Summer to you had always meant pumping your arms to the speed of your rapid footfalls with nothing to slow you down. Well, that is, except for me, as my little, stumpy legs were never able to compete with your race horse strides. You never listened when I called out after you and lost sight of your laughing form as you disappeared down our childhood street. I would eventually would give up the chase when my mom called me back home for dinner, and sure enough, like almost every evening, you would appear by my open bedroom window and retell all the marvelous things you encountered on your adventure. The next day, I would try to retrace your steps, following the exact path you took, but I was never able to come across that bird’s nest with the loud baby chicks or hear the song of the icecream truck that handed out free chocolate cones. I figured it was because I could never run fast enough, never reach the level you were always on. Only one time, did I see something unusual lying on the side of the road. As I crept towards, the repulsive and unmistakable stench of death gagged me when my eyes swept across the ghastly sight of blood and matted fur. A scream ripped from my throat and I took off bolting back home. I remember when you found me cowered under the lilac bush in my backyard with tears still leaking from my eyes and snot dribbling from my nose as I told you of the horror I had experienced. Your deep russet eyes widened in recognition and your lips pressed together while you sat silent for a few minutes listening to my sniffles.
“It’s just sleeping.”
You were so resolute in your answer as if it was the only explanation in the world that made sense. When you took me with you to the exact spot the following day, the raccoon on the side of the road was gone, and I was content with the fact that it must’ve woken up and scampered happily away.
A hot, muggy breeze slowly circulates the stuffy room like a ragged breath. It would do me much better to close my window, but I know I could never get my feet to move which were nailed to the floor or cast away my steady gaze from the darkness outside. My ears are carefully tuned into every miniscule noise as I wait for the familiar sound of your worn sneakers silently tip-toeing across the grass. It has been hours, though, and all I can hear is the buzz of mosquitos and the slight rustle of the trees in the tired wind. I dare to take a second to glance over at my alarm clock which was blinking 3:30 am. You should be here by now. That was the deal kept between us. After every excursion you take without me, good or bad, you always reveal your story in quick, hushed tones, leaning in through my window like when we were kids. Whether it be after a wild party, jail cell, or night in a stranger’s house, you always returned to calm my incessant fears. You were always racing away every night, reappearing with different scars and scents of alcohol, second-hand smoke, and blood that built up every story that built up you.
It’s 3:30 am and you should be back by now, pretending to sleep when your father slams the open the door and stumbles into your house in his drunken stupor. I now crane my my neck out the window, willing every shadow to be your figure because you should be back by now proving them all wrong. My breathing turns into short, quick pants as I can feel every agonizing second tick by before being engulfed by the endless night. Every nerve in my body burns with a sharp flame and my throat closes in on itself as I propel myself out my window into the darkness.
The rough asphalt tears at my bare feet and my legs begin to ache as I sprint at swift, unwavering speed. I don’t pay attention to the pain, or anything for that matter. Was this how you felt when you’d run? Driven by nothing but the brash urge to get away? I can’t blame you since you were forced to grow up before most people even knew what growing meant.
My lungs now feel as if they had fire and every breath I take in only fuels it. My body slows and lurches forward before I collapse painfully onto my hands and knees. Every rumor of overdoses and sadistic fathers whispered in school halls rushes through my brain like a fierce hurricane. The knock of the police officer with questions, the screams from your house last week, your secrets whispered in my ear, the sound of your footsteps always running. The noise is too loud, too much, as I slump on the side of the road. Then, I listen to your voice, steady and clear.
“It’s just sleeping.”