I started reading Vanessa Veselka's essay "Highway of Lost Girls" about Veselka’s and many other girls’ horrific hitchhiking experiences in the Eighties, first published in GQ as "The Truck Stop Killer" and now anthologized in this year's Best American Essays, this morning after publishing a piece here for The List and the Story about my mother’s hitchhiking days in the Seventies. It was one of the most taut, convincing, devastating reading experiences I’ve ever had. Veselka tells her own story of nearly being killed in the backseat of one of the many vehicles on which she hitched a ride, but she also tells the story of researching the countless “invisible” girls she found out had been murdered in the Seventies and Eighties on the same highways she traveled, and finding that most of them had been forgotten, blotted out from police records, denied their existence by townspeople where the were killed:

…It occurred to me that this investigation of mine wasn’t a detective novel. It was a ghost story. The prisms of Regina Walters, Shana Holts, and Lisa Pennal refracted into a set of icons—one in the back seat of a car laughing as she leans on the headrest, one with the shorn red-gold hair and an expression of resilience, one slightly crazy and ready to fight—each casting her own light, each a hologram of girlhood.

Besides marveling at the courage and tenacity of Veselka’s research into the darkest corners of her own experience, I also couldn’t help seeing my own mother on those roads, hitching to Arkansas to take me back from my grandmother, getting me back to Kansas and back with her in whatever vehicle on the highway would take us. Veselka ends the essay with a scene outside a truckstop, the shitstain truckstop killer Robert Ben Rhoades telling his wife not to even look at a young girl outside one stop trying to get a ride, and all I can think is, That’s her. I see her. That’s my mother.

AuthorJohn Proctor