The snow should be melting by the time I get home. Ma’s garden will be waking up soon. I’m anxious to see my folks again. They are getting up in age and Pa’s health ain’t good. I wish things had been different. . .wish I’d been more help to ‘em.
I’m 44 and I ain’t been home in 25 years. Pa and Ma don’t travel so I ain’t seen them. They sent me letters and cards over the years and I wrote them every week. There sure wasn’t much to write about, but writing them made me feel connected.
Growing up on a small farm in the hills of West Virginia, I learned to love the land and all things God created. Spring was my favorite season because we planted all kinds of vegetables. Watching them grow was an adventure for me. Pa sold most of the stuff at a roadside stand, but we always had plenty to eat. Ma put up lots of vegetables for the winter, too.
“Oh Lord, if only I could turn the clock back. I’d never get involved in drugs and prostitution. I’d be home with Pa and Ma where I belong.”
Once you get hooked on crack and meth your life don’t belong to you no more. Before you know it you’re turning tricks to buy more dope and there’s no way out. I tried to quit. Got the daylights beat out of me many times ‘til I just gave up. There was no way out. I was trapped.
That’s all water under the bridge. I’m going home. It’s a long train ride from Texas to West Virginia. It will be my last trip.
“Well Willow, I hear this is your last night with us. You know the drill. . . lights out it’s eleven o’clock.”
“Gonna miss you, Annie. You’ve been kind to me all these years.”
“Just doing my job. No sense in being nasty with it. Hope your trip goes well.”
The train was late and I was worn out by the time I got settled in my compartment. The bunk wasn’t that comfortable, but the swaying rocked me right to sleep. When I woke up, I was 200 miles closer to West Virginia and 200 miles away from the Texas State Prison for Women.
“Father give me strength to complete my journey.”
Everything they sent me to prison for I was guilty of. By then, I was worn out from living on the streets. I was hungry, dirty and cold. Winters in Texas can be brutal and summers are like living on the outskirts of hell. The only time I slept inside was when I turned a trick.
Prison was a relief in many ways. Once the fear wore off some, I could sleep. I made a couple of friends and settled into a routine. Working laundry was the warmest place in winter.
I began to feel a little self-worth again. I began to forgive myself. I realized I was thankful to be clean and fed and have a bed I didn’t turn a trick to get.
A voice on the intercom announced we were coming into Knoxville, Tennessee. My back was hurting something awful. I tried to turn over but I screamed out in pain. Then there was a knock. Seems someone called for help because of my scream.
A kind young man assisted me to the ladies room and helped me back to bed. He realized I hadn’t eaten so he hurriedly rounded up some soup and crackers. I got one whiff and nausea gripped my stomach. He helped me take my pain medicine and last I remember he was sitting by my bed gently rubbing my arm. He looked like an angel.
The next time I woke up, we were in the mountains. The young man said we were nearing Jasmine Ridge and the last tunnel in Jasmine Holler. He turned me toward the window and I saw rocky cliffs rushing past. As the train rounded a sharp curve, I saw the tunnel entrance and within seconds everything was black.
My eyes saw only velvety darkness until suddenly I saw a light—brighter than the sun. I saw home.
Mr. and Mrs. Murphy, I’m Jonathan. I rode the last part of the trip with Willow. She passed away just as the train came out of the tunnel in Jasmine Holler. Her last words were, “I see home.”
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