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I was lost and confused. When I ran, I didn’t realize, (or care) where I ended up. All I know is that there were blurry gray shapes, and blackness. That’s all I saw when I ran. I never looked up or down. Just kept my eyes trained on the horizon, reaching out with my eyes. I wanted to get to the edge of the world, where no one was, where I could be alone with my thoughts.
I finally slowed to a walk when I couldn’t take any more pain. Every breath was hard work. My stomach bursting and my diaphragm pumping out lactic acid, till I couldn’t stand straight.
Unknowingly, I veered sideways, and stumbled a little more, but I couldn’t take it. My knees buckled and I dropped. I expected to hit the concrete I was running on. Instead, the ground cushioned my fall. At first, I was confused, but the thought was soon dismissed. My vision turned sideways and I felt a sharp pain on my cheek as my face hit the ground. I was breathing hard, drawing painful breaths of precious air. Eventually, I rolled onto my back, yearning to look at the stars, to see them calling to me. How desperate was I to join them?
Instead, when I looked up, I saw greenish shadows against the black night. Trees? I tried to glance around to see where I was but I didn’t care enough.
For a while, I just stared up at the shadows, gently moving in the breeze. I didn’t know how deep in the woods I was, but I didn’t care. I lay there, thinking. The more I thought, the more thoughts penetrated my skull, forcing themselves in. The thoughts I ran from, the ones I did not want to think about. They came in like an avalanche, first breaking away slowly, then all at once. The blood, the pain, the loud voices- the things that made my head spin and the things that were steadily becoming scarring memories:
I had been woken by screaming, which was normal, in my world at least. They screamed and shouted at every little thing they saw fit. I’d been hearing this for almost everyday since I was twelve. Now, I am seventeen. I woke up, lazily got out of bed, and did my morning routine. Then, I went into the kitchen for coffee, which of course, I shouldn’t have done.
“WHY ARE YOU BLAMING THE MESS ON ME?! WHY DON’T YOU ASK HER WHO DID THIS?”
“STOP! I NEVER BLAMED YOU FOR ANYTHING! THE MESS WAS THERE AFTER SHE FELL ASLEEP!”
They went back and forth for no reason and you’d think it gets easier to handle because it’s so normal. Actually it’s the exact opposite. No matter how much you try to block it out or think that it will all be okay one day, the little things still affect you. You may think they don’t and you try to push the thoughts out but they just keep on building and it’s not entirely possible to block everything out or say “I’m used to it.” because the truth is, you are not used to the little pain and stab of nausea that comes in. The wrenching pain in your gut and tightness in your throat as you try not to let the tears spill. It gets harder to handle each time it happens. It feels like you’re going to spontaneously combust into a million pieces which, to be honest, is a better option. Then, you reach this limit where your vision turns red and all you want to do is scream for them to STOP! That you would rather have them beat you to death than hear their voices for another second.
Today, something came over me! I yelled and begged for them to stop! I couldn’t take it anymore. I begged until I was on the floor rocking myself back and forth, hands on my head, hot tears pouring out. They looked at me as if they’d just noticed that I was there. I was crying and screaming and I asked them to stop but they still continued screaming, now it was directed at me. I mustered enough courage to stand up and physically get in between them. I didn’t know what I was planning on doing, but it was my only resort. Only, it didn’t work. They pushed me out of the way together and with force. I hit my head on the corner of a table. I felt my skin split on the part of my head where there was most pain. My vision went black then the shapes and colors made their way into my vision. My head was pounding. I couldn’t take it anymore. This was the last straw. I was probably bleeding really bad since the blood was dripping onto the floor, but I didn’t really care. At that moment, I decided I wasn’t needed, and I took off. I put my shoes on blindly and ran out the door. I felt their hands clawing at my back, yelling at me to come back in the house. Little did they know, I was never coming back. I didn’t think they would try hard enough to look for me. Since I wasn’t allowed outside the house, noone really knew me besides some dumb kids around the block.Trying to get to know them was an accident I’d paid for dearly. I’d almost died, which I would have much prefered at the time, but they decided to give me food and hydrate me 4 days later.
