The Silent Agreement
I agree not to be.
Not to be,
Not to see,
Not to hear,
Not to smell,
Not to taste,
Not to eat,
Not to drink,
Not to think,
Not to feel,
Not to want,
Not to need,
Not to try,
Not to cry,
Not to tell,
Not to be,
Not to be,
Not to be.
~ signed, daughter
Roberta St. Claire, Daughters
EVENING COMMUTERS, BIKERS, walkers, runners passed by—making occasional eye contact—and no one knew I was a runaway. I tried blending with the landscape to be invisible. Freedom—escaping and beginning again—was exhilarating. Addicted to a runner’s high, I ran each morning. However, this run differed.
I had dreamed a thousand times about leaving to escape, seek freedom, control my destiny, and not be like her—or like them. The thrill of running yielded potency and addiction, more than any drug promised. A capricious high of freedom contrasted the threat of captivity and torture. The path I chose for my thirteen-year-old self didn’t guarantee a positive ending.
The high carried power as the yin and yang of what I ran toward contrasted imminence and hope. I ran to save my life; yet, risked it. I had to get out to survive. Trapped in a world of oppression, violence, abuse, and drugs, I almost lost sight of who I was. Dying was a part of life—but it felt as if a piece of my soul was the price for living in poverty. I no longer wanted to live the way my parents were living. I deserved better.
I sat by the water’s edge in a spot where the seagrass met cattails, hiding me from the roadside. Before this day, I used to pass by this spot during morning runs and found it peaceful. The water murmured as it caressed the pebbled shoreline. The fight-or-flight adrenaline dissipated, and my body gave way to a heaviness led by uncertainty as anxiety spun in the pit of my gut. I had not planned to run that day, but Stepfather’s aggression had crossed an irreversible line; another physical altercation. Violence was a normal part of daily life, but this encounter differed from the others. It permeated me, awakening my instinctual rebellion.
The sting of his slaps remained as I processed what occurred earlier. His calloused hands held my shoulders down; one knee shoved into my abdomen, the other bent between my legs as I tried to push his face away from mine.
“Get off me,” I screamed. “Leave me alone.”
Mother, with selective oblivion, was at work waiting tables to support Stepfather’s drug-dealing habits, leaving mom duties to me. He was crushing my ribs. It was hard to breathe. I struggled to fight him, to keep him off me, and at an arm’s length. Wriggling on the ground, it worked for a fleeting moment. But he was much stronger than I. His size gave him an advantage. I could no longer keep him at a distance as my muscles grew weak. His knees, now both between my legs, pushed against the ground to give him leverage. He spread his legs further to pin me and thrust his pelvis against mine to control my writhing. You are a monster, I thought. I hate you. I truly hate you. Anger gave way to salty tears. He held my head. It forced me to see his war-worn face: his angry eyes and full beard. His overlong hair caressed my face. He laid on top of me, holding and dominating any power I once had.
Violence subsided to my mumbled plea: “Get off me.”
He reeked of Wild Turkey and cigarettes as he made his last threats. When he realized I stopped resisting, he emerged the victor and I the victim—at least that’s what he thought. He pushed himself off me, satisfied he had won, and pleased to have power. He straightened his pants, crooked from the struggle, and walked away with no last words of warning. I rolled to a fetal position on my right side. I hate him. He is a monster. I need to leave before he does something worse, or I end up dead. Local fishers infiltrated the shoreline around the lake one by one, nodding to each other with silent gestures as they settled in for the night. Some lit small campfires, while others perched hooks to hang lanterns. Their lights dangled low. The sound of spinning reels echoed as they each cast their lines parallel to the shore. Reels turned until the bait penetrated the water’s surface. They lay their poles against handmade posts as the dusk faded.
I left the shoreline to find a spot more secluded, hoping for a safe place to rest before moving on. Certainly, they realized I left and are looking for me by now. I found a spot beneath a cove of trees where hovering branches and plush leaves met a bed of seagrass. Cold, exhausted, and aching from the struggle with Stepfather, my body melted into the earth as I laid my head down and noticed the layers of sound filling the night air: the ebb and flow of the water’s edge, a slight breeze whispering through the trees, crickets chirping, reels casting, and fires crackling.
I processed the day. Sometimes one is too many, and a thousand is never enough. Perspective—more time, not enough time, all the time, never—it all comes down to view. Who’s right, who’s wrong, what’s real, and what’s not real? Does it even matter?