My mother was telling me something just before she left for good, taking nothing with her (as far as we could tell). Leaving behind everything she had ever bought, everything she had ever wanted, everything she owned or had ever been given.
And everything she had made: a lopsided clay bowl with the image of a tiny painted pineapple from her ceramic workshop days, a collage of family pictures cut in various sizes and shapes, pasted together and framed. She spent weeks on that. All the pressed wildflowers she had collected and laminated between sheets of clear plastic to last forever. And me.
Me, she left behind.
She walked out mid-sentence, before she finished what she was about to say.
It was a long time ago already, four years. Four years, four months, and fifteen days to be exact. And for four years, four months, and twelve days, I didn't think for one second about what she never finished telling me. I gave no thought at all to her unfinished sentence. I suppose it is like being in a car accident. You don’t think about something as trivial as the conversation you were having at the moment of impact. Not until weeks later, if at all. It comes to you in daydream one day as you are remembering the crash, that awful crumbling-metal noise, and if you begin to reconstruct the instant at all, it may not be for months, or in my case, years.
At first all I cared about was that she was gone. I wrote her letters. I made her Mother's Day gifts. When she had been gone sixteen months and seven days, I sewed her an orange dinosaur pillow in FACs class. I cried at night, and at sad TV shows, and, for some unknown reason, during first-aid filmstrips shown in gym class on rainy days. And then I stopped.
Because all things need to come to an end. Good things and bad things.
But then just recently I started to remember and I began to reconstruct. And wonder: if only I had let her say what it was she was about to tell me, would everything have been different? Would I be in this situation?
My mother stopped mid-sentence. She was in mid-thought, about to tell me something.
She was talking about love.
At the Stamford bus station, there is a little newsstand with chips and candy and gum, stuff like that. I should load up on snacks, I am thinking. I don't have anything I am going to need, except money, and not that much of that. The ticket was a hundred and twenty-six dollars, one way. When I called a few days ago to get the schedule, I found out how expensive the trip would be, and how long it would take. Twenty-four hours on a bus. I can't imagine that. I'll need some stuff to eat and drink, I guess. I should have made myself something at home, a sandwich or two, but I didn't think of it.
It's early. Way early, especially for a Saturday morning. It's not even seven thirty. And this kid working behind the newsstand isn't paying attention; he's reading a book. I've been standing here for a while. Sometimes the world reminds me of how invisible I am.
My dad tells me it's because my voice is too quiet, even when I'm shouting. He says it's loud enough, but the timbre's too soft, as if it were at a different frequency, like there's something wrong with it and nobody hears me.
"Excuse me," I say again, a second time. The boy who works at this newsstand is at that age. Not young, not old, so I don’t know how to address him, to get his attention. Mister? Kid?
Hey, you seems rude.
"Hello there," I try. "Sir?"
How stupid is that?
He looks up and smiles, like I just made a joke, when joking is the furthest thing from my mind. He is annoying me already.
"What can I get you?" he says. He lowers his book. I see he is wearing an orange T-shirt so faded its softness is almost visible. He hikes his jeans up over his skinny hips as he steps up to the counter. I see he is wearing a rope necklace around his neck, with one white shell that sits right in that spot, that little dip in a boy's neck that always seems a little too intimate to be looking at.
"Um . . . I’m not sure," I say, looking over everything, which all looks really unhealthy and fairly sickening.
"Stuff for your trip?" he asks me.
"Yeah." I nod. My trip.
"Where are you going?"
And when he asks me that, I know I am going to lie even before I open my mouth. Like I am trying it on for size, testing out my abilities.
"North Dakota," I say.
"North Dakota, huh?" He smiles.
This guy is flirting with me, I think. I used to like this, but ever since Adam flirting has taken on a whole new meaning. In a way, it's like I know what it means now. I know what can happen, and I don’t know what I want from it anymore.
"That’s a pretty long trip," he says.
I want to smile back, but suddenly I feel a wave of nausea. Maybe from looking at the candy, or from this older man, who comes up beside me and reeks of cigarettes. Or maybe it's something else entirely thatscares me even more.
"Forget it," I say quickly to the boy. "I don’t want anything."And I hurry away.
At least this is one of those big buses, the kind you get for really long, expensive school field trips. The kind with upholstered seats and little TV screens every few rows. But the screens are blank. So far the seat next to me is empty. I am doing a silent prayer that it stays this way all the way to Florida.
Excerpted from All We Know of Love by Nora Raleigh Baskin. Copyright © 2008 by Nora Raleigh Baskin. Excerpted by permission of Candlewick, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.