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All the Broken Pieces
The first time I tried to run away I was thirteen. It wasn’t stupid teenage stuff, or it wasn’t at the time. My mother had been in town and my father had been sitting at the kitchen table, buttering his toast.
I sat across from him, watching as he swept the flat knife back and forth and back and forth, grimacing to myself. His eyes flickered to my face, but he looked down again. He cleared his throat and adjusted his glasses, “You not hungry, Dashal?”
I snorted softly through my nose, “Dash.”
My father tensed, and he put down his toast, “Something you want to say to me, Dashal.”
I immediately regretted poking the line with my toe and I didn’t look up at him, “No.” I mumbled. I wasn’t in the best of moods. The previous day he hadn’t let me go to my friend’s party and then he’d sent me to the store to buy a few things. All without reason! I was still fuming. I itched to go outside and play with Jet, but I’d have to wait until ‘breakfast’ was over.
My father studied me for what seemed like hours and then he took a bite of his toast. I could hear him as it crunched in his mouth and then he abruptly stopped, “What is this?”
I looked up fast to find him swallowing the bread painfully and staring at the rest of his breakfast as if it were poisonous. I smirked, “Uh, last I checked it was called ‘toast’.”
He stood up from his seat and picked up the plastic package with the new loaf of bread in it, “Don’t get a smart mouth with me!” He turned the package over, “White!” He made a gagging noise and it was almost comical. Almost. “I said Wheat!” He growled accusingly at me.
My mouth dropped open, “Oh come on, its bread!”
My father tossed the loaf back onto the counter, “Wheat’s healthier.”
I stood from my spot, still trying to understand where this was coming from, “It doesn’t matter!”
“That’s not the point!” His voice rose slightly.
“Bread doesn’t have a point! Please, enlighten me from whatever crazy place you’re living in!” I yelled, all the anger I’d held contained over the previous days unleashing.
The vein in my father’s forehead bulged, “The point is you never listen! Wake up, Dash! You’re distracted all the time and deliberately disobey everything your mother and I say!” He took a breath and continued more subdued while throwing his hands in the air, “I mean, what do you want, Dash?” It didn’t go unnoticed by me that he didn’t use my full name and it caused my stomach to tighten in a strange way. “What are you trying to prove, huh?” His jaw clenched, he held his piece of toast in the air, “Because taking a right when you’re told to go left isn’t going to get you anywhere!”
How all of this came to be said I was at a loss to answer, but quiet suddenly, while I stood there in confrontation with my father in our kitchen, I needed to run. Bolt, get away. “I can’t believe this!” I said, “I’m getting out of here!” And that was it, I ran out of the kitchen, out the front door and past where my dog lay waiting, down the steps and the length of the sidewalk, and then across the street and into sweet, glorious freedom. Only when I stopped did I realize my father had been right on my heels the entire time.
“Dash,” he gasped for air and I wondered when the last time he moved faster than a walk was. “Dash, don’t…”
Suddenly, freedom tasted bitter because I’d been followed into it. I crossed my arms and contemplated turning on my heels and kicking dirt. My father swallowed, “Don’t run.” I took a deep breath and waited for him to continue, “Look, I know it’s against the rules to apologize,” I blinked, was he trying to make a joke? Because I kind of wanted to laugh. He sighed, “I’m sorry for that, but…” He seemed to force me to meet his gaze without saying anything and he stared severely, “But I’m not sorry for what I told you. You’re running in circles, son, and no matter how much you’re convinced we’re the ones chasing you, we aren’t.”
And so, later that evening when I came home, I plopped a perfect, whole wheat loaf of bread in front of my father when he settled at the dinner table. I remember the way he looked up at me; shocked. And I felt, even though he had won, that I stole the victory flag from under his feet. I took my place silently at the table, and ignored his stare. He was wrong, though. He was chasing me, maybe not in circles, but he was chasing me.
Because even today, when I reach out to pick a loaf of bread off the shelf, I pick wheat even when white sits just the same.
The second time I tried to run away I was eighteen. I remember it as if it were yesterday. In fact, it is branded into my mind and it screams at me every second of the entire day, the only thing keeping me from running and answering my phone every time it rings and I know it’s my parents calling. It was the summer after high school graduation. The worst summer of my entire life. Tension filled every inch of my household. I had been accepted into the University of Illinois and planned on majoring in English to pursue my writing dreams.
My father, however, had been unaware that I had applied and had ignored any obvious signs of what I wanted to do with my life that I tried to exhibit over and over again. Failed attempts, especially if you look at the outcome. While he was busy saying things like, ‘Standford, law school, ‘blah blah blah.’ I was busy saying things like, ‘Journalism, publishing, editing, character development. You know, important stuff.’ I guess it was no surprise when confrontation came. Of course, it was an all or nothing.
For weeks after I got my letter, it was small arguments, each one with my father and me throwing words back and forth. His favorite thing to say being, “You’re making the stupidest decision in your entire life,” or, “You’re not going! I’m not paying for it!” Finally, I’d had enough of it and packed my bags. I had a decent amount of money I’d been saving up through the years, earned from various jobs and a few writing contests. It was enough to get me started at least.
I zipped my giant duffel bag shut, the anger vibrated through me, adrenaline pumping the existence of my veins. Suddenly behind me, “What are you doing?” The voice was firm, and demanding. The voice was unmistakably my fathers.
I resisted the urge to flinch and didn’t turn around, “Saving time!” I swung the bag over my shoulder; feeling satisfied, then stopped and faced my father where he stood in the doorway with his arms crossed and searched out his gaze. For once in my entire life I felt like I stared down at him instead of the other way around. “You’re not going to pay for college, support me, then there’s no reason for me to stay here any longer.”
“Dashal, if this is about your dog dying…” He began, that patronizing voice causing me to grip my bag so tight it hurt.
“Don’t turn this around!” I yelled, “This isn’t about anything but you!”
His arms fell to his sides and his eyes flashed, “Blaming others for ones failures will get you no where!”
I almost laughed, “Failures? I got accepted into U of I! How is that failing? Oh wait; I forgot who I was talking to!”
I pushed past him, working my way to the door. He grabbed my arm, “So what, you just going to run off, become some low life writer?” I pulled my arm away from him hard, but his grip was frighteningly strong, “You think you can make it out there?!” The words were spat at me, vicious, “You think you can make your own way in the world?”
My breathing was hard, angry. Somehow I managed to match his same tone, “Better than being stuck here.” The words felt like sand grinding between my teeth, “I don’t need you, or your money. I’ll pay for college; get a job, an apartment.” There was a beat, “Let go of me.” They were perfectly measured words, the demand sounded dangerous, threatening.
My father slowly released me, my arm throbbing. We stared at each other for a long moment and I turned for the door once more. “You run away, Dash, and you stay away! You want the real world, then I’ll give you the real world! So you make a decision, stick with it because there are no second chances if you screw up because once that door is closed behind you it’s for good!”
I turned the knob and hesitated a little bit. What did he just say? New found ferocity bubbled in my stomach, don’t worry, I’m staying gone. And with that I swung the door open. This infuriated my father even farther, “You hear me?” He screamed, “Don’t you come back! This is it!”
I paused in the doorway and turned to look at him, “Yeah, dad,” my bag suddenly felt heavy, “I heard you a long time ago.” Then I slammed the door. It was the second time I tried to run away, and the first time I actually did. And I realized as I turned my back to the door, and turned my back to everything, that no one was chasing me anymore