She had never left Kansas.
She’d never left Lebanon.
What she’d found out, though made her desperate to leave or to learn more about who she was.
Everything had been a lie. The woman who was her mother, was not. The half brothers she had weren’t half, but her full blooded brothers. Her mother had died when she was barely a year old.
When she looked int the mirror, she didn’t see the woman she called her mother. She saw someone else. Yes, her eyes were green, but her hair wasn’t like anything she’d seen or felt on anyone else. Her hair was thick, and dark but reddish. Sometimes she’d pull a hair from her brush and hold it up to the light.
“Momma,” she’d ask. “Why’s it look like that, so orangey but black? And why is it so wiggly?”
“Baby, it’s just the way it is,” her mother would say. “It’s how God made you.”
But it wasn’t how God made her. It was how her father and her dead mother made her.
When the stranger appeared and sat in their kitchen, she was afraid. She didn’t know why. But the way this man looked was so different, yet familiar. She couldn’t stop thinking about him and his visit.
And she couldn’t stop asking questions.
“So who’s this?” she asked about a picture of a dark haired woman in a photo album.
Her parents looked at each other, then at her, then at the picture.
“Who is it?” she asked again.
They lied. It’s an aunt. They slapped the album shut. But after awhile, days and weeks, they relented. It was her mother.
Now she was waiting for a bus to New Mexico. Her father waited with her in silence. They sat, each filled with rage, and sadness, and regret. It was a lie. Catching parents in a lie was gold. Santa? A lie. Where do babies come from. More lies.
“But my mom,” she said with tears when she learned. “My mom is dead?”
They thought they could pull it off. They thought they were far enough away. They thought. They thought a lot.
“Thanks for bringing me,” she said. “I’ll keep thinking about not hating you, like you said.”
He laughed and shook his head. He took a flask out of his pocket and took a drink.
“Want a drink?” he asked her. “I mean, you’re 13 but you might as well be older than me.”
She grabbed it from him and took a big swallow, handed it back, and wiped her mouth with her forearm.
“I’ll try,” she said.
The bus wound its way across the flatness of Nebraska — Grand Island was the closest place to board a Grayhound Bus — to Denver, then Trinidad, and then to Albuquerque.
By Lexington, the buzz had worn off. Now she was afraid. What was she doing, she wondered. Who were these people she was going to see? How could they be her family?
Her friends were both envious and perplexed by her summer trip before high school. Her father was often the talk of the town. Her brothers were always in trouble; handsome boys, but with no direction except for drive-ins and shooting at things in fields. What else was there?
That’s not what she wanted. But what did she want? She calmed herself with a book of puzzles. The book came with a pen that would reveal the answers as she went. The pen was white with an orange cap.
She slept. She read a Choose Your Own Adventure book. She always cheated. She’d look ahead and then choose whatever would keep the story going. “Maybe I’m a liar too,” she thought.
When the bus stopped, she shuffled along with everyone else. Walked down the steps and off. She only had her bag. She looked around for these people she was supposed to meet.
And there she was.
She stood with her arms crossed wearing a faded pink gingham dress. It was hot. She stared. Her hair was in a bun. She didn’t move. It was her grandmother, a woman that her father described as one part lamb and two parts lion.
“I’d watch for the lamb,” he warned. “That’s how they getcha.”
“Mira que hermosa niña,” she said. “My guera, pero linda.”
Two men were with her.
“Well, well, well,” said one. “Welcome to the Land of Enchantment. You look just like your mom.”
The woman spoke only in Spanish to her uncles as they drove onto Interstate 25. She heard them say her mother’s name over and over. They’d laugh. Then she’d get stern with them and they’d laugh at her. She’d had no idea what they were saying. All the windows were rolled down. She fell asleep.
When she woke up they passed Camel Rock. It was just that, a rock shaped like a camel. People were parked by it, taking pictures.