It was four o’clock in the morning when my mother and her kidnapper reached the intersection of Highway 620 and Ranch Road 2222, where he would finally let her go. Early January, 1972. My mother was not yet my mother; she was nineteen. No light in the sky, and quiet but for the hiss of the wind through the trees. She wasn’t bound and he no longer had his hands on her. They’d been walking for eight hours, starting just after dusk at the top of Mount Bonnell and snaking their way through the west side of Austin until they reached this deserted intersection in the blue-black stillness several hours before dawn.
He bought her a coke from the vending machine in front of the dark gas station. She wasn’t a soda drinker, but of course she took it and said thanks. “Guess this is where our ways part,” he said. Then he pointed back the way they’d come, down 2222, and told her she could get a ride from a farm truck in an hour or so.
He walked off in the same direction they’d been going all night. She stood and watched him walk away, aware of every breath and every nerve on the back of her neck. Before he reached the line of trees at the edge of the road, he turned and looked back at her. She lifted her hand, and waved goodbye. He waved back.
That’s the part of the story that always stuck with me: my mother waving. After eight hours of trauma, of thinking that she would die, she was freed by the same man who’d taken her in the first place. In that moment, like in so many other moments she’d already lived, she had to perform gratitude. On a deserted highway in the middle of the night, after all she’d been through, she was still required to be unfailingly polite, to be pleasing. She waved.
I probably would’ve waved too, in a similar situation. I might’ve squeaked out a thanks. When do we first become aware of the need to be pleasing? To be grateful it wasn’t worse, to hold still and smile?
After she waved, she watched him disappear into the trees that lined the road, and then instead of going in the direction he’d told her to go, she turned onto 620 and began to run. She told me that it was the most surreal…