We had been on one of our ‘off’ phases. I think we’d broken up because I said he wasn’t spending enough time with me, but it is hard to pinpoint a specific ‘off’ period. But I do remember that the fight my mother and I had that night was beyond even our usual. I was a disappointment, apparently – nothing new there. I was going to make nothing of my life. I was a failure. Neither the words nor the wounds were new, but something in me snapped that night. Maybe it was the storm that was shaking the house, and shaking something in me. That night, I told her she could go fuck herself, and she slapped me around the face. My father, looking between his wife horrified that I had sworn at her for the first time, and his daughter horrified that her mother had struck her for the first time, took me to one side and asked me if I was hell bent on destroying their marriage. I locked myself in my bedroom for the rest of the night, not that any lock was necessary: they didn’t want to interact with me; they didn’t call me downstairs for dinner; didn’t even demand an apology from me. They just did their own thing until they slunk off to bed to watch The Daily Show in their pyjamas. I couldn’t sleep, even after I heard their television switch off. Even after the nightly tell-tale bed squeaking finally stopped. I lay on my bed in my tiny room, which I had covered from floor to ceiling with postcards and posters and photographs, and suddenly it all wanted to smother me. It was three in the morning by the time I called Russ.
“Hello?” he said, groggily.
“It’s me. Can you pick me up?”
“I’m fighting with my mom again.”
He gave that kind of sigh someone lets out when they really don’t want to get out of bed, but they’ve already hit snooze too many times. “Okay.”
So he did: he came to my house in the dead of the night, and he took me down to the beach. The rain that had been lashing against the windows all night had not let up, so we sheltered in the truck, watching the waves batter the pier.
“I hate my life,” I said, and he held me.
“I want to run away,” I said, and he kissed me.
I stopped him, though. “No, I mean it. I want to leave. Right now. Just drive until we run out of gas, and then hop on a train and find somewhere to settle.”
“People don’t do that in real life, Payton,” he said, softly.
He gave me this sort of sad smile, like he was trying to figure me out. “Come on. Let’s get you home.”
And I knew that by ‘home’, he could only mean his house.
I should have listened to him. People aren’t like dust that can be swept from one place to another; and maybe in the days of old it was easy to just pack up and leave, but nowadays, it was all different. Our forefathers had it right. They fled their dying farms or their public scandal, they took on a new name, and strolled into a new job in a new place without any word from back home. I was beginning to wonder if it was as easy for them as the story books had always told me, because it certainly wasn’t easy for me.