At the Gas Station

The only map I have is the map of need. It isn’t on display on the counter of the gas station where men fuel their cars. This map is in the shed out back where all the discarded things are kept and women look for directions. We fish around in the bottom of our purses for coins to put on the eyes of the attendant hoping he will give us some extra fuel and then we instinctively know how to find the door of the shed. I had a car full of kids to feed before I knew where they were coming from and once I sealed that door, I still had a car full of kids. So I had to find the dusty map, the one my grandmother and her mother followed with thin silvery fingers, understanding the difference between love and hunger, choosing to eat every time. The super highway is not allowed for single women with children. We have to take back roads, cleaning up after ourselves, not making any trouble for anyone. It is not enough to agree to stay off the main highway. The world doesn’t want us to bother them with our our hungry kids, the skinned knees and tangled hair, the bickering and runny noses, the clock that says kids eat more than three times a day. The world wants us to be “good moms” and when we do not succeed, we will be the subject of government investigations and talk shows and endless hours of therapy. We rarely succeed because of the law of nature that says that one woman and three kids, an old car with unpredictable steering and a pull to the left, are probably not going to make it without a few marriages, pit stops for fuel. The road is bumpy and unpaved and the government welfare office is closed except to inspectors and the wealthy that want to know where their tax dollars go. Struggling down the dirt road I found a few schools that didn’t charge much and I left my kids to fight with each other and develop bad habits. I finally earned enough bonus points to be practically a man and eventually I was allowed on the freeway that was not free at all. But the children, the children were grown and traveling their own back roads, the legacy of their mother, their fathers waving to them from the distance, by the lake where they live with new children and the other women, the ones who are refueling and checking their watches for the right time to hit the road.