These memories came flooding back into my mind as I stared at the greenish shadows. Finally, it was too much. Tears spilled out of my eyes and travelled down my temples. I screamed. As loud as I could. I screamed until I lost my voice. I kept on screaming still, although no voice came out. The screams reminded me of that time they locked me into the hot attic for a day on the hottest day of the summer. I’d screamed my lungs out for them to let me out. The thick air had choked me for the whole day and I’d probably had sweated out a quarter of my weight. Later I’d found out that they’d gone out and locked me as a precaution so I didn’t run away.
My head spun. The green shadows multiplied, and then, black. I don’t know when, I just know everything went black when I was looking at the green shadows. As far as I can tell, I’d passed out.
I was dizzy and there was a rough red on the inside of my eyelids. I didn’t want to open them. At first, I thought I was back in the basement of the house where they often kept me, but the soil and rocks in my back reminded me of the trees. Why had I woken up at all? I had a throbbing headache on the spot where I banged it, although it was better than before.
The first recognition I had was that there were no loud voices. This must have been the first time in months that I’d woken up to something different. That reminded me of other thoughts but I didn’t want anymore of those thoughts forcing themselves in on me, suffocating me. I knew I wasn’t going back to sleep so I gingerly tried to open my eyelids. Harsh afternoon light forced itself into my eyes and I squeezed them shut, counting to five and tried again. It took a while for my eyes to focus but after a lot of pain and squeezing and hot tears, they finally did.
I tried to stand and immediately doubled over from the soreness of last night. I didn’t realize how much more pain I’d caused myself. Now that I was fully conscious, my body decided to update me on the consequences of my actions; my throat burned from thirst and the screams of last night. A little part of me wondered if anyone had heard me or was I still just as invisible as ever? My eyes hurt from all the crying and the pain in my head had moved down to my eyes as well, which was pleasant as always. And last but certainly the most painful, my stomach and leg muscles ached from the running. How far had I run? The adrenaline rush at the time had now disappeared, leaving me with a close to broken body.
I suddenly remembered trees! I raised my head drowsily while leaning on a tree trunk for support. There were more and more tree trunks. I tried to walk, but collapsed from the searing pain that shot through my body. I let out a weak scream which I should have suppressed because it sent a chain reaction down to my throat reminding me that it was in horrible condition. With that, I wheezed and coughed as if that would get rid of my pain and not cause more. I writhed on the ground, tossing and turning, waiting for the pain to pass. I counted three hundred seconds, so about five minutes, I’d lain there waiting for my suffering to end. When one is suffering, five minutes of pain is equal to five eternities because every second is passed in agony.
“What’s happening to me?” I thought. “Why am I so weak?” I tried to get up because from what I’d assessed, I was deep in the woods, and I was not desperately inclined to be breakfast or lunch for a wild animal; yet. Although that was probably my paranoia speaking since I slept through night and I was still painfully alive.
Black spots danced around the edge of my vision and pain shot through my legs and everywhere else, but I was prepared to hold it together.
I closed my eyes and breathed in pure Earth. I recognized the scents of the damp soil, the pine from the pine trees, the smell of the moss and the tree trunks. This gave me energy. I’d always been in a hot and painful environment and this was pure and clean.
I tried, once again, to muster enough energy to stand up. I was able to get up, but I still needed more support from the trees. I stumbled from trunk to tree trunk in pain. Stomach and leg muscles burning with each step, eyes shooting lightning pain with every blink, and every breath caught fire in my throat. Stumbling in no particular direction knowing fully that I was definitely not going back. I would rather starve myself, which I had. I took a break about five minutes into crawling and/ or walking. I slumped against a tree trunk and closed my eyes, listening. I heard the birds chirping, and the leaves rustling in the wind, and… a faint roar? I listened harder, trying to interpret the sound which took most of my energy. I didn't exactly know what it was, but I was drawn to its immense, yet invisible power. I took a deep breath and pushed myself off the ground. A current of pain ran through my body and I tried to, again, concentrate on the nature around me, using it’s power as a way to stumble from trunk to trunk. The roaring grew louder and louder which didn't help my condition. My ears hurt and I couldn’t stand to take another step in it’s direction. However, the pull from the roar was impossible to ignore. I walked toward it just enough to see what it was, daring not to go to close. As I tripped toward it, the anticipation grew a knot in my stomach. What could it be? Why am I so drawn? Then I saw it and forgot my decision to stay away!
