It was the same neighborhood, same house, same yard but there was something very different. How can I explain it? The feeling was different. Maybe it was because mom was crying all the time again. She had been crying a lot off and on my whole childhood. Usually a flood of tears was a warning sign for me but this time my sister was crying all the time too.
Mom said she had colic and her tummy hurt. Mom was crying because she was tired, or so she said. But it still didn’t feel right.
He was never home on time for dinner. Sometimes he just didn’t come home at all. I remember this because I had to wait to eat. Sometimes it seemed like forever, I was so hungry, but we had to wait, for him. I suppose mom wanted to punish him, make him feel bad that we all waited for him and he didn’t show up. Give him a guilt trip by making me wait for him too. But really, we were all being punished.
I started to get angry. All this crying, everyone was crying except me. Apparently I started to act out, being rebellious in my way. I wouldn’t come to the dinner table either! She called me and I didn’t want to just sit there so I stayed in my room. I knew I wasn’t going to get any food anyway I had to wait for him, so I just assumed wait in my room.
To outsmart me mom enlisted my help. She told me she knew where he was and I could help by calling and telling him I was hungry. I could ask him to come home so we could have dinner. That never went over well. The other woman always answered the phone. I had to ask if dad was there.
“Yes he is here”. She replied, followed by a silence that I assume was uncomfortable for her. I just waited for him to be put on the phone.
“Hello?” he said in a friendly tone.
It was confusing as he was one of my punishers but he was always so friendly to me on the phone.
“Mom, wants you to come home so we can eat dinner. It’s dinner time and I am hungry.” I replied. I wasn’t mad, I was hungry.
“We are doing some bible study, I will leave as soon as we are done here. Go ahead and eat or the food will be cold!”and the phone went dead.
It was simple enough. He would be there later. We could eat before the food got cold. Mom of course let me eat then. It’s not easy to eat by yourself at the kitchen table with mom crying over by the kitchen sink. She wasn’t hungry she said. Again.
When he was home he was quiet. He was friendly to me. He did what he needed to do then he was gone again. It was like winter in the house all year that year. No more camping, or our usual motorcycle weekends in the desert with the rest of the gang. No more motor-home trips. And eventually no more daddy. He took some of his things from the house and started sleeping at his parents home. He still had a room there, and we were left to live in the home he owned before we became a family.
I wasn’t his daughter. I knew that. I was almost ten years old now. But his daughter was MY sister. It was strange for me when she had to start sleeping some nights over at his parents home too. I remember mom asking if he was going to have the crib or playpen for her to sleep in.
“Nope. It’s a big bed she will have room.” Was his reply.
Mom didn’t like that. She told me she worried that sister would fall out of the bed. What could we do? Why would he let her fall out? Maybe she would fall out while he was sleeping? I didn’t know what to think. I was lonely without my little sister.
It was a sunny day. They were fighting as usual when he came to leave sister back to mom. No More of this! I was mad at them, they were dumb! Yelling yelling yelling!
I changed my sisters diaper. Got two bottles, powder formula, hot water thermos, three diapers, her blankie, diaper bag and her stroller. We were outta there! I walked right out the front door. This was not unusual because I loved to take walks with my sister. The german shepherd followed me to the end of the driveway and paused. It would be a good idea to have him with us too, that way if i had nightmares while we were gone I could snuggle up to him and sister too.
“Come” was the command I gave and we were off.
Two runaways and a dog. I stomped off with determination. I was angry and I talked out loud to my sister. I explained everything was alright, we were just going on a walk but I knew we were NOT going back there. All that yelling, sister going, coming, going again. Enough! I was so proud. I felt so big! Grown up! If no one else was going to make a decision around there then I would have to help them out! Two blocks later and I wasn’t stomping anymore. We passed one of my friends houses. He lived alone with his mom. That wouldn’t be so bad, to live just mom sister and I. We kept walking, three blocks stretched into five.
Now at the end of the fifth block was another friends house. Her house was different. It was almost magical it was so beautiful. My friend had a little sister too. The mother and two daughters were the most beautiful people I had ever seem. White blond hair, dancing blue eyes, and a daddy whom they were always hugging. I don’t know if that’s true but it seemed like everyone always laughed and hugged when I was there. I always wanted to sleep over, and was invited many times but I still wet the bed so I was to embarrassed to try sleeping over. I still think about that sometimes 28 years later! I wonder where they are, and if they still have a shimmering magical house, hug parties and dancing eyes.
