He looked as if he was the kind of guy that would say “yes m’am” instead of “yeah”, like he would have thick calluses on his rough hands from working the land and would smell slightly of hay and farm animals. I stopped in my tracks at the sight of another human being; I had been wandering along this solitary dirt path for days now with only my mother’s diaries, some stale bread, and the clothes on my back, having only now happened upon another human being. I was determined to find my father, not caring how long I had to search for him. Standing here, seeing this man, I could not help but wonder if this could be him. My father had gone west sometime between when he and my mother met and when I was born. What were the chances that the first person I came upon while on my journey would be the one I was looking for? I stood there, still in the middle of the dirt road, afraid to move, speak, or even breathe, as if the man working in the field would disappear if I so much as flinched. This lofty, sinewy, and sun-bronzed man fit the image I saw of my father when I closed my eyes, the image my mother had described in her diary. That diary was the only piece of her I had left. When she died, all of our belongings had been sold to pay off the many debts that she had not been able to pay because we were so poor. We had no family left; the only thing anyone had known about my father was that he had gone west to look for a better life, deserting my mother with only enough to keep her alive. I was only an infant when my mother died, so I remember nothing of her, yet I felt as if I knew her well. Some kind stranger had thought to tuck her diaries in to the large basket they had used as a makeshift baby carriage to take me to the orphanage. I had survived, along with the diaries, for close to 16 years at that miserable place. Every night I wished and dreamed that my father would come find me, that he would take me away from there and give me a better life on a farm in the west. He never came, but I never gave up. The night of my 16th birthday, I waited until everyone was deep asleep and sneaked away, heading west out of town. Going west had eventually brought me here, along this dirt path. Still frozen, I looked him over one last time, only moving my eyes, contemplating whether I should approach him or walk by pretending that I was just passing through. He wore a plaid button up shirt, a cowboy hat on his head, dirty blue jeans, and work boots. I could hear animals in the distance, squawking as they went about their daily business, maybe a tractor far off in another field. I was not sure I could bring myself to talk to him. He stood in the field, doing his work, seemingly oblivious of the girl staring at him from the middle of the dirt path. I pondered this as I studied him even closer, his short dark hair, and his “I’m in charge” stance. In that second, I knew I had to try to talk to him. This could be my one chance to find my family. But could I? I blinked a few times; thinking about what my life might have been like, what might still be possible for me. I was suddenly terrified as I opened my mouth to speak. In the heat of the moment, I turned and ran, realizing how ridiculous I would sound if this were not he. I kept running and running, away from the man that could be my father, away from what could have been.
Running From What Could Have Been
October 2, 2008