In the Face of Compassion

By
It started with silence and then a leap. I hit the ground running and I never looked back at what once was called a home. Only having seen sixteen revolutions around the sun, I didn’t know where I was going or what I was doing. I just had to get out.

The sky was still as black as it had been the moment my bare feet tickled the dew covered grass. With straps draped on each shoulder, all I had was a backpack full of food and a single memory. One I’d have to end up burning as the journey edged on. I was in Salt Lake City. I had one thousand dollars of savings and the luck of the Irish to get me to Seattle. It was far enough, the population dense enough, and a place where I could feel safe . As the sky lightened, I found myself at a bus stop. I took a seat on the cold plastic bench, pulling the hood of my black sweatshirt over my face, hoping to doze off for the few hours I had before the six a.m. bus came and took me closer to point B.

I woke up to the sound of an opening door. The grey of the sky made me positive it would be raining in a few hours, if not a few minutes. I stood up and drug my exhausted, swollen feet into the bus. I tried my best to hide the fact I hadn’t remembered shoes when I left, but the look on the bus driver’s face told me she already knew.

“Good morning, ma’am.” I whispered, the stench of fear escaping my throat. The bus driver was a dark lady. Her black hair was pulled into a tight, wet bun and her skin was glowing. The blue uniform didn’t do any justice for her obviously sedentary lifestyle, but I thought she was beautiful.

“So, honey, you got a story? Or did that black eye just get harmlessly drawn on?” I hadn’t even noticed, I suppose the adrenaline rush got the better of me because when I looked into the bus mirror I realized the actions of last night were everywhere. My eye was the least of my worries; it was my nose that stuck out the most. Swollen, and red, I hoped it wasn’t broken, yet deep down (knowing my luck) I knew it was.

“Yeah, thought you had a story. Where you headed?” She asked, “I’m Ruth Walker, by the way.”

“Seattle,” I replied, “nice to meet you Ms. Walker. I’m…” I stopped myself. I couldn’t be me anymore, not after last night. I had to completely start over.

“Undecided.” Ruth interrupted, “Yupp, I know honey, I ran away once myself. Call me Ruth. Never made it to my destination, though, got too scared. It’s a big world out there, y’know?” she looked out the window with memories, I could tell by her eyes. “Seattle isn’t very close to here, must be some life you had to be leaving so far away.” I just nodded and took a seat in the front.

“Well, if you want to talk, we got a long way to go. I hope you know I don’t go straight to Seattle. In fact, this bus only makes it to the outer-city limits.”












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I was born into a family of three. I don’t remember much of the happy days. However, I remember the tragedy days. When I was five years old, my older sister died. She was only seven, too. It was sudden and the doctor said she wasn’t in any pain when she died. I don’t know why, but hearing the doctor say that made me feel so content. She must’ve been happy, I thought.

My parents never recovered. Their fighting became the norm. The looks on the faces of my kindergarten teachers implied I shouldn’t be so nonchalant about the situation, but I was a big girl. That’s what my mom would say, “You’re a big girl, now. You can handle big girl things.” Still, whenever parent-teacher conferences arrived teachers gave me that look as if I was a lost puppy. It wasn’t surprising when my mother left. The school counselor asked if she could speak with me and when she asked how I felt I told her, “Happy. Happy that my mom can go be happy.” She stared at me in disbelief.

A week after my mom left, my dad got into drinking. He and my mother would drink every now and then to numb the pain. Nowadays, I think they did it to make staying with each other, and seeing me –the spitting image of my sister—a little bit easier. One night he came home in a rage. That was the first night. And I feel this memory every morning I wake up until the moment I go to sleep at night. I got out of my bed when I heard the plate hit the ground. The house was dark; there was no sign of life and no sign of my father. I ran down the stairs and found my dad; he was crying, holding those broken shatters of my sister’s favorite plate. It had her name in beautiful black cursive painted on the side and flowers all around the edge. My mother had made one for the both of us. He sat there, blood in his hands from the shattered ceramics scraping them. When he finally looked up at me I expected his normal “I’m fine” smile to appear on his scruffy face. Instead, he looked at me with pain and anger. I said his name. I said his name twenty times as he stood up and came closer and closer to me with those eyes. Those eyes burnt a hole in my soul and tore my heart open. He grabbed my shirt collar and looked at me. He yelled, “You look just like her! Why do you look just like both of them!” He threw me to the floor. He grabbed a recently emptied picture frame and smacked it across my face.





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The rain was pouring. The coolness of the window numbed the headache that had been activating earlier. It had only been forty five minutes and yet it seemed to me to have been taking hours. All I needed to do was get to the Frontrunner, buy a ticket, and leave. Tickets cost abour four hundred dollars round trip, and I only needed one way. That'd leave me with eight hundred dollars to start over. I guess that's what I was doing: starting over.