I stopped and looked at the house. I hoped my friend or her parents would come out and ask me where I was going. I wanted to tell them we were running away and maybe they would adopt my sister and I. But no one came out. No one was out on the street at all. I had no choice but to walk that last block to our destination.
The end of block six was a huge towering fence. The planks were so close together there was no way to see what was behind the fence. But I knew. It was a giant field. They were to start construction back there. I played army with some friends back there sometimes. An old abandoned fridge, a huge dead oak tree with a hollow space in the trunk just big enough for my sister and I to jam ourselves into. That was my goal, the oak tree. It would be our first place of refuge.
I made my way along the fence, kicking the bottom of the planks individually looking for the loose ones i usually snuck through. When I found them the sun was high in the sky. I remember thinking how hot it was and how silly I didn’t have water for me. Only powdered formula and hot water for sister. Well, I would have to get used to being hungry because now I was in charge and she was to come first.
What an ordeal. I held the post to the side with my foot and placed one item at a time on the other side of the fence. I had to go through first to get the dog over. Then I took my sister out of her stroller and sat her behind the fence with the dog and went back to fold up the stroller and push it through. I was sweating now! Stroller up, sister in, hang the bag on the handles and now to the tree.
Sister was getting tired of our long walk. She was hungry, that meant I had to hurry or else the crying would begin. As I looked out over the field I was surprised at how much taller the grass had grown. It was almost up to my waist! Tall grass was good for playing army, but not so great for two runaways that had to have a stroller with them.
It seemed like forever to move forward maybe 10-15 feet. Sister was now crying, it was hot, bugs were biting us and the dog left me in search of shade. Traitor. If I had a rope he could have helped me pull the stroller. I would take a rope next time I ran away.
So typical that my sister would poop now! Perfect! Not usually a problem but out here? Ok, I took out the blankie,diaper and wipes and tried to lay them on the tall grass. I lifted her out of the stroller and it tipped backwards spilling all the contents of our runaway supplies. She cried, I was sweating.
“Just changing your diaper and I will fix your bottle.” I tried to reassure her and myself. But she cried anyway. Her cries escalated into screams. I changed her, made the bottle and sat myself on the blanket and held her while I fed her.
I was exhausted.
As she drank her bottle my eyes filled with tears.
I was a failure, I was never going to be able to run away for real.
My tears stung my eyes and cooled my cheeks. I was so sad, and angry. I couldn’t just give up either and walk home. I had all the stuff and the stroller plus sister to get back through the fence. I had never been so angry in my ten years. I felt like I was on fire! A volcano rumbling to warn the world. But no one heard the rumbles and no one dried my tears. I fought my way back through the 10-15 feet of grass. I struggled through the same process of finding the loose planks and transporting everything one item, including my sister, at a time. As I backed out through the planks I looked up and across the ocean of tall grass I saw it. The tall oak tree like a beacon of hope to tease me. The dead branches reached high into the sky and the sight burned into my brain forever because of the bright sun behind the tree. I can’t forget the intense hate interchanged with despair that I experienced as I felt forced to abandon the promised hope, that I believed, I would find on the other side of the towering fence.
The planks banged shut. It was as if I had never been through them. I trudged home, pushing the stroller determined to be done with the tears before I got back to the house. I had decided to answer no questions about where I had been with my sister. I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of laughing at the silly big sister. Block five, four, three and sister was asleep. Block two my stomach was in knots. Block one, and home. Well here we were. The dog made it home before us. He was sprawled out in the shade. He lifted his head and thumped his tail as I came closer. I didn’t respond – traitor.
The tragic thing is no one noticed we had been gone. They had fought and yelled and screamed. Mom fell asleep on the couch and he was gone again. I unpacked. Put everything back where I had taken it from. Rolled my sleeping sister still in the stroller to the living room.
I have longed to run away many times since this experience. But I never have. People say I am strong – but I respond with
“Maybe it’s not strength, maybe it’s fear.”
Mom has been my role model. I have been my sisters. We follow each other through life. We copy each others patterns unconsciously and wonder why things don’t work out for any of us. It’s something I have shared with my sister, not strength to persevere but instead the crippling fear of failure.
If only we could have broken the pattern right here, right now in this story. Then I wouldn’t have to continue sharing her journey with you. Maybe she would be telling her story instead.