I was seventeen when I was sent to live with my sister in Los Angeles. We pretended the move was in my best interest, but we all knew that my mother couldn't handle my in-your-face attitude of defiance and was worried about my future. She had handled my dad's death with stoicism and without a hint of self-pity. She came to our swim meets, packed our lunches and mowed the lawn without ever unraveling into a mournful mess. She took over my father's finances and started working as a nurse's aid for terminally ill people dying at home. Muffins and juice were still waiting on the kitchen table when we came home from school. The grief she could hide, but the sadness of watching her children turn from everything she had taught- faith and obedience- lay bare.
“I cried myself to sleep last night” was all she said when she found a six pack of beer hiding in my closet after the neighbors informed her of the house party I had hosted while my mother was visiting her sister in England.
“It's not a big deal, Mom. Don't be such a fascist. I'm sick of you trying to control everything I do. Just back off me. It's my life” I yelled like the a phonogram for one of my punk CDs, more to hide the way my heart was breaking for my mother than out of anger.
She looked at me with the same anguish I had seen when she gripped the metal railing of my father's bed before pulling a sheet over his face, telling us that he was now with his parents and no longer in pain. But that night she said nothing to me, and instead returned to the kitchen to finish making sticky chicken for dinner. I longed for her to berate me- to yell and be upset so I could feel justified in the rage I felt toward her. Her meekness and silence made me even more upset.
I was wearing an oversized white T-shirt and black leggings when I ran out of our house and into the snow-covered street. I thought about grabbing a jacket before leaving, but I wanted to be sure my mother would worry about me, and so I purposefully left the coat behind. I ran down the frozen suburban roads that had once been a happy safe haven, before the pain of losing my father had coursed through my veins and overflowed into these quiet and quaint streets. I ran down Fletcher road where I used to play street hockey with my brothers, remembering how we would dangerously wait until the last minute to yell “car!” before picking up the goal nets and skating to the side of the street to let traffic pass. I ran up Walpole street and thought about biking to get penny candy at the corner store with Marisa DiTrapani after searching our couches for pennies and dimes. I ran up Montrose drive and thought about how I used to take the shortcut through the woods to get to swim team practice with Rosanna Tomiuk in the summers, even though our parents told us not to. These were happy memories but they made me upset because they were reminders of a time before the hollowness of death and grief had bore its ruthless hole in my chest. I wished I had no memories of such happy times because I thought they would never return.
I inhaled anger with every breath as I ran, although I wasn't sure what to be angry about. I only knew that anger was a more survivable emotion than sorrow because it allowed blame rather than introspection. I thought about the war in Iraq. That made me mad. I thought about Capitalism. That made me mad. I thought about McDonalds cutting down the rainforest. That made me mad. I thought about my mother, and she made me mad for no real reason other than the fact that she made me think of my dad. I didn't want to think about him. And so I thought about bombs being dropped over Bagdhad until I reached a frozen payphone at our neighborhood liquor store.
I had left my house with no agenda or plan other than to make my mother upset, although I didn't know why. I picked up the cold, black phone and it stuck to my hand like a warm tongue sticking to an icy metal pole. I didn't care. I lifted my other hand and slowly dialed a collect call to my boyfriend who lived in Tennessee with an index finger too numb to shake.
My mother hated my boyfriend in Tennessee, and that's probably why I called him. He was a punk rocker, with PUNX tattooed to his knuckles and a full sleeve tattoo devoted entirely to me. I felt guilt for allowing him to design and undergo the intricate shrine on his left arm because I knew that I wouldn't love him forever, as he assumed would be the case. But it felt nice to be loved so purposefully, and so I had held his hand and smiled as he sat in the tattoo parlor chair, whispering “I love you” into his ear with forced sincerity.
“I hate my mum, Dan. Can you come get me?” I cried angrily into the payphone when he picked up, as though he lived down the street and not across the continent. Dan said he would leave that night. After we hung up I didn't know where to go and so I sat on the icy ground and thought about Baghdad.
A kind police officer found me huddled against the liquor store walls a few hours later, and beckoned for me to come over to his car.
“Were you looking for me?” I asked as I sat in the front passenger seat, submitted to the fact that I was going home after only having been a runaway for less than 6 hours, not even meriting a seat in the back of the cop car.
“I was on the lookout for a jacket-less teenage girl wandering the winter streets. Your mother is worried about you,” he said in a gentle tone.
I wished he was mean so I could yell “Fuck police brutality” and jump out of the car. But he was so kind, and my eyes welled with tears as I told him that I didn't really know why I ran away, I was just really upset about the war in Iraq.
“Well, maybe you should try again in the summer-or at least wear a jacket next time”, he replied with a wink and dropped me off in front of my blue and white house that looked so cold and uninviting under the blanket of ice and snow.
“Your mother loves you,” he said as I got out of the car, and I nodded because I knew it was true.