Ruth hadn't spoken to me much more. Early-birds were catching the worms, hustling and bustling with breifcases and dark circles around their eyes, like racoons.But as an overworked man jumped off the bus, we were all alone once again. So I told her the story.




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When I woke up the world smelt like maple syrup and bacon. My dad was cooking. He hadn't cooked since her death and I was sure I'd never smell bacon in this household afterward. Yet, on the contrary, there it was. That crisp childhood smell. When I jumped out of bed, I stumbled. All of a sudden, I felt dizzy. That's when I remembered what had happened. The whole night hadn't been a dream. I ran to the nearest bathroom and glanced in a mirror. Was that... me? My face had been turned into an alien. Oozing cuts sprouted out of my skin like weeds. However, the left side of my face looked about normal. You know the saying, it doesn't hurt until you see the blood? In that moment, the pain stung me like an angry bee. Silent tears welled up in the corners of my eyes and dripped down my cheeks, the salt only made it worse. I took a deep breath, I was a big girl. Big girls could handle this. Wiping the tears gently off my face, I walked down the steps to the very same kitchen.

"Hey darling," my father kneeled down and kissed me on my left cheek. His eyes swept over the right cheek as if it were sweeping dust under the rug. "How 'bout we both take a day off from school and work, huh kiddo?"

I was so surprised at the time. I just nodded my head. Now, it disgusts me. How easy he manipulated me to think that everything was going to be alright. That we could just forgive and forget. Last night never happened. And so began my life. Daylight hours were joyous and normal, but once darkness hit, so did he. Whenever I'd show up to elementary school I was packed full of excuses. "Oh, it's nothing, I fell into a rose bush.," or, "I ran into a door, clumsy old me." The worst part was that, well, everyone believed me. They drank up every word I said, it was a warm mug of hot chocolate: reassuring, easy, painless. For anyone to have to pity, or show concern,well, let me tell you, it was all too much for them. I try not to resent every friend, every teacher, every counselor, but they knew. They knew just as well as I knew. Yet the more I denied it, the more they believed the denial. Life became easier when make-up was allowed. Once middle school hit, I had the ultimate protection: foundation. I hid everything under one sticky layer of Covergirl. Though lying wasn't a problem anymore, puberty was. Puberty and the lonliness of an abusive drunken man with corrupted moral values.

A part of me died inside every single night for three whole years. After three years, he started bringing friends home, and then he started bringing random men home, and finally he was going to get paid for bringing these friends home. By that time... I was already dead.




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Ruth had stopped the bus and a comforting arm surrounded me.

"Shh... Baby, it'll be okay." Ruth rocked me back and forth as I let go of everything that had been welled up inside of me since the first day I was abused. I cried. I yelled. I screamed. Ruth let me. I had never felt so much warmth. I reckoned that this is what it must be like to have a mother, someone to protect you from everyone. I reckoned that this must be what it feels like to be loved, even if it was not that. I am sure it was just sympathy, but it's the closest I've ever gotten to that feeling of love.

"You are a strong girl, Undecided," She loosened her hug and put her soft hands on my weak shoulders. "I've got something I want you to have." She fished around in her pocket and pulled out two pieces of cardstock paper. "Now, they ain't to Seattle, honey, but I figure you and I can go in and change them. They need identification before they can let you go. You fine with riding the train, honey?" My eyes looked down in shame, "I can't." Tears were still running down my cheeks when I confessed, "I killed him." Ruth's eyes shot open and stared into mine, empty. "I can't take your kindness because I killed him. And that friend of his too. I took my father's shotgun and I shot them both in the head." I was shaking. I stood up. "I can travel on my own from here."

I pushed beside the shocked bus driver and I took the first step, the second, and I was gone. The rain was still pouring and I had a good hour and a half walk from where we had stopped. It only took a good fifteen minutes before I was soaked, cold, and recovering from the fit I had just experienced in the bus. How had I let myself get so out of hand? Emotional was never a word used to describe me. My dad had always told me that feelings didn't count for anything in the real world. The only thing people actually care about is money because money is the only thing that counts.

Warmth came from nowhere as a gasp of air interupted the rain's song. "Get in, honey, you're going to get hypothermia." I turned to see a smiling bus driver holding out two train tickets to Los Angelos, with compassion neatly tied back in a still-wet bun. I walked up the first step, up the second, and then we were gone. I was headed home: a place I'd never been before.


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Everything I'd done, everyone I knew, even Ruth, were all gone now. I took a step, and then another one, and then I erased all that had been. I took out a lighter and a picture of my sister and I burnt them, right there. Maria Robinson once said, 'Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending." Well, it started with silence and then a leap into the streets of Seattle, Washington. A leap into the arms of home.





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BrittDawn This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jul. 17, 2011 at 7:53 pm

i absolutely love this. i dream about going to seattle all the time, its my dream after high school. thanks for posting this :)

 

 
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