Running Away

The phone rang and broke the morning's silence. No one was out of bed yet. If they had been, the phone still would've broken the silence because no one would have known what to say to each other.

Caller ID said it was Uncle Hugh. Of course he had heard. This was going to be a very uncomfortable conversation. I was used to uncomfortable conversations these days. I turned on the handset in my room as I heard my mom's weary voice. 


"Melissa? What happened?"

I hung up, smothering the pain this conversation was going to cause. Palms face down on my dresser, I looked intently in the mirror. I used to throw an approving glance at my hair and wardrobe choice in this mirror as I headed out the door to school, on a date, to a dance, to church. This morning I was still fairly recognizable on the outside, but the spark in my eye was gone. That spark in my eye had held my confidence, my joy, a promise of a future. It had been stolen by a recently darkened past to which another heavy chapter had been added the day before.


I knew my inability to feel better was creating a huge strain on my family. They had done everything they could think of for me, and I was helpless in offering them any consolation that I was getting better. Instead I descended deeper and deeper in my despair and hopelessness. I felt utterly wretched. They had exhausted every avenue trying to help me with their moral, financial and spiritual support, and I gave them nothing back in return. I was breaking their hearts. 
I was like a black hole in our home sucking up every shred of joy or laughter or hope that tried to find its way in the door.

I had to leave. While I knew that would do damage, it had to be better than the effect I was having by being there. Although one daughter would be lost, now my parents could direct their attention to the other three kids in our family.


Sunday was the perfect day to get away with it. My family all went to church together while I met with a singles congregation. I was due to be in church two hours after they left, which would give me several hours to get away without being missed.

I packed my backpack with my journal, sliding a picture of my family inside, my medication (I was going to hell, but I was still obedient), a few snacks and some water. As I zipped it up I thought to myself, remember how you used to use this backpack to go to school? To the university? How you were two semesters away from graduating with a career? But now you are insane. I sat outside while my family got ready for church. My sister drove separately and left a few minutes before everyone else. Ever cheerful, she waved as she pulled out. I managed to wave back, trying to feel something. I was never going to see her again. I loved her.

Dressed for church, I kissed my mom goodbye. I finally felt the tingle of an emotion, the strongest emotion I'd felt in a long time. It was guilt. She thought I was on my way to church. I was headed off to disappear. I couldn't bear to consider the effect it would have on her when she found out I was gone. Would she understand that getting out of the house was the best way I knew how to make things better? I didn't know what to do with the feelings, so I smothered them. I was very good at that now.


I had to be seen at church. It was the best scenario for buying the most time. When they came looking for me, people would be able to say, yes, she was at church. Shortly after walking into the building and hoping I had been seen by at least a couple of people, I headed into the mother's room. I passed a young mom coming out as I headed in. I used to dream of being a mom, I thought to myself. I sat in a rocker and made my plan. I had left my backpack in the trunk of my car. I was going to need to jump out the window, grab my backpack, and walk away from the church, hopefully without being seen. 

On the other side of the wall was the church foyer, and suddenly I heard several doors open, shut, open, shut, open, shut. This I had not anticipated.  My dad was on to me. He had the police with him. They were going to interrupt church services to find me. Add disturber of the peace to my rap sheet. 

I braced myself in the chair. It wouldn't be long until they found me. Three or four minutes went by, nothing. They were on to me, but they were going to do it quietly. I looked out the window at the parking lot. They had their eyes on my car. I was going to have to skip the part where I go to my trunk for my things and just head directly away from the church. 

In my Sunday dress, I climbed out the mother's room window. Once out there, I realized I was also going to need to hop about a four and a half foot cement wall. I used to pray in predicaments like this, "Heavenly Father, please help no one see me hop the cement wall." Actually I had never prayed for something quite so odd. But God had been through with me for quite some time now, so I skipped the prayer and pulled myself up and over the wall.

Note to reader: My dad was actually never in the building, and neither were the police. Church was starting, and as is customary, 75% of the congregation was arriving in the two minutes before the meeting started, thus the opening and shutting of all the doors.


I walked briskly, hoping I looked like a normal healthy human being to the outside world. I would know in a minute or two if anyone had seen me, they would be after me. Once I turned off the main road seven or eight minutes later, I was fairly certain that my escape had been successful. 

My grandparents lived up above the main highway. I had been to their home hundreds of times, but never walked. I figured I could be there in an hour. 

