This is an excerpt from my memoir, More Than Everything.
In this part of the story, Shane and I are on the run from the FBI and we have made our way to Alaska. Shane has just picked up a hitchhiker…against my better judgment. It is the summer of 1985.
The drifter and Shane exchange fake names and after looking through him for a second or two I turn my attention back to the countryside outside my window. With a southern accent the guy says he’s from Tennessee. I don’t like his long, greasy dishwater blond hair, his cold dark eyes, his large biceps, or his quiet, guilty manner. My mind races through one bad scenario after another wondering what brought him to the side of the road between Anchorage and Fairbanks, Alaska. I think to myself that he has surely committed far greater crimes than those that have landed me and Shane here. He doesn’t talk much and I’m convinced that what little he does say must all be lies. I catch him staring at me once or twice and it makes me nervous.
Shane is calling himself Roy. It is hard for me to call him that but I have no choice. In my mind he does not look like a Roy. He should have let me pick the name I was going to have to call him. Chase would have worked because he is on the run, or Mark or Steve or anything but Roy. But he didn’t ask me. He just makes me call him Roy, which ironically, means king — another reason for me to hate calling him that. When you’ve been with a man named Shane for seven years it is not easy to suddenly start calling him Roy, but I do it, and I’m proud of myself for not slipping up so far. I don’t get to pick an alias for myself. I think I would like to have been called Grace for a while, but Shane knows he would slip up, so he doesn’t even try. I am still Vanessa, but only a wrung-out, tired version of myself.
There isn’t much talking as we drive north through the middle of the night, the Alaskan summer night that doesn’t grow dark. It just grabs onto the smudgy end of the daylight and holds onto it like a blanket until morning when the sun burns it away and the world is bright again.
The three of us eat cheeseburgers at a picnic table in the 80° Fairbanks sunshine sometime the next day. When you don’t have a clock or wear a watch and it doesn’t get dark, it’s impossible to know what time it is. There is no routine to help keep you grounded. No time clock to punch. No dinner to cook. No alarm clock to ring. There is just a nagging feeling of impending doom as the hours come and go unnoticed.
We drive around town all day. From my backseat perch it disappoints me to see that Fairbanks looks like just any other city. These people don’t look any different than people anywhere else I’ve been. When you say you’re from Texas people ask if you live on a ranch and ride a horse to work. They expect you to say yes. I am in northern Alaska and I expect to see Eskimos and igloos. These are just normal people with alarm clocks on their nightstands, milk cartons in their refrigerators and clothes in their closets; moving through their days, driving Fords and Chevrolets and living lives that I know are better than mine, safer than mine; normal.
Mr. Tennessee is behind the wheel of the Bronco! I wake up from another bad dream and it is the back of his head I see on the driver’s side, not Shane’s and I am outraged. Shane is curled up in the passenger seat, sawing logs. I shoot darts at the back of both their heads with my incredulous eyes. What in the world is he thinking, letting an ax murderer drive us around while we both sleep? We have almost $20,000 cash in a bag here, not to mention my jewelry. I’ve caught Mr. Tennessee eyeing my 2 carat diamond pendant more than once, so I’ve taken it off and hidden it in the inside zipper pocket of my bag. There is no way I can go back to sleep now with this new anger inside me. One more bullet in the arsenal of anger tools I have been collecting; the tools that chisel away at what’s left of mine and Shane’s relationship.
Shane soon wakes up, seemingly refreshed. He and Mr. Tennessee start talking and laughing like a couple of old Army buddies sharing a beer at a neighborhood bar. I can’t believe how Shane is opening up to this guy. He’s telling him too much. Careful, I say over and over in my mind, hoping Shane will intercept my silent warnings. But it doesn’t work and he just keeps talking. He’s always been like that. He doesn’t catch on to things normal people perceive. He’s oblivious to other people’s stares. Now he’s either trying to gain Mr. Tennessee’s confidence, or he has totally lost his mind because he practically tells our whole story. More anger bullets for my arsenal.
We are on our way back to Anchorage now, somewhere south of Fairbanks in the middle of some of God’s most gorgeous country. I am mad, tired, confused, and I need to pee.
It’s not long before we pull off the highway. The rest stop is on the left side of the highway, up on a hill, with a little outcropping overlooking the road like a scenic turnout. There are no other cars around – probably because it’s most likely three o’clock in the morning. I jump out of the Bronco and head to the ladies room. Shane gets out and stretches.
Nothing could have prepared me for what happens next.
I come out of the ladies room at exactly the same time Shane is walking out of the men’s room. Walking toward each other, our eyes lock and we stop dead in our tracks. We look over to where the Bronco had been parked, look back at each other and then run to the scenic turnout. Desperately, our eyes search the highway; first north, then south, and together we catch a glimpse of the Bronco’s red tailgate as it disappears over the horizon.
HE’LL COME BACK, I scream. It’s just a joke. He’s gonna turn around and come back for us. HE HAS TO COME BACK. He wouldn’t just leave us here on the side of the road. . . WOULD HE???!!!
My fists are full of the front of Shane’s shirt. I am pulling and twisting, barely able to stand, barely able to breathe. Then my eyes meet his and I know. In a split second, my mind bends, expands, turns a new corner, makes a quantum leap, and finally acknowledges the dire truth. Mr. Tennessee is not coming back for us. This is not a joke.
To find out what happens next, you can buy the book here!