The Rest Stop
A strange story I wrote in 2017 when I was on a long, and emotionally difficult, car ride home. It’s about an LGBT reincarnation
Her eyes were beginning to close and she jerked her head awake at the oncoming car. She quickly swerved back into her lane. She was falling asleep at the wheel and needed to find a pit stop soon. She rolled her window down so that the cold night air would blast her face and keep her awake. She had been driving for such a long time now. She wasn’t even sure how long. She had long ago lost track of time.
Then suddenly, there! She saw it! A sign saying 5 more miles and there was a gas station pit stop. She thought she should be hungry but she wasn’t. She felt like she should want to eat but she couldn’t remember the last time she had eaten. How long had it been?
She also felt she should remember where she was headed to, but the drowsiness was so heavy that she felt that had to be the reason she seemed to be having a bout of temporary amnesia.
She willed herself to stay awake and keep driving on the long narrow two lane highway that stretched endlessly through the desert for miles and miles. As she kept stealing glances at the odometer the numbers seemed to tick over with stubborn resistance. Each time she looked up at the road, she noticed that she must have been going up in elevation because there were shadows in the dark along the road that looked like pine trees? She wasn’t sure but it was some kind of vegetation.
Finally after what might have been another hour; she wasn’t really sure. She saw the sign that read: “Rest stop – exit 230b.” She kept going and not too long after the sign she saw the road forking off to the right. A ramp which pulled her down from the main highway and she could see the rest stop just at the end of the ramp; a beacon of light, rest, and relief. She checked the gauge for her gas tank and it read that she still had three quarters of a tank. Huh? That couldn’t be right? She had been driving for much longer than a quarter tank would have produced. She thought she should fill up first before going inside to grab a bite to eat. That way she wouldn’t forget.
Her gas gauge had to be faulty. That was a little bit of a concern but for some reason she didn’t feel the anxiety or worry she knew she probably should. Just complete peace and contentment that she had finally found a rest stop. As she got out of her old 67’ mustang, and approached the pump, a scribbled handwritten sign in red marker was taped to the pump.
CARD MACHINE BROKEN – PLEASE SEE CASHIER INSIDE.
Again she had a slight but passing thought that this would usually annoy her, but she simply felt relief at finally having found a rest stop. She walked to the door, and noticed to the right of the door there was an old carnival machine with a Hollywood styled Indian chief. His mechanical voice spoke of revealing your special Native American spirit animal; if you were to talk to Cheif Running Bear. To her left were some picnic benches and an ice machine that looked as if it had long broken down and never been fixed.
The gas station rest stop was built in the style of an old log cabin but likely much bigger than an actual old west cabin would have been to accommodate bathrooms, a Frosty Freeze (open during the day), and the rows and rows of snacks, candy, soda, and chintzy old west souveniers.
As she approached the lights inside the building were minimal. It seemed as if only half of them were inside the store were turned on. She worried they might actually be closed. However when she opened the door, bells on the inside handle tinkled and the people standing near the front counter looked up and smiled at her. The three occupants of the rest stop were so strange and out of place she had to stop and stare for a moment. She took in the scene not knowing what to make of it at all.
There was an old woman with very pale skin, textured like sun worn leather, and a tousle of gray stringy hair frizzy and unkempt. She was wearing a thin lavender colored moo-moo and pink fuzzy slippers. Another younger woman in her mid thirties perhaps with short cropped hair like a boy, a punk tank, tightly fitted leather pants, and tattoos all over her arms and snaking up her neck. A Chinese man in his mid forties, with shoulder length hair tied back in a loose ponytail. He was wearing a traditional long changshan dress coat over barely visible pants. He was thin with a small frame and held a somber look; except for his eyes. She briefly noted his eyes seemed very kind. The clerk behind the counter was young and robust – sporting a fitted t-shirt that prominently displayed the words ‘Barstow Beach Club’. He reminded her of the surfers she saw traipsing about the beach on the California coast when she had vacationed there many years ago; with his bleach blond wavy hair, grey blue eyes, and rich golden tan. Although she wondered for a moment where in the middle of the desert he would surf. Perhaps he had recently moved?
She approached the counter and noticed all three of these individuals were standing there merely smiling at her. She felt her skin prick up with goose pimples. This didn’t seem right— She vaguely thought to herself that she did not recall seeing any other cars in the parking lot. But the lighting was reduced to only two poles, and these were sickly yellow lights so it was entirely possible she had not seen their cars.
“Do you have a bathroom?” She asked the clerk.
