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No Turning Back
It’s been two whole years. Two years since I’ve seen my family and my friends. Two years since I’ve had a decent meal. I look awful, smell even worse, and weigh about thirty pounds less than I should. The worst thing is, I’m only eighteen.
The morning I left my parents is to this day, burning in my mind, still hot to the touch. It was October 15th, 2007. I was sixteen then. My parents didn’t know about my addiction- I had smoked marijuana that summer with some friends and had relied on it ever since. I can’t tell you the number of times I would light up. It was liberating. I could stop worrying about everything that was going on in my life for a little while.
I got up at 6:00 that morning, just like every other day. I had normal classes- calculus, Spanish, history, and physics. Nothing out of the ordinary. I stayed after that day just like every other. I stayed after to smoke with friends. My parents thought I was staying after for physics tutoring. It was one of my worse subjects, so they had never suspected anything. When I got home was when things started happening for the worse. I walked in the door and was met by frantic parents. They grabbed me from the hall and pushed me on the couch in the living room, both talking at once. I sat for at least five minutes listening to the angry, incomprehensible noise. When they finally calmed down, my parents sat and looked at me for a long time. When he was ready, my father cleared his throat. He was the first to speak.
“Tyler, we called the school today-”
“What is this about?” I interrupted.
My mother hesitated, “Well, Tyler, we called your physics teacher today to ask him if you could miss tutoring today.” Her face looked terrified.
I stared at my parents in disbelief. They knew. “Mom, I can explain-”
“He told us that you had never stayed after for tutoring.” my father barked. “What’s going on?”
“Tyler, if you don’t tell us what you’ve been doing, there will be consequences. We want to know now.”
I couldn’t make my mind focus. It was spinning out of control in hundreds of different directions. How had they known? How long had they known? I didn’t keep any marijuana in my room and I barely ever smelled like it. Had one of my friends told them?
“Tyler whatever you’ve been doing, we really would appreciate you telling us. Please. Just save us the anticipation.” My mother was trying to fight back tears. “Does she even know what I really did?”
“Tyler we can’t make you tell us. And for now, we’re done discussing it. Please just go to your room.” my dad said.
I stormed out of the living room, leaving my angry parents behind. I ran to my bedroom and packing in a blind rage. “They can’t find out. They can’t.” They would never forgive me if they knew. It was better to save them the grief. My football duffel bag was filled to the brim after about twenty minutes. At the time, walking out was seemed like the best idea in the world. I didn’t even consider my actions until about fifteen blocks from home. I was by myself. My parents didn’t even try to stop me. Maybe leaving was really a stupid idea.
By then, my shoulders and feet were aching from carrying my overstuffed backpack, so I started to look for a bus stop. There was about $1,000 dollars in my bag that I had saved from working over the summer, so paid for a bus that was going to Philadelphia. My house was in Springfield, so the bus ride wasn’t too far. I figured I’d ride until they kicked me off, just to have something to do. I also wanted to get as far away from home as possible. It was already 10 P.M., so I thought maybe I’d have another two hours or so before I had to get off. I fell asleep, and woke up somewhere on the east side of Philadelphia. I got off into the cold, dark morning, not knowing what to do or where to go next, so I stood. I stood for an hour. Two hours. It felt like forever.
I considered going back home, but giving my parents the satisfaction of being right was enough to keep me away. I wanted to prove something to them. Prove that I could rely on myself. Maybe one of my friends would let me stay with them, just for that night, but everyone’s parents knew mine. Nothing except staying right there in the city seemed like it would work. I eventually found a small motel so I could get a room. I unlocked the door to room 4A at around 12:30. It smelled musty and damp, and the covers on the bed were hidden by a layer of dust. That night was the worst. I hardly slept, and when I did, my sleep was filled with horrible nightmares. I cried for hours that night, and for the majority of the nights over the next few weeks.
After that, I knew I had to save my money. I didn’t have much as it was, so saving was my priority. I couldn’t stay in motels or eat out at restaurants. I couldn’t even try to find a marijuana dealer in Philly. My cravings were starting to get to my head. Since I didn’t have any at my house, I didn’t have time to go to a friend’s to borrow some. During those two years, my biggest source of money was various jobs around the city. Sometimes I was given food as a payment, which was nice, seeing as a decent meal was hard to come by. I could go to soup kitchens, but it made me feel too needy. Other than that, I did pretty well, under the circumstances. I never called my parents either. Not once. For the first six months I was gone, my parents had put up missing persons posters, telling people to “Call immediately if you see him”. They were stapled to telephone poles, taped in store windows, and even on the back of some milk cartons. When no one had any luck in finding me was when the posters started disappearing. However, my parents didn’t give up completely. They had just lost hope in finding me. I think they knew I was out there somewhere and that I would come home when I needed.
Today, two years later, the streets are still home, but I’m no longer in Philadelphia, I’m in Boston. I’d taken to traveling recently, just to avoid the monotony of cities. I took the train up here about two weeks ago from New York. My clothes are filthier than before (as you can imagine), and my hair is significantly longer. My drug dependency has pretty much disappeared, but the occasional cravings do show themselves. I get lucky sometimes and am able to find places to shower every now and again. The showers help calm my addiction spikes and to calm my anxieties. I showered at the train station before I left Philadelphia, and at a campground when I switched trains in Hartford, Connecticut.
For the most part, I don’t really mind being “homeless”. It’s being called homeless that irks me. Especially when I get stares and strange looks from people on their way to work or school. That’s one of the reasons moving is so magnificent. People are less likely to notice me. It’s when you “invade” their neighborhood that they really become conscious of you.
