And somewhere out there, he awaited me…..
My stomach was doing a twining dance with itself, and I asked myself if I was really going to go through with it. I knew that I could back out, anytime before I was expected to be at school. There had been a rash of skipping, lately, and attendance was being taken at the beginning of each period, and parents were contacted for every absence or tardiness.
Yet another part of my life that felt like a prison; like my opinion or needs had nothing at all to do with what I was required to do.
Just as Mother insisted on serving Hamburger Helper and calling it supper, even though I have avoided meat since I was ten, and learned how animals were treated and slaughtered.
Just as cleaning the house and not bothering her when she came home hung over were my job, even though I had never asked for them.
Just as the bills sat unopened and unpaid unless I pleaded with her, offering her foot rubs.
Just as she smoked in the house, even knowing that the smoke made me cough and gag, and gave me migraines.
Somewhere out there, a man waited. A man who wanted a very young wife, and wanted her just as he imagined her, without her own overlay of personality over that.
For a moment, I asked myself if that was really what I wanted for myself. But, in truth, I didn’t know any other way to be. I had my books to escape into, and the stories I made up in my head, but never seemed to find time to write down.
There was something wild and new that had risen up in me, that had pulled me out of the house, and, as I strolled around the bus station, trying to look as though I belonged here and not like a runaway, I felt it surge up again.
I had only a little extra money; it might not even be enough to eat regularly on the three-day trip, but suddenly, I didn’t care so much about that.
I knew what I had to do, one little thing that would bring me some measure of peace that I could carry with me whatever and wherever life carried me, from here.
This was a major bus station, the central hub for the entire region. It had a full-size drugstore, two wall shelves of books, and I ducked in and browsed through…..
“Is there something I can help you find?”
I gulped quickly, feeling a hot flush of shame and fear and apprehension spread over me face. Pretending I was calm and collected, I half-turned, hoping my thick curtain of hair would cover my face well enough. “Not really…I was looking for Shakespeare, but I don’t see any here.”
“No, sadly it doesn’t sell.” She was a middle-aged woman, a little heavy, but with dancing blue-grey eyes and deep dimples where she smiled. “But you’re in luck. I like Shakespeare too, and I happen to have an unofficial lending library in the stockroom. Will you be here long? My son will be back from his break in half an hour; I can’t leave the register until then.”
I tried to study her from behind my hair; I was trying to figure out if she was trying to hold me here, if she was the type of adult who thought they had the right to meddle in kids’ lives, even when they didn’t know anything about them.
“I’m not going to ask you anything about your plans. I saw your cheek – I never knew I COULD walk away, when my mother backhanded me. She always said it was because I had been disrespectful, but there is nothing respectful at all in slapping a child hard enough to make their head snap back, is there?”
She said it almost as though she were talking to herself; and with enough old pain that I knew she wasn’t making it up.
Without another word, with hardly a sound, she turned and went back to the little cubby her one register was in.
I wandered for a minute, finding where the notebooks and pens were, and wondering about the woman’s story. Wondering, too, whether I was going to have the courage to walk up to that register and pay for them.
She had a small laptop in front of her, and she was typing quickly, in bursts, then she would smile or frown at the screen while toying with her hair.
She seemed to have forgotten that I was even there….