By The Time You Read This

October 1, 2011
By MarleeFox PLATINUM, Annapolis, Maryland
MarleeFox PLATINUM, Annapolis, Maryland
20 articles 0 photos 3 comments

She was eight the first time she ran away from home. With stale tears in her muddy eyes, she dumped the contents of her plastic piggy bank into the center of an old, red bandanna and then spent fifteen minutes trying to tie the small bundle to the tip of her mother’s yardstick. She snuck downstairs to the kitchen, one hand clapped over her ear to block out the yelling, the other wrapped around a worn teddy bear, and the yardstick tucked under her arm. As an afterthought, she grabbed two bags of pretzels and a bruised tangerine before slipping through the front door into the dirty yellow buzz of the rusted streetlights, hugging her rations to her chest. It was 9:30 by the time her mother found her, asleep on the cold concrete sidewalk four houses up the street. Her small body was curled around her pack, with her back to the street, and all of her food untouched.

She was twelve the second time she ran away from home. She paused as she shoved the last pair of jeans into her old duffle bag, squinting her eyes shut to stop the flow of tears. From the back of her sock drawer, she retrieved two-hundred and forty-six dollars: a compilation of Christmas gifts and odd job money from the previous summer. Leaving her cell phone behind on her neatly-made bed, she crept down the dimly-lit staircase and carefully maneuvered her ratty sneakers around the broken glass that littered the downstairs hallway. Halfway out the door, she paused, then turned back to bend over and pick up one of the clear glass shards off the floor, then slipped out the front door and closed it softly behind her. She clenched the shard of glass in her hand all the way to the bus stop, so that by the time she was halfway there, it had drawn blood. She waited twenty minutes at the corner of Cherry and K street for the 11:30 bus. It came five minutes late, grinding to a halt in front of her with a screech, and opened its double doors. Without hesitating, she stepped onto the first stair, then lifted her head and looked around. The bus was nearly empty, with only a few people remaining: a solemn couple in the back, an old woman with blue-tinged hair, a middle-aged man using his black briefcase as a pillow. “Well, sweetheart, are you coming or not?” the bus driver rasped into the silence, betraying his impatience by drumming his fingers on the huge steering wheel. Turning her head away from the back of the bus, she looked at the bus driver, then down at her tattered shoes. Her shoulders twitched in a movement that could have been a shrug before she turned, stepped off the bus and walked back in the direction from which she had come. She didn’t turn back as she heard the doors slam shut or the sound of the engine fade back into silence. With the piece of glass still digging into her palm, she realized that all she needed was to know that she could have gone.

She’ll be seventeen the last time she’ll run away from home. Without shedding a tear, she’ll take with her a backpack full of clothes, a notebook and a pen, eight hundred dollars and her mother’s boyfriend’s old black sedan. She’ll stop at a rest stop along the New Jersey turnpike at four in the morning and use drug-store dye to turn her red hair black over a sink in the vacant bathroom. As she maneuvers the car onto the highway, she’ll think about where she’s going, and where she’ll never go again. She’ll think about being a waitress, she’ll thing about going to college and she’ll think about doing both. Or neither. She’ll think about two bags of pretzels and a bruised tangerine, an impatient bus driver and waking up to yelling at three AM. She’ll think about when she found a needle in the kitchen trashcan when she was eleven and waiting with her backpack for hours on the steps of her middle school, always expecting to be remembered. But most of all, she’ll remember leaving on her bed a shard of glass that she knows her mother won’t recognize and a note on a torn piece of notebook paper that says “By the time you read this."

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