It was a river! I was so happy, I tried to take large steps toward it but it was painful. Trying to ignore my body’s protests, I leaped in. It felt so refreshing and reviving! The water was cool- just the right temperature. I reveled in this moment. That was more precious to me than getting one night of peace. I open my mouth to drink in the coolness and or freshness. It was the best feeling in the world. No. It was the best feeling in the universe. Having the water hydrate my body and wet my dry tongue and feel it swell with too much water. It was the best feeling. I wanted to lay here forever, just having an endless supply of freshwater. I was so happy, all my troubles forgotten. I closed my eyes and floated on my back and letting the water take me wherever. Along the way, I took some sips of water. I must've been floating on the water for a long time but I was in paradise so I didn’t count. Little did I know, paradise didn’t end there.
After a while, the stream slowed and opened into the mouth of a lake. I tried to stand but the water was too deep. I tried to swim to shore but my pain came flooding back the second I’d moved. Since I couldn’t really move, I flipped on my back gingerly and did my best to slowly guide myself toward shore. I crawled to a good spot on the beach and sat – my legs spread out in front of me, and my elbows resting on the ground, propping me up. It caused me pain all over my arms to do so, but it was worth it. I basked in the sun for a while, enjoying the warm heat, energizing me and drying my clothes. I just layed there in the peace and quiet. It felt new and beautiful and although physically drained, it was the best I’d felt in years. Maybe it was because I was alone but happy with where I was.
About 10 minutes later, I decided to look around and saw the most breathtaking view; the lake and the river, of course, but I was on a high point, where the ground slowly sloped, what I guessed into a deeper part of the lake and beyond.
Across the lake, there was a small patch of woods and smooth sand all around the lake and beyond the woods. This area, as far as I could tell, stretched on for miles, but in the distance, I did see square like shapes, rising into the horizon.
“Someone was out there!” I thought. “ So I’m not completely alone!” But I soon put the thought into the “cons” list. I didn’t want to be around anyone, and I had a feeling it was going to be like that for a while.
In all this time, I had mostly ignored my pain and hunger, so it repaid me by coming back in double force. I tried to suppress my groans, but there was nothing I could do about it.
I looked around, for a source of food, but all I saw were the distant gray shapes and miles of nothing.
To take my mind off the hunger, I decided to take a walk to the woods, walking around the lake. The heat was just perfect after a day spent floating on cool water because it was the best thing I’d felt in my life. Before this, my best memory was sneaking out of the house to look at the stars. That too, had its consequences. I cringed away from the thought and decided to rejoice in the fact that no one knew where I was and no one was looking for me since they couldn’t just tell anyone I was missing. For once, there were no punishments.
I walked, or rather, tried to walk around the lake, with my wet shoes squeaking which was the only noise for miles, I bet. Counting the minutes go by to pass the time, it took me about fifteen to get to the woods. The lake was slightly smaller than I thought it would be. The view from the other side felt awkward because it was the same scene, just flipped without the woods and gray buildings.
I stepped into the shadows of the leaves and felt slightly better because it felt safe. I had to remind myself that I had no one to hide from. It was dark here and only a little sunlight filtered through. I strolled along, finally truly the happiest I’d been in years, yet trying to calm my shaky breaths of weakness. I had walked for about another five minutes, and something heavy fell on my head. Normally, I wouldn’t have passed out, because the object wasn’t that heavy, but under the circumstances of me being weak, I did. And so, for the second time in two days, I went under. It wasn’t until then, I fully realized I needed food and that my journey had taken a lot out of me.