This morning, I went to the park to rest. I had walked all night trying to find a cheap place for food, but with no success, so the rumbling in my stomach was emphatic. Even if I had eaten, the hunger would not have gone away. My stomach was caving in from the lack of food. There was a secluded bench underneath a bare oak tree near the center of the park that I chose to sit down on. The leaves had already changed and many had already fallen. Winter was coming soon- earlier than last year. The cold was still aching in my bones from the last winter. My breath showed up, ragged and quick, in the morning air. “It must be near freezing,”. Although it was unbearably cold, my breath helped me concentrate by giving me something to focus on. My mind wandered and I started thinking about how things were two years ago- my classmates who would graduate without me this spring, if my parents had ever figured out why I left, what they thought about me now. I suddenly felt extremely lonely. I hadn’t had a real conversation with someone for months now, and I didn’t have a single friend in the world to talk to. This was like social isolation; solitary confinement but with people all around me. I always tried to avoid thinking about things like that, seeing as homesick feelings often came with them, so my mind shifted to other topics. I thought about where I was going to sleep that night. There were a few bridges and overpasses in the park and the surrounding highway that could be used. However, nothing really compared to the feeling of falling asleep with a pillow and blankets on a mattress made out of foam and cotton rather than grass and leaves. I missed the comfort of having a quiet room, far away from this mayhem.
“You’re not really being optimistic,” I thought. “Focus on the essentials, rather than letting your mind wander.”
It was virtually impossible. I was craving all the home comforts. Two years was a long time to go without food, a bed, friends, and family. I couldn’t stand the thought of going without them for much longer. It was then that started to really consider going home. Maybe two years on my own was enough. Maybe it was all I could handle.
The next few hours were spent contemplating my options. Only one place was really calling to me- home. While I pondered, the sun rose higher in the sky, warming the ground and the air around me; making it more comfortable. It wasn’t as cold, but my soul still felt frozen. People began to roam throughout the park, walking dogs, running, and meeting up with friends.
All of these feelings I was experiencing; tiredness (which was now more like insomnia), homesickness , hunger which had nearly worn a hole in my stomach, cravings, loneliness, and fear of everything in general had all been present since the first days away from home, but for some reason, they had intensified in the past week. By noontime, my mind was made up. I would go home. I would catch the next train back to Philadelphia, walk right up my front steps, and go home. I counted my money- only $257 left. Hopefully it would be enough to buy a train ticket. “It will have to do.” I picked up my backpack, got up from the bench, and started walking. The train station was about twenty blocks away- a walk that what would seem like a long walk to some, but for me it was nothing. I had walked an uncountable amount of blocks at a time on numerous occasions. No one talked to me on the way, nor did I talk to them. I enjoyed walking in silence, listening to peoples’ conversations as I passed. So many of them were concerned with work and the economy. My only concern was staying alive.
I got to the station and bought a ticket with exactly $100 to spare. The train was leaving in forty-five minutes, so I decided to get something to eat. Seeing as I would be home tomorrow, I could afford it. There was a small deli restaurant in the station, so I ordered a sandwich and sat down. “What will it be like to have a home again? Food, warmth, and family waiting for me?” I had done a lot of thinking that day. The time passed quickly, and before I knew it, I was on the train headed south. Most of the ten hour ride was spent sleeping, and I only got up to use the bathroom. When we were an hour from Philadelphia, my nerves took over.
“What if they don’t want me back home? What if they moved? What if this is a huge mistake?” All of these questions were going through my mind as I got off the train. I didn’t have much money left, so going home was inevitable. I wouldn’t try to run. Not now when I had come so far already.
Walking through the familiar city helped me reassure myself that this was what I needed to do. It was late, so I wanted to find a place to shower, eat, and sleep. Going home in the morning seemed like a better option because my parents would probably be asleep. Only a few bars and cafés that were still open had public bathrooms. I chose one called The Silver Penny. It was virtually deserted, and there was no line for the bathroom, so I went right inside. I washed up and took some time trying to make myself look and smell more presentable. My parents would be too busy being relieved that I was home to notice the smell, but I did it anyway. I came out of the bathroom, ordered a coffee, and sat at a corner table, out of the way of others, until closing time when they asked me to leave. My next goal was to find for some place to sleep. I decided to go to a movie theater so I could hide in between the rows of seats. The movie ticket cost me $12, but it didn’t matter. I was going home tomorrow, and there was no need to worry about money.
The movie playing was some cheap romance film. I only watched about half of it before I crawled down between the seats, out of sight. The theater owner came by about forty-five minutes later to check the theater before he left. Luckily, he didn’t see me, so I settled in for a long night. I dreamt about my parents, my house, and the night that I left. They were more like nightmares, each with awful endings about my parents hating me forever, or my house burning down. It wasn’t a pleasant night.
I woke the next morning in a daze with a stiff neck and back from being wedged on the floor. My eyes were bloodshot because I had only slept for about four hours. I stood up, only to be met with a pang in my temple, which was probably from the hunger and the stress. Today, I would see my parents for the first time in two years.
“The first time in two years,” I thought.
I ran to the trash can and threw up out of anxiety.
When I reached my doorsteps, I had to practically force myself to ring the doorbell.
“I’ll ring the doorbell. My parents will hear. My mother will get up from the computer and walk down the stairs to answer it. My father will be in the living room watching the morning news. I’ll be going out of my mind. My mother will get to the door, her hand on the knob. There will be no turning back.
I did it. The doorbell echoed through the house. I panicked. Before I could do anything, my mother had reached the door. My hunger and headache were gone- I was too scared to feel them. My mother opened the door. Her face was confused.
“Who is it?” my father called form his chair in the living room.
Then she knew.