He flashed her a surly grin and replied. “Sure thing. Just follow isle 3 all the way down, then turn right and you’ll see it in that alcove there. Or just look up. There’s signs hanging from the ceiling pointing the way.”
She looked up and saw the signs. “Thank you.”
She went into the bathroom and was immediately taken back. She stepped inside the stand alone private room and locked the door. It was a gleaming white bathroom completely characteristic of a city skyrise penthouse. All the porcelain fixtures were gleaming white with an sleek vintage yet modern design. It felt somehow vauguely familiar in a way but she couldn’t quite place why. All the fixitures looked brand new and completely sparkling clean. Not like any rest stop bathroom she had ever encountered before. The room was quite large. In the far right back left corner was the toilet. On the far front left corner was a sink. And perhaps the most strange thing of all, in the far right hand back corner opposite of the toilet was a large glass shower stall? Yes a shower stall with gleaming white tiles. Larger white tiles that matched the shower tiles lined the floors, and the walls were covered in beautiful gleaming white wallpaper. There was a small armore in the far right front corner just behind the door, with a small white porcelain vase, and white roses in the vase. Her curiosity got the better of her and she touched the roses. She was surprised they were real.
This was entirely out of place for this south west themed rest stop, much less any rest stop bathroom for that a matter! She went about her business relieving herself, and then washed her hands. The soap smelled like roses. It reminded her of her grandmother and she felt a certain bitter-sweet nostalgia rise within her. She turned the light off and left the bathroom.
She approached the counter again and noticed the same three people were still standing there. They were talking in quiet hushed tones and stopped talking as she approached. This bothered her somewhat but she felt so sleepy that she didn’t want to pay attention to the feeling. As she was about to speak to the clerk, the door chimed, and a little boy walked in. He appeared to be about five years old.
He walked up to the counter and looked up at her with questioning eyes. She looked down at him and felt bewildered at first and was about to ask the boy where his mother was, but then as she looked deeper into his eyes, the strangest emotion washed over her that she knew he was supposed to be there with her, and she was supposed to be there with him, but she couldn’t place why. She knew this little boy but wasn’t sure why or how she knew him. She looked up at the clerk and he had such an odd look on his face; a kind yet sympathetic look. Her head instinctively darted to the older woman, the punk chick, and the Asian man, and they all wore similar expressions. They were all looking at her; simply staring.
The clerk spoke to her and she turned her attention to him. “Do you remember your name?”
She thought for a moment and felt as if this should be an easy question but she could not remember. She also mildly thought to herself that this was something that should concern her but she did not feel concerned. She merely thought she should be truthful, and instinctively she felt she should trust the clerk.
“I don’t remember and I can’t remember why I don’t remember. Why can’t I remember?”
“Your name was Jolynn and you’re in the ‘In Between’ now. You died several earth days ago.”
Died… Died? She thought about this and vaguely remembered the hospital bed. Her husband holding her hand as she slipped in and out of consciousness. She focused hard and then she began to remember it all. The images flashing through her mind like a long forgotten movie that she was re-watching.
“I died of cancer didn’t I?”
“Yes you did Jolynn.”
“Is this heaven?”
She thought about it and began to search in the deepest inner parts of her mind and soul. She knew all the answers. It was all there. She looked around the store and it felt familiar to her; the woven Native American blankets, the trinket saguaro cacti figurines, the shot glasses from various states. These were not mere tourist baubles for sale, they were parts and pieces of her life; memories. The Native American blankets were ones she placed on her horses under their saddles. The cacti figurine were salt and pepper shakers her crazy eccentric aunt had gifted to her for her big 3-0 birthday. The shot glasses were ones her husband collected from their travels together. It was the only ‘dust collecting’ items he kept. Two hundred and forty six of them displayed neatly lined on the thin wall shelf above their breakfast nook table.
Suddenly she remembered why the bathroom had seemed vaguely familiar as well. Her wealthy grandmother who lived in New York city had a bathroom like this at her residence. One of her many bathrooms in her penthouse apartment, but it was the bathroom that was attached to the guest room Jolynn had most often used when she would visit her grandmother.
A great bubble of emotion welled up inside her. She had been driving on that road for such a long time – three days the clerk said – but it felt so much longer.
As if he could read her thoughts, he said, “Time here in the ‘In-Between’ is different than time in the earth realm.”
She nodded. It was not new information. It was all written on the fabric of her soul, and it came to the surface of her mind. She then looked at the Asian man whose wise and kind eyes bore into her own. They were not a strangers eyes, they were eyes she knew well; because they were her eyes as much as his.
