April 08, 2009
I first ran away when I was five.
Dad sat on the stoop with a grave goodbye,
respecting my conviction, but sorry to see me go.
I packed my orange and pink flowered suitcase:
underwear, clean shirt, Thumbelina doll.
I hoped Dad understood. I’d no wish to hurt him,
but I’d be moving on.
He watched me brave-faced
treading down Mifflin Avenue,
back straight, terror proudly stifled.
I made it passed Mrs. Easley’s Dwarf Irises.
There was that old black lab Sylvester
in the next yard chewing a tattered
yellow tennis ball, a few more doors
to the mean lady’s house. Now nearly
to the corner of Overton, my heart
raced along with me.
I dared not look back, sure my
eagle-eyed father could see me
this far down the avenue. I felt relief
as I made the corner by the
Ritter’s house. Now I could let my
belly full of fear and melancholy
heave through my chest and throat.
I bent over in tears, sad to think
of my mother’s heartbreak when she
discovers me gone. The site of the chain-link
fence around Ruth Ritter’s yard
her father’s vegetable garden,
the swing set, the sandbox still built
with our afternoon imaginings, all this,
filled me with comfort, so that I thought
for a moment to turn down Mifflin alleyway
toward what used to be my backyard.
Instead, I took steely steps down Overton
toward Trenton Avenue and stood on the corner,
doors away from the Caliguri’s on the border
of a dozen strange houses. I ventured on –
a slowed car passed my teary vision
on this strange street, there were fewer trees,
the lawns were bare, the hedges, overgrown.
Aging Victorian homes in need of paint,
their dark-eyed windows, advanced my small
feet. When I reached a familiar house on the corner
of Trenton and Hutchinson. The Bailey sister’s
who sold their homemade cookies
and who I often visited, “Mom says I can’t ask.
But if you offer, I can have a cookie.”
I didn’t know this alternate route
to the Bailey’s. The back of their house
was kitty-corner to my old place. I’d traveled
this long and far, only to find myself
nearly home again.
I felt sure my Dad would laugh
at me when he saw me turn the corner
Of Hutchinson onto Mifflin Avenue.
Instead, he welcomed me as if I was
returned from a long and arduous journey
with hugs and celebration.
The second time I left home
I was 17, pregnant, and upset with my
siblings. They were hassling me
in efforts to influence certain choices
I was about to make. I’d left Mifflin
Avenue in whirl of tears and drama
for the apartment of a public health nurse
who lived in an unfamiliar part of town,
there were tenements, two and three
family homes, parked cars lining the street
curbs and no trees. My father discovered
my whereabouts and called me wanting to
visit for a talk. He was considerate toward
me and respectful in a way that confused me.
I thought he’d be angry with me.
We sat together in the dingy kitchen of
this strange apartment. I cried and so did
my father when he asked me to come home,
assuring me that no one would be bothering
me with opinions about my plans or my baby.
When at eighteen I gave birth to a daughter.
It was dad who was my coach that long
life-altering night. A father of five, he had
never seen a woman in labor. He later told
my mother if he had been with her for one
childbirth, she never would have had a
second child. I am unable to recall his
words when he met his new grandchild
yet more than thirty years later I can
see his blissful face as they wheeled my
swaddled daughter and me on a gurney
from the delivery room to meet him.
On father’s day, just fifteen months later,
I watched dad leave Mifflin Avenue in the
ambulance I’d summoned there. I yelled at
curious neighbors to stop staring and to go
back in their houses. My lately walking
daughter clung to my leg. Here was my remarkable
dad, fallen. I was protective yet helpless to shield
him from his fate. Dad never returned to Mifflin
Avenue and somehow, I too, have been missing since.