I woke up to the sounds of crickets chirping. The only muscles I could move, were my eyes. My arms, legs or anything else, were paralyzed. I remembered something thumping on my head and blackness and I realized what had happened. I was laying on the earth, again, staring up. The only difference this time, was that I was looking up, not to see the stars calling to me to join them, but the stars twinkling and saying, “You are strong enough to survive.” I saw beauty in the stars. But it was the kind of beauty I wanted to look at, not be a part of because then I would miss so much. Those stars gave me the energy I needed to get up.
I tried to stand up, which turned out to be a bad idea when I ended up falling on my rear end. I let out a groan at the pain. This time, I tried to sit up, at which I was successful, despite my vision going black for a couple of seconds.
It wasn’t until I was sitting up, propped against the base of a tree, but still very dizzy, the smell hit me. It was a sweet, earthy rich smell that made my mouth water and my stomach lurch in protest. I breathed it in fully, and exhaled, satisfied and yet, it left me hungry for more.
I looked around fiercely in the filtered light of the full moon, five feet away and noticed a round shape in the moonlit spotlight. I lurched toward it, hoping it wasn’t my imagination! Closing my fingers around this piece of gold, I brought it to my face and smelled it. It was the same rich smell. It didn’t smell like it would have, sitting in someone’s home. It smelled much better.
I took a bite and the burst of flavor from the apple engulfed my mouth. It hit my empty stomach with a hollow thump, but I didn’t care. My only though was, “I HAVE FOOD!” Before I knew it, the apple disappeared into my stomach making it full again. I felt instantly better and felt around me for another one on the ground. That must mean that there was an apple tree somewhere in the middle of these woods! My stomach did an excited leap! But how? I didn’t actually care! There was water here and food, for now I guess. I wanted to stay here forever!
“I can!” I spoke. The sound came out rough from the days of silence and screaming. It hurt, too. This was the greatest idea ever! No one would know where I was and I could be in my own little world, in peace. I could live in this place forever and no one could ever stop me. I didn’t have to deal with my past- just focus on my future.
Suddenly, an idea popped into my head! I decided to start working on it in the morning since I was still weak and couldn’t see much in the night. I lay back down at the base of the tree trunk and fell asleep with the rich smell of the Earth around me.
I woke up early in the morning, when the sun was just rising. The apple had brought energy to my body and I was in a better condition to walk. I was also able to ignore the faint sores all over my body. It was like the day after a workout; uncomfortae yet bearable. Slowly, testing myself, I got up and walked over to the lake. These woods were not so deep as others. I went to squat down by the edge of the lake and ended up sitting criss- cross- applesauce on the cool sand and took a gulp of fresh water. Water trickled down my chin and nothing had ever felt better.
Before I’d left the woods, I’d found the apple tree, which had countless more delicious apples hanging from their branches. I’d picked one off the lowest branch and brought it with me.
Now, I ate the fruit, sitting at the shore of the lake, across from where I’d ended up yesterday. Soon after, I put my plan into effect.
I went back into the woods and started gathering thick branches off the ground. I didn’t know anything about building a house, but I was going to try anyway. I could sleep out in the woods or in the open sand in the summer, but I would need shelter for the winter. I knew I couldn’t do it all with the materials I had, so I was going to have to visit those gray squares to help me with the rest of my materials.
In the meantime, I prepared everything I could for the house- some wood for the walls and some leaves and stuff but I didn’t exactly know what to do with it all. This preparation took about a week including nursing myself back to health with apples and water.
Before I knew it, it was time to take the long, unwanted walk. I wish I’d had all the materials with me but nothing is ever easy. With my life, I knew that. The walk would be far and in the past week, I had made a makeshift backpack and a water bottle, so to speak, out of the largest leaves I could find. I’d tested them out and was ready for another journey. I filled my pack with apples and water.
I started walking at dawn on the eighth day of me arriving to this new home of mine. I started at dawn because then I’d actually have a goal to walk towards and not get lost. On the way, to pass the time, I kept little marks so on the way back, I just had to follow them backwards. I took breaks and sat when I got too tired, but mostly, I tried to keep walking. I also tried to drink as little water as possible and took a few bites per couple hours of my apples. It was close to midnight on the eighth day when I got to the city, so all the shops were closed. That was fine by me because I needed rest and sleep. My legs were more than sore all over again and I was grateful to have a place, any place to lie down. I camped out in an alley and had an apple and some water for dinner and got ready for “bed.”