I was fairly certain I hadn't drawn too much attention to myself until about half an hour later when I had to scale an embankment full of weeds in my Sunday dress along the highway. Just act natural, I told myself as the weeds poked through my strappy dress sandals.

As I walked, I tried to digest the thought that I was never going to see my family again. I was very good at smothering thoughts and feelings, but they deserved to be remembered. I thought of each member of the family and as numb as I was, could feel a far off stabbing pain when I allowed myself to consider one by one how much they meant to me. 

It wasn't long before I was walking up my grandparents' driveway. I checked the home for signs that they were home, but everything seemed still. I had left everything in my car trunk, I was going to have to get some supplies here. 

I found a sliding door that was cracked open. It took some wrestling, but I was able to carefully fight my way into the house. Congratulations. You just broke into your loving grandparents' home. You are officially insane. And a criminal. I didn't feel much these days, but it was a strange sensation to be in someone's home when they weren't there and weren't expecting you. I imagined it would make a normal person feel terrible. 

I located a backpack and started filling it with the things I would need. I was going to hide out in the mountains surrounding my grandparents' home for at least a couple of weeks. Scouring the cabinets, I settled on a jar of peanut butter. I filled a mason jar with water. When that ran out, hopefully I would be able to remember what I had learned at girls camp about locating springs.

With my food situation figured out, I went into my grandparents' closet to find more suitable clothing than my Sunday dress. I found a top of my grandma's and some of my grandpa's khaki work pants he used when out in the yard. Also a pair of white tennis shoes. I looked in the mirror. "How's this going insane thing working out for you?" I thought as my pathetic image stared back at me. 

I retrieved one more item before heading up the mountain, a hammer for protection.


A few minutes later, I sat under a pine tree a few hundred yards away in the mountainous area above my grandparents' home. I had spotted a few hikers, a factor in the plan I had not anticipated. I certainly would draw attention with the way I was dressed, and they would be able to say they had seen me. I'd just have to be long gone by the time they connected with the police.

My mind quit considering logistics for a moment and again drifted to my family. It was possible they knew I was gone by now. What a definitive decision I had made today. After they had exhausted every effort possible to save me, I thank them by walking out the door. What a slap in the face. Even if my plan failed and I was found, they would never want me back. I had finally exhausted their love. Saturday mornings as kids we would almost always wake up to a Phil Collins album my dad would be using as his background music for getting things done around the house. Now it was unbearable how the words to one of his songs stung, "you're no son, you're no son of walked out, you left us behind." Now that I was alone, truly alone, I didn't need to smother. I wanted to be heartbroken.


Grandma and I clung to each other in their living room, both of us sobbing. 

Grandpa was on his cell phone with Dad. He was on his way. The police were on their way.

I had never moved from underneath the pine tree until I heard my grandpa's voice calling as he walked toward me coming down the mountain. I had walked directly to him. "I found her, I found her. Oh, Brittney," he said, desperation melting into relief. 


Meeting with the police was a pretty rock-bottom moment. They were kind. My mom had actually grown up with one of them. Awesome. What was my motive for running away? they wanted to know. You mean why am I sitting here with the police in my grandparents' clothes completely emptied of all self-worth wishing my heart would just please give out? They knew I had been engaged a few months earlier and the wedding had been called off. Was that it? Sure. Put that down. How could I explain that it actually went much deeper than that? That I was a wicked, wretched soul. It felt like one of those moments in Marvel movies when you realize that the police, no matter how many of them there are, are no match for the villain and his super-human powers. I didn't know how to go there. So I just let them blame it on the boy.


I crawled back into bed, trying not to imagine the conversation that was going on between Mom and Hugh. I was home now, and it was time to smother again. 

The events from the night before gave me plenty to think about. The look on my momma's face when she saw me but didn't have me in her arms yet was not something I wanted imprinted on my mind for long. 

I stayed in her arms for a long time. My whole family gathered around me in a tender circle. Another powerful emotion surfaced through the numbness. It was complete astonishment. They wanted me back. After I had walked out on them. They still loved me. I was stunned.

Sometime in all the commotion of my return home, someone slipped a card underneath the mat outside for me. All it said was, "You're going to be okay. I've run away too."

I lay in bed wondering if the next several months were going to continue to play out here, in my room. In bed. I had no vision for the future.

But deep inside, somewhere, I was relieved to be back home.

Next Chapter: Kindnesses