I’ve been driving for about a week, and it’s been quiet for the most part. I’m mostly left with my thoughts, which are never pretty.
I try to keep my thoughts positive, but the darkest part of my mind sucks me in. Thoughts hide, waiting for their time to attack.
And when the stampede of heavy thoughts begins, they will not stop for hours. They will win. They will destroy everything in their path.
This is what I deal with: a private war. One I don’t even know how to fight.
Flashes of images appear before my eyes. I try to turn up the music, hoping to shut them out, but it doesn’t seem to work. I cringe as specific memories make their way to the top.
A terrible feeling of dread follows, and I begin to think that this was all my fault; all the horrible things that happened the day before I left were because of me.
And now I am making them worse. Now I’m running from my problems, but maybe I can’t run from all of them because I’m the real problem.
What was I thinking? I’m not good enough to deserve a second chance.
Please, please don’t do this! Not again! I cannot take another night. I cry while I sit on the floor, leaning against my door. I can hear her, wailing. She’s crying for nothing.
I know this because she does not feel anymore. Years of the bottle have numbed her senses. She screams. I know she most likely fell, but I can’t bring myself to check on her. Again.
Please stop. If he comes home early again, he’ll be livid. His fists will be hard and bloodthirsty. It will be an even longer night. And when her cries are silenced, he will come up here.
He’ll probably knock. Because it’s the polite thing to do, but there will be nothing polite about his intentions. He will yell. He will spit.
He will throw a lamp or maybe a glass where my head will be if I am too slow. He will grab my hair and throw me into the wall—that has become his signature move.
Then, when the blood has dried and the bruises are iced, he will tell us how he was out of line. As if he could see or even find the line if he tried. He will apologize.
And mom will pour another glass.
So I climb up off the ground and into my bed. I cover my ears with a pillow and pray he will be out late tonight.
I can feel my chest tighten as the memories flash by. I close my eyes and make a fist until my nails dig into my palm.
Don’t let your mind wander. A wave of tears hits me, but I wipe them away and bite my lip.
In the morning, I try to convince myself that yesterday’s memories were only a relapse. Everything is okay, and I’m okay.
I remember that I only had one nightmare last night and hope it’s a sign that the further I am from them, the better. And now I’m refreshed and ready for something new.
For breakfast, I try to find someplace to eat but only find a small diner.
I knew before even going in that it would smell of burnt coffee and grease. But any coffee is good coffee, and I haven’t eaten since yesterday.
Although the coffee is burnt and tasteless, the diner still surprises me by having the best omelets I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating.
A jukebox in the corner is playing “Hey, Jude,” and two kids are fighting over crayons in a corner booth.
I try to keep my nose in a book I bought, but I can’t help but look up when a man walks into the diner. In fact, everyone can’t help but look up when this businessman walks in.
It could be that they don’t get many men in suits, or his demanding and unforgiving demeanor demands attention from everyone in the room.
Either way, the room seems to go still, and the two kids stop arguing and sit up straight.
Unfortunately, he makes eye contact with me and heads straight for the seat next to me at the bar. I hope to the heavens he doesn’t want to talk.
I am not and will never be the chatty type of person who will strike up a conversation with a total stranger. Especially not this type of stranger.
The waitress comes right over, and he tells her that he’s here to pick up his order. Without another word, she’s off to the kitchen.
If I was trying to be inconspicuous before, I was now trying to be invisible.
“Excuse me, miss.” He clears his throat. After an eye roll that I feel all the way in my soul, I look over at him.
Without saying anything, I assess him again and come to the conclusion that he must send his socks out for dry cleaning.
“You’re John Hills’s daughter, aren’t you? I believe we met once at a business lunch. If I can ask, what are you doing all the way out here?” he asks while pronouncing every word of his sentence.
“Just passing through.” This is not how I wanted today to go. And this is not someone I ever wanted to talk to again.
I remember him, and while I don’t know much about him or his business with my father, I do remember him at some of our dreaded annual Christmas parties.
He would always get drunk and hit on my mom within an hour of arriving.
“How fun. So how is your father?” Thankfully the waitress comes over with his order wrapped up in a bag, giving me time to recover from his question.
Has he not watched the news? Read a newspaper? Even the news would have gotten out here by now. Then I see him turn back to me with a smirk.
He knows the news has been broadcasting updates on the case to other cities. He knows what’s happened to my family, and now he’s rubbing it in my face, as if I already haven’t had enough.
“Why don’t you go ask him yourself,” I tell him, turning back to my plate. I will not play his sick game.
“I should give him a call. I haven’t seen him in forever. We used to have some good times together.” He laughs mockingly at me as he stands up to leave.
“Good to see you again, darlin’,” he says as he leaves. Darlin’, my ass, that man doesn’t even know my name.
I stormed out after paying. Why does life have to do this to me? Can’t I live an invisible life? I pull my hair and sit down. Why would anyone want to know my father?
And if you did, you definitely knew what was happening in that house. He couldn’t have been that terrible a person; why didn’t he help?
Why didn’t anyone? Maybe my life would have ended up differently if someone had.
It’s clear now that I need to get farther away from home, as many miles away from that place as I can. Because I never want to meet anyone from home or remember anything from that god-awful town.
Isn’t it funny what reminds you of home? It can be completely random. A smell. Or a honked horn. A woman’s dress. For others, those might be calming.
It might bring them back to their beloved childhood home. But for me, every flashback hurts.
That night I drove for hours, trying to get far away from where I was. It rained, and it was beautiful. By seven, I found a big city with on-ramps, traffic, and skyscrapers.
I imagine a person can easily become lost in a town like this. In the mass of people.
I walk around to soak all of it in. I’m reminded of a boy I once knew in high school who wanted to be a journalist.
He once sat in front of a bonfire, cigarette in hand, blabbering on and on about how he wanted to treat places like people.
He wanted to travel and interview buildings and make main streets tell him their story. People yelled at him to shut up, but there was something beautiful about his passion for his dream.
As I looked around that bonfire, I knew that we all would someday become gas station attendants, cashiers, and teen moms. But not him. Out of all of us, he was the one that could make it out.
Unfortunately, I lost track of him in the rush of high school and I don’t know what happened to him. But I can imagine him sitting on a bench listening to the stories being told.
As I walk, I try to do what he wanted to do by asking a stop sign what motivates it, and the side of a glass building how it stands day after day. But no reply.
Then, as I walked by a storefront, a newsreel begins to play, catching my eye. The story is about a new case of domestic violence.
About how an innocent man is on trial for murder, and how the only witness, his daughter, has run away. To the side, there is a picture of her and a number to call.
But as usual, the media has it wrong. He is not an innocent man, and his daughter did not run away. She escaped.
So I got back in my van as calmly as I could and drove down the streets and avenues till I found the on-ramp. Onto the next town. Maybe I’ll never find what I’m looking for.
Perhaps it’s all for nothing and I’ll die on the road, unhappy and alone. I want to start over. Is it too much to ask?
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