the close of my door, I realized. Suddenly... finally... I was a grown-up.
That doesn't mean I didn't bawl my eyes out as I drove to the 59. I definitely hiccuped and sniffled as I merged onto I-45. I wiped furiously at my eyes as I came into Clear Lake. And when I saw the Starbucks by St. Paul the Apostle, my eyes were still watery. I composed myself in the Starbucks bathroom, put on some make-up, changed into more appropriate “first day of work” clothing, and ordered a Venti no-water-chai (I deserved it- it had been a rough morning).
I snuck into the church quietly and inconspicuously. I stole into one of the bathrooms and straightened my hair. I don't know why, but whenever I find myself in a new and radically different place, I start doing my hair. Perhaps it gives me a sense of control. I don't know. Laura came into the bathroom. I told her the story about my mom's flight out of Houston, and how I still hadn't been able to get fully ready yet.
At 830am, on August 16, I became an official member of St. Paul's staff. And went right to work. Jr. High Day Camp. With twenty boisterous and wonderful Jr. Higher's. It had taken 36 hours to drive, but I had arrived where God called me. We had a lot of activities that first day, and I don't remember a single one of them except that we went to the movies and saw “Despicable Me”. Afterwards, I went to the home of Steven and Phyllis Wheelis. They were kind enough to let me use their spare bedroom until I got on my feet and could afford an apartment.
I would have cried myself to sleep that night but I was too tired. Instead, I slept for twelve hours. There was lightening and thunder but I didn't hear any of it. Their dogs started barking but I stayed asleep. I could finally rest.
So that's it. I was in Texas finally. It had been a journey. But I was here. And here I've been. Almost a year later, and a lot of lessons have been learned. But those are stories for later. Right now, I'm running late for music practice, and I still have to straighten my hair.
For those of you curious, my mom missed her flight, but was placed on another one thirty minutes later. The first thing I did when I came home for Thanksgiving was run and hug her, to make up for our crappy good-bye. I still miss her though.