All the strands of the fabric of her soul were beginning to come together into the solid weave that made her the person she was over many lifetimes. This man had been her first lifetime. She remembered now that in her first life she was this man, a simple rice farmer on the outlying edges of a Chinese province. He had lived a happy life with his wife and two children.
She looked into the eyes of each of her different lifetimes and understanding began to flow into her mind like a soft spring rain pattering and sinking into the soil; more and more quickly. The old woman – she had lived in France as a baker her whole life – barren and without children her whole life she learned sorrow and fulfillment of feminity through other roles. The young woman – she had lived in Canada as a tattoo artist – she had learned the value of independence through her unconventional art skills. As a surfer in California she had learned perseverance through the task of fulfilling her dream as a competitive surfer. Her life as a farmer in China she had learned the simplicity of family love, and the labor of love through tilling the soil.
And of course her most recent life she has learned the lesson of allowing others to help her – always independent – she had no choice when the cancer came. All these lives were her own treasures which were so thoroughly woven into who she was, it was as plain as staring at herself in an unblemished mirror now.
She knew what she had to do now. She looked down at the little boy with big brown eyes and wavy brown hair. She placed her hands over her heart and closed her eyes. Her spirit began to glow and as she gently pulled her hands away from her heart, a soft glowing orb rested gently in her hands. She knelt down in front of the boy and held her hands out to him.
“This is for you. It’s the light of us, and now the light of you. It carries all the light of creation as well, because all of the Univers is in you, and you are within God.”
Then she took the light and gently pressed it into his heart space, and the color in his face became more rosy and his eyes had a certain shine that was not present before. He smiled at her and she at him.
“In this life we will learn the value of self love in a way that we have never experienced before. You will be born masculine, but you will connect with the feminine side of your nature more. You will often feel as though you were born trapped in the wrong physical body. You will struggle. There will be times you may hate yourself, but we are always here living with you and guiding you. Don’t despair if you don’t learn this on the first try. This is perhaps one of the most difficult values to learn, but the most gratifying to master.”
The boy merely nodded.
“Are you ready now?” Jolynn said to him, and he nodded again.
She took him by the hand and they walked to the front of the store. When they exited the building, it was no longer a dimly lit gas station at night, it was merely whiteness all around. All of the others followed close behind. They all stood in a blank void of white as far as the eye could see. As they stood there they heard a sound begin to grow. A sound like running water; like a waterfall. As they watched it was a river that began to move past them. It was a beautiful clear rushing river that was eons wide and stretched on forever in both directions.
Jolynn and the boy stood by the banks.
It was then for the first time he spoke. “Will it hurt? Being born?”
“That depends on you. If you fight it, it will be unpleasant. If you embrace it, all will go smoothly. It’s a transition that can be difficult as you are in the forgetting phase, and some find it alarming…”
“Okay. I’ll try and remember.”
“Are you ready?”
He nodded and she took him by the hand and led him to the water. She helped him step into the cool and completely pristine water. A water so pure it was unfathomable.
“I will let go when you ask me to.”
The boy allowed himself to feel the water brush over his feet and ankles at the rivers edge. Jolynn could somehow feel the effects of the water as well. They felt fear and anticipation. It was both frightening and exhilarating. Finally after some time, the boy opened his eyes, looked at Jolynn, and smiled in a way they both understood.
She carefully and slowly unfurled her fingers, and as she did so, the current gently swept him away. She closed her eyes and felt his fear and panic as the water closed in around him and pulled him under. It was terrifying at first and he fought hard to stay afloat. Then little by little as the water continued on – Jolynn could see in her minds eye – that he relaxed and allowed the current to carry him on. She felt him become embraced and enveloped by some ethereal nurturing cocoon of light and love. Then he shifted to the earth realm and she felt him go.
And as she turned to her other counterparts they each stood and gave a brief smile to each other as they separated. She knew where they were all going – the same place she would be going – their own personal eternity of bliss. She turned around now and there was now a doorway into another realm. Her old horse Whiskey was there and he pawed and neighed impatiently for her to join him. She waved goodbye to the others as she stepped into the grassy field where she stepped up to Whiskey and mounted him bareback. She rode towards their favorite wooded grove and noisy brook ran through. And all was as it should be.
Author’s Notes: Admittedly this story is very weird. I was in a strange and melancholy mood when I wrote this.
I visited a rest stop along highway I-40W late at night, on my way back from Vegas the Summer of 2017, after we picked up my parents. They were coming to live with us.
The place was eerie and disconcerting much in the same way this rest stop was in the story.
As my husband drove, I felt a compulsion to write a story about this surreal rest stop. I knew it would either be magical realism or horror. This is what unfolded.