{October 10, 2012}   Runaway

When I was fifteen, the beatings ended. Mother could no longer count on me to lie down and take whippings without fighting back. So she developed a more insidious means of control–isolation. As a teenager, I was on continuous restriction and was forbidden to go out and socialize with friends. After school, I’d immediately head to my room, close my bedroom door and play records. I came out of my room only to eat dinner and watch the evening news on TV. I’d been interested in the news since I watched coverage of President Kennedy’s assassination at the age of four. Even then, I saw Jacqueline Kennedy’s refusal to change her pink Chanel suit with her husband’s blood splattered on it as symbolic of the love she had for him. I watched the murder of Oswald by Jack Ruby live on TV.  The war in Vietnam, which was shown on live TV, ended, but I was still interested in politics and the news. I liked knowing what went on in the broader world, and was attracted to the drama of it. I watched live TV on Saturday night as President Nixon became unhinged and fired people during the “Saturday Night Massacre” in the wake of Watergate. I regularly read the Atlanta Journal on the couch in the living room before dinner. It was the only reading material in the house.  I never left my room unless hunger for food or the news drove me out. I was intuitive about Mother’s moods and tried to stay out of her sight as much as possible. I could perceive her thoughts just by walking into a room where she was. Sometimes, I would predict what she would say before she said it. I was surprised by how accurate I was. With this skill, I knew when to stay away from her and when it was safe to enter a room without having to hear remarks about how fat I was or how sloppy I looked with my stringy hair.

One night I was on the couch reading the newspaper and came across a word I didn’t know–”homosexual”. I’d never come across that word in my reading before. I folded the paper and put it on the coffee table. Mother called me to the bar to eat. We didn’t have a dining table. We ate at a bar that wrapped around the outside of the kitchen counter. That way we didn’t have to face each other but watched Mother serve food from behind the bar. Daddy sat at the arm of the curve. I sat in the chair next to Daddy and watched Mother fill empty plates with meatloaf and mashed potatoes.  “I just read a word I don’t understand” I said. “This article used the word, ‘homosexual’.” Daddy’s face turned dark red. I thought his mouth was going to explode with mashed potatoes. “We don’t talk about things like that at dinner!” he roared. I looked down at my plate. Now I was really curious. When dinner was finished, I went to my room to look up the word in my dictionary. “ˌhō-mə-ˈsek-sh(ə-)wəl: noun. A person sexually attracted to someone of the same sex.” I’d never heard of that. But, it didn’t seem to deserve such a weird response from Daddy. What’s the big deal?

I grew tired of being locked in my room. Most girls my age got to date and go off with boyfriends or girlfriends. I wasn’t allowed to even go to a movie unless another parent was there. I was tired of my isolation. I wanted an adventure. I asked Daddy if I could get a job after school. He liked that idea. My first job was at McDonald’s but it lasted less than a week. My friends came in to buy burgers and shakes and urged me to sneak them free fries in the bag of burgers. I felt pressured to at least give them a few french fries. The manager saw me adding extra fries to the bag and fired me. I was glad he fired me. I hated coming home smelling like a hamburger every night. My face was coated in layers of french fry grease and my hair smelled like onions.

My next job was at Davidson’s Department Store at a new mall a few miles away. I was hired as a contingent, taking the place of a worker who was sick. I made $2.12 an hour and stood on my feet in the China department waiting for customers to come in. The worst department of all was Rugs because no one ever came to that department. I liked working in Women’s Sportswear because customers would ask if their pants were flattering or if a blouse they were trying on was too revealing. I was always honest with them, but I’m not sure they really wanted honesty. They wanted to be told they looked great in that new outfit.

I saved all my money from working because I never went anywhere to spend it. Sometimes on my break I’d walk to Walden Books and pick up a magazine or buy a book. I’d buy a Coca Cola at the Chinese Buffet and sit at a table in the food court to read. I saved all my money so I could eventually have enough to get out of my parent’s house. I wanted to leave Georgia and live on a beach in Florida or move to New York City. Anywhere was better than my parent’s house.

Finally I saved $350. That was enough to start a new life somewhere else. Maybe I’d try Florida. I liked it there. It was the only place I’d ever been besides Atlanta. We vacationed there every year, and stayed at the same hotel, the Fontainebleau. Florida had a great beach and I could find a job easily there. I called Greyhound and checked on a one-way bus ticket to Panama City. Only $50. That left me with a cool $300 to establish myself. I would find a cheap hotel room and look for a job. I could actually be free from the random room searches and threats from Mother. I packed my flowered suitcase with clothes, soap and a copy of Walden by Henry David Thoreau. I slid the packed suitcase under my bed to await the perfect time for my escape.


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