I couldn’t sleep right all night long since I was used to sleeping on the soft ground with a bed of leaves and the sounds of nature around me. In this alley, it was hard ground and I kept on hearing voices of goons causing trouble in the night. Shielding myself as best as I could behind a foul smelling dumpster, hoping no one would find me there, I fell asleep.
I sat up, thinking I heard something. I didn’t know if it was my imagination, or was there someone out there? I almost got up to look when I heard a soft sound. Footsteps just close enough for me to hear the faint taps. I shrunk back between the wall and the dumpster my heart pounding. I slowed my breathing to hear the footsteps get louder by the second. I got the feeling whoever was out there wasn’t trying to be quiet. Soon, I heard voices. That meant there was more than one. I didn’t know what to do. I looked around for anything that would make a weapon but I didn’t know if anything would work with my hands shaking this bad and my heart pounding. My knees felt weak and I wanted to cry. At this point I would’ve been able to hear their conversation and gotten a clue at their intention but my anxiety was through the roof with blood gushing through my ears. With my luck they would end up turning into this alley to hang out. Which they did. I whimpered as I heard the faint sound become clear, indicating that they had turned into the alley I happened to be in. I still couldn’t understand their words and my head had started spinning. I didn’t know how much longer I would maintain consciousness.
All of a sudden, an even louder noise, something that sounded like blaring music came into earshot. I involuntarily squeaked while the music got louder and louder. Heart pounding and blood gushing in my ears, weak knees and hands shaking, all while the music, presumably in a car, blared on and the car had stopped right in front of this alley. Then, I heard car doors slamming. My first thought was that they were coming out the car and silent tears streaked my cheeks. Then, the music faded away and I heard nothing in “my” alley. After a while, when I was sure there was noone out there, I gasped for breath at the close incident. Though I didn’t dare look. I drifted to a light sleep.
I woke in the morning of the ninth day to car horns and and busy streets in the distance. I had no desire to think of the actions taken place the night before. I had enough on my mind. I had no money so I was going to have to take without asking. I was no fan of that because I usually am an honest person, but I had no choice. I tried to be as inconspicuous as possible but it wasn’t necessary since no one gave me a first glance. As I walked around, I realized just how small the town was, in the middle of nowhere.
I tried to only take the necessary things so I went for a duffel bag first, so that I could fit everything in there, then an actual water bottle, a couple dozen sheets, some canned food, that would last for months, most personal hygiene necessities-- enough to last me at least a couple months and new clothes! A lot of clean new clothes! I still had a little room left in my bag and so I decided on some guilty pleasures like soda, potato chips, and some other luxury snacks. This all took about half a day.
The most difficult part was leaving. I always thought I was being watched but there was really no security because of the size of the town. I followed my marks home and got there at dawn of the eleventh day. I decided to rest for the day and then start work the next. I was really happy that I was able to survive this long on my own and despite all the difficulties, I think it was the best part of my life.
I thought about that while I lounged in the lake then changed into comfortable new pj’s I’d gotten. I lied down on my leaf bed and fell asleep.
When I woke up, I had a cold pancake breakfast and a half cup of orange juice to wash it down. Then I brushed my teeth, which felt like another one of the best things in the world, and got straight to work. It took a couple of days, but finally, I finished my house, complete with some thick sheets sewn together and two sheets for the blanket.
My house was the best shelter I could make with wood, leaves and some spare sheets. It was a one room house but it was the only home I’d ever had. I’d also made my little shack with tarp that I’d bought to “insulate” the house from the cold.
My work though, was not done there. I planned on living in that little space of mine- the woods, the lake and the spot I’d first washed up to. For how long, I didn’t know. Maybe one day, I’d want to live in that little town and make money and earn my things, but for the time being, I wanted to be away from my past. I needed healing and as it’s said, “time is the best medicine.” Sometimes, when the night is clear, I look at the stars and think, “Nature was there for me, slowly healing me, where no human was.”