1995. Summer. I’m 19, living in Dallas. It’s the summer of the OJ Simpson trial. I take a Greyhound bus twelve hours west to Roswell to retrieve the last of my shit from Mom and Pops’s house. My foster parents. The second set; the ones who saved my life.
At the terminal in Dallas, I meet a man. Black, late fifties, dressed in a gray suit and tie – but his sneakers are shoddy. Like, holes and worn soles kind of shoddy. He tells me he’s on OJ’s defense team. I find this dubious. Why is he taking a Greyhound? Why isn’t he in LA? And what the hell is up with those shoes? Would OJ have someone on his defense team who wears shoes that look like they were taken out of the garbage? But it feels rude to disbelieve this guy. I don’t want to be rude.
We board the bus and Chatty McDefenseteam Von ShoddyShoes sits next to me. He’s entirely too chummy for my comfort, but I ignore those feelings because I’m on a Greyhound alone on a 12 hour bus ride and I feel comfort in having someone, a grown up, maybe a lawyer even, take an interest in me. Eventually, hours into the bus ride, I fall asleep. I fall asleep with my head right on Von ShoddyShoes’s shoulder. When I fall asleep, my shirt is tucked into my pants and my bra is securely fastened. But when I wake up, neither of these things are true. And Von ShoddyShoes? He’s acting very, very strange.
I’m scared now. I’m doubting myself, mostly. Maybe I did untuck my shirt before I went to sleep. I don’t think so, but maybe. And maybe my bra became unfastened on its own. I mean, it’s never happened before, but maybe it did this time. But that scared feeling? I don’t doubt that. It’s the only thing that I’ve ever trusted and it’s so loud, I can’t ignore it.
Von ShoddyShoes talks to me now, telling me how he’s going to take care of me. He’s getting off in Amarillo, where we’ll be pulling into in about an hour, and he’s going to make sure I’m taken care of when he gets off the bus. I’m mostly checked out, though. Dissociated. Viewing everything sort of from a place up and to the left. Recording Von ShoddyShoes’s words, but barely. My body is present and my head is nodding in response. My mouth is forming half-answers – just enough to keep him pacified. But the rest of me, the observer me, is waiting for Amarillo.
The bus pulls into the depot in Amarillo just after midnight. I fly off the bus and follow the smokers, desperate for a cigarette. Von ShoddyShoes approaches me and tells me he’s leaving now. I hug close to the crowd and bid him farewell. Wish him well. Maybe I hug him. He starts walking away, but stops a man a couple of years older than me and says something to him. He’s pointing at me as he talks. The two finish their conversation and he’s gone. Finally, he’s gone. I pull back into my body and feel lightheaded.
I walk up to the man that Von ShoddyShoes accosted and I say, “Hey. Excuse me. What did that guy say to you?”
“He asked me if I was going to Roswell and then told me to take care of you.”
“Are you going to Roswell?” I ask.
“Yes,” New Protector says.
He’s kind of cute. I get a really good vibe from him. And I’m frightened all to hell. I’m glad I’m on his radar. Still, I say, “Well, you don’t have to do that. That guy was weird. I think he unhooked my bra while I was sleeping.”
“No shit?” asks New Protector.
“No shit,” I tell him.
He looks over his shoulder, scanning the crowd for Von ShoddyShoes. “Fuck,” he says.
“Totally,” I say.
I smoke my cigarette and we all get back on the bus. New Protector doesn’t sit next to me, so I take a seat next to a small Mexican woman who can’t speak English. It’s six more hours to Roswell. We should be pulling in by dawn. I don’t sleep the rest of the trip. Occasionally, I scan the bus for New Protector and find him fast asleep a few rows back.
Finally we pull into the depot in Roswell. I gather my things and approach New Protector before I leave. “Thank you,” I say. This startles him. He looks at me for a second as if he’s trying to reorient himself to who I am and then says, “Oh. Yeah. Sure.” And then I leave.