I bet you’ve been wondering where I’ve been this last week. Well, I slept for forty-eight straight hours. Why? Because I was up and traveling across the country for six days without any sleep.
I left Florida, crossed two states and did something I had not done since 1971. I boarded a bus heading west. I had to go to Salt Lake City on very important business and I decided to meet women on the way. So I went Greyhound and left the driving to them. I was not prepared for what I encountered.
During my six days (that’s 144 continuous hours of consciousness), I met 128 women who were on the run from their significant other. One by one I sat next to them, or they sat next to me on a bus. They told their stories of abuse. The were literally running for their lives in the cheapest way they could find.
One women, Sabrina, had just been discharged from the hospital after a three month stay. Her husband had run her down with the family car, breaking both legs, several vertebrae and leaving her in a coma for weeks. The surgical wounds still had staples in them. She was in tremendous pain and riding a bus was the worst thing she could have done… except staying with her spouse.
She was such a trooper. My heart went out to her, particularly at 3am when the agony was so great, she called out for anyone to help her. I went back and prayed for God to ease her pain. Thankfully, He did.
I met Henrietta in St. Louis. She boarded the bus with two children in tow. I couldn’t help but hear them asking mommy why daddy couldn’t come. She had no answer. Not wanting to say anything negative about their father, she opted for a vague answer and quickly changed the subject.
Two hours later, the bus made a meal stop at a local McDonald’s. Who knew they did that?! Fortunately, a convenience store was right next door. I ran over there and found a coloring book. I grabbed it and ran back to the bus and took out a pack of colored highlighters from my backpack.
When Henrietta and kids returned to the bus, I gave them to her. She and I talked while the children colored in their book.
During my six days aboard public transportation, I saw country I’d never seen before as we made our way through Wyoming and finally Utah. I also saw a part of society that is hurting in a way I’d never witnessed.
Sure, I’ve seen people running in airports, at rest stops along the interstate, at hotels and in restaurants. But never before had I been so close to hurting women who did not have the means to flee in style. They didn’t have money for meals, even the value menu under the golden arches. Their eyes mirrored hearts that were empty and without belonging. I ached for them.
I prayed for them and thanked God that I saw this underworld of women who are more courageous than the brave souls who pushed west to settle the once wild land we rode though on a smelly bus.
If I ever am tempted to complain about sitting in a plush airport waiting for a late airplane that will take me from one end of the country to the other in a matter of hours, I’ll remember my six days on a Greyhound. I’ll remember Atlanta’s bus station that was locked down while all passengers were searched and guns, knives, blades and brass nuckles confiscated.
I’ll remember cries in the night as wounds tried to heal, and children who didn’t understand abuse. They only missed their daddy.